The Iaido Journal  May 2006
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Chris, Joe and Luke Skywalker

  Copyright © 2006 Chris Gilham, all rights reserved

Recently, a budding photographer friend came to our club to capture some images of iaido for our upcoming launch of a revamped Calgary Iaido Club website. A week later he shared his joy with how the photos were ‘shaping up’.

“There’s this guy who, you gotta see this photo of him. He looks like Luke Skywalker! It’s groovy. He’s not even really doing anything but sitting there the way you guys do – I don’t know what you call it but he looks like friggin’ Luke Skywalker.”

I knew right away he was talking about Joe Armstrong.

Joe doesn’t look like Luke Skywalker at all really. Joe is tall and lean, with black hair and clever eyes and a hawkish set of eyebrows developing through the affirmation of his keen mind and cultured thinking, crackling through the egg of adolescence.

But Joe has Luke’s optimism and youthful vigour. He’s got the light in his eyes for iaido.

I didn’t mind then and am privileged now to have given Joe a lightsaber, as it were. The boy works hard, plain and simple, to persevere with the Shu of iaido. He’s just getting the motions into his memory. Sometimes, Joe has struggled with the imbalance between his want and drive to get things right and his adolescent feet. His questions are sincere and yet, he has the answers. Truly, Joe reveals in me the needleness of teaching through his following thread, weaving in and out to bind the fabric of his training.

Joe is hungry for iaido. He reminds me of myself, when I was in Tokyo: sweating it out to show sensei he is ready for the next kata. Sensei reminding him to be patient, to settle into his iaido and not think about quantity or the next level, but rather, to be in the moment of his training. To relish the striving to perfect a movement, however unreachable this ‘out of the cave and into the forms’ approach might be. In time, hopefully Joe will savour that endless climbing up, and in that struggle, find that, for brief ‘bubbles’ within his training he will overcome time and body, to awaken afterwards on the next step up with the realization he briefly ‘was’ in full completeness, iaido itself. And we say it does not matter that we are not Japanese. Perhaps, but I am building an argument for the cultural and philosophical underpinnings of iaido as critical to actually ‘getting it’ as the masters in Japan might like us to.

So this is what Joe brings to his training. He brings his teacher to reflect on his own training, and his early days in training as well. In this alone, I am privileged to have Joe as my student. He makes me better.

In more descriptive terms, those we use in our evaluative world, Joe is an eager and hard working student. He consistently trains, and trains with respect for the people around him. He is curious and committed to his iaido training. His progress is his own really. I simply plant more seeds, and sometimes add a little water, but he does the rest.

The May training weekend will also be Joe’s first grading. In May he will be delivered to a greater iaido world, and it is from there that I believe he will, like Luke Skywalker on the Death Star for the first time, see himself as so much more than a curious kid who likes to swing a sword around.

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TIN May 2006