People who know me, know that I am a professional designer and artist (in a graphic design profession) but few know that I started my path as a fine artist.
One of my favorite things to do was figure drawing. After art school, I continued to take local studio classes to keep up my ability to draw. At one class in particular, the teacher said something to me that has stayed with me all these years and I find myself hearing this concept in my head when I think of our art of Iaijutsu.
I was working on a particular sketch with a live model (which is common in a figure drawing class). I happened to be making a lot of additional corrections to the piece I was on, probably more then most of those also in class, really just enjoying the work. He approached me and asked “What is the most important piece you will ever work on?”. Now, this sounds like the type of thing my Zen teacher would ask, so I sat for a bit, unable to understand what to say. Of course I thought about the piece of art that may make me famous, or the one I leave behind that sums up my “style” a hundred years from now. Maybe a previous piece of art that helped get me in school, or through a job interview. I finally gave up and said “I’m not sure”.
He said: “This one that you are working on…and your next one. Once this one is finished, it doesn’t matter anymore, all that matters is that next sheet of blank paper to start all over again.” Then, like all good teachers who knock you on your intellectual rear, he walked away to let me ponder that for a bit.
I had an opportunity later to talk with him in private (as we were the only two who used the break to smoke). I didn’t have to ask, he knew I wanted to know more of what he meant. So he explained to me in detail that his idea of art was about the “life of the art”, the act of creation being the reason, not the end. That is what gives art life. Once its finished, its dead and no longer important.
We talk on occasion in class about the “living art” of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu and I believe, now that this idea is the same. When we perform kata we bring life to the art, when we finish, its over and all that is important is the next time we do it. We can never find “perfection” in something that is perfection just by doing. Mastery is out the window, and to master the art, would actually kill the art. It should be organic, living and breathing like we do while practicing.
I know my personal technique, and understanding of technique in general changes year after year. Each time something new finds its way in. But the pure act of performing and “living the kata” or “living the focus exercise” or “living the cutting practice” are what really keep me involved and coming back. Also, since I only focus on what I am doing now, at this time, in this kata, or this technique, I too add breath to the art just by doing.
So many times in our life we sit and worry about tomorrow, about next week, about what will happen in the spring, what will happen in five years. How often do we actually take the time to be here in this very moment, in the middle of this kata and know we are there for a reason?
Now, on to the next kata…
Brent Eastman (Gento)
Godan (5th Degree)
USTRI Southeast Michigan Branch Manager (Shibucho) and Licensed Instructor
Genwakai Associate Instructor (Shihandai)