Iaido Journal May 2006
Chris, Joe and Luke Skywalker
© 2006 Chris Gilham, all rights
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
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.