Seriously, if time looked this good flying by, I might actually learn to keep track of it. (Image from London Particulars Etsy shop.)
So what’s new for March? This time I went with the try a new activity option again, an activity I’ve wanted to try for many years now. Iaido.
So, what is iaido?
There are many definitions out there, though they all say generally the same thing. We’ll use this one from FightingArts.com:
Iaido is the contemporary Japanese art of drawing the long sword. Iaido contrasts with kenjutsu (combative swordsmanship), techniques done with swords already drawn, and kendo, the Japanese sport of fencing. Basic iaido kata combines drawing the sword with either a defensive block or cut, usually followed by another cut, then chiburi (moving the blade in such a way as to remove blood and tissue) and noto (returning the blade to the scabbard). While kenjutsu and sword-drawing techniques (batto-ho) were originally taught together, they are now usually, but not always, taught as separate art forms. Iaido, as the sword-drawing forms became known in the 1930's, is now used not only to teach sword techniques, but as a form of mental and physical discipline, emphasizing correct technique and form, meditation and character development.
In iaido, you learn the different kata (forms). To give an example, here is a video that shows the first form, Ippon-me – mae. The recording is a little rough, but it gets the idea across.
So, why iaido?
There are so many reasons (aside from the obvious appeal of a small woman wielding a deadly weapon), but I’ll only hit on the major points.
An obvious one is my interest in Japanese culture and history that has led to many things including my learning the language and investing a lot of time in Japanese cinema and music.
Another draw is something that also contributes to my penchant for writing fantasy. I love swords. They are simple, honest, and elegant weapons and none are so beautiful, in my opinion, as the Japanese katana. I mean, look at this thing:
The third and last motivator I will mention is my desire to find something in my life that would quiet the hundreds of characters in my head and help me relax/focus. The complexity and physicality of iaido has proven to be exactly the all-consuming yet strangely meditative activity I was looking for.
But wait! There is an unexpected sword-swinging glorious goodness coming from this new passion. It turns out that iaido is actually helping with the shoulder problem I have been fighting for almost 20 years now. My massage therapist, who sees me every week to keep my pain levels tolerable, is a big fan of how it is helping loosen up the muscles in that shoulder (allowing her to get in deeper and inflict all kinds of wicked suffering upon me).
Now I am shopping for my own iaito (unsharpened sword for practicing iaido). Even with the bokken (wood practice sword), I have found that the simple act of performing the formal bow to the sword at the beginning and end of class has instilled a deeper respect for the weapon. I look forward to building that relationship with my iaito.
Iaido has given me everything I wanted from it and more, including experience with the feel of using a sword and insight into the relationship between warriors and the weapons they wield. Both of which are things that I can apply to characters in my books.
Lastly, for those of you who say there is no practical application to learning sword forms in the modern day, I offer you this: