The Iaido Matrix

by Sensei Mike Pepe

When a student has earned the chance and has been invited to participate in an iaido training session they have probably gone through many "doors" to get to the chance. It usually starts many years earlier with learning the nunchucku and bo.

After mastering these, the student progresses to the sai and tonfa and finally a bladed weapon called the kama. During these training days the student becomes familiar with extending their power to the end of each weapon. They feel how the force of the weapon affects their stance. They also will learn how to strike and block. Mastering these "lower" weapons may take many years.

Then one night they are asked to stay late by the sensei. It is then that the student will enter the matrix called Iaido (the art of drawing the sword).

This may be the first time the student gets to put on a hakama (flowing pleated pants) and put it on and on and on again till they learn to do it correctly. An embarrassing but necessary beginning since it is the obi and hakama that hold the saya (scabbard) in place during practice (when not using a sageo or "string" that attaches the scabbard to the obi). Never before has the student had to "dress up" to take a class and this makes the class all the more serious.

You will make a connection with your sword the moment you pick it up for the first time. It is yours. It will become a part of you, and you will become a part of it. This is why it is called "the soul of the samurai". They are not just words on paper to sensationalize the weapon. If you do not feel this change come over you put the katana down and wait another year or two.

Treat your sword like a loaded gun. Never point the blade at anyone. 1"You would never let anyone open your head and touch your brain, so do not let anyone pull your sword from itís saya and touch the skin". Your sword will have a name and will develop a personality much like yours.

The sword is aerodynamic and like the perfect punch which drops a person face down where they stand and not on their back, the air sliding off a moving sword creates no wake and leaves a beautiful musical sound in the gap of the parting air. This musical sound was the last sound heard by many samurai just before they died.

Sword training is not about the physical it is about what you project out, what you take in, the eyes, maai (distance) and kime (focus-proper technique, posture) 2 These are the five Iaido attitudes. Study each of these three years each.

Now you can see, it is not at all about killing anymore, you are past all that. You and your sword are the same. You do not strike or cut with it. You reposition yourself in the cosmos.

You are not striking out at your opponent. Opponents are just molecules in front of you. Your sword does not cut flesh, sinew or bone. It merle travels to itís destination and your opponent is defeated in the process.

As in kendo, you must focus. If you think about blocking you are already dead. If you think about being cut you already are. Your opponents attacking sword is just a ripple in the universe. Too much yang. You sense it and you deal with it... Then you move on.

If you ever find yourself in a life and death struggle against a master swordsman listen for the beautiful music as his sword descends upon you and you will know as with this article, you have reachedÖ. The end.

"Study all weapons in this manner."

Sensei Mike Pepe


  1. IAI: the art of drawing the sword by Darrell Craig
  2. As passed down by Sensei Paul Keller and Sensei Chris Clarke

 

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