"What is that guy doing?" I asked Tomio, fellow member of the Koganei Iaido Club and good friend.
I could read enough of the Japanese kanji to know that the first group performing on the floor of Tokyo's Budokan was the Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu Iaijutsu, but the way they moved looked so funny. Outside of the All Japan Kendo Federation Iaido groups, I hadn't seen many other styles of swording. I assumed this Eishin group would be very similar, if not the same as the Eishin group inside the Kendo Federation.
"Look at the size of his sword!" Tomio said. I leaned closer in as if it would increase my view from the upper seats we'd taken.
"That thing is huge! No wonder he moves like that." Down below the 21st soke--the headmaster of this particular Iaido style and school, Mr. Takaaki (Komei) Segikuchi, was demonstrating some forms.
Soke Sekiguchi bobbed and waved his body in large head leading movements. He then drew that mammoth sword, leaning into it so far that his head seemed to draw out with him. When he cut down, his entire upper body swayed forward, as if the weight of the sword pulled him into it. Then he performed the blood-flicking move-chiburi, and again his body was warped, swinging into the momentum.
Everything he did happened in large reptilian waves of motion where his head lead and his body followed. I looked over at Tomio, "That's the strangest, funniest looking Iaido Iíve ever seen." Tomio nodded in agreement. We sat there amazed, watching as a group of practitioners joined the headmaster. They all began the same mesmerizing movements, with swords I thought were much too large to reasonably handle.
Out of the fifty or so demonstrations of 'kobudo'--old/traditional martial ways, being performed that February in 2000, there were only a few labeled under 'Iaido'. The Eishin Iaijutsu happened to be the very first demonstration of the day.
Months later while in Perth, my friend Ian played a videotape, "Check this Iaido stuff out. You won't believe it." The credits roll by and thereís that huge sword and a face I know.
"I know this guy! I've seen him before in Tokyo."
Ian and I then spent the next hour trying to comprehend how a man could use a sword so big. The swordís size and weight helped explain the movements.
Once I had reached Adelaide, I was able to experience this monster sword art at the training hall of the German club.
Danny Mayman is the president of what was then known as the Adelaide 'Komei Juku'. Heís been practicing Iaido for 11 years now. Originally, he trained with the Hokushin Shinoh ryu people, also located in Adelaide. After leaving that group he trained for four years under the tutelage of Sekiguchi sensei. During my training experience with Mayman sensei he was still affiliated with this group.
Now Danny and his students are part of the Nihon Kobudo Iaijutsu and his new club name is KIDO Kai. Yamauchi, Toyoomi, (the son of Yamauchi, Toyotake) is the chairman of the Yamauchi Toyotake line of Eishin ryu. This is the line that Mayman sensei and his students now follow.
After bowing in Danny led us into a warm up with their set of five standard waza known as the ĎToho.í In the ZNKR we call our standard forms 'kata' whereas this group calls them waza, and refers to two men training as 'kata.' He politely told me to follow as best as possible. If I wanted to I could stick with my own versions of the waza.
The forms are not all that dissimilar from some of our kata in the ZNKR. Mayman sensei modeled the forms and we followed. I was most confident with my own style and a tad bit one minded, so I decided that I would stick to the versions I knew. Mayman sensei did say I could do that. At that time I was more interested in watching their class than practicing my own waza. Iíd change my mind soon enough.
I got only as far as the first form--the standard yoko cut from seiza followed by kirioroshi and chiburi, when Mayman sensei stopped and began correcting me. This was a surprise. Moments before he did say that I could 'do my own thing.' Now it had become clear that he wanted me to try their techniques.
This went on for ten minutes or so. I have to admit, I didnít like it. At that time I felt as though I was being told that my 'Iaido' wasn't good, and the only option open to me was to do the waza 'their way.' Of course I kept this all under wraps. But once I let my pride settle down and I actually listened to Mayman sensei, I realized what he was doing.
He was 'offering' me an immense opportunity to learn and understand something about his school and style of Iaido. He was 'giving' me his Iaido and the why's of it as well. Far from trying to criticize my Iaido he was merely nudging me into trying their way of things, if only for an hour or two. I thought about this quickly and decided that I had been unreasonable. If I were truly on a mission to study Iaido, then why would I shun such a gracious opportunity? Why would I let my own pride get in the way to learning a new perspective? Worst of all, who was I to judge Mayman senseiís Iaido style so hastily?
