this page is intended to give you an overview of what to expect and an idea of the kinds of things people are not sure about when starting Kendo or Iaido. If you have other questions you'd like to see added to the list, please send me an e-mail and I'll put them in.
What practical use does Iaido or Kendo have in the real world?
How much does it cost?
Why is etiquette so important?
The important difference is that Budo and ‘martial arts’ have a very different nuance. Martial arts are the group of fighting techniques you learn to protect yourself, or win a fight. They are not focussed on honour or spiritual fulfilment. Budo is the group of arts which lead to enlightenment. Budo includes not only the Zen / Mikyo influenced fighting arts, but also Cha-no-yu [tea ceremony] Shodo [Japanese calligraphy], Ikebana [Japanese flower arranging], etc.There are 3 complimentary aspects to Budo; Reigi, Technique and Zen. Depending on your reasons for starting a particular Budo, in our case Kenjustu [sword arts] people tend to focus on either Zen or technique.
It is important to realise that the 3 aspects are interrelated, but Reigi is the covering concept. And its very true that whatever aspect inspires you from the start, you will eventually come to regard all 3 as the same thing. Technique allows us to cultivate our Zen spirit by providing a focus and means of ‘polishing our souls’. Zen allows us to refine our technique and become good sword practitioners by the various virtues of Zen. And all at the same time, by training hard enough to improve your technique and following Zen, you will naturally both need and get a refined sense of Reigi.
Eventually you will realize that without a well-developed sense of Reigi you won’t be able to train effectively because you won't have the necessary discipline to follow the way, and your Sensei and peers will resent having to suffer your bad manners and dislike training with you if you don’t know your place in the dojo hierarchy or the hierarchy of society. In other words, Reigi allows harmony to exist.
In the dojo you need to show your understanding of Reigi by following the various rules and practices that have over hundreds of years become the norm of dojo behaviour. Being a Japanese art, Iaido and Kendo naturally must follow the Japanese ideas of etiquette. As such it becomes very important to actually show that you know your place in the hierarchy. Western people judge each others feelings of respect, etc by less concrete means. So if you have a sincere attitude, everyone can understand that you do know about etiquette. But the Japanese are very good at putting on various faces to suit the occasion, hiding their real feelings behind a well seeming mask. This is why it is important in budo circles to physically show your respect of others, So we bow to each other, we respond with “hai!” when Sensei or sempai [senior member] tell you to do something, etc, etc.This is something that we all can understand when it is explained to us, but to really know it [in our hearts] we must experience it for ourselves. Once we really know it, this is a small satori [enlightenment], but in the meantime, take it for granted and train diligently and you will feel the results in time. This is the nature of Zen, to truly understand and reach Satori, you must experience truth for yourself.
How long does it take to become proficient?
The quick answer is, your whole life. Iaido doesn't really have a top level that you reach and retire. People who understand iaido realise that you need to keep trying to improve yourself the whole time. However, a reasonably serious person should expect to be able to perform the entire Seitei kata set without too many major problems within a year perhaps.
Iaido starts off as it continues, so there is no real graduating to next levels and so on. With kendo you need to become proficient in the basics (kihon) before you can put on bogu and start sparring. If there is any change or level up in iaido it is when you prove yourself worthy to start learning the koryu kata. This is a timing point of understanding rather than just ability however.