People come to the dojo for a variety of reasons. Probably everyone has a story that is as unique as that person’s life, yet, we all find ourselves in the dojo on the mat, together. Iaido is a mostly individual practice. Visualization of an opponent is essential, and there are times where we use each other to understand spacing and timing, but most of one’s time is spent training in what child psychologists and early-childhood educators call “parallel play.” It is not training that engages with another person. This makes Iaido training a lot safer. Instead of connecting with another person and feeling how that person’s body moves, we connect with a sword and try to discover how it wants to move.
A sword does not say, “Ouch” or tap when a person moves it incorrectly, and due to the shape and design of the Japanese sword, there is a correct way for the sword to move. A lot of people think they can move the sword any ole way they want to. They think that as long as they can hit something with the sword that it will cut, or cleave through a target like it was butter, but in reality, a sword only cuts one way. A sword wants to slice along its arc, or it wants to stab along that same arc. Regardless, due to its shape, the Japanese sword wants to move on an arc. As a student of Iaido, we must learn to connect with that arc and help the sword move the way it wants to move.
Years ago, there was a salesman who was selling swords on TV. (In a few years, this post won’t make much sense. People will ask, “What is QVC?”) As part of the program, the salesman was going to show how strong and sharp the swords were and he began banging a sword on a hard surface when, suddenly, the sword broke, recoiled and stabbed him. “The sword gods were smiling.” He survived, but he was hurt pretty badly. Like watching someone slip and fall on the ice, it became a “blooper” that people would watch for a chuckle. It was not that salesman’s finest moment, and is really quite scary. If something is misused, someone could get hurt. That’s why it is very important to learn how to connect with the sword and learn how to feel it’s movement. If a person can connect with a sword, then that person can connect with other aspects of life encountered off the mats of the dojo, and Iaijutsu becomes Iaido.