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IAIDO THEORY - Compendious Iaido Theory 

SHU HA RI  -  The development of the iaidoka

ZANSHIN  -  To keep the concentration

KEN I ITCHI  -  Kendo and iaido go together

JI RI ITCHI  -  Practice and theory are one

MAAI  -  The distance between you and your opponent

HEIJOSHIN  -  Internal calmness (everyday attitude)

FURIKABURI  -  The upward swing of the sword, preliminary to cut down.

ASHISABAKI  -  Foot movements.

FUDOSHIN  -  Sangfroid

SHISHIN  -  Stopping heart 

KIHIN  -  Style, proud and dignity

ITCHI HYOSHI  -  The rhythm of one

KANKYU KYOYAKU  -  Relationship slow-fast and strong-weak

ITSUKI  -  A physical or mental blockade

KYO JITSU  -  To distinguish strong and weak points and to be able to use this

MITSU NO SEN  -  The three ways of taking initiative

KENSHINTAI ITCHI  -  Sword, heart (attitude) and body are one

SHIKAI  -  The four sicknesses

KENCHUTAI  -  Attack and waiting are one

KIKENTAI ITCHI  - Spirit, sword and body are one

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SHU HA RI

Every iaidoka undergoes in his “career” the necessary development. In this process a certain

law and order is hiding which is executed in three phases:

-SHU Literally this means ‘protect’. Meaning protect the knowledge of the sensei. Iaidoka in this phase (approximately until third dan) just have to copy everything what is taught. To doubt the iaido knowledge of the teacher is not done.

-HA ‘To break the promise’ indicates concrete at a critical approach from the point of view of the iaidoka on everything learned so far. The control of the basic techniques makes it possible from that moment on to follow instruction from other sensei to consequently being able to compare the different systems with each other.

In practice the iaidoka is now between his third and sixth dan level.

-RI Finally the moment arrives that teacher and student ‘part’. The very advanced iaidoka is now capable to invent his own techniques, and to give his own iaido shape and to be able to transmit it.

 

ZANSHIN

To keep the concentration. Literary it means ‘perennial’(ZAN) ‘heart’ (SHIN). This means something like ‘to keep the optimum condition after the execution of a technique’. In this case it is of no importance if the strike or thrust is executed correctly. When there is a lack of attention to your opponent after executing a strike, as to speak when you don’t pay attention to the movements of the opponent, then it is a matter of a lack of ZANSHIN. Through this inattentiveness you are in fact in danger to be hit by a strike yourself. Free translated you can say that ZANSHIN in essence is ‘to remain’ (because it always be dangerous) or ‘to keep your mind involved’ and ‘to keep thinking there’.

KEN I ITCHI

Kendo and iaido go together. Kendo is the fight with already drawn swords where as iaido is the fight with the sword in a not drawn status. We could say the following: as long as the sword is still in its scabbard, there is a situation of IAI and the moment the sword has left the scabbard there is a situation of KENDO.

That’s why iaido also is called ‘SAYA NO UCHI’ which means ‘in the scabbard’.

 

JI RI ITCHI

In iaido, an important part of training next to the study of the techniques, is the study of the theory. Iai is originated as a martial art to be used on the battlefield and it should be imaginable that in the early phase of iai there was more value attached to the technical aspects, simply because it was a matter of life and death.

But when Japan during the Edo period (1603 - 1868) went through a longer period of stability and peace, iai became for many of the bushi (member of the warrior class) a form of martial art in which mental training (that is to say the development of the ability to concentrate, inner tranquillity, etc.) started to predominate the upon a true fight acuminated technical training.

Even in the BUKE SHOHATTO, a directory for members of the warrior families, was written down that the bushi, next to their military training, also had to occupy themselves with literature, calligraphy and so on.

This combination of military and theoretical, scientifically training was called BUN BU ITCHI, that is to say literature and martial art are one, or also its called BUN BU RYODO, that is to say the two ways of literature and martial art.

The modern variant of this is JI RI ITCHI, that is to say JI (the practice), and RI (the theory), are one.

