In the beginning of Iaido training, the focus for most is on the sword. A beginner often wants to “cut” and hear the “whoosh” of the sword or bokken. At the very least, the beginner wants to hold a sword and swing it. It’s probably what brought the person into the dojo in the first place. The beginner receives instruction from the teacher about grip, stance, arc, timing, visualization, and relaxation, but the beginner wants to see and hear the results of training hard by swinging the sword and creating movement and playing samurai. After a while, the fantasy fades and real training begins, or the person quits because real training is not what he thought it would be.
Posture is paramount. The head and hip should be vertical and form a stable axis around which everything can move. Stability of that axis, once established, remains the focus as movement is added. Extending one’s arms shouldn’t pull the body one direction or another. The added weight of the sword shouldn’t alter the axis as the cutting motion begins, ends, or meets an obstacle/target. The stance in its varied width and breadth should support the stability of the axis so that all movement is connected to the cutting motion and the cutting portion of the sword. A stationary axis is easier to control because it’s easier to identify the different forces acting on the center.
Then, movement of the axis is added. First, up and down, then forward, then …let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The center must remain stable. If the center is not stable, any movement will pull the center off its course. As dynamic beings, we are in constant change and motion. As we travel through our lives, there will always be forces that try to pull or push us in one direction or another. If we are to continue, we must be able to resist those forces and maintain our paths.
To move our center up from a seated, seiza position, there is a force that builds in the center and finds vertical movement as the place of least resistance. This force pushes our center up and we find ourselves on our knees with our toes curled. The center expands as one foot steps out creating a triangle with the ground as its base and our center as its apex. Tension continues to build from the connection that our feet have created and our center is propelled further until we are standing. The expansion is complete. One foot is forward, the other is behind on parallel lines shoulder-width apart. The back leg is straight. We are stable. We then bend the back leg and begin contraction, lowering our center to the ground until our knee from our back knee comes to rest on the ground creating a straight line from the tip of our heads to our knee. Then the front foot slides back so that both knees are on the ground, toes lie flat, and we lower the center back to seiza. The whole time the head and the hip are in a straight, vertical line.
A stable center is necessary for the transfer the maximum power to the tip of a sword, or any tool. Only from a stable position can we act in any way that can have impact.