With my ears and eyes opened I followed Mayman sensei. We spent the
next hour and a half going through not only the five Toho waza, but also
their 11 shoden (beginning set), 10 chuden (middle set) plus a couple of
okuden (inner set). Basically, it was a cram lesson in Eishin Iaijutsu.
Mayman sensei was patient with my questions too.
Mayman sensei's sword is 2 kg in weight and stands almost to my chin in length. The blade is 900mm in length. The mune thickness ranges from 5 to 8mm and the width of the sword is 50 mm at habaki to 35 mm at yokote. The tsuka is 310 mm long and the tsuba is 100 mm in diameter. Iím talking monster proportions! It was the biggest, most awkward weapon Iíd ever put my hands on. He offered it to me and I tried to draw it: This act of courage developed nothing less than the same snake like head-bobbing action that is typical of their waza! Itís humanly impossible to draw such a sword without 'getting the body into it'.
I tried a little suburi and again realized that without a fluid range of motion and flexibility in the body, I couldnít control the beast of a sword. I didn't dare try chiburi or noto, but Mayman sensei's got it down. Quite frankly, I don't know how he does it.
Mayman sensei says that the soke believes training with the big sword, ďmoves one's Iaido up to a higher level.Ē If Iíd spent a day training with that thing, my sword would feel like a toothpick. Probably, Mayman sensei has got forearms of steel from swinging that monster around. His club does a lot of cutting too--once a month. Mayman sensei claimed they use the same motions and speed for cutting, as they do in the waza. The cuts in their waza look powerless and slow, but Mayman sensei emphasizes that they donít cut with fast, sharp, long drawn swings like Iíve seen and performed in the ZNKR circles. Cuts are more like carving here.
Most of his students move to shinken-live blades, after a year of training. They all do lots of cutting. When the soke used to come to Adelaide to train with them, theyíd do hours on end of 'amazing' cutting techniques. With swords like theirs I can see why they can do yoko cuts through four rolls of tatami lined up. If they wanted to they could probably get clear through small cars.
Itís my opinion that these big swords are probably the least practical of sword weapons one would have possibly used in any period of Japan's warfare. I certainly canít imagine them being the weapons worn by samurai. How and why these swords have come to be a fundamental component of this system is not clear to me. Some more research in this area would be a good thing.
Some forms of Iaido as they were probably practiced in the Edo period, and certainly in these modern days, donít require combat practicality and usefulness. When I asked Mayman sensei about his Iaido philosophy, words like 'spirituality' and 'creating self-discipline' were emphasized.
ďIaido requires or creates a solemn character. Through Iaido we not only learn about and preserve Japanese culture, but we also gain practical knowledge that comes out in our everyday life, without us knowing it. For example, we learn to avoid confrontation by sitting back and listening. We wait, and when and if situations flare we can easily walk away with no harm done.Ē
Mayman sensei then goes on to say that we are all after the same goals, despite the different styles of Iaido that exist. Therefore, to criticize one style over another would not be fair of us. I didnít ask what that goal was, but assumed it to be directly related to Mayman sensei's Iaido philosophy.
The Eishin Iaijutsu History
Yamauchi, Toyotake--family member of the powerful rulers of Kochi prefecture on Shikoku Island, was a student of Eishin ryu's Masamichi, Oe. It was at some point in Toyotake's life that the branch of Eishin iaijutsu that Mayman sensei practices today, was formed.
Among Eishin circles now there are debates about current headmasters but this group, separate from both the All Japan Iaido Federation and the All Japan Kendo Federation, has a lineage for it's school.
Yamauchi was the 18th headmaster of Eishin ryu. Kanemitsu, Kono and
then Masamitsu, Onoe followed him. Now the school is under the leadership
of Sekiguchi, Takaaki. Iím not sure whether or not itís accurate for this
group to claim the legitimacy to the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st headmaster
of Eishin Iaido. Not that they are: This group has a different name and
slightly different techniques. I do wonder how other Eishin groups would
think of and view this group.
