When can I be scary?

Two new people joined our iaido school last month, which means I am no longer the very bottom of the class. Which also means when we line up at the start and end of the class I need to be a little more on the ball because the guy to my left is looking at me for what to do.

The style of iaido our school practises is Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū but on the last Monday of every month we train in Niten Ichi-ryu.  So far I have had six lessons (totalling 12 hours) formal teaching of Niten and as I type that out I realise that that’s the equivalent of my first week training in jiu jitsu.  Arguably I have had longer time outside of class to absorb the Niten lessons and get some practise in.

Some quick background information on Niten.  It is practised as a series of katas with a partner where one person is attacking (uchidachi), the other person responds to the attack (shidachi).  Like much iaido there is a certain level of mind games involved – using body posture, the way you look at your partner (not romantically!) and the intent you express.

  1. Shidachi has to encourage uchidachi to attack in a certain way.
  2. Uchidachi attacks and shidachi defends.
  3. Once shidachi has executed their defence they move in for their attack.


When you train you  are adjusting to the other persons stance and weapon reach accordingly.  But like any paired kata it works best when intent is put into it.  When our sensei pairs with me I don’t have to think, “oh this is the point where I step back,” I automatically flinch back because of the intent he’s projecting.  And yes, we train with wooden swords but I still have no desire to be clonked on the head with that sword by someone who looks like they are prepared to kill me with it.

It’s the intent I seem to be having the issue with.  My training partner was left trembling with giggles rather than fear when I went for my attacks.  OK, the physical technique needs working on (a lot) but arguably if I’m projecting that desire to cleave him in two then having my weapon at the wrong angle is a minor point.  But it seems I just don’t want to do that enough, as was pointed out to me by both my teachers and training partner.

My first thought was, “eeek, I’m too much in the mentality of defensive martial arts.”  Yet I recall a gauntlet run I did in jiu jitsu where no-one in the line would attack me because I looked too scary.  The sensei had to call a halt and tell people that someone had to punch or kick me in order for me to demonstrate a technique.

Didn’t even get as far as blocking an attack on that gauntlet run.

 So where’s the difference?  What did I have the day of that jitsu gauntlet run that I lacked so much of Monday’s Niten session?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Confidence.  If I feel I know something then you project that conviction without even thinking about.
  • Knowing the people you train with.  The longer you train with people the more you know how well they react, which then feeds back into the confidence point.  I don’t actually like knocking my training partners out (partly because it’s messy to clean them off the mat and partly because I loose training partners fast) so I tend to be cautious with those I don’t know no matter their grade.
  • Time training.  Nothing more to be said here.


Better go and pick up my sword and keep practising then.


Cover image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8C6uAd0FCI 



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