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Iaido - The Japanese Art of Sword

Updated on April 11, 2012

What is Iaido? I'm quite sure the most of you are right now starting their google engines and are going to search for the basic Wikipedia description. Believe me, this will not bring you even near of understanding the reality and the hidden explanations of this beautiful Japanese martial art.

Let's start simple. Iaido has developed from Iaijutsu which has been the original Japanese sword fighting martial art. The difference between Iaijustu and the current Iaido is, that you simply don't run with a sword on your side now-days in the streets and therefore at some point Iaijustsu as a way to survive the everyday-life risks of confronting some other swordsmen has lost its purpose. However the spiritual and disciplinary influence as well as the tradition of this art were saved by introducing Iaido - The way of the sword (Iai - sword, Do - way).

From my point of view as a Iaidoka(someone who practices Iaido) it is very important to understand not only the physical but also the mental and spiritual aspects. From the physical aspect Iaido is a way to draw and cut on only one movement. This is the way how to protect yourself and deliver a devastating blow. In the history of Iai there have been many different Ryuha (Iai schools / styles). Many of them have disappeared in the flow of time. Some have spread all around the world. The best known, are probably Muso Shinden Ryu, Muso Eishin Jikiden Ryu, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, Hoki Ryu, Mugai Ryu, Tamiya Ryu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu. I personally practice and teach Muso Shinden Ryu and have reached the grade of Nidan (second master grade).

The highest goal of iaido is to achieve a perfect harmony between body and soul, between the control of every single of your muscles and the attitude and deep understanding of the situation you are in. Iaido is practiced without a real opponent which makes it even harder to be precise and strong in your movement and mental pressure (Zanshin). Iaido is being practiced in routines - forms which are called Kata. Every style has it's own kata which are handed over from master to student for hundreds of years. Most styles start the training of new students in the practice of basic techniques and sequences (Kihon). The next step would be the learning of the 12 forms known as Sei Tei Iai. This is a set of kata which have been developed by the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Iai (The Japanese kendo and iaido federation) established in 1969. The origin of these forms is in the Koryu (old forms from the Ryuha) of the Muso Shinden Ryu, Muso Eishin Jikiden Ryu and Hoki Ryu. In 1981 additional 3 kata have been added to the set and the final adjustment has happened in 2000 adding Jyuipponme Sou Giri and Jyunihonme Nuki Uchi.

Here is the complete list of all 12 Sei Tei Iai kata:

  1. Ipponme - Mae
  2. Nihonme - Ushiro
  3. Sanbonme - Uke Nagashi
  4. Yonohonme - Tsuka Ate
  5. Gohonme - Kesa Giri
  6. Ropponme - Morote Tsuki
  7. Nanahonme - Sanpo Giri
  8. Happonme - Gan Men Ate
  9. Kyuhonme - Soete Tsuki
  10. Jupponme - Shiho Giri
  11. Jyuipponme - Sou Giri
  12. Jyunihonme - Nuki Uchi

After a Iaidoka has mastered these it is time to start with the study of Koryu of the style he or she belongs to. Here the real thing begins as the Koryu forms have their origin in real combat. This makes them even harder to understand and perform. The most important thing is to find the balance between "light and shadow", between the hard and soft parts of the form. To use the wise words of one of the teachers I had the opportunity to work with: "Iaido is only Iaido when the form is alive, it becomes alive when you add your soul and your personal part to it with respect of it's aspect".

What is Iaido?

Can you answer this now? Iaido is the way of own development, hard discipline, a way how to achieve physical and spiritual growth, for me it is the way of harmony, self finding and becoming a better person.


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    • Robbie131313 profile image

      Robbie131313 5 years ago

      Hello dear readers.

      Hezekiah, you are absolutely right. The art of Iaido, the art to kill with as few strikes as possible, which means your movement need to be very efficient.

      best regards


    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 5 years ago from Japan

      Nice hub. A very important art for the Samurai (and Ninja) but very difficult to appreciate for the average person, being that a fight will traditionally be won with a single strike (attacking or counter attacking).