 

What can this mean for modern iaidoka?

Most budoka in Japan keep themselves only busy with the technical side. If they have an examination, they will look one day before in the theory book to be able to do the theoretical part of the examination with success.

On the other hand there are also people who are more busy with the theory than with the practice. They are reading thick books about Zen, Confucianism and so on en they keep long lectures about the relationship between Zen and iaido, but in practice they are not able to cut a pack of butter into two.

It is obvious that you can not learn iaido out of a book, but on the other hand, if you do hard keiko and you never read something about it, than you miss an essential part of your keiko. Question yourself: Why did you start with iaido? What is the proper length of an iaito? What are the names of the parts of the sword? What is Zanshin? What is Metsuke? Etc.

 

MAAI

Maai is the distance between yourself and your opponent, measured from the rear foot.

Each movement in iaido has a specific maai: sometimes the opponent is close by, sometimes the opponent is far away. It is important to realise yourself which maai in each situation is to be used or which maai is arising. Long distance is called TOMAAI, close by distance is called CHIKAMAAI.

HEIJOSHIN

A jointly strive of iaido and zen is inner rest. If you are restless or worse, if you panic, it is natural impossible to defeat your opponent. The inner rest is called in Japan: HEIJOSHIN.

HEIJO means ‘normal’, ‘everyday’ and SHIN (is KOKORO) means ‘heart’, ‘feeling’.

You could translate HEIJOSHIN as ‘everyday attitude’.

Whatever you do, when you are doing groceries or repeating one hundred times de first seitei kata, your attitude must be normal, that will say being calm.

In Japan there is the said: HEIJOSHIN KORE MICHINARI that will say: ’HEIJOSHIN that’s the Way or Path to follow”!

FURIKABURI

FURIKABURI is the upward swing of the sword, preliminary to KIRIOROSHI (to cut down).

!-Furikaburi and kirioroshi must move fluently and smoothly into each other.

 

In the SEITEI IAI KATA the sword must be - as to say - sticked alongside the left ear to the rear after NUKITSUKE, after which the sword comes above the head pointing in an angle of 45 degrees to the rear.

If a kirioroshi follows up after another kirioroshi (for example in SANPOGIRI kata number 7) then the sword should be - as to say - flipped or turned over before the sword is brought above the head. You must definitely not first swing the sword upward in the direction of your nose. FURIKABURI and KIRIOROSHI must always be done with a wide and large movement.

 

ASHISABAKI

Ashisabaki means foot movement. In iaido both feet must point to the front as much as possible. This is especially a must for the rear foot, which foot always by itself has the tendency to point to the side. The feet are quite far apart of each other so the hips are able to back down a little bit. During movements it is necessary to try keeping the hips on the same height. When stepping into different directions care should be taken not to bring your feet in one line behind each other.

A correct ASHISABAKI is very important for a good cutting technique and for a correct and beautiful body posture. Ashisabaki is always executed with SURIASHI, as to say that the ball of the foot always is sliding on the ground. You mustn’t lift your feet too high and especially during the making of steps don’t put your heel down on the ground first.

FUDOSHIN

When you are opposite your opponent, it’s of course important that you mustn’t be surprised by your opponent. Also you mustn’t be influenced by the appearance of reputation of your opponent. You must acquire a kind of sangfroid. In Japan they call this FUDOSHIN.

FUDO means ‘do not move’ and SHIN means of course again ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘attitude’. A not-moving heart is a heart that will not be disturbed by external circumstances and those budoka among us who once trained with a Japanese grandmaster (8 th or 9th dan hanshi), know exactly what the meaning of FUDOSHIN can be in practise: how hard and fast you attack, what kind of trick you try to use, a real grandmaster almost never gets out of balance. Almost never, but also monkeys sometimes fall out of the tree, an Eastern proverb is saying. As to say: also an 8th dan Sensei will miss his NOTO sometimes.

