When is it a good time to come back to this? Maybe I should ask myself why I stopped posting.
Many of you I am sure are aware of the situation in Europe regarding the grading and some of you will know about the repercussions from the last European Iaido Championships. I like to hope that some good will come from the bad but hoping isn't the only thing to do.
I wanted to take some time away from the post and in fact away from the focus on my 6th dan preparation. I think in the last couple of months I have tried to drop myself into what I guess is a typical iaido training situation. I have done some helping and developing of our own dojo members, I have been doing some koryu exploration for myself and I have been teaching some in Poland for which I am very grateful. Not forgetting also that I have been painfully busy with work and in developing internal processes and strategy in the BKA, something that has eaten into not a small amount of actual training session time.
My own sensei has said nothing about my 6th dan preparation since the grading, something I am grateful for as I am sure he understands that what I don't need is any post-event debriefing, reconcilliation or citation. What I needed, and what I got, was space. And time.
So, what's brought me back? I think if I was going to name one thing it would be the very sad loss of Christopher Hitchens. I won't spend more than a paragraph in this blog trying to explain who he was, his reputation precedes him but he was, in his own words, a contrarian. He was to others a humanitarian, a sceptic, an atheist but to most, a formidable debator. His writings and his spectrum of live debates are a testament to his clear thinking, wit and ability to communicate. I admired him intensely and doubt there will ever be more than one person in anyone's lifetime like him.
I don't pretend to be anything like him although I try to see things as he saw them. To a degree it changed who I am. His death reminded me that his way wasn't to sit back in depression when things were bad but to take action, even if that action was just to communicate your feelings and thoughts.
And so I found myself this evening, having read his obituaries, starting to kick myself that I wasn't communicating anything when this blog appeared to have gained a little bit of interest to people. So here it is.
Where is it going?
I'm not going to mope about my failure at the grading, I am going to use this next duration of time to make myself even more ready to take the grading than I was before. And my hope is that I am going to do it with a little more clarity of thought than I had before.
Let us begin, by going backwards.
I like koryu. I like the fact that it offers a bit of freedom of taste and personal interpretation to the art. I like the fact that a lot of the original form or meaning is lost in time and we sometimes have to interpret it for ourselves. I like the fact that there are some forms which I find devilishly hard to do and that some people who are junior to me can do them with a whole lot more ease, style and sharpness. It is something of a leveller and I like that idea.
I like taikai. They prove nothing. They test everything. They are a context where we sometimes show a little bit of what is going on inside of us. At other times they are opportunities for us to pour on decoration and pretence and in fact hide everything that we are inside. For me, when I do win, I have about five seconds of the joy of victory and then I only feel gratitude and warmth to those people who have been able to come to the taikai and put in the same effort that I have. Sometimes it doesn't matter if the judges are watching or not - the taikai is a conversation with the other player and is unique in that regard with a solo-kata martial art. Taikai will push, pull, stretch and squeeze you. It will sometimes make you do iai in a way that you have been told to not do but in the heat of the moment, a little bit of rule breaking is the only thing that will see you through. For me they are not competitions with anyone but yourself. I am careful to try and display my trophies and not store them away. Not to display them for anyone else, I don't have any need or purpose to communicate how I have done in taikai to anyone, but to remind me that if you start something then you might as well do it to your very best ability and effort.
I like gradings. I like having an objective and I think it is useful to most people. Most of all though, I like the idea of transition. I like the idea of a person taking a discrete period of time and using it to change themselves entirely. Call it shugyo, call it a moment on the road to Damascus, we have an image of what we should be like for a particular grade and then we push ourselves to become like that image. Only when we get there do we realise that our initial image wasn't completely accurate - or maybe we see that the image has changed because our perspective has changed. Some things are subjective and relativistic but that doesn't stop them from being real or useful to us.
Despite the kind words and feedback that I got from the grading, I'm not a 6th dan yet but I am going to make myself one.
Let us begin...