Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Draw to Kill—and Make Sure It's Justified

One of the essential elements of iaijutsu, the one that makes it different from iaido, for example, is that drawing the sword isn't an art in itself. The art is drawing with the purpose of killing and accomplishing the kill.

I was reminded of that when I saw the first episode of a cool new TV series, Justified. The star of of show is Timothy Oliphant, of Deadwood, Die Hard 4 and Assassin fame, a guy who has more character that almost every other currently-in-vogue male film actor. He's a presence that fits equally well onto the small and the big screen, which is a rarity. If you close your eyes, he also sounds almost like a young Clint Eastwood; and I don't think there's anybody who could portray U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens—a man described by his ex-wife as "the angriest man I've ever known"—in quite the same way; especially since the anger isn't visible...and yet it is.

Justified is what some have called a 'neo-Western'. The term is appropriate. Raylan Givens is your classical on-the-edge 'Marshall' type, who, while on the side of the law, might as well have gone over to the other side. Not quite a Wyatt Earp, but getting close. He's also lighting fast with a gun—in his case a modern semi-automatic. The series starts with a shootout, where—as he later assures a former buddy turned bad, who's apparently wanting to kill him, too—the gun was definitely 'holstered'.

Givens doesn't draw unless he intends to kill. Way he sees it, a gun is a killing instrument and why should you draw it unless you plan to put it to its intended use? The way he explains it to a board of enquiry: "He drew first. I killed him."

This is much in the spirit if of iaijustu.

We used to play games at my former dojo in Dunedin, where he walked around with swords (wooden ones) drawn, facing a bunch of other dojo members, and doing pretend fighting against multiple opponents in slow motion. We also played these games one-on-one. All very unrealistic, though instructional, I suppose. Still, I think there was something out of tune there, and it was probably the fact that it lacked the 'kill' spirit. You can't get into that it you're doing slo-mo. At least with drawing practice you can pretend and practice draw-to-kill, even though you never really do or even want to. But it's a 'spirit' thing.

For those trying to figure out what I mean, here are two videos from YouTube. One is of a more decorum-version of iaijutsu, the other is considerably more 'raw'. Maybe the contrast will show some of what I found difficult to explain.

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