“From here on, battles will not be fought with bows and arrows, clubs, or rifles, but with the mind; it is the only way our people can survive in this new world and way of life brought from across the ocean.”
I found kendo, and shortly afterward, iaido. The thing was, though, these weren’t mere activities or hobbies. There is no way to describe them in English. From taking Japanese, I’ve learned about “do”, the path or way, and have accepted that it is an endless journey with no final destination. What made iaido and kendo different from any other martial arts that I’ve tried were the people who helped me begin the journey. In other martial arts programs offered at the university, I found that instructors were simply trying to market the idea of extreme machismo, flashy kicks, and whirling nunchucks seen in mainstream American pop culture instead of the humble and ancient discipline of budo. The instructor and “sempai” were always, and still are, humble and sincere in this discipline from the moment practice begins and long after it has ended.
Iaido, in particular, was a discipline that, I found, related to my purpose and the quote aforementioned. There are many aspects of Japanese culture, from the language to “rei”, that are synonymous to Navajo culture, but budo, in general, relates to it the most. I’ve found that rei and metsuke are key elements in both cultures. I’ve been raised to have a level of respect for many things and people – something that modern way of thinking has not allowed for. The high level of respect I have for my sensei, sempai, and fellow kendoka and iaidoka is the same I would feel for my seniors and elders back home. Metsuke, similar to the Navajo word for concentration, nitsekees, is encouraged in everything we do. Nitsekees, literally means “to think”, but is often used for anything involving the mind, for the Navajos believe the mind is the strongest part of the body. The word for budo is “nidaazbaa’k’eji” also literally meaning “way of the warrior”. Although there was no actual practice of anything like kendo, iaido, jodo, or kyudo, the ideas presented in each were present and were encouraged to be practiced in everyday life.
After the Indian wars, Native Americans could no longer wage war with other tribes and settlers as a means of survival. Chief Manuelito, headman who signed the Treaty of 1868, ending the Navajo wars and releasing them from captivity, made a speech to his people, encouraging them to drop their weapons and send their children to school, to fight the new battles ahead of them where an education would be the only effective weapon.
Through kendo, I’ve been able to see the physical manifestation of combat, but through iaido, I know the non-combatant side – the side that shapes the mind and conditions the body without involving actual people. Iaido trains me for the demands I’ve been given since childhood: to fight an imaginary enemy, to effectively kill him, and to maintain a sound mind, or zanshin. Because of the teachings of iaido, I’ve been able to incorporate these teaching into my everyday life, work, and schoolwork.
I hope, in the future, to bring the teachings of budo, of iaido, kendo, and many other “do” back to the Navajo reservation. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to link together two people, cultures, and worlds many scientists claim are separated by thousands of years of migration, but linked by DNA and an ice bridge long melted away. I have faith that many of my people will get back in touch with nidaazbaa’k’eji and relate to a culture as exquisite and important as their own in growing as human beings.
Through iaido and the concepts of budo, I have acquired a humble mind that allows me to both learn and overcome mental barriers whether it is in the dojo, the classroom, or anywhere else in this ever-changing world.