My name is Sohail Thaker and I have just completed my first year as a student of Iaido under Sensei Chris Gilham. Last Tuesday a number of us were asked by Sensei to perform Tsuka Ate (#4), and after a few instructions we were to focus on improving our timing of the kata. As I turned to perform the thrust that starts with the back of the blade across my chest I managed to snag the sword tip at my shoulder and nearly tear my Gi. The following notes were written the next day as I thought about what had happened and what it meant to me. I emailed these notes to Sensei.
My thoughts on my "failed" attempt with Tsuka Ate
What was I thinking? Sensei had asked that we focus on the timing, more Jo-Ha-Kyu with the kata. I tried to follow this and ended up catching the sword tip in my Gi. The rest of the kata fell apart as I let the failure affect me. I tried to complete the kata but found that I dwelled on the mistake and the fact that I had nearly stabbed myself. By the time I got to Noto I had completely lost my Zanshin and could just about get the sword back in the saya.
Sensei was kind and told me that this happens and I understand that this is part of the learning process. So given this, why do I feel so thrown off today?
Why would I attempt to harm myself? Why would I make such a big mistake when my Sensei is watching? Was I so in my ego that all connection with the sword was lost? This feels like it has a ring of truth to it…
was my ego looking for? Approval.
Approval from Sensei.
Approval from the senior Iaidoka that were also practicing the kata.
Approval from myself - my ego wanted to feel the pride of doing things "right".
Once again approval addiction shows up in my life - and this time it could have had physical consequences. So I search for the lesson from this experience, how can I do things better so that the lesson is received?
I remind myself that I practice Iaido to be a better person. I practice Iaido not for Sensei, not for my wife, my mum, my dad, my kids, but for me. I started this journey because I found a practice that sang to my soul. It teaches me to be present and to realize that when I am lost in ego or in my mind, there are consequences.
So the lesson has value, and fortunately I am not physically hurt. I choose to admit my mistakes, forgive myself for being in my ego and my approval addiction, and then rededicate to following the essence of the teachings of Iaido. The katas are way of communicating between my body, my mind, and my soul. When all are aligned there is bliss, the beautiful feeling of true congruence with the universe, the place of absolute presence and no-mind. There is no separation.
So "mistakes" are simply a message that these three things are not aligned and that more practice, more humility, and more patience is required. This cannot be forced, it must be invited. Beating myself up or finding excuses changes nothing. The ego must be asked to step aside for the learning to take place.
a more practical level, losing my Zanshin when a mistake occurs,
compounds the mistake. I see now why we are encouraged to not
show any emotions when such mistakes occur. Once committed to the
kata one should complete it, regardless of the errors. My
tendency is to admit the mistake immediately, but if I was really
fighting for my life, the time for admittance and learning is later,
not during the kata. The time for being contemplative is not
during the battle. From this experience I can trust that I will
not miss the opportunity to analyze my errors and do my best to learn
from them - later, in a calmer space rather than in the heat of the
That feels better - I can now get on with my day, realizing that my soul is feeling lighter as my ego has relaxed through this process of self analysis. I guess there was purpose to the "mistake" and I am now glad that it occurred.
The thoughts in your writing are what make you successful: mistakes as treasures or acquisitions for growth and new learning.
sharing Sohail. You are quite right about removing the separation -
letting go of ego, of the thought of letting go of ego - of everything
in order to simply be ‘no – mind’. We shall struggle on with this
I also believe that the power of the relationships within the dojo has a place in the mind set of training. There is strength in seeking approval from those who have gone before. Like you said, dependence on this is not healthy, but affirmation through confirmation is human, and we all need this. One may become a Master Swordsman – a Meijin, and one is always a student, in addition to Master. For us real beginners, the importance of the process of training with a teacher can not be emphasized enough. Self-reliance is fine, but true independence is not -- no person lives healthily without others supporting them in some way. I believe this is true in iaido. Perhaps for the samurai in the heat of battle this may have been different, but for us, I think it’s important to understand the larger importance of the way of life we create through our relationships within the dojo.
Cheers friend and great student.