The Iaido Journal  May 2011
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The Artistic Perspective of Iaido

copyright 2010 Hailey Shafman, all rights reserved

It’s been over two years since I first started practicing Iaido and I still have a hard time trying to explain to people what it is. By far the easiest explanation for the average person, which usually makes martial artists cringe from lack of political correctness, is sword dancing. To put it simply, Iaido practitioners are performing choreographed movements which happen to focus on the use of a katana as the prop. I can personally tell you I don’t like or prefer to explain Iaido in this sense. So for this paper, I’m going to attempt to explain Iaido in such a way that my personal opinions and knowledge of it would be understood by someone who is beginning Iaido or just been introduced to it for the first time. With the use of an analogy, I will be able to make the explanation easier to grasp. I am going to explain the similarities between Iaido and art, specifically visual art. By using a topic associated with, but easily overlooked in the world of martial arts.

When creating a piece of art, the artist knows what he/she wants the final product to look like, the flawless final image that will be considered a masterpiece. However, careful planning and consideration must be made before the final step is reached. So they begin by creating a rough image or skeletal idea of what it should look like. Depending on the artist, they can go through one rough draft or multiple copies, focusing on a particular section of the piece or the overall big picture. At this point, the rough image looks nothing like the final product; however it is setting up the basic ideas needed to come to that conclusion. The artist will continue to manipulate the basic ground work until he/she is satisfied with it.

    When a rough background is complete, work on the details can start. The importance of the details is to make the art piece more intricate and aesthetically pleasing. Even the smallest amount of detail can result in a grander presentation.  Obviously, the type and amount of detail within the art piece solely depends upon the skill of the artist. More experienced artists have a finer eye for picking up and creating the details within their art while novice artists are still learning and honing their craft. Usually, after much trial and error through practice, the artist begins to start finding and implementing the details into their art.  By practicing their artistic skills, the artist begins to have their perspectives broadened. Some start seeing the importance of light and shadows, the pattern and texture of items, or even how certain shapes and angles have an overall effect on the art piece. The level of understanding separates the novice artists from the experienced ones. It is expected that the artist will be able to use all their theoretical knowledge of details and apply it practically to their art work.

    With the rough background draft finished and the details all in place, the masterpiece is completed. However, truth be told, no artist is ever fully satisfied with their artwork. When this occurs, the artist either tries to change the detailing of the art or even go so far as starting from the rough image again. The recreation of work usually results from the increased knowledge of the artist.  No artist will ever discontinue learning new ways and methods to create art.

The principles applied in artwork are the same within Iaido.  Every Iaido practitioner begins by learning and developing the basic groundwork needed for the kata. They begin by practicing the foot work and cuts. Depending on the martial artist, some are able to learn the fundamentals of the kata quickly, while others need to focus on specific sections that require more time to master. Once the martial artist understands the general concepts and rough idea behind the kata, they can move on to the next step.

    Like the details in the painting, the fine tuning of certain aspects of the kata are done to make it more interesting and sufficient. Higher ranking martial artists understand how the slight alteration in movement can significantly affect the overall kata. Beginners to Iadio are still learning how to manipulate this general principle. Through practice, the beginner starts to become aware of certain details performed within the kata which makes it more efficient. The ability to implement it correctly is done through a process of trial and error. It is important for the Iaido practitioner to not only perform the practicality of the details, but understand the methods and reasons behind it. This level of understanding separates the ranks within Iaido.

    The combination of understanding the fundamental principles and details within the kata, results in the most efficient and perfectly performed appearance of Iaido. However, to assume that this process is very simple is incorrect. A true practitioner of Iaido will never be satisfied with their kata. As the Iaido practitioner continues to grow and develop their knowledge of Iaido, their katas will evolve with newfound knowledge.  Just like the world of art, once you choose to become involved and fully embrace it, you know that your learning will never cease to stop. There is always another level to be reached regardless of rank or skill. It just depends on what the individual chooses it to be.

    The basic merits found within artistry do not change between venues. The intent and purpose between Iaido and creating artwork may be different, but the final completion of both products, with the use of ingenuity, creates something beautiful. Therefore, Iaido is a martial art where the individual focuses on learning and evolving katas, to a state where the purpose and practicality behind it can be understood from anyone’s perspective, just like when anyone looks at a painting or sculpture and understands what the artist is trying to say.  However, the most important and crucial thing is that it makes sense to the artist themselves.


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