(picture found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E8%8B%B1%E4%BF%A1%E6%B5%81%E5%9C%9F%E4%BD%90%E5%A4%A7%E7%94%B0%E6%B4%BE%E7%B4%8D%E5%88%80.jpg)
In iaido there are two big things I'm working on, that basically rely upon the same principle: getting out of the way of the sword to let it cut efficiently.
In iaido we rely upon straight lines and non resistance in order to make the most efficient cuts. The sword needs our bodies to manipulate it and execute its purpose, but we must not use superfluous movements and efforts that inhibit the swords function to slice.
So there are two things I'm working on:
1. Drawing the blade. When you draw the blade it is best to draw it along a straight line through the scabbard. When you do, it is effortless and silent. When you don't, you are using extra muscles and effort which will limit the following strike by making it waver. You can tell when someone does this by the sound that the blade makes coming out of the scabbard. If it makes a rough rickety sounds, it means you're banging the blade against the inside of the scabbard in the draw, which means you're putting unecessary strength into a movement that is not straight.
Our teacher has told us this from the start, and I've been conscious of it, however I get caught up in the moment and rush through the draw, which ruins everything. Rushing will do nothing but tense your muscles and make a loud rickety draw. Who cares if you're slow, if you don't do it right, you're not doing anything at all. I'm not practicing very slowly and quietly in my apartment, letting the sound of the blade teach me how to draw it.
2. Swinging the blade. When you raise the sword above your head and then swing down to slash, just like while drawing the sword, one must eliminate extra effort to let the sword fall upon the perfect straight lines of gravity. Our hands and bodies and souls handle and direct the sword, but we do not do the cutting, the sword does. Our teacher tells us to let the blade fall by itself with gravity. In doing this we do not insert unecessary effort.
When sensei swings his swords there is a loud slashing sound reflective of his skilled technique. When us lowly green horn whitebelts swing our swords, there is nothing but the tension in our shoulders and anguish on our faces. In trying to create that sound I naturally try to make that sound by using effort, muscle, and speed, but it won't work. The more I put myself into the sword, the farther I get away from that effortless echoing sound. I need to accept and trust that the sword will do it's job perfectly if I just relax and do only the movements I need to do.
Isn't the same in everything else we do in life?
Cleaning is a practice with a lot of parallels to budo. I like to clean, but I can't stand only cleaning one part of my apartment. I also like drinking lots of coffee and trying to clean in a short amount of time, which means I spend a lot of effort on this task without much of anything getting cleaned at all. Instead of trying to do everything at once in one full sweep, while doing everything else as well, if I can just relax and do clean one room right, that room will be clean and I will be happy ... accepting that maybe I can't clean my whole apartment in the time I've alotted.
Maybe I can accept that I can't do iaido perfect on my first try.
What we are training in budo is patience and an inquiring intelligence. We are learning to let things move according to their own ideal time. We are learning to let go of our great tragedy of effort. We are learning to be beautiful. We are learning to be effective.
Perhaps one of the greatest treasures in that great dark deep sea abyss is relaxing and slowing down. It is the key to happiness and relieving stress. Perhaps it is also the key to standing victorious amid violent encounters.
Maybe it's the key to understanding the Great Imminent Failure: Death.