SHISHIN

If your mind is stuck with something, you aren’t able to react adequately and fast on something. This is called “a stopping heart” (SHISHIN) in Japanese. That’s the contrary of FUDOSHIN and it’s something that you definitely must try to avoid. Your thoughts must - as to say - flow in a natural way from one phenomenon to another without somewhere to dwell. Practically it means that your attention mustn’t be pointed on only one particular point of your opponent (for example only on his fist of only on his weapon), but you must try to see the opponent as a whole.

KIHIN

Next to a calm, imperturbable attitude you must show during an ENBU (demonstration of iaido kata) a certain style and dignity. In Japanese this is called KIHIN or KIGURAI. This means among other things that during the enbu you keep maximum concentration, a straight body posture and a serious attitude, so you look worthy and confident.

A lack of concentration is expressed in among other things in a powerless kirioroshi; in the not coordinated movements of hands and feet and in a left foot of which the toes pointing outward to the left instead of straight forward.

A left foot pointing tot the left is called SHUMOKUASHI and in kendo, iaido and jodo we must avoid this situation as much as possible. Only in the case of HANMI, when the body is turned away (to the side), its allowed when the leftfoot is pointing a bit to the left. As is the case in for example the ninth kata, SOETEZUKI.

A straight body posture is naturally saying that back and shoulders are straight. But a correct body posture is especially characterized by the fact that all movement find as to speak their origin in the hip and lower abdomen area.

 

The best ways to train this correct body posture are:

■ Concentrating of force in a point approximately nine centimetres under the navel, which point is called TANDEN in Japanese.

■ Breathing with mainly the stomach muscles instead of with the chest muscles. This is called KOKYU O TADASHI (correct breathing) in Japanese.

■ The pushing of the lower abdomen against the OBI (belt).

With a serious attitude is not only mend an industrious, enthusiastic attitude, but mainly an attitude that makes it obvious that you have to realize yourself that iaido is originated from real combat situations in which was fought on life and death. Iaido is no ‘sword-ballet’, the techniques can be lethal when really applied.

The kata which are so diligently practised by us, are perfected, polished forms invented by our iaido ancestors with their lives as a commitment. As such they should be practised with respect and seriously.

 

ITCHI HYOSHI

In Miyamoto Musashi’s “GORIN NO SHO” the rhythm of a cut is written down as “ITCHI HYOSHI”, as to say “the rhythm of one”.

The translation by Victor Harris of this passage is:

“In one timing means, when you have closed in with the enemy, to hit him as quickly and directly as possible, without moving your body or settling your spirit, while you see that he is still undecided. The timing of hitting before the enemy decides to withdraw, break or hit, is this “in one timing”. You must train to achieve this timing, to be able to hit in the timing of an instant.”

(From: “A book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Victor Harris, page 59).

 

YAMATSUTA Sensei has written a book about MUSO SHINDEN RYU iaido and explained Musashi’s words as follows: “the ITCHI HYOSHI were Musashi is talking about, means that the cast and the downward cutting movement of the sword mustn’t be executed into two steps. A “1” for the cast and a “2” for the cut is not the same as ITCHI HYOSHI.

 

If you assume that the “2” is the cutting movement, than the “1” is the cast. The thought 1 plus 1 = 1 is the explanation of ITCHI HYOSHI. Nice to know is that this concept also nowadays still is used for commercial purposes as seen in the under mentioned advertisement. I am curious who came with this idea? Maybe they red Miyamoto Musashi’s GORIN NO SHO..

 

If this explanation is a riddle for you, than ITCHI HYOSHI can best be compared with the the pendulum of the clock. The pendulum goes back and forth without any hesitation in the movement. A correct cut is executed with the rhythm of ITCHI HYOSHI and therefore this movement doesn’t know any hesitation, just like the movement of the pendulum of a clock.

KANKYU KYOYAKU

Kankyu Kyoyaku means literally: slow (KAN), fast (KYU), strong (KYO) en weak (YAKU). When training iaido kata its important that you learn on which moments you have to move fast or slow and that you learn which movements have to be executed in a relaxed way of on the contrary in a ‘powerful’ or better ‘sharp’ way. Not all movements in an iaido kata have to be executed fast or powerful. KIRIOROSHI of course has to be a ‘powerful’ (sharp) movement, as on the other hand CHIBURI is correct when executed in a relaxed manner.

