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Love and Iaido

Throughout my journey in Iaido, I’ve had several milestones. Most were technical improvements. Some deal with the concept of Ma, or put another way, the concept of time. Recently, however, I had the most profound discovery. One that filled me with an overwhelming joy. As the title blatantly suggests, it is “Love”.

Stepping back a bit. When we first studied Iaido, one of the strange concepts (to me at least) was to envision your opponent in front of you. In my formative years of study, I always neglected this aspect, simply because I lacked the imagination to do so. After all, in Iaido practice, you always win. “You’re the hero no matter what!” said a famous, grumpy economist.

So how did I eventually start envisioning these opponents? I went for the lowest-hanging fruit. People I did not like. It is easy to imagine cutting down your enemies, and it was really effective! We learned metsuke (the way of seeing) and I had a somewhat tangible target to strike down. Over time, I practised “what if” scenarios. Suppose you do a technique, but your opponent has a different reach from you. Or suppose you do waza A and your opponent performs a move differently, how will you overcome it? I practised all these while staying as true as possible to the bunkai (story) of your waza.

Over time, however, I noticed the negative effects of it. I was getting lured into the sense of just cutting and overpowering my imaginary opponent. Force overtook grace. I’m not saying fighting is graceful, but when you just focus on powering through every cut, it makes you stiff. Predictable. Laboured. When you fight, you are not chopping wood. You are dealing with a fluid, dynamic situation that requires you to only use as much power as is necessary. That even means learning to be soft. “Trust your sword,” said Kobara sensei.

So one day, rather than focusing on an abstract opponent, or a person I did not like, I imagined the people I admired. Sensei, peers, friends. A sensei I very much respected defeated me in my own imagination! I attempted mae, and felt overwhelmed by that teacher’s presence, that I had to abort into a tsukekomi. From there, he landed his sword on my forearm. It was magical. It filled me with so much humility and joy, and love. I recall a panel in Takehiko Inoue sensei’s manga, Vagabond, where Musashi comes across an aged Yagyu Sekishusai that felt right like this moment.

Which brings us back to the beginning. I now try to use love in my practice of Iaido. When I do my waza, I think of the people I admire. I think of the friends I’ve made along the way. It has made my Iaido a lot more free. Fluid, but not flimsy. Soft, but not weak (or so I believe.) Paired with an applied metsuke, it makes Iaido practice a whole lot more real.

Note: The thoughts expressed here are solely the Author's own.

Author: Billy Yong


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