Friday, August 11, 2006

Why Iaido?

A lot of people have no idea of what iaido 居合道 really is. Even many of my Japanese friends have never heard of it. Simply put, it is the study of Japanese swordsmanship. Drawing the sword, striking, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. That said, people have some idea of what it means.

To my Japanese friends, I say it is related to kendo 剣道. But while kendo is a sport, iaido is a (more spiritual) practice of kata using a katana 刀. Wikipedia actually has a lot of information about iaido and the different styles that people practice. I practice Musoshindenryu and the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei seitei iaido katas as well.

Seitei iaido is considered "standard" iaido and therefore can be graded both in competitions and also for rankings. Regular koryu styles may not have a set ranking system, and so they often include the seitei katas in their program just for that purpose.

So, why did I want to study iaido? Well, before I came to Japan, I had studied a form of Okinawan Ryute Karate that I really enjoyed. It taught some weapons katas, but not the sword. I really wanted to study sword, and so when I had a chance to come to Japan, I decided that I would try to study a sword art.

I started with Kendo because there weren't any iaido or kenjutsu teachers in the area where I was living, so I practiced man to man with my sensei about 3 or 4 times a week in the mornings. Rain or shine, snow or heat, I was down in that dojo practicing the art. It was hard, but thanks to my sensei's patience and instruction, I was finally getting a handle on the basics of kendo. I got my 1st dan, and was ready to test for my 2nd dan when I moved to a new location.

After I moved, I continued to practice at a new dojo where I met some sensei's who DID teach iaido. Finally, I was able to start studying what I had wanted to from the beginning. I didn't realize at the time how many different groups or ryu's there were, and so I sort of fell into the Musoshindenryu style. I later learned that there were also groups doing Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and a batto-jutsu style called Toyama ryu.

I knew after my first few practices that this was something I was really going to enjoy learning, and the sensei's and people in our dojo were all very kind. I was right. Now after 7 years of study, I have come to love the dojo, the art, and the beauty of the Japanese katana.

And I'm just beginning...

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