To learn the rhythm of a kata, TANAYA Sensei advised the following training method:

■ First start executing a kata in SLOW MOTION. All movements are executed as slow as possible. Repeat this approximately five times.

■ Second execute the same kata with ACCELERATION. Execute all movements as fast as possible without affecting the correctness of it. Repeat this also approximately five times.

■ Thirdly execute the kata with the CORRECT RHYTHM with an adequate emphasis on FAST-SLOW, STRONG-WEAK.

Especially when there is no one in your dojo who is able to correct you, this is an excellent way to learn yourself how to understand the rhythm of a kata.

 

ITSUKI

ITSUKI is a word that’s very difficult to translate. The character “i” means “to be” or “present” and en TSUKI means include “fix, confirm”. In budo it is important to avoid a situation of ITSUKI.

With ITSUKI a situation is mend in which you are physically and mentally stuck. Such a particular situation is of course an ideal chance for the opponent to strike.

■ A physical ITSUKI is a situation in which your body is stuck because of a wrong stance of hands and feet, causing the impossibility of attacking and defending movements.

■ A mental ITSUKI is a situation in which you are stuck spiritually, for example because of a lack of concentration or because of a suffig nature.

In budo it’s important to avoid an ITSUKI in your inner self and to make use off an ITSUKI within the opponent as good as possible.

KYO JITSU

EDO KOKICHI Sensei explains the understanding KYO JITSU in his book as follows:

“An opening in the physically and spiritually posture is called KYO and otherwise is called JITSU”

In the swordplay of the early days the following advice was already existing:

“When executing correct movements it is of great importance to avoid the JITSU (strong points) of the opponent and to make use of the KYO (weak points) of the opponent. If you attack those things the opponent isn’t defending sufficiently, than you are able with a little effort to achieve maximum results.”

“But for beginners it is very difficult to distinguish the difference between KYO and JITSU within the opponent. How obvious it sounds, to learn how to distinguish JITSU and KYO (thus: strong and weak points) within the opponent, it’s a necessity to train often or as much as possible.”

This explanation of KYO and JITSU isn’t an invention of EDO KOKICHI Sensei, on the contrary it was the ancient Chinese scholar SUN TZU who explained KYO and JUTSU for the first time in this manner. The classic work “THE ART OF WAR”, attributed to him is an important study for everybody interested in budo.

MITSU NO SEN

For those who aren’t practising kendo maybe it is difficult to visualize this understanding, but under the motto KEN I ITCHI (kendo and iaido go together) it seems sensible to treat this understanding. Miyamoto Musashi (born in 1584), one of the greatest swordsmen ever known in Japan, wrote already about this subject in his GORIN NO SHO.

MITSU NO SEN means literally: “The three ways of initiative”.

These three ways:

■ SENSEN NO SEN. This means being able to foresee the plans of your opponent even before they are executed and in the same time execute an adequate counter technique.

■ SEN NO SEN. This means being able to perceive the plans of your opponent on the moment they are starting to manifest and in the same time execute an adequate counter technique.

■ GO NO SEN. This is reacting upon a movement of your opponent after (GO means also “after”) he started with it and execute a defensive movement followed by a counterattack.

 

In iaido terms:

■ NUKITSUKE in the first kata is the execution of a movement with SENSEN NO SEN or SEN NO SEN. As to say, you feel the purpose of the opponents movement and before he can start this movement, your NUKITSUKE is already finished.

■ To receive the thrust to your head in the third kata is bringing into practise the understanding of GO NO SEN. You react upon a movement which already is started and answer with a defensive action (UKENAGASHI), immediately followed by a counterattack.

KENSHINTAI ITCHI

Kenshintai itchi means: “Sword, heart (attitude) and body are one.” With this saying is mend, that the sword, attitude and body have to cooperate in harmony. Sword stands not only for your iaito but wider it means “technique”.

