"You are in my sword path! There is no return! No escape! Farewell my friend!" That's the phrase Yamamoto Sensei used to capture the essence of Iaijusu! It is the moment to determine if you or your opponent will live to see tomorrow's sunrise! Enter a true Iai master's sword path or even close to it, is the most horrifying experience you will ever have or you never want to experience it!
Two Iai masters facing each other, their eyes looking deep into each other's soul. Eagles have stopped soaring, Tigers are rushing to find a place to hide, even the sakura are trying to hold on their branches a little longer and shaking into the wind. There is quietness in the air. A spectacular moment will come soon! Intensities and adrenalin is building up fast! There is no time to think, no time to plan! Waiting and waiting! No one dares to make a wrong move! A life time of training is to prepare for this moment. Are you prepared enough? A bone chilling scream! A guest of wind! Dust flying under their feet! Silence . . . You are scared to take a breath, you inhale cautiously, is there any discomfort? Only one can walk away unharmed! Are you the lucky one?
Is there so much luck in this world? There is no luck and you know it! You can walk away and live because you are well prepared. Your long hours of practicing to perfect your techniques, your determination, and your skill will pay off. So you should take full credit for it!
Iai – It has two words, means open and close or departed and back together again. It refers to the movements of the sword and the saya. Draw and return back! The techniques "jutsu" must start with the sword in the saya. That's why it translates to "the techniques of drawing the sword". If the sword is already outside of the saya it is "Kenjutsu", the "techniques of using the sword" or "the art of using the sword" and is not the techniques of "drawing the sword". We should make that very clear!
Iaijutsu "the techniques of drawing the sword” – that means the most important thing is “drawing the sword" and nothing else! There is only one movement “The Draw"! If so, that's simple. Only one movement. That's correct – simple. That's what we want. Simplicity, direct, one movement and to solve the problems.
To do this movement well, it may be simple, but not easy. Firstly, you must know your equipment well. In this case it is our katana. If the katana has come out of the saya and return it back without using your eyes – you must rely on something else. In this case, you rely on your hands and subconsciously guide the sword. This means you “see the sword with your hands not with your eyes".
Most of our Iaijutsu kata in "heart refection style" usually contains one draw, two or more cuts. I usually like to call after the draw a support cut rather than a finishing cut. A chiburi and return the sword back to the saya.
When practicing return the sword back to the saya (noto) you must know the saya well. The left hand has "four movements" the right hand has three. (Ask your instructor to clearly explain it to you and learn it well.) Starting with the left hand touch the kurigata. The right hand at this time should be in chiburi movement or prepare to do so depends on which kata you are practicing. When touching the kurigata you should use your first joint of your left hand fingers and not your palm! Make sure you do feel it before you return the sword back to your saya! Why? Go ahead and find out!
Left hand, right hand and feet movement should coordinate well. After the draw, every cut is a support movement, is secondary! You must not rush to do the second cut! That means draw and cut in lighting speed in one movement! Then assess the result, apply the second cut if necessary or required.
Now the soul of Iai, "the draw". To draw the katana with great speed safely and get ready for the second cut! To do this well you must have a good balance katana, balance in motion, not at rest! The lengths of the sword, the weight of the tsuba, the length of the tuska are all important elements. (If you have been training for sometime, you will know the difference.) If you are training with iaito you need to find one that can stand this type of use.
When drawing the katana from the saya with lighting speed we need superior coordination with both hands. The sword must be free without any friction from the saya, which means not dangerously cutting the koiguchi (the opening of the saya). The saya-biki must be performed well. To let the sword free during drawing, the hands must not pass the center line of your body to grip the tsuka. Allow both hands to meet at the center line and grip with the thumb, index and the third finger only, until the sword is free from the saya then griping with the rest of the fingers. The sword must be weightless during the draw. So, drop your body suddenly and turn, the hand movement, power from the hip and arms to whipping the katana toward the target. All driven by impulse – the thought of "when should I cut" should not exist! The moment of "the draw" should even surprise you! The energy now should transfer to your wrist to redirect the force to the support cut. This should be performed with great cutting power. Each kata teaching you a different angle of attack and defense, but 80% of the target is your opponent’s right lead hand - "the sword hands" and its path. When you are training, please keep this in mind!
Today we practice Iaijutsu it is not the same as a few hundreds years ago! There is no practical value to it! So why do we still spend so much time to practicing it? What are we preparing for? We are not preparing for anything, but rather we are training our mind. Thinking clearly, challenging every difficulty in our life with full confidence and courage. Facing problems and making clear decisions without hesitation and procrastination. Yamamoto Sensei always reminded me, “Procrastination is your greatest enemy in life, and it will make you loose every opportunity. A window of opportunity that could open unexpectedly and would close quickly, so you must always be prepared”. That's why we train!
When we are training Iaijutsu kata we should pay more attention on its beautiful movements - performing as a living art. Performing well means very clean movements, great speed of the draw and shows the intensity of the kata.
It is so simple! Just one cut!
"Is too late to be afraid! Sweet dream baby! "