In the Air
Tuesday. 13 January 2015
Sitting in this Airbus A 320 on Jetstar, somewhere over the South China Sea, I am thinking about this, my second visit to Taiwan for iaido training.
The first visit saw me going as a visitor, on a whim, a dare and an enthusiasm about this art. We went in high spirits, on a curiosity and returned, joyful; filled with memories that only first-time encounters can bring. A one-of-a-kind experience, which can never again replicated. At that time, I had not even considered coming back here for Dan grading because it was too far away to think about. Yet here we are, coming for testing; some shodan, nidan sandan.
Now I am (with seven friends) heading for Taiwan with a very different spirit; one born out of knowledge, experience and training. The high spirited curiousity of our first trip is now replaced with a calm, measured determination to train seriously; do our very best and happily renew the friendships we began last January, as we know our Taiwanese hosts are always happy to meet us.
I am seeing myself now as an iaidoka, coming to learn, share and experience iaido with people who love this martial art and also to build up and renew friendships. It's like a family re-reunion and a good kind of feeling to have.
Wednesday 14 to 16 Friday
Touching down at Taoyuan Airport ( Taipei ) in the late morning I made my way to the railway station, boarded the High Speed Train (average speed 215 kph ) and arrived at it's last stop Kaohsiung, after a five and a half journey, to check in and settle down.
The following day, the whole team visited the Kaohsiung Wude Martial Art Centre: a carefully preserved beautiful sixty year old dojo, well sighted on a hill slope. It was a poignant moment for us all to be there once more; to experience this wonderfully quiet , traditional Japanese dojo ,with it's display of weapons; tai-ko drums; armour; Shinto shrine and wooden name pieces hanging high on the wall. It's all about tradition and befitting of iaido, a koryu matial art with a five hundred year old history. The feeling was like coming home to a well loved institution where one's character and martial skills have been nourished and where the teachings are being passed on. Nevertheless, every iaidoka coming from Singapore will pay their respects to the Wude Martial Arts Dojo because of the sentimental link it holds for us.
We spent about an hour just wandering around soaking up the atmosphere; bought some items from the dojo shop and left for lunch and afternoon training at the Butokkuden, a sports centre.
At the Butokkuden, we trained in the afternoon for two days and it was good and thorough. There were many details to remember and a lot of corrections to be made. We went to bed each night with images of perfect wazas, performed in our heads!
Then on the 16 and 17, we switched to a large venue, the Kaohsiung Municipal Martial Arts Hall and it was a greatsight to finally see all our Taiwanese friends together, i.e. forty-three participants judges, friends and photographers. This might well be one of the largest gathering of iaidokas
In Taiwan! At lunch time, seeing about fifty beautiful swords all laid together in rows was such a rare and beautiful sight and also a chance for us to admire all the magnificent designs, because most of us will be thinking of owning better quality swords in the near future.
A Hard Day
At 10a.m. we were at the Butokkuden and I am glad to state that we were always the first to arrive every training day, usually waiting for someone to open the doors for us. Today all the senseis turned up and with the full attendance, we were separated into our different levels and specific instruction on the grading wazas began. I felt a change in mood from the normal. All of us knew that this was our last chance to polish our techniques before the Test and that our senseis were becoming critical, demanding more repetitions, more corrections. All of us were tired but nobody showed signs of easing off. This was the type of training we had come for, to be pushed beyond our limits and we needed these teachers to do what we could not do by ourselves. All the earlier days had been leading to this day, the apex of a process that builds up our spirit, determination and confidence. So when the session closed we were grateful, very tired but happy to know that we were as ready as we could be to be tested!
The Release. Sunday
This is the day! All of our training for the past year or two is going to confirm to the iaido community,
the official level of our iaido ability. It is a great feeling , full of personal satisfaction, to realize that our skills level have grown and also to see our friends in the community progressing too.
First everybody was briefed on the whole procedure, then with large numbers on our left chest,
We lined up and grading began .Everbody was nervous and tense but also confident that we could do it. Lowest ranks began first followed by the next higher rank . In fours or fives, group after group walked in, performed 5 wazas each and then walked off, to sit quietly at the back of the hall and watch the others. At last the testing was over and we felt great relief. After a short break the demonstration part of iaido started and we did the same wazas but this time those not testing had a chance to perform too. Finally, the senseis also demonstrated advanced wazas, which we had only read about in books but have never seen. Most of us wondered if we would ever achieve such skill!
Then came the results, and happily everybody passed, some doing well to get distinction and special mention. Much to our surprise some were Singaporean. Well done chaps! We are very proud of you.
It appears that each time one grades, one grows and develops new awareness. Going overseas to
for testing is expensive and yet if you wish your art to get better, you have to go. Training and being trained by experienced and high ranking senseis as well as seeing others perform, improves and enriches our iaido. Everyone who goes abroad, returns as an inspiration and lifts the morale and spirit of every other member of the dojo . So good luck , success and a big thank you to all who make the time and effort every two years: you are building up a strong, united and vibrant dojo.