The curriculum of this particular system is quite rich. There are the 5 toho waza; 11 shoden; 10 chuden; 8 okuden (iai hiza) and 11 okuden (tachi). There are also 7 tachi iai forms and 11 tsume iai forms. Thereís another set called Ďtoryu bangaií--5 of them and 3 in a set known just as Ďbangai.í And further still are 10 hayanuki waza. Among all of these are several variation waza for each waza. Thatís a pretty heavy curriculum.
Mayman sensei uses lots of bokuto work to show and practice the applications
of waza, as well as a 'hikihada' (made from split calcutta cane and wrapped
in velvet/cloth) for more rigorous two people training. Hikihada training
resembles kendo and kenjutsu exercises.
Mayman sensei teaches through modeling, followed by a detailed breakdown of the waza. In one lesson they may go from individual 'free' practice, to group and pair work using bokuto. He is quick to stop them and point out areas they may be weak on, yet relaxed enough for the group to have fun with their training.
Of particular usefulness and torture in the club is the 'frame of pain.' Mayman sensei has constructed the frame for training certain oku iai waza. The frame of pain is a plastic model 'doorway' with the exact dimensions of a small 'mon' used in castles, towns and villages throughout Edo Japan. Using this plastic frame, (which is chipped and taped together from the beating it has taken) students can practice kata like Ďmon-irií, to get a much more realistic feel for how the form and its timing might actually be.
The frame is one of the best teaching tools Iíve seen in a dojo. And it really was great fun to use! When itís turned on its side, it serves as the oku iai kata for moving under a shelf or veranda. Tricky stuff it was! I particularly enjoyed this and the partner practice of kata applications--as in a standing two-person practice of the form known as Ďtakiotoshii.í These training devices really brought out all the details of the waza. I could see that in using these various teaching aids, students can create a more realistic Iaido.
Although I found the big swords to be an unruly lot of metal, I found the core of Mayman sensei's waza, kata and teachings to be superlative. If one were to put a more realistically proportioned sword into his hands I think his Iaido would be very similar to the Eishin Iaido of the ZNKR and the ZNIR. When using bokuto, Mayman sensei and his students use smaller versions of the sword. During this time their Iaido looked much more crisp and tight.
Mayman sensei runs his club very professionally. It showed in the way they treated me, their guest. I was appropriated a certain amount of respect and Mayman sensei made it a point to let his students know a little bit about me. On both training occasions he even allowed some class time for me to demonstrate the Muso Shinden ryu Iaido for his students. At no point did he appear to outwardly criticize other Iaido styles. Having seen several styles before, he likes the style he does, and feels it suits him best. Heís a one-art man, claiming that a student can only have one master.
Besides being a fine Iaidoist, Mayman sensei is also humble. He emphasized that he too is just a beginner, doing his best to improve his Iaido.
Training Points from the experience
1. All kirioroshi cuts throughout the entire curriculum end with the kissaki and top of the tsuba on a horizontal line. These cuts also finish with the end of the handle past the forward leg. This way yoko chiburi is not blocked by the leg/knee.
2. Cuts start with the tsuba and kissaki well below the head and have the elbows and arms basically lock out once the sword has reached a straight vertical line over the head.
3. The waza never seem to take a significant pause or interval, (known as 'ma-oku', which many of us in the kendo/Iaido circles do perform.) One waza moves in a series of seemingly non-stop motions.
4. Noto appears to be a cross between the Eishin and Shinden noto of the kendo people. Not straight over the top or from the side but somewhere in-between.
5. They never fully sit in seiza or iaihiza but always remain 'floating' on the tops of the heels. Even in some movements during the kata they are continuously using the leg muscles to remain afloat.
6. Movements from a standing position occur largely on the front balls of the feet (for quick movements) and the head is never at one constant 'height'. The body appears to bob and weave.
7. In seiza or standing the tsuba is always to the right of the navel, well over on the right side of the body. Drawing occurs from this line out to the right.
8. When holding the tsuba the thumb must be well off to the side so as not to be seen by the enemy.
9. When the hands are at ones side the thumbs should be lightly placed inside the hands (for protection--can't draw a sword without the thumb they said).
10. Shibori at the end of cuts has both hands, especially the right, placed down onto the handle, so that it appears as though one's right lower arm is almost parallel with the floor. This way no parts of the handle are exposed for the enemy to come along and grab it.
11. On draws from seiza, the knees come together while rising up on them.
More of Chrisís writings can be found on his website http://www.geocities.com/iaigilham/