Tokai is over.
This is my fourth time training with Soke. Every time I do it has seemed a little bit different.
The very first time I went it was within my first year of starting Iai. I was completely out of my element and was more concerned with not embarrassing myself than with anything else.
The second time I went it was two years later, and I went without my own sensei. This time the concern was very much around representing my dojo well - and not being an embarrassment.
The third time was an additional two year later/ 5 years into my journey. Here I actually did manage to embarrass myself (unintentionally of course, but still) and spent the greater part of Tokai desperately trying to not call any more attention to myself.
And now the fourth time is complete.
This time there was much less concern about embarrassing myself (other than the general sense of not sticking out as being so bad) and much more concern about learning to do things the right way, about paying attention to what Soke was doing and then trying to replicate that.
We talked a great deal (more than I remember in past Tokai, but maybe I am just paying attention differently) about the importance of our spirit when we practice, of the expressions we carry on our faces when we cut, of the spirit of Iai and its place in the larger place of things.
It was good.
I have a great deal to work on until the next time I see Soke again: technique (always technique), expression, and spirit. But I am coming to anticipate these visits rather than fear them - after all, it is becoming less about how I appear and more about how much I am learning.
This, I think, represents the progress that Iai truly means to teach.