Tag: Iaido

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

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


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.


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.


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?


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).


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’.


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.


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.


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.


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!


Matsuri: The Arizona Festival of Japan

(c) K. Arrington

(c) K. Arrington

So, once again, I am going against my last entry’s claim about what I would be writing about next. I did want to write about my time in Washington DC, but the past couple weeks have been a little crazy between some health issues and trying to plan for my potential field season this summer. Due to all of this, I decided that I would highlight Matsuri in a short entry (featuring the photography of one of my very talented friends) rather than skip a post.

(c) K. Arrington

(c) K. Arrington

Matsuri is, in my opinion, one of the best cultural festivals of Phoenix, and this year was its 31st anniversary, so it also has a lot of history and love behind it. For the past four years, since I have been going, the festival has always been held downtown, outside of Phoenix’s Science Museum. The grounds where it is held are filled with small, tarped stalls where Japanese food and gifts can be procured. There are also several large stages for demonstrations and performances. Getting into the event is free, which is wonderful, but anyone who visits should be sure to come with cash in case they find anything that they want to buy from one of the vendors.


(c) K. Arrington

(c) K. Arrington

My personal favorite performance of the festival is that of the Taiko drummers. I could sit and listen to that music for quite a long time all by itself, but the musicians are wonderful on the stage. They use a variety of different kinds of drums, as well as some other instruments such as a conch shell and small symbols. They rearrange their drums with every song; these formations play a role in the songs, but they also allow the drummers to act out a variety of entertaining interactions. In one of my favorite songs, several players drum on a line of smaller drums, while the other half of the group plays a line of larger drums behind them. During the song, the small and large drums seem to compete with eachother, rising and falling in turn, and the players themselves glance back and forth between each other, pretending to drum harder and louder than the other. The energy of the musicians makes the entire performance playful and very entertaining.

(c) K. Arrington

(c) K. Arrington

Some of the other demonstrations that I try to visit every time are the Japanese dancers and the martial arts demonstrations. The Japanese dance stage hosts performers of a wide variety of ages. The cutest, of course, are the young children, but the most skilled are the older women. This form of dance is quite different from the many forms of Western dance. The women are often very solemn, and their movements are skillfully controlled as they all but float across the stage- graceful despite the confining nature of their kimonos. Besides the dancing itself, the Japanese dance stage is a great place to see some beautiful, traditional Japanese dress and makeup. The martial arts demonstrations, alternatively, feature a variety of different forms- including karate as well as several forms samurai swordsmanship. Each form is distinct, and watching the students highlights the intriguing variety of traditional martial arts.

Finally, while I do not participate, there are also many people who cosplay at Matsuri. I am not entirely fond of this pattern, because I find it somewhat distracting, but this is certainly a draw for many people. Costumes of varied quality can be seen throughout the festival, and there have also been festival competitions for the cosplayers in recent years.

And if you have any questions about my experience at Matsuri or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

My next update will be on March 15th, and I think I will be writing about my budget travels in Washington DC. We’ll see. Hahaha.

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