Introduction to iaido

Most people are not familiar with the word iaido. Like judo, karate and aikido, iaido is a Japanese budo art. It differs from the other three essentially for iaido is an art where a weapon is used for practice. One trains alone, without a partner, with a samurai sword, katana. Iaido is an art in which one learns how to draw the sword from its scabbard.

The traditions and roots of iaido can be followed quite far into the history of Japan. A samurai called Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu is considered to be the originator of iaido for most modern schools. He died approximately at the age of 73 in Genna period (1615-1624).

In the beginning iaijutsu was a part of kenjutsu. Time passed and as a result of the relatively peaceful Togugawa period many masters saw in iaido an excellent way of developing spiritual, mental and physical discipline. Iaido was born.

The Japanese art of sword practice comprises two ways – do’s. A teacher of swordsmanship once said that iaido exists only as long as the sword stays in its scabbard. When it is drawn, kendo is born. Iaido can be considered to be a defensive art, whereas in kendo one concentrates on attacking.

In practice iaido training consists of practicing forms called kata. Kata means a series of movements, where one practices various kinds of sword manouvres. Each kata consists of four parts:
  • nukitsuke – drawing of the sword from its scabbard
  • kiritsuke – cutting action
  • chiburi – shaking blood off the blade
  • noto – the sword is returned to the scabbard
In iai one practises without an opponent. The techniques vary considerably and they are performed from differing starting positions: crouching, sitting, lying, standing or walking. Every direction of attack is studied: left, right, front and rear, in dark and light. Sometimes one studies situations, where there are external obstacles such as a confined space which do not allow a normal draw. Or perhaps an obstacle hanging low above the student. There are techniques used against another iai opponent and techniques used for countering an enemy who tries to prevent the iaidoka from drawing his sword by grasping the hilt or the scabbard, either from the front or the rear.

Iaido cannot be considered to be a sport. It could rather be compared with the Japanese art of archery, kyudo. In both the student tries to hit or shoot, not an opponent, but something in himself. There is a pre-set form to an iaido kata, which is studied endlessly. This form is honed and polished until the result is a beautiful and harmonious whole. A real iaido master is in harmony with his sword and the sword is a part of him.

A real Japanese sword (katana), practice sword (iaito) or wooden sword (bokken) is used in iaido practice. The sword is handled with respect and observing good manners. In the beginning and at the end of a training period the student bows to his sword. One does not step over somebody else’s sword or touch it without the permission of the owner.

Iaido does not mean overcoming an enemy, but overcoming one self. The only and the most dangerous opponent in iaido is the iaidoka himself. Victory in iaido consists of a forgiving heart and avoidance of fight. Iaido means training toward human perfection. In it there is never a murderous intention to kill another human being. With endless practice the iaidoka learns to understand his place in the universe.