Beyond Martial Arts
Looking back on Iaido over the years - a discourse from a beginner, eight years on.
Many start martial arts seeking to pick up self-defense skills or a way to improve health and fitness through a regime of physical activities. There were two reasons why I started on Iaido; the first seeking to better understand and appreciate the katana, and second, a physical activity that doesn't require much space to practice and is something that I could continue regardless of age. The fact that Iaido practice is supported by my spouse comes as both a bonus and a bane - whatever time used to be available for gaming quickly transmuted to practice sessions under Spouse's nagging XD.
Iaido is a constant learning journey. It teaches one that there are always learning opportunities. But it holds true only when one is willing to learn. The upside is that there's even more learning when one is ready.
When I first started Iaido, I have never imagined Seiza practice beyond two hours, nor even attempting Tatehiza. I quickly realized that while progress takes time, what is critical is repeated deliberate practice towards a particular goal. Still, there are times where there are setbacks (e.g. physical injuries and plateau). In the past, when faced with a particular plateau or block in doing certain techniques, I would keep at it while trying to make the next better than the last. Understandably, this is a fool's errand, with limited success. Over time, the entire learning process evolved from just "doing" into "planning-practice-observation/notes-taking and experimentations" with better returns.
Being able to apply this framework of learning beyond Iaido, in work, and in studies is a plus. However, personally, the most valuable takeaways for the physical aspect are knowledge in body posture, the habit of mediation, and Jo-Ha-Kyu. Meditation helped consolidate thoughts and uncover new ideas for working through problems a few times. The weekly practice sessions formed a nice routine for rumination through practice & experimentation. I still struggle with Jo-Ha-Kyu occasionally.
It is fun learning from the iaito. There are many subtle yet refreshing experiences. For example, appreciating the slight variations in the tsuka shape and making adjustments to them. The other was adjusting to the variation in weight balance with a change in tsuba weight. Watching videos of how artisans craft and put together the iaito to examining an actual physical one right down to the minute details (e.g. learning about urushi lacquer on Netflix and getting a saya with it) sort of completed a mini circle.
Through Iaido, I'm also able to meet new people and widen perspectives.
I have seen how closely-knitted communities come together and support each other through difficult times, observe blossoming / withering of relationships, how difficult it is to maintain perseverance and living in the present.
It is an amazing learning journey.