(I’ve been practicing iaido for over a year now. I would not consider myself good at it. Almost every practice something happens, or something is said that makes me think of how it would work as a little snippet of a story, or perhaps in an old movie. I’m going to share some of these. I don’t know how many or how often. Here is one of the incidents.)
There is a lot that an be said about the movie The Last Samurai. I think one of the positives are that it increased an interest in Japanese history in both America and Japan. However, the part of history the movie explored had little connection to reality. It is probably safe to say that it is as historically inaccurate as Braveheart. Possibly more so. One of the scenes that is easy to ignore, but greatly pushes the boundaries of believability is when Tommy C. wakes up in a samurai homestead and finds a folded hakama, the pleated pant/skirt outfit that are so common in such movies. Without ever having worn one Tommy C. manages to slip one on without any problems. Anyone who has ever put on a hakama knows how farfetched this is.
Why am I thinking about this? Because it is the start of a new school year in Japan. New college students are starting to join their new school clubs. As such, we’ve had a few new members join our little dojo and I’ve had the chance to watch new students being taught how to put on their traditional clothing. Where does the obi (belt) go? Where and in what order do the four long straps on either side of the hakama go? How exactly does that little bow in the front get made? Some of these details are less important. There are many different variations of how to correctly fasten the hakama. I will not pretend to know them all. I can say them some variations are just cosmetics. Does the loop of the bow point up or down will likely not have grave consequences. Of course, it might. Other variations will depend on what you are wearing the hakama for. I’ve been told that in iaido there is a difference in how the long straps wrap around the body than in kyudo (Japanese archery). The difference results in the steps bearing the weight of the katana and scabbard and holding it in place, something not really needed in modern kyudo.
So, as I changed into my own training wear, I listened to this young man being fought how to dress himself. It made me smile because less than two years ago I was going through the same process. I still have a lot to learn, not only about iaido in general but even about tying the hakama. As I said, there are many styles on how to do everything. Tying the obi alone has a variety of methods, one of which is probably better for my body type than the style I am currently using. Like all things the more we learn, the more we know we have yet to learn.
The pair finished. The young man looked confident and ready for practice. The senior student looked over his work and pronounced it good. There was just one more thing to take care of before starting practice.
“I’m going to use the bathroom real quick and then we’ll go start,” the senior student said.
“I need to go to,” replied the new student, following to the adjoining bathroom.
I finished putting on my own training clothes and was just sliding on my kneepads when I heard the younger student ask:
“So, how do I take a piss while in hakama?”
Still so much to learn.