The Name Iaido
The term Iaido: the first syllable Iai contains of two characters : I(ru) = to be, and Ai(Au) = fit together; the complete meaning is to be there. The second syllable Do means way( of personal education ). In the centre stands the training of a special skill. The aim is to expand the every human being owning talent to fill life with consciousness and understanding.
Purpose of Iaido is therefore to learn using the sword secure and aimed. But this is Iai-Jutsu: swordart for the purpose of fighting. This will not lead to real progress at the end. Iaido doesn't show the method of defeating and killing others with the sword. These times are over.
The real purpose is to defeat and cut the own mind.The lot of difficulties of every serious practicer lead to an intensive work with himself. The struggle for progress and self-conquest is the beginning of his education.
The situation of the historical warrior, who have to defeat a threatening attack, stands now for all situations and acting in modern life. Only with a mind free from doubts and fears you will act far-sighted and in harmony with the circumstances. The higher purpose is ending a possible fight without drawing the sword.
Iaido has very old roots in the Japanese martial arts. In the latter half of the fifteenth century, Izasa Ienao founded the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, a school that devised the dynamic art of iai-jutsu. There were over 200 Ryu (school) founded that are primarily concerned with sword-drawing techniques in the afterglow of this amazing and inspirational man. Iaido was formed only after World War II when a series of ten kata (forms) were chosen, out of four koryu, called seitei kata. Iaido is a way of defending and attacking with a real sword. You can see it as an equivalent of the cowboy's fast draw. Iaido is mostly performed in kata in which attack and defence are prescribed. Because of the danger of injuries, Iaido is practised alone with an imaginary opponent. The sword was seen as an extention of the soul of the samurai and was therefore a sacred and very respectable weapon.
The japanese sword, the Katana, is famous all over the world on account of its special attributes. To wear a Katana was only the right of the japanese warrior-caste, the samurai.
But a Katana is much more than a noble weapon. It was and is expression of their culture and instrument of their training.
With the beginning of the Tokugawa period in 1603 began a era of peace and political stability after a long time of civil war. The samurai and their practised figthing techniqes began to loose importance. At the same time spiritual ideas like Zen-Buddhism or Taoism found their way to the practised art of war.
At the end of the 16th century there were a few sword fighter who understand the swordtraining beyond their practical use in fight: the sword should be an instrument of education and control of the mind.
According to common views the famous samurai Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu ( 1549 - 1621) was the founder of todays Iaido. The legend told that he got deep views into nature of swordfighting during a meditation. Even today there are a few schools who see their roots in Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu, so the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu, the todays most common Iaido styles in Japan.
Todays Iaido trainingsystem is the work of swordmasters of the 20th century. At the end of the 19th century Tenno Meiji forbad wearing swords in public. Development and training of swordfighting ended. It was Nakayama Hakudo Hanshi (1869 - 1958) who did most for revival of traditional swordart. He rearranged a few historical styles and gave them a new name : Muso Shinden Ryu (dream-mind-delivery-school).
In 1932 the term "Iaido" was first used for the definition of this
swordart, which was known under a lot of different names before.The after
World War II founded Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei (Alljapanese Kendo Association)
created in 1968 a for all practicer standardized primary school, the Seitei-Iai;
today Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei Iai, containing of ten forms with several elements
of historical schools. These forms are the worldwide standard of competitions
Iaido is usually practiced in a closed room (Dojo). The traditional clothes
consist of a trouser (Hakama), a jacket (Haori) and a belt (Obi), the usual
colour are black or darkblue, occasionally also white. Beginners start with
a wood sword (Bokken or Bokuto), later they use a Iai-Sword (Iaito). This
corresponds to a sharp sword in form, length and weight. The blade is neither
sharp nor forged.
Basic element of the Iaido are Kata, given courses of motion, which correspond
to the process of a sword fight with or several opponents. The special peculiarity
of the Iaido is situated in the fact that everyone can practice these movements
intensively for itself alone: the opponents are imagined (in contrast to related
Kendo). Harmless partner exercises with wood sword are possible. They are
used for training the elucidation of function, distance relationship, timing
Each error results alone from the practicing, and the necessity for this realization throws it again and again on itself back. Disturbing thoughts, stupid conceptions and false movements take up. Only by these constant diversons the execution of the actually natural movements becomes a difficult function. After intensive Iaidotraining the body is structured and one is content, but one feels a deep mental demand, which is characteristic for their process. Here is the core of learning, the training of the strong strength of the spirit shows up.
