Like all activities we do, we look for recognition and approval. We show our achievements to those around us all the time. This partly has pushed the social media phenomenon we come to know in the modern age. It is also because of this urge to “share/show” our achievements, my teacher never pushed me to take any grading exams in the past. In his eyes, it clouds the mind from what is more important – proper training (修行). For nearly twenty years, I continued practising Iaido as Shodan-sha (初段者). It is not something one would go about showing off telling people about other than the first few months of receiving it. (The only reason I took that exam was that I was leaving Japan and was not sure if I would ever go back to continue Iai again. That is another story.)
Iaido, like other Koryu Bujutsu (古流武術), was not developed to be a “show-and-tell”. Although it cannot be helped that we occasionally perform demonstration (演武), we should not forget it is not done to show-off.
One performing the demonstration must bear in mind that it is not a performance. It has to be carried out with the same spirit and mental readiness as in a fight for one’s own life.
As a demonstrator, one needs to convey that sense of purpose. Without that, the demonstration is no more than a series of spiritless motion with a sword.
To demonstrate the spirit of Iai, one must commit to each motion as though his/her own soul is one with the sword. This does not mean swinging the sword forcefully or in haste.
How will one posses that spirit? You start by submerging your entire self into it until your everyday movements, speech and even subconscious thoughts are permanently ingrained with it. Allow me to paraphrase the words of an old master, “you must become a walking, breathing and living sword.”
When you have achieved that, only then will your demonstration be effective in conveying the spirit of Iaido, the spirit of a living sword that is now you.