What is Iaido

The Iaido | What is Iaido | History of Iaido | Origins of Iaido | Principles and Concepts | Iaido and Katana | Techniques and Training Methods | Eishin Ryu Iaido History | Iaido and The Japanese Sword | Iaido Points | Iaido Etiquette

Iaido is the art of drawing and attacking with a sword. “Iai” is composed of the characters “i(ru)” (to be, to stay in, to sit, to remain seated) and “a(u)” (to come together, to meet, to harmonize). There is some debate among experts as to how and why the term “iai” came to refer to drawing the sword.

One school of thought contends the terms originated with the practice of drawing the sword while seated, which had no practical value in traditional times, since samurai did not wear their long swords while seated. Another possibility is that “iai” was adopted for this purpose to connote the idea of handling an opponent instantly and without moving from the spot on which one is attacked.

Iaidoka (and kendoka) wield a sword not to control their opponent, but to control themselves. Iaido is mostly performed solo as a series of kata, executing varied techniques against single or multiple imaginary opponents.

Each kata begins and ends with the sword sheathed. In addition to sword technique, it requires imagination and concentration in order to maintain the feeling of a real fight and to keep the kata fresh.

Iaidoka are often recommended to practice kendo to preserve that fighting feel; it is common for high ranking kendoka to hold high rank in iaido and vice versa.

In order to properly perform the kata, iaidoka also learn posture and movement, grip and swing. Sometimes iaidoka will practice partner kata similar to kendo or kenjutsu kata. Unlike kendo, iaido is never practised in a free-sparring manner.

Iaido Art

Are there different styles of iaido iaijutsu: Iai is like karate, it is a broad “method of combat” which involves drawing and cutting like karate involves kicking and punching. The various styles are just that, styles. The main thrust stays constant.

The only (legitimate) ryu that usually calls itself iaijutsu that the author knows of is the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. Katori Shinto Ryu is a bujutsu ryu, meaning many types of armed and unarmed combat are taught. Most other so-called iaijutsu schools are run by charlatans.

Two of the oldest iaido ryu extant today are Tatsumi Ryu and Shindo Munen Ryu. The other ryu listed here, and most of the ryu practiced today come from a common root, the Muso Ryu of Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. These include Sekiguchi Ryu, Hoki Ryu, Tamiya Ryu, Jushin Ryu, Suio Ryu and Ichinomiya Ryu.

The most popular (in terms of numbers of students) forms of iaido are represented by the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and the Muso Shinden Ryu. The iaido of the ZNKR is heavily based on these two schools, that of the ZNIR (Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei, the All-Japan Iaido Federation) mostly based on the former. Most modern students belong to one of the two ryu, plus the ZNKR or ZNIR.

Toyama Ryu and Dai Nihon Batto Ho are offshoots of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, although Toyama Ryu is actually just a subset. There are many other ryu, especially in Japan. This has been a partial listing of the most popular.

In the late 16th century, Shigenobu Jinsuke allegedly was divinely inspired to develop a new sword-drawing art. He renamed himself Hayashizaki after the inspirational place and founded the Shimmei Muso Ryu to teach his art, called batto-jutsu. He was one of the first to teach swordsmanship as a way for spiritual development.

Popularly misidentified as the originator of iai-jutsu, his influence has been great. More than 200 ryu have been founded in the wake of Jinsuke’s inspiration and image, many of them named after him. Various headmasters in the line of Jinsuke’s teachings formed their own ryu. Among them were Shigemasa Tamiya (Tamiya Ryu), Kinrose Nagano (Muraku Ryu) and Eishin Hasegawa (Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu), who were the 1st, 3rd and 7th headmasters descending from Jinsuke.

The ryu which branched out from the teachings of these and others are too numerous to mention here. Hakudo Nakayama, who lived at the beginning of the 20th century, studied Omori Ryu, Muraku Ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and was experienced in all aspects of swordsmanship. He became the 16th and last undisputed successor to the Jinsuke/Eishin line. He also studied Shindo Munen Ryu and Yamaguchi Itto Ryu. He went on to develop his own style, Muso Shinden Ryu batto-jutsu.

Due to his diverse experience, the ryu boasted a bewildering array of techniques. He was asked to develop a simplified curriculum. He did so, and made the techniques available to all interested persons, largely kendoka. These forms of iai-jutsu, along with others, were gradually restyled as iaido in the late 40s.

In 1967, the Zen-Nippon Kendo Renmei formed a committee to develop a standardised curriculum of study for iaido. This curriculum was to be recommended as study to students of kendo, who were losing touch with the dynamics of combat with real swords. Members of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Muso Shinden Ryu and Hoki Ryu recommended a curriculum of seven kata that became known as the seitei gata.

In 1977, another committee from the same ryu plus Tamiya Ryu added three more kata to the seitei gata. The seitei-gata iaido has the largest popular following in Japan and abroad. The Zen-Nippon Iaido Renmei was formed in 1948, and has done a great deal of work to promote iai-jutsu and iaido. It has its own autonomy and standards. Only a handful of ryu are represented by the major organizations; thus the hundreds of traditional iai-jutsu ryu did not contribute to the foundation of iaido. Classical iai-jutsu exists today but largely goes its separate way from iaido.