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劔は心なり

The Sword Becomes The Heart


It is said that "the sword becomes the heart", which means, the sword reflects the bearer's heart, soul and mind. This may sound very obvious and easy for some to understand. In reality, how does one truly achieve this?

In Iaido, there is a very heavy element of philosophy at the core of the teaching. Modern-day teaching in Iai largely neglects this fundamental part of the art. Techniques, as well as the rationale behind them, are of course important, but the philosophical education is always left no deeper than the words only. To really start talking about the philosophy here will be an impossible task, so I will refrain from doing so. However, I would like to point out an example, which hopefully demonstrates the point mentioned above, "the sword becomes the heart".

There is an abundance of videos uploaded to the internet by practitioners of all levels, sharing their journey in Iaido. Some are good, some are not. That is not important, because, with practice, everyone will get better. Yet, one thing is sure, if the heart isn't at the right place, the technique will never be good. It is very apparent. The easiest and most common example is when one performs a technique at a very rapid pace. The ability to do something at speed can be very deceiving, is it because the technique is so smooth and proper, the person can move effortlessly, appearing quick? More frequently, the ones on the internet are not of this category. The performers use speed to cover up their inadequacies, inabilities and flawed techniques. It is the use of trickery to disguise as mastery.

This is particularly alarming when it is done by the head or seniors of a dojo. It would be excusable if the performer just isn't aware of his/her technique being wrong. He or she may just not have attained the skill perfectly yet. The inexcusable ones are those that want to show off their skills but worry the flaws in their techniques could be exposed if done too slowly. That is where the intention sullies the form. It is truly unfortunate for one to end up learning from these teachers.

At any rate, a person whose mind and heart are set in the right direction, his/her movements would reflect that. Those who can see are those who have the right heart and mind, or simply had been blessed with having a good teacher.

Going back to the question posed in the beginning: to achieve the goal of "sword becomes the heart", one must never stop practising, learning, reviewing and improving. Never be prideful of what he is able to do, be humble to know what he is still incapable of. Inspire your students by honesty, not by trickery. In this world, we can learn much from those whom we teach. We may not be the strongest or the best, but be able to train someone to be stronger and better.