As one progresses along Iaido, one invariably goes through the four cyclic phases of Concept understanding, Familiarization, Self-internalization and New exploration. This applies regardless of the waza learnt.
In addition, Iai in basic terms may be visualized as the Nuki-Kiri-Chiburi-Noto (Draw-Cut-Chiburi-Sheath) chain.
Let’s use a few wazas (Mae, Yaegaki, Ukigumo) to illustrate how these 2 concepts are related.
The initial concept understanding phase involves the learner learning the fundamentals (correct body posture, correct hasuji, correct metsuke, etc.) In Mae, it would be correct leg position upon rising up from Seiza.
With repeated practice of the correct fundamentals, one builds up muscle memory & strength and is gradually accustomed (Familiarization phase) to the scenario (bunkai) of the particular waza. This leads to improved proficiency in form and “flow” of the waza that is more natural. Using Mae again as an example, this could be the simultaneous drawing of the sword while rising up from seiza.
Regarding the self-internalization phase, with correct deliberate practice, one slowly acquires the sense of correct body posture (e.g. correct pacing of footwork, correct tenouchi, and synchronization of breathing with motion. From this point on, once may be able to do self-correction mid-waza. For example, correcting furikaburi before committing into kirioroshi (vertical cut) in another waza, Yaegaki. All these take time and require patience and self-discipline - it is not a matter to be rushed.
The exploratory phase begins once the learner has gained sufficient proficiency and understanding of the meaning behind the waza techniques that cross-application (as applicable) could be trialed out in different wazas. For example, the positioning of yoko-chiburi in Yaegaki is the same for all wazas with yoko-chiburi. In the case of another waza, Nukiuchi, the technique regarding the use of hara in the cut can be applied to all cuts.
All these may appear counter-intuitive since each waza is compartmentalized as-is. Each wazas have their own unique learning points – that they are designed as “individual packages” of information for progressive learning. Yet, there exists many “dots” across the repertoire of wazas, waiting for the learner to discover and make the connection.
The learners’ self-connection through self diligence and through guidance by those that come before us illustrates the ingenuity of the syllabus designer and trust in the capacity of the human mind.
The result is the transition from the slow deliberate and effective correct moving forms of each waza, to the smooth, correctly paced ones and eventually, precise, efficient ones with seemingly little effort while in the never ending pursuit of perfection.
Upcoming posts includes feature art by our resident illustrator and discussion regarding timing. Til then, take care!