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Taikai Impressions

My first Iaido Taikai in March 2024 filled me with fear. Yet, it was not for reasons that one would expect. If anything, it filled me with excitement too. It would be the first time I set foot in Taiwan and there were a lot of firsts, especially with attending Shinza (Exam) and training with people from other dojos as well.

But if there was one thing I feared, it was passing the exam and getting Shodan, which is odd. Shouldn’t one be happy over passing an exam and going over to the next grade? My fear was not the rank itself but rather, the attitude after passing the exam. At some point when I practised Iaido, I hit a paradox that seemed unsolvable to me. There are various reasons one learns Iaido, one of which is to build confidence. Yet, I feared that confidence. To me, confidence breeds arrogance. Arrogance breeds ego. And Ego is the Enemy.

During my Iaido journey, I had found myself on several occasions where I had to recentre myself because my mind went into a state of arrogance, boasting to myself that I have learnt everything that I need in Iaido from the amount of improvement I have made since taking up Iaido as if I have conquered the world’s tallest mountain. Such a mindset was unbecoming for me, especially when I took up Iaido not just out of interest but from wanting to understand myself further, among other reasons.

So, imagine the potential amount of arrogance that would fill my being once I have attained Shodan. Would this milestone distort my eagerness to improve and lead me astray from the original intent of seeking self-improvement?

Thankfully, attending the Taikai changed my views. Practising among my Singaporean peers and the Taiwanese members throughout the 3-day seminar, organised by the Taiwan Iaido community and led by Kobara sensei as well as Nakamura sensei, I found myself humbled constantly as everyone from all walks of life sought to improve their wazas, walking on their paths with the same intent as I did: Self-Improvement. As I practised waza after waza among the crowd of Iaido practitioners, I asked myself if my perception of confidence was wrong after all and over time, my views on confidence changed gradually during the process of the Taikai and even post Taikai.

Does confidence breed arrogance? At least when unchecked. But to reject confidence purely because it breeds arrogance is a rejection of growth. Should we reject Iaido because of the mistakes we have made while learning a particular waza? Miyamoto Musashi wrote in the book of Five Rings to not think of the guarding stance for defence but rather, a way to attain victory. So, is it possible to say that making mistakes is a process to learn the proper waza and to understand ourselves better? After all, the path of practising is never one of a linear path.

Through the senseis’ teachings, we are taught the importance of mindfulness for practising wazas to improve ourselves through the concept of Zanshin, to be aware of our surroundings and most importantly, to notice how we do the wazas. Even though it is used for Iaido, I remember Kancho telling the class that “Wazas are there to practice certain situations. How we apply it to practical situations is up to us.” Similarly, how we can apply mindfulness as a tool to keep ourselves in check is entirely up to us as well.

Looking back now, even after Taikai, I still find places to improve on, even after performing the waza countless times, telling myself to try again and again as I remind myself to be mindful. As I write this post, I remember a paragraph written by Yagyu Munenori in his book, “The Book of Family Traditions in the Art of War.” There was a paragraph that I could never make sense of back then but the meaning is clearer than before, setting me back to the path of seeking self-improvement through Iaido with confidence and humility.

“Learning is the gate to the attainment of the Way. Therefore, learning is the gate, not the house. When you see the gate, do not think it is the house. You have to go through the gate to get to the house, which is inside, behind it.” – Yagyu Munenori

Author: Jacob Sin


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