21st Century Warriors: Keeping Culture Alive at the Kenshin Dojo

It’s not every day that you see a bunch of guys with swords.

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But there they are. And here I am – not hallucinating or anything, even though it’s already hot enough outside in the early Phoenix springtime to consider sunstroke delusions.

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The only reason I’m not running in the opposite direction, is because these students from the Kenshin Dojo practicing iaido are fighting imaginary enemies, not real ones. This isn’t Feudal Japan, after all.

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Instead, these modern-day warriors are performing for a captive audience at Arizona’s Matsuri Festival. Festival goers are quiet, mouths agape as they watch these movements being executed with precision and grace. After all, how often do you witness an martial art form that’s more than 400 years old?

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I caught up with one of the students afterward, we’ll call him RB for short (to protect his warrior identity), to try and get the skinny on iaido. Read on for the answers to all of your burning questions (or at least some of them).

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NBT: What is iaido? (I ask, BRILLIANTLY.)

RB: Iai refers to ‘the draw’ of the katana (sword) from the saya (scabbard) and Do is loosely translated to ‘the way’. So together, iaido means ‘the way of the draw’.

Iaido is the general term for the art form composed of the kata (techniques) mimicking fighting and killing an opponent. In iaido, it is very important to visualize your enemy, and imagine the combat play out. In our dojo, we say that you must ‘wait for the body to fall’.

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NBT: Tell us more about the cool cats at Kenshin Dojo – the dojo you belong to.

RB: Kenshin Dojo was founded by Sensei Robert Corella just about 30 years ago.

But the style, Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, was founded by Araki (a young samurai) himself as a reward for distinguishing himself to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a daimyo, or feudal lord/ruler for us normies) in a campaign in Manchuria.

Presently, our Soke (headmaster) is Richo Hayabuchi. The 16th Soke of the style.

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NBT: Are there different levels of skill or belts to be earned? (I says because I knows nothing.)

RB: Iaido doesn’t grant belts, per se, but ranks as issued as a result of being graded (once a year by Soke).

Lower ranks are called Kyu ranks. They are ordered five to one, lowest to highest. Higher ranks are called Dan (pronounced dawn) ranks. They are ordered one to five, again, lowest to highest.

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NBT: Last question! Do you think carrying on these martial arts traditions is important?

RB: Man, good question. Absolutely, I think this important. At a high level, iaido exemplifies an aspect Japanese culture separately from any other martial art. Unlike others, the value of iaido isn’t both practical and spiritual. Iaido isn’t used for self-defense.

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Well, class, this has been Intro to Iaido 101, there WILL be a test on Friday. But seriously, readers, I hope you learned something new and this inspires you to do your own research on iaido or another martial art. Perhaps even take up a class and become your own warrior.

Keep fighting the good fight!

xx,
Katie

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