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“Iaijutsu is an art with which to kill an enemy.”   Risuke Otake

“...that which is required most in the performance of iaijutsu is speed, for this quality is the essence of any system of classical combat.”   Risuke Otake

The Essence of Iaijutsu

There is iaijutsu and iaido. Iaijutsu is about killing. Iaido is about self-improvement. A lot of what is sold as 'iaijutsu' is really 'iaido'. The practitioner of a sword-craft needs to decide for him/herself just exactly what it is they want out of learning this kind of martial art, since it's unlikely that they will be using the sword in any real-life situation. What is the value of learning a killing art that will never be used? Well, who says it won't?

Only the practitioner can decide where the training leads him or her. The swords master at best can teach the art of the sword—but nobody can teach the art of living but oneself. Beware of the sword master who claims to be teaching the art of living.

I used to be an instructor at a dojo teaching the, to me one of the most 'credible', styles of traditional iaijutsu in New Zealand: Komei Juku, a version of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. It is taught as a part of Seishinkan Bujutsu at dojos in Dunedin and Auckland. Now, living in Brisbane, Australia, life has kind-of driven me in other directions. Also, I live rather far out of the city, which makes dojo participation impractical. Pity, but that's life. So I continue to practice and develop my swordcraft in my big garden and try to follow my personal goal of making Sword and Mind as One.

   Ken Shin Ichi Nyo  (Sword and Mind as One)

When you point a finger at something; when you use your hand to grasp an object...you do not think about using your hand. Its movements and operation are integrated into your mind. They are a part of what constitutes 'you'. Your very identity is linked to what the hand is and does every day and every moment.

One of the aims of your sword training should be that the sword becomes to you like your hand. Your thought should be about what you do with it, not how. At the level of 'skill' training, this is a goal. Paradoxically, as the goal comes closer, you will be able to forget that it is a goal. You'll be looking around with a wider scope, into tactics, strategy and philosophy—just like a craftsman-artisan reaches the point where s/he thinks almost solely about the work s/he's about to complete; not the manner in which skills have built up over the years to allow its completion. Skills are not the aims of what we do; the tasks we can put them to are.

The practitioner who does not integrate the sword into the mind as one might one's hand, who thinks that it is all about 'swordcraft', misses the point entirely. Unfortunately many, if not most students of the art do miss the point, and 'Masters' are by no means exempt from this kind of thinking.

Sword and Mind as One goes beyond the physical integration, which is just the start. It is also a mindset and a philosophy. One of the tasks on my to-do list is to write a little monograph about it and publish it as an eBook. One of these days I might actually be able to fit that into everything else in my life.

   Yudan Nashi   (Never off-guard)

Stories about the great swordsmen and warriors, of just about every culture, are replete with how they either followed this maxim and survived—or how, at some stage, they didn't and promptly suffered the consequences.

Yudan Nashi is not just an admonition to the warrior to remain on guard for physical enemies. This is only the martial arts (bujustu) aspect.

For an 'enemy' can take many forms. It might appear as a corruption of personal integrity, better judgment, or the things that are important. Being caught off-guard may slay the spirit as much as the body. 'Relaxation' is nice, but it is inherently dangerous. Bad things usually happen when one is not alert. A slip on a banana peel; a step into a hole; a stumble over a log on the ground; or getting so carried away with one's finery that one forgets that this, too, will one day, and possibly soon, turn to rags.

The most important caution and vigilance needs to be applied to our awareness of the purpose of our actions and the 'why' of all our training. Martial arts practitioners, possibly more so than 'ordinary' people, all too often get carried away by their self-importance and the notion that, because they are unusual or specially trained, they are somehow better than the common ruck; on whom they frequently look down, if not with contempt, but still with a kind of knowing condescension.

Herein lies the main cause for the even the greatest warrior's spiritual—and ultimately physical—defeat.