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Sword Training – A Look at Ryu Iaido

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Craig has practiced for about 8 years, making him one of the senior students.

My visit to a sword training class studying Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido was a great introduction to something new for me. I know – it’s not really the sort of thing you hear about every day.

Here’s what brought me there:

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out at Mama Java’s and overheard some guys talking about visiting Japan. Naturally, I had to horn in on this conversation. Hey, it’s travel!

What I learned was 10 times more interesting than I expected. They weren’t just traveling to see the sights, but planning to visit the home dojo of Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido. They are members of the Phoenix dojo, where they study the art Japanese sword training.

Their sensei, David Overby, invited me to a sword training session. I showed up with my camera and snapped the photos in this post. The lighting conditions were a bit tough, especially with the speed of their movements. But it gives you some idea of what a sword training session looks like.

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Moving through a kata.

I also got a great sense of the people involved. They’re very welcoming to people interested in learning about their art. It’s a much more collegial atmosphere than the typical martial arts class, with students of all levels freely sharing ideas and tips. There’s some formality, but it’s balanced with a very easygoing vibe.

David even showed me the basic movement overhead cut and let me use his sword to get a feel for it. It’s just one building block of Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, yet so many subtle, interlinked movements comprise it. Just trying that one basic part of the art illustrated the dedication of becoming even remotely proficient at Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, which encompasses more than 60 sequences of movement with the Japanse sword (each called a kata, a term familiar to people who have studied a martial art).

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David shows the intricate skate-leather handle of his sword.

As for find the right publication for a story about Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, David suggested Black Belt. That would make an interesting entry into my clip book. I think that’s a great idea, but I also want to expose non-martial artists to this Japanese sword form.

See, what really made this so enjoyable is discovering people who are united in their dedication to something out-of-the-ordinary. They sought something unusual  (and sword training is hardly run of the mill!). They found it. They bonded over it.

The Phoenix dojo Iaido students also scuttle the notion that there is no culture in Phoenix. Maybe it’s not laid at our feet – we have to work to go and find it. But it’s there for those willing to seek – whether it’s Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, kung fu or metal working.

That’s what I want people to take away from this blog post – and whatever story I write for a mainstream publication about Iaido: Get out of your house. Seek something. Try different things. Find the right one, dedicate yourself and reap the benefits.

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A close look at a blade

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Dustin draws his Japanese sword as he begins a seated kata.

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Greg, Craig and David check each other’s forms and techniques.

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