The Iaido Journal  Oct 2005
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Dai Ichi Calgary Iaido Club Taikai

copyright © 2005 Chris Gilham, all rights reserved

The First Annual Calgary Iaido Club Tournament:
Continuing Traditions…
By Chris Gilham

In Tokyo, Japan, the Koganei City Iaido dojo would hold an in-house tournament every year. Yamamoto sensei and his senior students would have us compete against one another, regardless of rank, as a means of demonstrating and celebrating our Iaido. Afterwards, we would enjoy food and drink, in celebration of our good work as a unified group, part in celebration of what it is to be within a group in Japan. On October 1, our young Iaido club in Calgary, Alberta successfully held our very own in-house tournament.

The evening started with a welcome and explanation of how the tournament would progress, with an emphasis on following the traditions of the Koganei City Iaido dojo. We talked of important lessons I’d learned while living in Japan: of loyalty and the transmission of information from one generation to the next.

Patiently, our students sat through the tale of Bokuden and his three Samurai sons, perhaps gaining some insight into the character building an Iaido grading or tournament can bring to people: like the three sons, we can handle surprises and diversity in different ways, but there are correct ways, and we should endeavour to handle such challenges in those correct ways, as the Eldest son did in the story. Sometimes this means being prepared for challenges, and observant of those things around us, both in the moment and for those events to come.

Prior to the evening I did not provide details for the tournament. As it often was in my backpacking travels from dojo to dojo in Japan, I did not know who I would meet and what they expected of me in their dojo. From training on my own in a corner to demonstrating all that I knew for the members of a dojo I had only just entered, the challenges were varied, unique and held the potential for personal reflection and growth. This was no different in my own dojo in Koganei city. Universally, all the dojo I visited in Japan treated me with respect and dignity. Advice was given, but given with the acknowledgment of the importance of remaining true to one’s sensei and taking the new advice as reference, for personal study. I always found this to be a very positive and respectful approach to training with others in other dojo. We continue to use this approach for visitors to our club. What counts, is the respect given to and among one another, and our new club demonstrated this at our tournament.

So it was that we may have had a glimpse of one of the meanings of Iaido: being ready at all times, for all things. The dojo has been our place for this preparedness. Last night was an excellent example. Despite not knowing the tournament format, our students looked, presented, and performed as prepared students. 

For a new club, with most members having less than a year’s training, we were where we needed to be: focussed on etiquette and the respect of our art, each other, and our friendships.

After the introduction Colin and Alex demonstrated the very intense Niten Ichi Ryu. Both students trained in Guelph last year for several days with the current Soke of the ryu. We were given permission to dabble in this more active art, and have done so to improve our understanding of timing and application of techniques. As always Colin and Alex, lifetime friends, brought their best intensity forward to show us another aspect to sword training.

Following this, Daren Berar of the University of Calgary Kendo Club introduced many of us to Kendo. This was an important demonstration for us, since most Iaido sensei I met in Japan strongly emphasized the need for true sword practitioners to practice both Kendo and Iaido.

Daren did Kendo and his club a great service this night with his conciseness, detail and humour. He sparked curiosity and interest in Kendo, despite demonstrating on his own.

The connections between the Niten Ichi ryu, Kendo and Iaido were easy to see. These demonstrations created a stronger framework from which we can continue to explore our Iaido, and perhaps other forms of swordsmanship.

Finally, the tournament started and as best as possible, we strived for authenticity. We didn’t have three judges or red and white flags, and we did not stress the time limit for a tournament, but we did as best we could, with one major exception – everyone was a winner that night.

Like our in-club tournament in Japan, everyone received a medal. We stressed the importance of the event itself, and not the outcomes. How we handled this extra pressure and ourselves during performance, was our main focus. The medals were merely the material representations of our celebration. Merriness and confidence came from our hearts, truly.

Students were awarded medals for Courage, Loyalty, Sincerity and Etiquette, with one student receiving a main medal for displaying the Mind, Body and Sword as One. This was determined not through winning against others, but from the entire sets of performances: I looked for one strong instance of this, according to my limited understanding of it, and chose that person. 

Lastly, we celebrated the more official handing out of grading certificates to Colin, Alex, and I, from this year’s grading in Guelph, Ontario. Congratulations to us and to all who participated in this, our first celebratory tournament of our club!

Alex – Ki Ken Tai no Ichi award

Afterwards, pizza, shochu and atsukan were some of the victuals we enjoyed at my house, while watching Seven Samurai.  

The Calgary Iaido Club is pleased to share this information with the Iaido community. It has been just over one year since we started, and we are proud of our work.

Please feel free to come by and visit us at the foot of the Canadian Rockies.

Chris Gilham and the Calgary Iaido Club

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TIN Oct 2005