The Iaido Journal  Sept 2001EJMAS Tips Jar

Nittai daigaku instructors: 
The Iaido Interviews

Date: August 2-3, 2000
Dojo: Australian National University Kendo Club
Organization: AJKF/AKF
Location: Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

"The number one point of importance in iaido is visualizing the opponent. If one properly does this iaido will not revert to a dance." Ito sensei.

"Mr. Gilham--come here…Does your iaido teacher practice kendo?"

"He did. He’s a fourth dan kendo and third dan jodo."

"That's good. I listened to you earlier explaining about how iaido was 'enough' for you. About how doing only iaido kept you busy and content. This is OK but--and we talked about this last night--one’s iaido must not become a dance. Your iaido looks fine now but in the future to avoid your iaido becoming a dance you should do kendo. Once you get sandan in iaido then start kendo. As you progress in iaido, kendo can follow. This is the best way to understand the sword. You know there are lots of people who do only iaido in Japan. Lots of them look like they are just dancing."

"Yes, thank you very much for your advice Ito sensei."

Fifty-year-old Ito sensei (sixth dan iaido, seventh dan kendo and jodo) was part of the Nittai University kendo group which visited southeastern Australia in August of 2000. Along with several other Kendo instructors and a contingent of Kendo students the Nittai group visited major cities in the southeast teaching kendo, iaido and jodo along the way. I met them for the first time in Canberra, where they visited for three days. The evenings of two of those days were dedicated to training.

For the last twenty years staff and students from the teacher's university in Tokyo's Setagaya ward have been coming to Australia for a holiday--kendo seminar tour. Although members of the All Japan Kendo Federation, their visits are not ZNKR sponsored. Coming through their own goodwill with an aim to instruct and show their kendo students Australian kendo, the opportunity for excellent training for Australians is paramount. Having the chance to train and learn from people who are paid to teach and in some degrees practice kendo is a rare opportunity here. From the moment I reached Melbourne it was the Nittai visit that seemed to dominate a large majority of conversations. People were looking forward to some serious training and advice from the contingent of seventh dan kendo instructors.

Ito sensei was the only member of the group graded in iaido even though all the members currently practice. Ito Sensei is a high school physical education teacher in Machida city who runs the schools’ and it's affiliated university kendo club.

Joe Semmler is the main kendo guy at the University of Australia's/ACT kendo club. Besides having a great bunch of enthusiastic people like Marianne, Sharon, Martino and Katie, the ACT kendo group has a large influx of new beginners. Set in the large wooden floored multi-purpose room of the university, Joe has a fine kendo organization running. He's a gentle teacher with a warm disposition.

So it was on a Tuesday evening when over forty kendoka from around New South Wales and the ACT met at the University of Australia for this short kendo training. Among our numbers there were only Joe and myself to receive instruction in iaido. After getting Ito sensei's permission to train we moved into a carpeted meeting room big enough for the two of us to practice, almost.

Training with Ito sensei, in that small room, was like being rice in a cooker! But it was swell to have that kind of pressure again: to have a high-ranking iaidoka watch us and correct us constantly. It’s always that 'push' from the presence of a teacher that makes ones iaido come out fully.

Initially, the only pushing is the adrenaline through the veins but eventually the mind moves towards calmness, or a oneness with the forms. The training starts and ends with the 'reiho'--the bowing in and out. The bowing in might be full of anticipation and a case of the nerves, but once in the thick of it all there is only a focus that transcends concentration; it beams pure technique through the mind’s reality of a 'kasso-teki'—a shadow opponent. By the time the final bowing occurs the cognizance of the passage of time seems to have steamed away too.

Ito sensei reinforced our focus. "The number one point of importance in iaido is visualizing the opponent. If one properly does this iaido will not revert to a dance."

When training becomes that focused--that true to the nature of modern iaido there is the opportunity to feel at one with all facets of one’s life. This feeling is more than enough to a long lasting satisfaction and drive not only in iaido but also in other areas of life.

Besides that terrific training I had a solid opportunity to use my limited Japanese abilities (now especially limited as in horrendously faltering!) to translate Ito sensei's advice. Of course he gave us excellent points that helped to sharpen our seitei forms.

The following night John Bear, a Shihan in the International Jujitsu federation and fellow jujitsu sensei Neil Philips, brought along six of their students for instruction in the seitei jodo kata. Again I helped Ito sensei as a translator and it was my first time to see the entire Jodo set. Ito sensei broke the forms down into tiny little bits, enough for the group to suck on for the next year, as well as heaps of advice. In Jodo I clearly saw another side to understanding sword work, not to mention the set of forms looked more than challenging.

After the Nittai group had departed Canberra for Melbourne, Joe asked if I could do a short iaido demonstration for his kendo group, most of who had never seen iaido before. With Joe and some of his student's help we had a little fun showing what some of the forms from seitei and the Muso Shinden set are supposed to simulate. More than a few chuckles came from the crowds as we ‘simulated’ what ‘should’ happen in a perfect situation for the forms. After acting out the simulations (Joe’s students were great!) I then showed them the forms. To this day I still wonder if anyone heard the bit of flatulence that shot out my rear on one of the more powerful techniques! I’ve always hoped they thought it was my foot dragging on the floor! HA!

A few days later I trained with Joe and John separately. All in all I was able to have some excellent training opportunities and enjoyed the chance to give an iaido demonstration. If anything it was a busy week but filled with exactly the things I love to do—except for the brief loss of bodily control!

TIJ Sept 2001