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Thread: Iaido vs reality

  1. #1
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    Post Iaido vs reality

    I'm a new member of the forum and new to JSA too.I plan to practice MJER,but some questions-being a fan of Japanese culture I have watched too many samurai movies,specially the Kurosawa classics-regarding the practice of iaido in modern times and Japanese swordsmanship centuries ago.
    This might be controversial and raise some brows,lower others.Believe me is not my intention to initiate any argument,so please bear with me and we all are civilized as to have proper questions and proper answers.
    Wasn't a custom to enter a house or chamber in a palace without wearing the daisho,just the wakizashi and or tanto?At least that's the way is depicted in some movies.
    I can think of two reasons,ethics and politeness and second unpractical use of a katana in the confined quarters of an small room with low beams and probably small.
    Now,this will be,if I'm lucky,answered by one or some of the experts in the history of JSA.
    If I'm right why the seated position in the majority of the katas of MJER?And why with a katana,that is the most important part?
    Why trace back the school to generations of the time when probably all use of katana started from an standing position?
    Please,don't throw rocks at me,I'm just curious.
    Last edited by Eduardo Salinas; 02-16-2011 at 06:48 AM. Reason: Typo
    Eduardo

    "Mental bearing(calmness),not skill,is the sign of a matured samurai.A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant."
    -Tsukahara Bokuden.

  2. #2
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    Hello, Eduardo, welcome to the forum and congrats on your choice to train. Sorry, am not an expert in the history of JSA (have trained some in MJER). MJER is the most widely practiced JSA, very popular, pretty much the 'poster child' of JSA. You should consider that there are different lines of MJER and even within a specific line different teachers may have different explanations (or none) for 'what' and 'why'. Rule number one of course is 'ask your instructor'.
    That said, a majority of the MJER kata are not seated. Depending on which line you train in, there may be 60+ kata. The basic set, most often used for introduction, is the shoden or Omori set, which is mostly seated. Some teachers would say it is for training, to teach basics (lots of basics). The bunkai may give you a context for the technique, a situation to consider, but may not be intended to reflect reality, historical or otherwise.

    VR,
    Dave
    Last edited by Dave Drawdy; 02-16-2011 at 09:24 AM.
    Dave Drawdy
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eduardo Salinas View Post
    I can think of two reasons,ethics and politeness and second unpractical use of a katana in the confined quarters of an small room with low beams and probably small.
    Now,this will be,if I'm lucky,answered by one or some of the experts in the history of JSA.
    If I'm right why the seated position in the majority of the katas of MJER?And why with a katana,that is the most important part?
    Why trace back the school to generations of the time when probably all use of katana started from an standing position?
    Please,don't throw rocks at me,I'm just curious.
    There are various reasons.

    1) Simulating having stumbled or fallen to the ground.
    2) Simulating being indoors or in an enclosed space.
    3) Training principles.

    Pursuant to 3)
    a) Drawing while standing is relatively easy, drawing from a seated position relatively hard.
    b) Drawing a wakizashi is relatively easy, drawing a katana through whole-body movement is hard.

    Often for these reasons, the beginning levels of many schools start seated, and move to standing kata later.

  4. #4
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    I see the point now.Thank you.
    Eduardo

    "Mental bearing(calmness),not skill,is the sign of a matured samurai.A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant."
    -Tsukahara Bokuden.

  5. #5
    Another thing you might consider is that iaido is normally considered to have goals other than combat - self-development etc. so it might be a moot point whether or not this is a 'realistic' way to train. (The boring answer).

    However, there were many occasions in daily life when samurai would be in fairly enclosed areas with potentially lethal company. Last year's 'Ryoma-den' Taiga drama, while it might not have been entirely accurate, did give a good feel for some of the situations you might have found yourself in in the heady days of the Bakumatsu, which was still within living memory of some important people in the formalisation of the MJER (or at least their teachers).

