What is Iaido?


I practice a martial art form called Iaido (pronounced Eee-Eye-Doe). So, what is Iaido?

According to Wikipedia, “Iaido is a modern Japanese martial art, associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard or saya, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard.”

That’s a very literal and mechanical interpretation. How one achieves smooth, controlled movements and strikes the opponent with full effect, is not so literal or mechanical and that is why it is an art form. To do art well, one must feel.

According to iaido.org, Iaido is “The way of harmonizing oneself in action”. This is explained through the meaning behind the word. I means being, AI means harmony, and DO means way. There isn’t a word in there that means action, but Iaido is a martial art that uses a sword and if you aren’t going to do something with the sword, then why would you have it? Your opponent will surely do something with it if you won’t.

Harmony is achieved, at least in part, through Ki Ken Tai Ichi (sometimes referred to as Ki Ken Tai No Ichi; no meaning “of”). Ki Ken Tai Ichi is the culmination of Ki* (spirit), Ken (sword), Tai (body), Ichi (one). The goal is for one’s Ki, one’s sword, and one’s body to act as one force when one strikes.

In simplest terms, I often hear Ki Ken Tai Ichi expressed as the timing of one’s cuts and footwork. That’s the easiest way for a beginner, such as myself, to understand it.

I’m at the beginning of the journey of an Iaidoka with my current rank being “No Q”, working towards “EQ”. After “EQ” rank I will be working towards a 1st Dan “black belt”. Iaido doesn’t have a belt system like other martial arts. People stand in the dojo according to rank, rather than show their rank on their belt. In order to get from “No Q” to “EQ” I have to show that I have mastered etiquette (sounds easy, but it’s not), and perform 5 of the Zen Ken Ren set of 13 kata.

I am just discovering Ki and I don’t understand a lot of it yet. I feel like it’s something that needs more than practice. I feel like it is something that requires inner growth, in part, to wield. I say wield, because Ki is a powerful force. There are many stories of people becoming too heavy to lift or move. I don’t know that I believe them, nor the stories of martial artists that win without ever touching their opponent, but knowing how to channel one’s energy leads to being able to use the right amount of force in the right area. Bruce Lee’s touch of death proves that knowledge of anatomy combined with martial arts skill mean very little force is needed to take an opponent out. To be an exemplary martial artist, I believe one must be able to wield Ki.

I know that studying Ki will lead to being able to visualize my opponents better and channel my energy into my sword. I believe studying Ki will bring benefits in many areas of life. I think the concept can be applied to sports and other activities.

I understand the basic theory of Ki, but that doesn’t mean I am ready to wield it. Like many things in life, theory is often different from application. I will continue to learn about it and hopefully become proficient at wielding it.

Another thing about Iaido is that it is focused on maximum damage for minimum effort. Many Japanese use this concept in their daily work through employing LEAN manufacturing techniques, which are also about obtaining maximum gain with minimum cost/effort.

Why have I started this blog? I’m a primarily visual and kinaesthetic learner, so I observe things and I do them. As part of the visual, writing things down helps me puzzle them out and Iaido is full of puzzles. Almost nothing is simple in Iaido and that speaks to the part of me that loves a good challenge. I do get frustrated at how nit-picky it is, but I believe that though I may not currently see all of the ways how, it will be good for my personal growth.

*Ki is also expressed as Chi, or Qi.

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