Iaido Journal July 2008
Some Thoughts About the Guelph Iaido
copyright © 2008 Dana Luebke, all
When I think about the Guelph Seminar,
when I ask myself what did I leave with, what first comes to mind is
a bigger picture of the "world of Iai"
- more awareness of its structure, its personalities, its particular
skills and energies and its depth.
The strongest concept I bring with me
from the teaching and the demonstrations of the Sensei is total
integration of function and form, and relaxation in execution.
a personal note, the day before I left I had selected a new personal
goal, "to be joyful and open". The seminar really
challenged that goal, which I had consciously forgotten in the
experiences of the first day. My Sensei, Chris Gilham, helped
me get back on track. I had forgotten how often setting a goal
'attracts' challenges to create the chaos needed for real change.)
The seminar also made me think about
what is Iai.
Based on my experience in Guelph and without any theoretical
knowledge to influence me, I would say it is the art of using a
(specific) sword to avoid attack and kill an opponent or opponents.
I hypothesize that the skills are
practiced so that they become movement patterns stored in the
movement centers in the back of the brain where they would be
integrated, "high-gear" responses requiring no conscious
"thought"; that these integrated, high-gear patterns
(traditionally achieved in Iaido training by extensive repetition of
movements which would stimulate myelination of those neural pathways)
would enable immediate, relaxed execution.
The development of "no mind"
could put the practitioner in a state of active awareness unaffected
by thoughts or emotions which could interfere with execution.
This would mean being in a place beyond fear or hostility. One would
need to work through any triggers that would throw the practitioner
into orientation reflex. Perhaps this is a technique for
putting the nervous system in an alerted state without bringing
reflexive mechanisms such as "flight/fight" (I lack
knowledge of more accurate terminology) into play. I recall a story
told by our Sensei
about a fighting cock whose trainer would not let him fight until he
was totally calm - as if he were made of wood.
This is what I saw in the relaxed
execution of the 7th and 8th Dan Sensei. One could say
profoundly effective, efficient killing machines - or artists - which
is perhaps why moral training would be such an important part of
Samurai training - to balance or control this deadly, automatic
killing skill. It would appear that the cultivation of such
arts as poetry, calligraphy, Noh Theatre and the Tea Ceremony
fulfilled a need for balance in the lives of Samurai. They are
all calming and reflective. (I think of how many US servicemen
are having trouble returning to civilian life.)
This poses questions in my mind.To take
our "primitive" survival reflexes and harness, alter and
develop them to an extremely high degree - to what end? I am
asking now for our present time.
My knowledge of Buddhism is fairly
superficial, and I am attracted to what I perceive as the Dalai
Lama's message of compassion towards all living things, the sanctity
of all life and the doctrine of not doing harm (can't remember the
name of this). I recently read about Buddhism in Heian Japan
where the focus seemed to be on this life as "a shadow, a place
of sighs." Poetic, but not life-affirming. So I am
curious - what is the spirituality fundamental to Iaido?
I attended some Jodo
classes and enjoyed that the technique seemed to be more about
disarming an opponent and defining boundaries than about trying to
The principals that I most noticed in
- Clarity in purpose of kata and
resulting precision - where is teki,
what is he doing, what are you doing.
- Relaxed, natural execution.
These lead me to try viewing Iaido
practice as an acting exercise - actors often need to combine
visualization with physical skills. And actors must enter into
the characters they play without an attitude about them. It has
been easier for me to approach Iaido practice from the purely
movement angle, using my dance skills - dance is my first (artistic)
language and allowed me to ignore the 'moral' questions of what I was
learning to do. But the Seminar showed me that an actor's skill
and disciplines are necessary as well.
The Seminar also reinforced my belief
that clear observation and analysis of the movement and use of modern
techniques, like Educational Kinesiology to help with stress
reduction and integration of learning, in addition to traditional
dojo methods, can produce beneficial results.
I came away with many images from the
Seminar. Yoshimura Sensei's warmth and wonderful clowning at
the auction, Tsubaki Sensei's brilliant (in my mind)
The reaffirmation that when people really want to communicate, it is
possible regardless of language and culture. The beautiful dance of
the fellow with one leg and his wife during the Jodo demonstration -
her face so focused, his so open, each kata finishing with her Jo
pushiing his head back to the very edge of his balance, which never
wavered - both of them focused, determined as they challenged and
reestablished boundaries. I was very grateful for her kindness and
consideration towards me in the Jodo class, and that of a senior Jodo
practitioner from Thunder Bay and a young Shodan
I wondered if Yoshimura Sensei balances
the discipline of Iai
and its awe-full seriousness with his clowning and warm interaction,
including touch - so absent from the formalized interactions in the
"world of Iai"
- thereby finding a wholeness.
It was curious to me how much our dojo
(myself included) stuck to ourselves. Being a new experience
for me I enjoyed the comfort factor, but I also wonder if there are
opportunities lost. I did enjoy the opportunities for wide
ranging discussions with several of our members, something there
seems to be little time for at home.
Although there are times when I wonder
why I am doing this, I feel that I want to press on with more
training and perhaps grading (something I originally did not want to
get involved in) as I would like to learn Koryu. You may
wonder why, given the kind of ambivalence tugging at me. I
think that the artist in me really wants to be able to go beyond
technique, and is also is intrigued by traditional forms. Be
assured, I have a great respect for and belief in fundamentals - and
I still practice, when I have the chance, very basic dance