    The round of daily affairs would often see visits to a range of venues for eating and entertainment establishments. The Sumi-ya in Kyoto is a fairly grand establishment, and has a rack for swords downstairs - but the sword cuts in the pillar of the tokonoma in an upstairs room testify to the fact that not everyone followed rules. (The Shinsengumi, in this case, although I think it was a fit of temper not a fight).

    In more casual places swords were carried, and certainly, if you were staying in an inn, you might keep your sword with you, and would have been wise to do so, as visitors of one sort or another could come up to your room. If the visitor was invited in, seiza would be fairly normal if there was a degree of formality to the relationship.

    These were days of plotting and uncertainty. Although we don't know how Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro were seated when their killers burst in to their room in the Omiya inn, they almost certainly were seated, and they had their long swords with them. It does not take too much imagination to see that people with those kinds of experiences would see the value in seated maneuvers, even if they were stylised.

    Rather than Platoon, think The Godfather.

    Chris
    http://ichijoji.blogspot.com

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    I don't want to get into that debate as I don't know much about MJER, but I think part of the problem is also that a samurai would have removed the sword from his belt making it easier to use and move around, before seating, leaving only the shoto or tanto in. Even the position of the hands while seated would make it much quicker to use the short sword option (not even considering the small interiors. This question has been there for ages, correct me if I'm wrong but Nakamura sensei also had the same comments toward seated iaido, and no truly universal answer was ever found. Even the "training" one is suspicious, as if you train with a katana to use a wakisashi, might as well use a bo to train for daito (which might have positive results I guess). But then as was said there might be more than meets the eye, I'll leave that to the practitionners.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Max C. View Post
    ...Even the "training" one is suspicious, as if you train with a katana to use a wakisashi, might as well use a bo to train for daito (which might have positive results I guess). But then as was said there might be more than meets the eye, I'll leave that to the practitionners.
    How so? The mechanics are the same, but ma-ai changes.

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    Well, maai would be important for me, also no second hand to help you after the draw, placement and depth of movement are very different. I can't picture someone using a wakisashi correctly just by using a katana, but then maybe I'm wrong.

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    Thumbs up

    Rather interesting and profound answers,make you think and ponder.Thank you guys.Good point about Nakamura Sensei.
    Eduardo

    "Mental bearing(calmness),not skill,is the sign of a matured samurai.A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant."
    -Tsukahara Bokuden.

  10. #10
    I think Max is right about the difference in wakizashi and katana (and also that although you might be seated, you would probably have taken your sword out of your obi before you sat down (although you can draw in substantially the same manner without it being in the obi).

    As even the koryu that teach iai from a seated position tend to use seiza, I think there are probably a whole mixture of reasons that it became the norm. Of course, as seiza is the de-facto sitting position on formal occasions (at least from sometime during the Edo period), any activity with a formal element tended to use that position. If iai (of whatever school) included some element of formal display, then seiza might have seemed the natural and proper way to do it. This might have included occasions of a semi-religious nature such as performances at shrines or for the ancestors of a school. This is mere speculation, however, so don't take it too seriously.

    Chris
    http://ichijoji.blogspot.com

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Dewey View Post
    How so? The mechanics are the same, but ma-ai changes.
    Correction: I should have said "principles" and not mechanics. Sorry! See below...

