- Iaido (居合道) (ee ay doe) is a modern Japanese martial art associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an [ imaginary ] opponent, removing [imaginary] blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard.
- The word iaido approximately translates into English as “the way of mental presence and “immediate reaction”.
- The primary emphasis in iaido is on the psychological state of being present (居). The secondary emphasis is on drawing the sword and responding to the sudden attack as quickly as possible (合)
Last night, attended the annual iaido testing at a local Asian arts center.
This did not originate from any particular interest in martial arts.
My friend Pollus has been practicing for the annual iaido test all year, and he felt pretty nervous about it.
I went to support him.
The parallels with Buddhist Dharma arose repeatedly as I watched the evening’s proceedings.
- Iaido is a mindfulness practice. Start to finish, it’s all about conscious and deliberate presence.
- The great amount of respect and deference granted the (foreign, in this case Japanese) teacher. This includes bowing.
- The sense of community that forms within subcultures ( using subculture to mean a smaller group of people who share common interests, values, language and practices which separate them, even temporarily, from the larger group of society)
- The sense of focus on the common goals of the group. (passing the test)
- Asian ( in this case, Japanese ) costumes required for formal occasions.
- Foreign ( in this case, Japanese ) specialized vocabulary required.
- The common memetic** transmission of the ideas and practices and terminology in both iaido and Buddhadharma.
Many years ago, when first starting out in Buddhist practice, there was a big deal frequently made by the teachers about how special this Dharma transmission was, how extraordinary it was for us to be receiving it, how we needed to work hard to get where we wanted to be. There was a lot of practice ahead of us, we were told. ( They were right on that last count, for sure! )
One day S. gave me a book on Tibetan medicine. There were pictures from “medical tantras”- written medical information hundreds of years old. The medical tantras passed medical knowledge from teacher (doctor) to disciple (med student) down through many centuries when few could read.
We had encountered in 20th century America the result of hundreds of years of memetics in a certain format – that of conveying written information in medieval Central Asia – which is how one learned to be both a doctor or a Dharma teaching monk.
Iaido provides another contemporary example of how practices, values, terminology and ideas are conveyed over time and across cultural and language barriers, very much harkening back to Dharma transmission.
Only there is no Dharma story.
Just more memes.
Memes, and the beauty of swords swooshing through the air in graceful arcs, appearing and disappearing in an instant.
Not a single drop of blood splattered upon the floor.
Pollus passed the test.
All 14 candidates passed last night.
The visiting teacher reviewed the hierarchy of iaido values, and warned everyone that next year would be much harder, much more strict.
He cautioned the students they had a lot of practice ahead of them if they wanted to succeed in passing next year’s test.
How familiar such talks once were.
* * * * * * * *
Am seeing and understanding the underlying connections and patterns in experience that previously seemed separated and discrete.
Does it end in seeing it all as one big story of human life ?
If I find out, you will read it here.
Iaido quotations and practice picture #1 from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iaido
Iaido practice picture #2 from this url: http://www.darienmartialartsacademy.com/iaido.html
** From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme : A meme ( /ˈmiːm/; MEEM)) is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying ideas, cultural symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.