Naturally movement with the sword is more difficulty, different, as it is
practiced in some Budosystems. Only gradually some movement succeeds. The
unit of body, spirit and sword is aimed at in all motion. All Kata serves
to develop concentration and attention of the practicing on the extreme. Striving
for the best movement in all moments, the constant readiness of spirit and
body, finally finds its printout in a perfect internal leaving.
Summarized practicing Iaido results in correct execution with the Japanese sword. Each reaction of the sword fighter, each Kata, contains the principle of the agreement with the opponent and the respective situation. Therefore practicing Iaido causes respect for the other one and it means a constant search for harmony, with itself, and the universe.
This is a word which does not translate at all into English. It is often translated as awareness, but this is not quite right. Awareness of what is around, potential threats, potential dangers etc. is a part of it. It is more concerned with the state of mind after an action has been made. It is characterized by kamae or shisei after cutting, by seme after cutting, by projection of ki and continuation of breathing (or kiai where appropriate) after cutting.
Attack intervals. One must keep the proper attack intervals.
Gazing at the distant mountains. This means to focus the eyes at a distance.
Grip the handle of the blade. One must grip rightly for the effective nukitsuke and kirioroshi. Iaido master can easily distinguish an sword-craft of trainee only at a glance over his Te-no-uchi.
No matter what style was practiced, the procedure always comprised four separate parts: the drawing of the blade to meet a sudden encounter (nukituke), the cut or cuts used to despatch the enemy (kirioroshi), the shaking of the blood from the blade (chiburi), and the re-sheathing of the sword (noto).
The first strike, though single handed, should be effective. It should make kirioroshi unnecessary. The angle, timing, control will all be watched. Keep good posture here. Make sure the cut lands with the front foot and that the body weight is giving power to cut.
Strike to the imaginary enemy.
There are some aphorism about Kiriososhi: If trainee disturbs himself, it would be a wicked swordplay. If trainee doesn't have a fighting spirit, it would be only a sword dance. If trainee doesn't strain, it would be only a fun.
Shaking the enemy's blood. One must bear in mind Zanshin during the chiburi and noto.
The discipline of swordmanship in iaido fashion provides an easily understood example of the intense concentration demanded by budo techniques.
The trainee must, in the final stage of wielding the sword, return its razor-sharp blade to the scabbard he wears at his left hip. The action used in accomplishing this brings the operator's left hand within a fraction of an inch of the keen edge, in itself an unnerving maneuver for the untrained, but one made infinitely more delicate by the fact that the action must be performed without once looking at the scabbard.
Kiritsuke: The Cutting Techniques
Kesa-Giri: a diagonal cut from the top right to the bottom left, or the top left to the bottom right.
Kiri-otoshi: an overhead cut; from top to bottom.
Kasume Giri: a strike to the temple.
Nuki-uchi: cutting horizontally from left to right.
Tsuki: a stabbing or thrusting movement.
Osi-Giri: "Halted cut". The final cut in the kata Ha-Koken. A kiri otoshi cut made against a prone opponent which is stopped before contacting the opponent.
Sukui-Giri: a cut to the ankles.
Gaku-te Hachiji Giri: a one-handed back-hand cut.
Tsu-te Yoko Giri: a backhanded cut with the second hand in support.
Ka-Tate Jodan Kiri-Tsuki: a one-handed strike to the top of the head.
The Ten Formal Kata of Iai-Do: The Seitei Gata Techniques
Mae Nuki-Uchi (Front nuki-uchi cut): A draw directed at a forward opponent from a seated posture (the opponent is also seated).
Ushiro Nuki-Uchi (Rearward nuki-uchi cut): A draw directed at an opponent seated behind the swordsman, who is also in seiza (seated).
Uke Nagashi (Deflection. Literally means "to receive and wash away"): A rising block followed by a kesagiri cut.
Tsuka-ate (Striking with the butt end of the sword): A strike with the butt end of the sword hilt (the kashira) to a facing opponent followed by a thrust to a rearward opponent followed by a kiri otoshi cut against the front opponent.
Kesagiri (Cutting on a diagonal): named after the cut, a kata involving both a kesagiri cut and a gaku (reversed) kesagiri cut. Executed in tachi (standing).
Morote-tsuki (Two-handed thrust): A forward kasume giri cut, followed by a thrust forward, after which a kiri otoshi cut is made against opponents located first to the rear and then to the front.
Sampo Giri (Three-directional cutting): Involves cuts directed at opponents located to the right, left, and front of the swordsman.
Gammen-ate (Face strike): A forward strike with the butt end (kashira) of the katana, followed by a rearward thrust and then a forward kiri otoshi.
Soete Tsuki (Joined hands thrust): Opponent attacks from the left with an overhead cut which is avoided and responded to by a one-handed kesagiri cut and a forward thrust.
