In one of the previous articles a few moons ago, we had briefly mentioned "Heijoshin"- a state of calmness; not being perturbed by one's situations. Some might think: "That's impossible! We are not mindless beings!".. and he/she is right. Human beings are not mindless automatons; devoid of emotions. What is the fundamental principle of this concept?
The state of Heijoshin is an ideal, something not just for the iaidoka to work on, but is relevant to anyone as they go about their daily lives. It encompasses self-awareness (both internal and external) supported by mastery of own’s emotions (observing and responding accordingly). An almost impossible feat, but one worth working on nonetheless.
In Iaido, the iaidoka practices Meditation and Wazas. Meditation (Mok'sō), is a practice where the iaidoka observes his/ her breathing in seiza, yet not being perturbed by it. Similar to the type of meditation (albeit seated in cross-legged position) that most of us know. Meditation are reported to help calm the mind and increase alpha brainwave activity. Neuro-scientists have made a correlation between the increase of alpha brain waves (either through meditation or electrical simulation) and the ability to reduce depressive symptoms and increase creativity. Indeed, companies such as Google, Target and General Mills have invested in meditation/ mindfulness programs to cultivate mindfulness and calmness in their employees. There are differences, but the common denominator is that of striving to maintain calmness under the most trying of circumstances. Indeed in this hyper-paced work environment, coupled with constant connectivity to the net, it is easy to lose sight of maintaining a cool head and periodic recharging to avoid burn-out.
Wazas are done through mindful practice, critical self-assessment and fine-tuning of one's own techniques in a controlled environment (the Dojo). In many ways, it can be likened a man-in-the-loop simulation: repetition after repetition with varying fine-tuning of body posture and positioning. There is meaning behind such repetitions: a controlled failure environment to discover areas (e.g. tenouchi, kamae, footwork) to work on. But how could wazas help calm the mind?
Wazas can be viewed as meditation in motion. Athletes sometimes report peak performance when they are in the “Flow”, a phenomenon of heightened state of awareness and adapt responsiveness to achieve optimal performance. Similar phenomenon exists in Iaido practice – ask any Iaidoka and they would be more than happy to share. Certainly, there will be “off” days in Iaido practice - where one’s wazas don’t seem to fit together no matter the effort.
Indeed, like any other hobbies, Iaidokas think Iaido provides a refuge away from the stresses of daily life to rest and recharge. For example, Matusmoto-Sensei candidly shared among other hobbies, Iaido helps him unwind from the stresses of work. The important thing is to have fun, learn, and translate it into self-development.
We hope this issue has been an entertaining read. Next issue attempts to discuss learning and teaching. Till next time, take care and see you. Cheers.