What is Iaido

Iaidō (居合道 Japanese for "way of drawing the sword") is the Japanese art of drawing with the katana and belongs to the large field of Budō disciplines. The peculiarity is that the sword is drawn in such a way that it can be used as a weapon while still being drawn.

The Japanese martial art - Iaido

Iaido places great emphasis on the correctness of forms (kata), the precision and efficiency of movement, and mental focus. Practitioners of the art - Iaidoka - use real katana (or blunt training swords - Iaito - which are still quite dangerous), so it is primarily a solitary art. Training is done by performing kata or set forms that teach how to respond to attacks from opponents in various positions and situations.

The Iaidō reflects the Zen philosophy. One does not fight against a real opponent, but one "mirrors" oneself. In this way, one tries to develop one's skills and personality.

Many techniques take place in a kneeling position (seiza), while others start in a half-kneeling position or standing. The ideal is to be able to deal with an attack at any time, no matter what situation you are in. The character 居 "i" means "to be" (especially "to sit") in a particular place, while 合 "ai" means "to fit" or "to respond". Taken together, the name can be interpreted as "the way to respond appropriately to any situation you find yourself in."

Iaido - History

man doing Iaido

On the battlefields of medieval Japan, samurai were armed with various weapons such as bows, spears, halberds, and eventually firearms. But when these weapons failed, or when the battle came down to hand-to-hand combat, the ability to quickly draw the sword and attack was essential.

The exquisite sharpness of the Japanese sword meant that fights could end an instant after they began, so quick action without wasted movement made the difference between life and death.

Batto ("sword drawing") was taught as one of the many martial arts required for samurai. Schools of swordsmanship developed that placed great emphasis on initial drawing and cutting. The name Iaido came later.

In the 16th century, Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu Shin founded Muso Hayashizaki-ryu, a school of Iaido that spread throughout Japan and branched out into numerous other traditions or ryuha. Today, Muso Shinden-ryu, Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, Tamiya-ryu and Mugai-ryu are the most popular, but there are dozens if not hundreds of other styles. Each has its own stylistic differences and approaches to training.

Iaido and kendo have a special relationship and are sometimes referred to as "two wheels of the same cart," with many people practicing both arts. Kendo teaches distance and timing with a live opponent, while Iaido teaches the proper use of a real sword.

What happens during Iaido training?

Beginners first learn proper posture, footwork and etiquette and how to properly hold and cut the sword. Beginners can start with a bokuto (or bokken or wooden sword). Advanced students practice in traditional attire (hakama and keikogi) and then use an Iaitō, a blunt practice sword, to correctly learn the techniques of drawing (nuki), one or two-handed handling, and returning the sword to the scabbard (noto).

wooden  sword

Real katana are both dangerous and expensive, so iaidoka usually switch to using a real blade only after several years of practice (usually after reaching 4th or 5th dan).

After stretching and warming up, the exercise begins with a bow to Shomen, the "high point" of the room, a bow to Sensei, and a respectful bow to one's sword. The katana is then slid into the belt. Sessions often begin with a review and practice of basic cutting and then move on to practicing kata forms. This can be done together with the group or individually and at your own pace. In either case, Sensei will offer points of correction to help you get closer to the ideal technique.

Kata form exercises

Martial arts in medieval Japan were traditionally practiced using kata or forms. By repeatedly practicing set forms, users internalized the logical application of techniques to various situations and perfected their basic movements.

Then, when it came to a real fight, the swordsman could react instinctively without having to think.

Iaido forms generally consist of 4 parts:

  1. the drawing of the sword and the initial cut (called nukitsuke)
  2. the final downward stroke (Kiriotoshi)
  3. a symbolic cleansing of blood from the blade (chiburi or chiburui)
  4. reinserting the blade (noto).

Each kata deals with a particular situation. For example, the beginning kata in many schools has an opponent facing you. Later kata may become more complex and add multiple attackers approaching from different directions. In any case, the goal is to eliminate opponents who are intent on killing you, and always do so without giving the enemy any openings or vulnerabilities to exploit.

main training with sword

For this reason, it is crucial to be aware of your posture and positioning, and to move efficiently with maximum force. Different schools may place different emphasis on speed or on "beautiful" technique. However, it is generally accepted that graceful movements are efficient and efficient movements are the fastest to perform.

Rank and competitions

Iaido ranks usually start with 1st Kyu. The next rank attained after one year of practice is Shodan or 1st Dan, followed by 2nd Dan, 3rd Dan and so on, up to the highest rank of 8th Dan. When testing for a new class, practitioners must demonstrate a set number of techniques for a panel of judges who decide if the challenger has reached the required level of proficiency.

However, while iaido is a solo art, there are competitions. These take the form of an elimination tournament in which pairs perform techniques for three judges who decide which competitor has demonstrated the best skills. One player is eliminated, while the winner advances to the next round. Competitions are divided by rank, but both genders compete together. Because Iaido requires finesse and not brute strength, women can compete on equal footing with men, and many people enjoy idaido into their 70s or older.

Why Iaido?

The goal in Iaidō is to focus on the accurate and safe execution of the kata and to develop the unity of body, mind and sword (Ki-Ken-Tai-Ichi).

There are many reasons why people practice Iaido, here are some of the most common:

  • To develop their mental powers of concentration.

Wielding a katana requires great concentration, and practitioners are encouraged to maintain a state of awareness for the duration of the practice period. Doing this regularly increases the ability to focus intensely on the task at hand.

  • To train their body at their own pace.

Iaido training can be as intense or relaxed as you like, and is suitable for people of different ages and fitness levels.

  • To contribute to the preservation of a centuries-old cultural tradition.

Japanese swordsmanship was a key element of the samurai's martial education, and hundreds of ryuha existed to train it. Over the centuries many of these traditions have been lost, but by practicing these arts we are helping to keep them alive.

  • As a form of "moving meditation."

When you do Iaido, you can experience "flow," a phenomenon where you lose track of time and your sense of self. Practitioners report that Iaido helps them stay calm and centered long after they leave the dojo.

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