Story by Paul Wood
Photos by Matt Mallams
The large room is quiet,
Komei Sekiguchi is the twenty-first head master of a rare and rigorous Japanese martial art known as iaijutsu. He holds his katana, or sword, a venerated weapon with a blade that is three feet long.
its stillness broken only by the occasional whistling of a razorsharp steel blade arcing through the soft morning air. Or the metallic ringing of sword sliding against sword. Or now and then a harsh kiai
(yell) from a student executing a centuries-old maneuver designed to deliver instant death.
The setting is the Okinawan Community Center in Paukukalo, Central Maui. It’s a serene, high-ceilinged room with ample floor space—space being a critical consideration when you’re wielding weapons that are over three feet long. Twice weekly this room serves as the dojo (training hall) for Komei Juku Beikoku Honbu, a small Maui group that is the US headquarters of a rare and rigorous Japanese martial art known as iaijutsu or iai.
But this week the schedule is different. This week in early September the Maui students of iai—there are only a dozen or so—are at the dojo every day, for this is the high point of their year. Sekiguchi Sensei, the grandmaster of the art form they study, has traveled from Tokyo to refine and encourage their practice. The Maui students are dressed uniformly in traditional black-and-white gear, shod in white tabi (socks). Their sensei (teacher) stands apart, clad in sapphire robes embroidered with golden inscriptions. He is a short man though formidable and rock-steady. With sword in hand he is a living samurai, his face an empty mask, his movements swift and true, his kiai— “eee-EE!”—like a gunshot.
Weapon down, he projects a boyish enthusiasm and warmhearted wit. Because he speaks almost no English, he relies on theatrics, pantomiming his stories, passing out Japanese candies, manipulating the students bodily to convey his points, sometimes resorting to a pocket-sized electronic Japanese-English dictionary. He is the embodiment of aiki in yo ho: blending soft with hard. Soft on the outside, hard on the inside.
Komei Sekiguchi, now in his mid-60s, is the twenty-first head master of an antique discipline known properly as Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu, a cultural heritage transmitted by the Tosa Yamauchi family and presented to Sekiguchi in the 1980s by the twentieth head master, Masamitsu Onoue. Iaijutsu is respected but not widely practiced even in Japan. As Sekiguchi often says, “Iai is easy to enter, easy to quit.” There are no colored belts to measure levels of achievement. There are no contests to win, no opponents to best. “No need opponent,” Sensei reiterates as he works with his students. “Biggest enemy of self is myself.”