    Quote Originally Posted by Max C. View Post
    Well, maai would be important for me, also no second hand to help you after the draw, placement and depth of movement are very different. I can't picture someone using a wakisashi correctly just by using a katana, but then maybe I'm wrong.
    There are some MJER seiza waza that would naturally lend themselves to use of a wakizashi, when ma-ai is the principle factor. However, yes, the waza would obviously be altered...but the core principles remain the same (e.g. nukitsuke). Obviously, no sayabiki and kirioroshi would be dramatically different. However, I am thinking bunkai rather than the straight performance of either waza or kata. Regardless, I am of the mind that you can alter certain daito waza to make them "work" with a shoto...but the reverse certainly wouldn't be true.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max C. View Post
    Well, maai would be important for me, also no second hand to help you after the draw, placement and depth of movement are very different. I can't picture someone using a wakisashi correctly just by using a katana, but then maybe I'm wrong.
    I would say you are making some assumptions that may not be warranted. For example, that iai is about learning to use a sword. That is, of course, one of its aspects in these modern times, but back in the days when samurai wore swords as a matter of course, iai was not their primary study in the use of the sword. It was an auxilliary practice for when one didn't have a partner, and it taught or reinforced some essential body skills. Any fool can draw a sword and cut with it; as shown on YouTube time and time again. But economy of movement, drawing with as few suki as possible, keeping the body in balance, etc., basically the things that make iai into an art that makes sense to pass down in these modern times, are all things best explored with a long sword than a short sword. If you can properly draw a katana and cut one-handed -- a feature I've seen in just about every iai style I've seen, then you can do that with a wakizashi. Naturally, if one truly wanted to learn to use a wakizashi, this would be done using bokuto or fukuroshinai with a partner.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Max C. View Post
    I don't want to get into that debate as I don't know much about MJER, but I think part of the problem is also that a samurai would have removed the sword from his belt making it easier to use and move around, before seating, leaving only the shoto or tanto in. Even the position of the hands while seated would make it much quicker to use the short sword option (not even considering the small interiors. This question has been there for ages, correct me if I'm wrong but Nakamura sensei also had the same comments toward seated iaido, and no truly universal answer was ever found. Even the "training" one is suspicious, as if you train with a katana to use a wakisashi, might as well use a bo to train for daito (which might have positive results I guess). But then as was said there might be more than meets the eye, I'll leave that to the practitionners.
    Interestingly the man who developed the art that Nakamura based his on, was a profound exponent of iaido that utilised 'seated' kata. b

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Josh Reyer View Post
    I would say you are making some assumptions that may not be warranted. For example, that iai is about learning to use a sword. That is, of course, one of its aspects in these modern times, but back in the days when samurai wore swords as a matter of course, iai was not their primary study in the use of the sword. It was an auxilliary practice for when one didn't have a partner, and it taught or reinforced some essential body skills. Any fool can draw a sword and cut with it; as shown on YouTube time and time again. But economy of movement, drawing with as few suki as possible, keeping the body in balance, etc., basically the things that make iai into an art that makes sense to pass down in these modern times, are all things best explored with a long sword than a short sword. If you can properly draw a katana and cut one-handed -- a feature I've seen in just about every iai style I've seen, then you can do that with a wakizashi. Naturally, if one truly wanted to learn to use a wakizashi, this would be done using bokuto or fukuroshinai with a partner.
    Spot on, Josh! Your explanation is much more articulate than mine, and I believe that we are on the same page.

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    Interestingly the man who developed the art that Nakamura based his on, was a profound exponent of iaido that utilised 'seated' kata. b
    Well, no offense but I'm not really the one you should be telling this . Otherwise here are some of his opinions: http://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Dtimes.../articled2.htm Again not mine.

    I would say you are making some assumptions that may not be warranted. For example, that iai is about learning to use a sword. That is, of course, one of its aspects in these modern times, but back in the days when samurai wore swords as a matter of course, iai was not their primary study in the use of the sword. It was an auxilliary practice for when one didn't have a partner, and it taught or reinforced some essential body skills. Any fool can draw a sword and cut with it; as shown on YouTube time and time again. But economy of movement, drawing with as few suki as possible, keeping the body in balance, etc., basically the things that make iai into an art that makes sense to pass down in these modern times, are all things best explored with a long sword than a short sword. If you can properly draw a katana and cut one-handed -- a feature I've seen in just about every iai style I've seen, then you can do that with a wakizashi. Naturally, if one truly wanted to learn to use a wakizashi, this would be done using bokuto or fukuroshinai with a partner.
    Obviously you know the issue more than I do. I'll bow out of this one.

