Tokyobling's Blog

Iaido Performance at Yasukuni Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on March 26, 2014

Last weekend while visiting Yasukuni shrine to see the sakura trees I also spent a while watching the semi-annual iaido performance at the Kagura stage in the shrine grounds. There were iaidoka, practitioners of iaido, of both sexes, from young to old and including at least one foreigner. Iaido is a highly philosophical sport focused on the quick drawing of the sword, a resolute attack and a smooth withdrawal. Because it involves actual weaponry there is not competition aspect to it. There are three kinds of swords, a wooden boken that is used for kata (or set movements) with more than one person, iaito which is a blunt metal sword and a shinken, which is a sharpened sword. There are also kata for more than one swords, extra long swords and sneakier “stealth” kata that involves hidden daggers.

Originally iaido was a real practice for real combat situations but these days it is more like a very fluid form of zen meditation, similar to zen archery, kyudo, and not even remotely similar to the combat sports like kendo or naginata. It takes a lot of time and dedication to become reasonably good at iaido. There is something comforting about a sport where the best practitioners are also usually the oldest!

Despite this performance being free for anyone to watch it is not very well advertised apart from a line or two on a sub-page of the ever elegant and modest Yasukuni shrine official website.

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Fighting with real Swords – Yasukuni Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on December 30, 2012

Sometimes people who practice martial arts become so proficient with their weapons that it becomes reasonably safe to start practicing with real weapons instead of the blanks or dummys most mere mortals have to use. At the famous Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo’s Kudanshita district I saw these two elderly masters give a flashing sword fight performance with real blades. Obviously they are well choreographed, but still you would need to be able use the weapons very well in order to be able to perform these shows regularly. Yasukuni Shrine is a great place to go to see classic Japanese culture for free. I saw this performance in the morning of the large Mitama Festival in the summer of this year.
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Iaido – Yasukuni Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on March 26, 2012

One of the most elegant but least well known of the Japanese martial arts family of Budo, is the art of drawing the sword, or iaido (居合道). Unlike most martial arts in Japan iaido is practiced without an opponent and focuses on the ritualized drawing, cutting, and replacing the Japanese sword, the katana, in a fluid and well practiced motion. Classical iaido takes place sitting down, but these days a lot of kata (movements) are performed standing up. I have never practiced iaido, but it looks and feel similar to kyudo, which the art of zen archery, in that the outcome of the kata is not important, only how you execute it. In this, both iaido and kyudo is very philosophical and have strong elements of zen buddhism. I seem to remember having heard about the background of this very elegant sport, many of the noble classes of ancient Japan lived with the risk of being assassinated or attacked by enemies who would pose as emissaries and it became necessary to practice the quick draw from a sitting position as you would never know when the attack would come. Yesterday I went to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo’s Kudanshita district to see several well know iaido practitioners perform in a spring ritual. Unfortunately I missed out on the younger martial artists and the females. To become good at iaido you will need to spend years and years perfecting you breathing, your movement and your balance. I think it is impossible to become good at this without almost adopting wholly the Japanese way of acting, working, thinking and living. One day I would like to try!










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