Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The reactive way of the sword ... and the teapot

The Japanese martial art iaido is sometimes referred to as the art of drawing a sword from its scabbard, or its practitioner as wielding a sword "not to control the opponent, but himself."

But like most martial arts, iaido has its roots in actual combat—in this case, reacting to an opponent who has drawn his sword first and already begun his attack.

Think about that: Facing an opponent coming at you with sword drawn, when yours is still in its scabbard. Being in that situation must have been frightful indeed, hence the need for this highly specialized training.

A key concept in iaido is being completely reactive—restraining your emotions so thoroughly, and focusing so completely on your opponent, that you can anticipate his movements and begin countering his strike before it begins.

But it is impossible to read an opponent so deeply while being distracted by one's own emotions, hence the need to subdue fear, anger, and all other emotions.

And in the tea ceremony (sado), as a host about to receive a tea guest, one is trained to similarly subdue one's emotions completely (kokoro wo mu ni suru) and instead focus on your guest to the point that you become the selfless host, instantly anticipating your guest's needs and preempting any displeasure before it occurs.

It's ironic, though, that a skill honed for battle is the same needed to fulfill the aesthetic and spiritual potential of something as peaceful as the tea ceremony.

Filming an iaido student last year at the Senshinkan (洗心館) dojo in Hitoyoshi City. The sword is real ... and real sharp, hence the respectable distance the crew is keeping.

—Mellow Monk

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