The Real Meaning of Iai
After practice, I had a small drinking party with 4 other guys. One of them is generally a bit obnoxious but he certainly isn't anything extraordinary; he's the kind of guy who insists on using weird, badly-pronounded English even though he knows I can speak a fair bit of Japanese. And then by the same token, he is either incapable of, or doesn't want to speak in slow, simple Japanese so that I can understand him. So he'll come up to me, mumble something in rapid-fire Nihongo, and when I look bewildered, he'll say something like, "Weah dzoo yuu ribu?" Oh... "Where do you live." Right.
Anyway, as he got drunker and drunker, he got more and more irritating to the point where he was really starting to bother me. At first, he was just being weird, saying stuff like, "Do you like Japan?" (Yes.) "Do you like Japanese culture?" (Yes.) "But you hate Japanese people! Don't you? Don't you? Yes you do! You hate Japanese people! All you foreigners are the same! You hate the Japanese!" I was pretty taken aback by the weird direction the conversation was going so I tried to change the subject back to iaido.
Now, in actual fact, his iaido is absolutely atrocious for a number of reasons that I won't go into. But he suddenly started criticizing my iaido, particularly the way I do noto. Given that (a) he isn't very good, and (b) he's a Muso Shinden guy who obviously hasn't seen much Jikiden, I thought he was a bit out of line. Then he started saying stuff like, "Are you going to try to do a grading? You'll fail! You're terrible. You'll definitely fail!" and then he'd start cackling like a madman. Then he started quizzing me on my knowledge of iaido terms. He asked me, "Do you understand 'sei chu sen'?" I thought this meant something like "center line" so I said, "Do you mean the line between you and your opponent?" and he beamed triumphantly. "He doesn't even know what 'sei chu sen' means! He doesn't know anything about iaido!" And so it went, on and on.
Now, throughout this whole uncomfortable situation, the other partygoers were strangely silent. Nobody wants to offend anybody else, to the point where they are even unwilling to tell a guy like him to be quiet, so instead, they all found something very interesting to stare at on the ceiling and pretended like they weren't there. I kept thinking how, if only I spoke good enough Japanese to tell this guy what I thought of him, then I could really raise some eyebrows. Fortunately, though, I figured there was no point, so I just sat there and nodded and said, "Oh, do you really think so? Wow. That's interesting. Really? Mm-hmm." Besides, it was really obvious that he was incredibly insecure... all of this "foreigners hate us Japanese" sentiment must have come from somewhere. So I was doubly reluctant to tell him off.
As I was on my way home, I reflected that, not only is he technically inept at the physical side of iaido, but he really doesn't understand the term, either. Too bad he's wasting his time...