Under the Knife: Iaid? Club brings dojo atmosphere to campus

Iaid? Club, an organization that prides itself on the practice and teaching of a traditional form of Japanese sword use, sliced its way onto campus last semester.

Sophomore Calla Goeke, president of Iaid? Club, formed the organization in conjunction with her sensei Clinton Cross, a senior instructional support specialist of the physics department at Geneseo. She said she hadn't wanted to leave Iaid?, which she had participated in for two years before she came to school. Cross has practiced Iaid? for approximately 13 years and, with the help of Goeke, decided to bring the art of Iaid? to the Geneseo campus.

According to Goeke, Iaid? "isn't just learning to swing a stick or a sword around … if you come in thinking that, you'd be in the wrong mindset." It is an art that is "designed to kill," Goeke said. "There is an inherent aspect of respect to it."

Cross trains students in floor drills at the weekly meetings, going through choreographed patterns of movement. When possible, the club travels to Canada to receive instruction from an even higher-ranking sensei.

According to Goeke, Iaid? is "a different world than most people know. Some people aren't as into it as others, but if it is for you, once you start you can never go back." Approximately half of the club's members have prior experience in martial arts, but no experience is needed. Goeke said Iaid? gives her "a sense of accomplishment" and she plans to practice it for the rest of her life.

Senior Adam Lashinsky, webmaster of the Iaid? Club, said, "Swords are involved, but ideally they never even touch; we never fight or spar in Iaid?. The art of it is being able to control your actions; it's like moving meditation."

Most of the club members use bokut? - wooden swords - but a few own blunt metal swords, called iait?. While practicing, they wear hakama, a traditional samurai robe. According to Lashinsky, "The hakama allows freedom of movement, but hides your legs from your opponent so he can't predict your movements."

Lashinsky also noted that Iaid? is such a detailed art that it's hard even for seasoned practitioners to perfect their form. "The cut itself is a slice; it's finer than a chop or a hack," he said. "You can practice for life and never get it right."

One of the most important facets of the art of Iaid? is the tradition. Several of the students travel to Rochester each week to practice Iaid? in Cross' dojo. At the dojo they are able to practice Iaid? in the environment for which it was meant. The dojo houses a kamidana, or spirit shelf. According to Lashinsky, paying respect to the kamidana is a tradition that they follow in the dojo. In Japan, students of Iaid? pray to the kamidana in a religious sense. "[Kamidana] is the heart of the spirits," said Lashinsky, noting that it helps to "keep you centered."

Lashinsky added that because of all of the tradition and spiritual beliefs associated with Iaid?, there are many superstitions about behaviors practiced in the dojo. For example, whistling is not allowed because it is said to anger bad spirits.

Iaid? Club welcomes new members to its weekly meetings on Fridays from 3 - 5 p.m. in the squash courts between Schrader Hall and Merritt Athletic Center.