  16. #16
    From what I've been able to figure out, iaido has got nothing to do with actual combat with a sword; it is more generalized training - of a mental and spiritual nature - that uses the sword as a training tool.

    This is actually pretty cool when you think about what role budo has in modern society; iaido is every bit as useful as it has been since the Edo period.

    It's also cool in that its something you can actually do with a sword if you own one besides hang it on your wall (or any of the possible activities that involve being gunned down by a police tactical team).

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cliff S Judge View Post
    From what I've been able to figure out, iaido has got nothing to do with actual combat with a sword; it is more generalized training - of a mental and spiritual nature - that uses the sword as a training tool.

    This is actually pretty cool when you think about what role budo has in modern society; iaido is every bit as useful as it has been since the Edo period.

    It's also cool in that its something you can actually do with a sword if you own one besides hang it on your wall (or any of the possible activities that involve being gunned down by a police tactical team).
    Very true.I agree with your point of view.Iaido is more a modern martial art to develop body,mind and spirit than actual sword training......gunned down by a tactical team,well don't get surprised if you see it one day on the news,with some nuts out there.
    Eduardo

    "Mental bearing(calmness),not skill,is the sign of a matured samurai.A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant."
    -Tsukahara Bokuden.

  18. In the Edo folks sat in seiza. Why would the MJER teachers not study how to use a sword from this position?

    An old argument folks, here's my comments from 1990

    http://www.uoguelph.ca/~kataylor/07TIN90.htm

    Kim.

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    From what I've been able to figure out, iaido has got nothing to do with actual combat with a sword; it is more generalized training - of a mental and spiritual nature - that uses the sword as a training tool. ....
    nope.
    ...more a modern martial art to develop body,mind and spirit than actual sword training ...
    and nope. Huge generalization, covering dozens, maybe hundreds of arts, plus hundreds of years of tradition and training. Modern? Training tool? Nope and nope. Sorry.

    Dave
    Dave Drawdy
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  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Drawdy View Post
    nope. and nope. Huge generalization, covering dozens, maybe hundreds of arts, plus hundreds of years of tradition and training. Modern? Training tool? Nope and nope. Sorry.

    Dave
    Mr Drawdy,

    Iaido is just as anachronistic to modern life as pre-Edo bujutsu systems? There have been no developments in the post-Meiji era?

    And, furthermore, the sword is not a training tool...its not really important in practicing iaido? You can train iaido without a sword?

  21. #21
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    Cliff,
    ok. was maybe a little harsh, preemptive. backing up. first, welcome to the forum. second, I suspect this conversation would go better in a pub over a beer, or better yet on a training floor, so we could look at some examples. thirdly, not really sure we should hijack this thread away from the nature of suwari-waza, kneeling forms, in Eishin Ryu, to a general characterization of iai. may split this off, depends on feedback. also not really sure we are using the same definitions or standards, or context, so please allow some digression.

    some context for me - not an expert in anything, but some experience training in a number of iai arts and styles. currently teach one style, have a study group in another, train in others as available.

    context for the discussion, limiting ourselves to iai? Not kenjutsu, not kendo, not sogo budo (multiple arts under one style, 'complete' arts). ok

    sword as training tool? still no, IMO. the sword is a weapon. also one of the three sacred objects of Japan, representing the warrior spirit of a nation. viewing it as merely a training tool takes a lot away from what it is, can be, should be.

    iai as a spiritual art? certainly, in many ways, with varying degrees of emphasis in different styles, for varying reasons.

    the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

    in the groups I have trained with, when we learn to use the sword, we learn to use the sword. emphasis on effectiveness. context is combat against another trained swordsman. not made up stuff, not street fighting, not common budo principles of multiple arts (although they are there), not sparring (different discussion), but a disciplined and focused transmission of specific techniques and principles derived from a specific line or lines of a style, normally taught within the context of specific possible encounters, all spiced with history and culture.
    iai as reality? definitely

    ...Iaido is just as anachronistic to modern life as pre-Edo bujutsu systems? There have been no developments in the post-Meiji era?...
    sorry, not sure what you are saying/asking here.

