From August 11 – 15, the NKR celebrated its 50th anniversary. Little do people know that the NKR has actually been in existence before the European Kendo Federeation, so this is quite the big milestone. This was accompanied by the largest delegation of Japanese senseis, all together for jodo, kendo, and iaido. Irrespective to which discipline you follow, in the end it is a big family and it is great to see everybody.

For me, I attended the iaido seminar. It started of with a bang, first day was examination day! Fortunately for me and for most KKDH-er, I got to enjoy the rest of the seminar with a fresh new grade. With examinations over with on the first day, there was a lot more focus on koryu. With Ishido sensei leading the Muso Shinden Ryu group, we went through shoden, chuden, and a few okuden katas. With such an emphasis on koryu, it gave a feeling that koryu should be more a part of your training than a large focus on seitei, not undermining seitei of course. 

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The general feeling was:

  • Shoden – The enemy is far, so you must close the distance
  • Chuden – The enemy is close, you must be quick and fast
  • Okuden – You must cut with one cut, especially when there are multiple enemies

These themes are important, especially when performing the katas. One must not perform a chuden kata like they were doing seitei, your enemy would have killed you before you could make a move! This makes a clear distinction between seitei, shoden, chuden, and okuden. 

Personally, I saw this as a pyramid, as each level is built upon the previous. Seitei laying down the basic foundation for moving and cutting; shoden builds on footwork; chuden builds on speed; and okuden builds on fluidity. 

From the stories I heard, it feels like iaido is becoming more open and aware of other ryuhas. Previously, it used to be very secretive, not to give away any of your techniques. It was very interesting when Ishido sensei asked Kinomoto sensei (Shinkage Ryu) to give a demonstration of one of their katas where their nukitsuke is a low crouching one. Without awareness, Shohatto or Yokogumo would have been useless, without taking into account speed. A more appropriate response would be to perform Toraissoku, blocking the nukitsuke. 

There was also an important note not to overthink the katas. We can always imagine countless situations in our heads, and if you apply the katas quite literally, I think you would be also missing the point. Ishido sensei mentioned how if someone would sit abnormally close to you, or even have their sword still with them indoors, most likely you would tell them to sit somewhere else. So technically, a situation where your enemy is sitting in front of you is very unrealistic, so why do we do these katas? It’s simple, they are to train yourself, so that in the end you are able to react without thinking.

To conclude this, I think doing iaido, you must always have it in mind with context. We can’t fully imagine how it was living in the times of the samurai, but we can get a glimpse. There is a deep history behind it and we shouldn’t forget it, and try to pass it down without distortion for other generations to come. I think this is one of the main reasons why Japanese senseis such as Ishido sensei come to Europe and we should really appreciate it, highlighting the importance of such seminars and the relation the Netherlands has with Japan.