Shiho Giri (Four directional cutting): A kata that deals with opponents at four angles of attack.
Other styles elaborate on these basic movements
The Japan Iai-Tate Do Federation Advanced Kata
Ha-Koken: "Eight Directional Lightning Strike"
Kabuto Ware: "Helmet Breaker"
Tsuka Kote Kai Shi: "Tsuka Wrist Lock"
Oikaze: "Against the Wind"
Hiji Ate Giri: "Elbow Push Cut"
Iri Mi Kote Giri: "Go Inside & Cut Forearm"
Tanashita: "From Under Floor"
Koko: "Mouth of the Tiger"
Yokogumo: "Fogbank" (Bank of Clouds)
Yai Gaki Kokyu Giri: "Stone Foundation Breathing Mind Cut"
Muso Shinden consists of three parts described below: the first, second levels, and the secret level.
The First Level
This level is originally called Oomori style, imported in the 18th century. It seems there is no relationship with the original Shigenobu style. The forms of this level start in Seiza pose except the 10th, which starts with a standing pose. The naming of forms are too much sophisticated (maybe influenced by Chinese literature or philosophy), or sometimes no meaning. This means these forms are not quite old.
It could be said that these forms were a mere formalization, or an invention for beginners training.
Shohat-To First (it is called Mae (Forward)
Atari-To (Usiro (Back)).
Gyaku-To (Tukekomi or Oikiri)
The Middle Level
This level is also called the Hidenobu (Eishin) style. The last form "Nukiuti" starts in "Seiza" pose, but this is the only exception. The rests start in the older sitting pose "Tatehiza". The naming of forms is like poems (pseudo-archaic elegant style, which literate people, not warriors, tend to use). This style maybe a collection of older forms, revised to apply to modern situations by HASEGAWA Hidenobu, who as an officer served for Nagoya Tokugawa Family.
Yokogumo Horizontal Clouds
ToraIssoku Tiger's One Step
Ukigumo Floating Clouds
Yamaorosi Downhill Storm
Iwanami Rock and Wave
Urokogaesi Scaling Off
Nukiuti Sudden Attack. It's also called Joi-uti (punishment ordered by the boss). Maybe a very common assassinating technique.
The Secret Level
It is called "Oku Iai" in Japanese. It seems a collection of real assasinating techniques. The name "Oku" implies that these forms were confidentially inherited and have never been exposed to people outside of the school? I don't think so. I think these forms are simply old and original, have been treated as sacred ones.
Divided into two parts: sitting and standing. Itomagoi starts in Seiza pose, though. Standing Forms seem rather old.
Kasumi The name means "mist". One man sitting in front of you.
Sunegakoi Knee Covering.
Sihogiri Attacking the Four Sides (all around).
Todume Two men sitting in front of you. Attack one bye one.
Towaki One is behind and another is in front of you. First attack the behind and then front.
Tanasita Hide yourself under the shelf, crawl out, then attack.
Ryozume Similar to Tanashita. Not strike but stab.
Torabasiri Tiger Run. Stand up and run to the front one, then run backward, strike again.
These forms are very exciting and realistic. I love them very much.
Ikidure Going Side by Side. There are two men in the both side you, walking together. Maybe you are arrested by them, trying to escape.
Turedati Going Together. There are one in front right and the other back left.
Somakuri Continuous Atack. Wind sword around to smash surrounding enemies.
Sodome Attack One After Another. Enemies are in a row coming towards through a relatively narrow path.
Sinobu Secret Attack. It is also called Yami-uti (Attack in the Darkness). Oh! how unfair this technique is !? You approach your victim from his behind in the dark, slowly, quietly, click on the road the tip of the sword to divert his attention, then strike from the opposite side.
Ikitigai Encounter Attack. There are two persons coming towards in a row, when you reach between them, first stab the behind, then hit the front.
Sodesurigaesi Pushing Through the Crowd. You find your target beyond the crowd on the street. Draw out the sword first, pushing your way through the crowd, then reach and strike him.
Moniri Entering Through the Gate. Walk toward the gate, lower yourself, stab the first coming one, then strike others.
Kabezoi By the Wall. Beyond the opponent there is a wall preventing from swinging the sword around.
Ukenagasi Receive and redirect the opponent's attack.
Itomagoi 1 Farewell 1. While saying good bye, suddenly draw out your sword, then swing it vertically onto the opponent's head, smash at one stroke, before he notices what happens. Farewells are supposed to be a modification of Nukiuti. Farewell 1 bow slightly.
Itomagoi 2 Farewell 2 bow more deeply
Itomagoi 3 Farewell 3 bow quite deeply, it will hide your sword-drawing action from the opponent.
©David Deer 2002