Observations of an Iaido dojo
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Most of the time, our news reports are written by our members on things they have learned or experienced. Today, we are very happy to have our first written review from a guest of the dojo.
I've always enjoy observing. Observing someone drawing, how birds fly, how the cake mixer works. I just find joy in observation.
Today, I had the opportunity to observe a full Iaido training session. It's my second time doing this!
But what is Iaido?
So yeah. I know, I know, no one walks on the street with a sword! Haha. And yes, I'd think it's hardly that easy and legal to be brandishing a sword out on the streets.
It was an interesting experience when the boyfriend, hereforth named as B, first introduced me to his dojo. The first time however, gave me quite a shock! At the end of practice, guys were openly changing out of their training uniforms and into their regular clothes, even when there was another lady member in the vicinity. But of course, the boys would turn away from ladies out of general courtesy. I'm generally not prudish but still, this was the first mass-guys-changing-in-front-of-me session that's ever happened in front of me! And then subsequently... it just became, a norm. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it was just a first for me! Since then, I've been meeting him after training almost every Saturday before we go for our weekly date.
Generation observations I've found in iaido:
- I never knew drawing a sword, a weapon, could be so elegant
- Every step, was a counted step and that, it helps in the understanding of how the sword can be gracefully drawn
- There's even a step by step guide of folding the uniform! (My mum would be so happy for me to learn that...)
- The respect given for a sword and its techniques
Ever since then, I've been a regular visitor at the dojo, sitting by the side waiting for B to do his duties and at the same time, I get to meet new people from the dojo! Interestingly, it was kind of comfortable for me to talk to them. They were all so friendly and they treated me like I was one of the members! Members came from all walks of life, of different ages. But they are all gathered in the dojo for one reason, their interest in Iaido. There wasn't any pretense or "clique-y" feeling, the club felt like a big extended family!
Back in November, they had a guest sensei for their seminar. To us non-practioners, he looked like an ordinary guy who did this art as a form of keeping himself healthy. But no, he's actually a world class sensei who's highly respected in this art! Despite his injuries from an accident before, he was taking painkillers to help him get through practices and that was something admirable. Although I'd missed out on him doing a demonstration on the last day of the seminar, I checked him out on YouTube and man, he could possibly put guys two to three decades younger to shame with his speed! He filmed videos of the individual members' sessions and in turn, gave them pointers as to how they can improve. That's the kind of sportsmanship all arts should have! It was a pleasure to have met this great sensei!
Today's session was an enlightening one, different from the first full session I observed. I thought B would be leading the warmup, but it was another member, who is actually the oldest member of the club leading the warmup! And man, for a 75 year old, I'm pretty sure he's fitter than me. (PSA - Lead a healthy lifestyle and do as much exercise as you can, as early as you can!)
Today's main training involved a one-on-on critique session with a revolving partner. Two persons stand face-to-face, taking turns to practice their individual technique, and using the person in front of them as a visual target (No hitting of course!). After each technique, partners critiqued one another, moved to the right so you got a different partner for the different techniques. You could get a senior-junior, senior-senior or junior-junior pairing. This went on for 90 minutes before the dojo head called for a water break. By then, I could see the exhausted looks in the members' faces, and also because it was 9.30pm by then! There was 30 minutes of practice left and members broke down in groups to have a more dedicated one-on-one training. And you have me by the side, just looking at them and doing mental sword practice in my mind.
B taught me a few basic techniques and I'm not gonna lie, it felt good! It was a bit daunting when I was at my first full session because everyone drew out their swords, and I'm not one who's a fan of sharp items, having been cut by glass a few times. But having tried out the simple technique of just raising the sword above you, and letting it just come down in one smooth, effortless swing, that just felt so liberating.
I can understand why B says practicing Iaido is a form of practicing one's patience. It takes a lot of patience to use the right strength for the different techniques and movements. You can't rush through it, and if and when you make a mistake, don't stop and dwell on your mistake, move on and try and complete the rest of the technique correctly. Reflect on your mistake after that, practice more and soon after, you'll get better and better. That's quite similar as to how you should look at Life, right?
At the end of the session, everyone removed their swords, bowed to their swords and then to each other, that was the routine. Smiles break out when training was over. You hear chit-chatting from the members, from how their day was to how they felt about that day's practice. It was like a family here. And I certainly felt very welcomed in this club.
Observations I took out of today's session:
The facial expressions of the members for the different techniques. I'm sure there were a few tough ones as I could see people with puffed up faces, trying to hold their breaths in, and the look of relief after.
How humbling the one-on-one critique sessions could be. This was the most valuable observation I've had after all this time at the dojo. You get members from all walks of life. Be it a CEO of some company, or a university student. Once in the dojo, the titles you held outside practice are thrown away. Everyone starts from the bottom. In a sense, everyone was equal, in spite of seniority. For today's practice, I saw members of different levels critiquing each other. Be it the senior members, to a member who's been in the club for less than six months. They were just giving their partners pointers as to what they've observed in that short time period and it may be right, it may not be, because by seniority, how can a junior critique the seniors? But that's the beauty of it. I see seniors taking in pointers by the juniors! (Granted, they could be boiling in the inside but at least they held it well in their faces.) Vice versa, juniors taking in critiques by the seniors. One of them even told me, he didn't felt right to critique the seniors! But after a while, it dawned on me, Iaido feels like an art where everyone just wants to practice well, get the techniques right, and it's for their mental wellbeing too. It's both an individual and team effort! So far, I have not seen anyone being real competitive, everyone helps out one another in pointing out what can be improved. That was such an endearing moment for me.
This is what I've observed from today's training session and I can't wait for the third full session!