Iaido Tai Kai
As human kind a very competitive species we use to try to compete in almost everything possible. This way even martial arts came into this habit and started to adapt and create forms where the ones abilities can be tested and acknowledged. Tai Kai is a traditional way to compete and has been adapted in Japan and all over the world where Iaido is being practiced. There are many different things a person needs to follow during a competition. It is not just simply the kata it self but also the ethics and traditions. In the beginning of a a Tai kai the judges declare which kata are going to be performed and how many. Usually it is either 3 or 5 kata dependent on the number of participants and the level. The higher the level it is more probable that 5 kata will be performed to give the judges enough input to make a decision who was better. I really liked the statement from Victor Cook Sensei (Iaido Nanadan Renshi), who said, it is not the job of a judge to look for the bad things but rather trying to search for the good things a practitioner makes. Usually there are 3 judges for a match who will decide the winner. There are also 2 or 3 additional judges behind the iaidoka competing which are following the time, as there is a precise time setting how long it is allowed to take to finish your forms.
How does it work
The ground where the iaidoka will perform is called shiiaijo and is separated into the white and red part. Just like the judges have a white and a red flag. The tow Iaidoka turn to each other standing outside of the shiiaijo go into the sitting position of seiza. Then both make a bow to each other to express their respect. They stand up and turn in direction of the judges. The main judge sitting in the middle will give a signal to enter the shiiaijo. It is very important to behave accordingly to the traditions and Japanese ethics all the time, not only in the shiiaijo but also outside of it as this could as well mean the loss. When the iaidoka stand on their markings (in the red and white part there is a mark on the floor to point out the starting position). The main judge calls: Hadzime which can be considered as a shot of the starting pistol. A very high level of concentration is necessary to perform Iaido and the Tai Kai demands even more. Now the Iaidoka make the beginning reiho following their Ryuhas way to do it. The forms them self follow. For 3 forms the time is set for 4 minutes and for 5 forms it is 6 minutes. it is important to remember that this includes also the beginning and finishing reiho. After both iaidoka are finished and are back to the standing position before the judges they stand up as well and the main judge calls: Hantei, which is the signal for the judges to raise the flag (red or white) depending on to which iaidoka they are giving their point. With 3 judges it is always a clear win or lose. After this the main judge calls: Shobuari and the flags are lowered again and back onto the tables. The iaidoka make 3 steps backwards before turning. When they get out of the shiiaijo they turn again to each other and sit and bow to thank each other for the match, experience, lesson and to express their respect again.
- steping outside of the shiiaijo during competition
- performing a wrong kata (one which should not have been performed)
- forgetting a kata
- performing the kata in the wrong order
- going over time (just one of the iaidoka is overtime)
- having an injury (the judges can immediately stop the match)
- being not on place in time
- forgetting some of the ethical behaviour
Sometimes there are some situations when the judges need to have a fast discussion. This may be when for example both of the competing iaidoka go over time.
The Tai Kai is a great opportunity to test your own skills. Here I would like to focus and point out that iaido has never been meant to be a sport and it is not a sport till nowadays. It needs to be treated as a highly traditional Japanese martial art. An exam in Iaido is very demanding but the competition is even harder as there are many things that can go wrong and the pressure is a bit higher as the human nature creates the pressure by its self. People like winning and dislike losing. I wound not say that I like loosing but it a loss can sometimes teach you a lot more then a simple win. You can look into you and search for your own weakness, if you are able to find it you might be able to overcome it and progress further in your way of a Iaidoka.