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The "Do" in Iaido

Iai "居合", as a martial arts, began as a discipline of sword techniques for learning attack & defense. In the present-day context, the purpose of Iaido "居合道" is still to strive for proper sword technique, physical training, and refining the spirit - all towards a higher state of self-awareness and self-realization. Some of the essential elements in the cultivation of the spirit towards one of simplicity and fortitude include benevolence "仁" and civility "礼".

If Iai is "skills/ techniques", Do would be "way/ approach". Skills and techniques are just a part of the greater whole, therefore the sole pursuit of technical excellence is not enough. Put in another way, "skills/ techniques" and "way/ approach" could be interpreted as "the means towards possibilities" and "guiding of intent" respectively. Examing the kanji for the Dojo "道場" from this perspective, the kanji characters infers the Dojo as a place to practice and learn. The "way/ approach" is an approach towards responsibility, sincerity, and good etiquette. It is no surprise then, that good manners & etiquette go hand in hand with the refinement of sword techniques. Since ancient times, equal if not more emphasis has been on the aspects of Do, "道". It is logical: A skilled wayward swordsman would be a menace to the community, superiors would be wary of employed samurai who are of questionable behavior/ conduct. Without correct intent, good outcomes are unlikely.

As with all martial disciplines, Iaido is something that is meant for self-improvement; not something to show off nor for frivolous behavior. That's not to say that Iaido is not suitable as a hobby. Rather, perceiving the Iaido as a way for self-improvement will be beneficial. How so?

Iaido requires deliberate, correct practice to build up the finesse in smoothness, precision, and power. Realizing the intent for self-improvement will help clear the noise hindering self-practice. Here we offer two plausible scenarios (of course, it also helps to be willing to listen for each of the scenarios).

1. Self-practice versus Shinsa (grading). How the waza is performed is no different regardless of audience presence. Be in the moment and practice diligently for yourself.

2. Trying to iron out kinks in kata (for example, correcting over-cutting or Hasuji). Too much force in the cut. Staying grounded and slowly observing the transitions in the cut should help the mind and body calibrate towards the correct posture, rhythm, and power.

Ultimately, it is a personal responsibility for self-practice and learning the appropriate deeds for the correct time and place.


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