Iaido ain’t slow!

It’s not fast either.

Recently I have had no less than three aikidoka say to me, “iaido – that’s slow, isn’t it?”  I assume they have all been on the same seminar and somebody imparted this pearl of wisdom, which they then thought to share with me.  Well, I would like to take this opportunity to correct them.  Or anyone else that thinks a martial art is slow, or fast, or any set speed.

Take a look at this video, showing one of the middle level techniques of Eishen Ryu, the style of sword work I practice.  (It’s only 30 seconds, you don’t need the sound.)

(This technique involves avoiding someone trying to grab your sword, before you cut them, free the weapon from their body and go for a second cut.)

There are fast bits in the video but there are also slow bits in which the swordsman almost pauses.  Importantly there is a sense of rhythm rather than a flat out single pace.  My Iaido instructors refer to this as jo-ha-kyu, which they roughly translate as slow, fast, faster.  Wikipedia gives the translation as, “beginning, break, rapid.”  Either way it describes the acceleration within a technique.  And here’s the important bit.  Jo-ha-kyu doesn’t happen once during a kata, it happens multiple times over.  Drawing the sword for the first cut (nukitsuke) has jo-ha-kyu, as does lifting it and performing the second cut (furikaburi to kirioroshi).

As a complete beginner I tended to go at a single pace.  This is understandable – I was learning the basic movements I needed to make.  As someone who has inched slightly off the beginner scale it is time for me to start implementing that change of pace.  Sometimes I get it right and it’s amazing how much more right the technique feels.  I’ve moved from waving the sword around to actually doing the cut.  For a short while I enjoy the feeling and then reality brings me down to earth as the next technique falls apart.  It’s a long, long road to travel with Iaido!

As a side note the tripartite concept of jo-ha-kyu is not limited to Japanese sword arts, but also formally recognised in Japanese theatre, poetry, music and story-telling.

If I think about it jo-ha-kyu is likely to be present in Aikido and Japanese Jitsu.  As with Iaido a single technique will contain multiple occurrences of jo-ha-kyu.  This Friday I’m back in the Aikido dojo, so I’m going to see how this principle works out.  Rather than rushing like a mad thing I’m going to try and see where the rhythm is.

Iaido.  It’s not slow.  It’s not fast.  It’s like a wave gathering and crashing on the shore, over and over again.

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