KOKORO TADASHIKEREBA KEN MO TADASHII they say in Japan.

It means: “If your attitude is correct, then your sword (read: technique) is also correct.”

If you practise iaido with a wrong attitude, for example only with the purpose to earn money with it or to acquire fame with it, your technique never can be correct, even if from the outside seen it looks beautiful.

A good iaido technique is among other things characterized by the fact that the body (TAI) always is in good balance, the upper body is straight, the shoulders relaxed and force is concentrated in the lower abdomen (TANDEN, a point situated nine centimetre under the navel).

Once more: we only speak of perfect iaido when the technique (KEN), attitude (SHIN) en body posture (TAI) each separately are one hundred percent and work together harmoniously.

 

SHIKAI

According to KAMIMOTO EIICHI Sensei (iaido 9th dan) the purpose of iaido is in the first place mental training, followed by physical training and the control of the techniques.

If you speak about mental training, then every time you return to understandings as HEIJOSHIN (everyday attitude), FUDOSHIN (sangfroid), ZANSHIN (alertness), etcetera.

Mental training you also can understand as conquering the four sicknesses (SHIKAI), namely KYO KU GI WAKU, as to say:

■ Amazement

■ Fear

■ Doubt and

■ Bewilderment

      -  If you are amazed of surprised by a movement of your opponent then of course it is not possible to make a correct judgement and to make an effective movement.

     - If you are afraid of your opponent or for his reputation, it is naturally totally impossible to execute good movements, because you are literally “paralyzed by fear.”

     - When you are in doubt (“shall I hit him on his head or no, let’s hit his arm...”), it becomes impossible to answer the attack of your opponent in a correct way.

     - Also in the case of bewilderment it is not possible to react fast and adequately upon the movements of your opponent. .

The purpose of iaido training also can be summarized as conquer those “four sicknesses.” Naturally it is not always possible to be totally free of all four sicknesses, but the crux is that during training you are very well aware of these emotions and you have to try to suppress them one by one.

 

KENCHUTAI

Ken Chu Tai means literally “waiting while you are attacking”.

KEN means to attack and TAI means to wait. This is also called KEN TAI ITCHI, “attack and waiting are one. ”

This expression is pointing to the fact that attack and defence in the same way go together as two sides of a coin: “heads” doesn’t exist without the “tail” en vice versa of course it’s the same.

■  Attacking actions always contain defensive elements.

■  Defensive actions always contain attacking elements.

In budo it is important when necessary to attack and to wait when required. You mustn’t for example force an attack at the moment the opponent is concentrated well and doesn’t show any openings but on the other hand, if the opponent shows one of the four sicknesses, use this element immediately and attack. It is obvious, that again continuous and adequate training is the only correct way to learn how to make the right division between KEN and TAI.

KIKENTAI ITCHI

This literally means: spirit (KI), sword (KEN), and body (TAI) are one (ITCHI).

This contains that with the execution of any technique those three elements must come together as much as possible.

A thrust without the proper spirit (KI) or a thrust in which the body and sword aren’t move in harmony, of course cannot develop enough force to neutralize an opponent.

■ KI stands for full spirit, every movement must be done with an attitude as if this

movement is the last movement you will ever do. With every technique you have to do like in this expression: “ZENRYOKU O TSUKUSU”, as to say: “out all the stops out! ”

■ KEN wider stands for manipulating the sword, in which it is very important that the HASUJI (cutting side) is pointing in the correct direction.

■ TAI wider stands for “TAISABAKI”, the movements of the body. Of course the body movements always go together with the footwork and every displacement in iaido must look as to say if you are moving on wheels (or skateboard): the movements must be smooth without unbalancing your body or that your body is moving vertically up and down.

 

Article in Dutch: Thanks to Louis Vitalis Sensei (dojo MUSEIDO Amsterdam)

Article translated into English by Rene van Amersfoort (dojo KIRYOKU Zoetermeer) 31th March 2011