    VR,
    Dave
    Last edited by Dave Drawdy; 02-24-2011 at 12:55 PM.
    Dave Drawdy
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  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Drawdy View Post

    sword as training tool? still no, IMO. the sword is a weapon. also one of the three sacred objects of Japan, representing the warrior spirit of a nation. viewing it as merely a training tool takes a lot away from what it is, can be, should be.
    Mr Drawdy,

    Thanks for continuing the conversation!

    To clarify my point, I didn't mean to imply that practice of iaido reduces the sword to a less important status. For the training to have any value at all the sword needs to be respected as a weapon. In short I didn't imply the adverb merely. I am an Aikido guy under Mitsugi Saotome and every year at least once he'll lecture about how our aikiken training is useless if we don't treat our bokken like real swords.

    What I was trying to get at was that iaido comes from a time when swordsmen didn't have a lot of opportunities to gain virtue on the battlefield, and its an art that aims at developing those warrior virtues that were considered admirable in Edo period Japan.

    Furthermore, not sure about Musi Jikiden Eishin ryu but, from the article on Hakudo George McCall posted recently it is apparent that at least for Muso Shinden Ryu, there were "updates" performed on the system in modern times. In fact, your statement that "the sword is a weapon. also one of the three sacred objects of Japan, representing the warrior spirit of a nation." evokes a particular sentiment that is very modern.

    So basically I am saying that, as far as I understand it:

    1) Skill with the sword is not the only goal of iaido practice, but severe training with a sword is what iaido is (therefore the sword is used in training, and it is a neccessary implement for training i.e. a tool)

    2) Iaido comes from an age when swords were not often used in combat, but was very useful training then. You and I also live in an age when swords are not often used in combat. I believe many of the same benefits can be derived today.

    At the end of the day I was just trying to say something nice.

    Will have to take you up on the beer offer sometime,
    Cliff

  23. #23
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    Cliff, am still not happy about the characterization of sword as tool, but within the context of your statement, can see what you mean. And agree with your number 2. not real clear on this bit
    ...evokes a particular sentiment that is very modern.
    but this
    I am an Aikido guy under Mitsugi Saotome and every year at least once he'll lecture about how our aikiken training is useless if we don't treat our bokken like real swords.
    is perfect. Anyway, yes, the Nakayama Hakudo article is very good, there are some clips of him on youtube, too. Very dynamic, actually surprising when compared to some modern expressions of iai.
    Something nice, got it. Beer is good.

    Dave
    Dave Drawdy
    "the artist formerly known as Sergeant Major"

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    Hi, digging the conversation.

    I believe the combative efficacy of swordsmanship is a very important part of the study. Or at least my study. I've been trying lately to avoid applying my own standards to others.

    That said....

    Driving is about more than turning keys, using a stick, and pushing pedals; however without being able to do those things you probably aren't likely to get very far.

    I forget which forum I saw this discussed on, but there was a discussion regarding kyudo that was veering off into left field, since it is considered a rather spiritual esoteric art. The question about whether it even mattered if the target was struck was responded to with something along the lines of "if you can't hit the target, you aren't doing kyudo". Even without having picked up a bow, something about that statement resonated with me.

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    I'm unranked in MJER, but did train in it for three years. My meager understanding of the Omori-Ryu set, the ones done from kneeling, is that that is just how it's done. There is a more in depth explanation, but I'm not qualified to actually explain it.

    I would have to agree with Taylor-Sensei for the most part, as well.
    Last edited by Jeff Ellis; 02-25-2011 at 11:17 AM.
    I like swords.

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