You can also download “Introduction to Iaido” PDF here
What is Iaido?
The art of Iaido (pronounced ee-i-do) is elegant and would appear to be simple. The student sits or stands quietly, draws out a blade and cuts through the air all in one motion, then puts the sword back into the scabbard. To the casual observer, there is not a lot to see. Iaido, however, is an exacting art which demands a high level of focus and mental concentration. It is an art of precise motions with only centimeters of tolerance and split second timing. It is also an individual art that involves the student and the sword struggling to achieve perfection of form.
The exact origins of Iaido is not entirely clear but it is apparent that samurai began to develop iai techniques once they began to wear their swords “katana” type (edge up in the obi), instead of the “tachi” style (edge down – more useful for horseback).
The person considered to the “father of Iai” is Hayashizaki Junsuke Shigenobu, who lived in the late 1500s, although clearly he was not the only swordsman to develop Iai techniques (eh Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryu Iai techniques predate Hayashizaki). However, Hayashizaki travelled broadly, spreading his knowledge widely throughout Japan and as a result many Iaido schools were influenced by him. Hayashizaki was the founder of the Tosa Iai school, which eventually split becoming Muso Shinden ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu. Other ryu were also inspired by Hayashizaki, such as Hoki ryu, Tamiya ryu and Shin Muso ryu.
In 1953 when the post war ban on martial arts was lifted, instruction in Iaido resumed, primarily, although not exclusively, under the ALl Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) which supports Kendo, Iaido, and Jodo. Ranks were established but the difficulty of comparing one style of Iaido to another in gradings led to the creation of a “representative set” (seitei gata) for the purpose of gradings and competitions.
Twelve top Iaido instructions from various schools were asked to form a group to develop this standardized set, drawing upon the knowledge and techniques of their own koryu (the old being made new). In 1969, the first set of 7 kata were introduced at the Kyoto Taikai martial arts festival at the Budokuden. In 1981, three more kata were introduced. In 2003 the ZNKR Iaido Council added two more kata to complete the full set of 12 kata, known today as the Zen Ken Ren Iaido or ZNKR Iaido.
Canadian Kendo Federation
The Canadian Kendo Federation (CKF) is a member of the International Kendo Federation and hence affiliated with the ZNKR in Japan. Eventually, SFU Iaido Club members will be expected to become members of the CKF and to grade for ranks with the CKF. Initially, ZNKR Iaido will be taught. As students gain experience, Muso Shinden Ryu will be added to the curriculum.
Etiquette: Dress, Safety & Conduct
In Iaido, it is important that students dress correctly. All students should considering the following:
- The hakama and uqagi should be black, dark blue, or white
- The neckline at the front should meet close to the base of the throat and should not loosen
- T shirts may not be worn under the uwagi but under a gi (juban) is permissible
- The uqagi must be long enough to cover the leg at the side of the hakama
- The hakama should be the proper length (just touching the top of the foot at the front)
- The obi should match the colour of the hakama
- Clothing should be clean and unwrinkled
- Long hair (shoulder length) should be tied back and out of the face
- Dojo name tags are not required but if worn should be attached to the left chest
- No jewelry, watches, excessive makeup, or bright nail polish are permitted
The richness and rigidity of Iaido etiquette can be attributed in part to the need to ensure safety when handling weapons. Swords, even unsharpened and wooden swords, can pose a substantial risk to the student and those around them. Accordingly, all students should consider the following:
- Be careful in cleaning / inspecting your sword before and after class – sit down and choose a spot with minimal traffic, away from the main entrance of the dojo.
- Inspect the sword before each class to ensure its soundness – in particular, check the tightness of the mekugi, tsuba and other fittings. Also check the saya to ensure it is not split or damaged
- Wear your hair back off your face to avoid obscuring your vision
- Ensure your hakama is not too long and the himo properly tied and tucked away
- Make sure there is always sufficient space around you during class to execute your techniques without touching another student or their sword. This spatial awareness is critical to learning effective Iaido as well as being important for safety reasons.
- Warm up before class. Do some stretches and warm up exercises without your sword to ensure your muscles and joints are ready for practice. If you have an injury or other physical disability, advise the instructor
- Handing a sword to and taking a sword from another person should be performed according to the proper method and with full awareness and care, especially if the sword is unsheathed.
- Do not walk over a sword
- Do not leave a sword in the middle of the floor – place is close to the wall with the ha to the wall.
Etiquette is not only important for creating the proper frame of mind to practice Iaido, it also shows respect for the practice of Iaido with one’s fellow students, and in particular, respect for one’s instructor.
- When entering and exiting the dojo, perform a short standing bow.
- Perform standing bow to the sword before an informal practice before or after class
- Perform full shomen no rei and torei at the beginning and end of the class
- Do not come late or leave early – while often permitted, it is disruptive and impolite
- If late for class, perform shomen ni rei and torei near the door before entering the floor to practice. Wait for an instructor to grant permission to enter the floor
- Do no leave the dojo floor during class without obtaining the permission of the instructor
- Do not wear shoes on the dojo floor or run on the floor
- Refrain from excessive talking before class – cultivate an atmosphere of contemplation in preparation for class
- Ensure that you take your proper position on the dojo floor according to rank (the lowest rank are usually closest to the dojo entrance)
- During class, listen and watch. Students should refrain from asking excessive questions or questions which are not relevant to other students – such questions can be left to after class
- Do not bring cell phones into the dojo, or at least turn them off
- Above all, be respectful to your fellow students
Zen Ken Ren Iaido List of Waza
- Mae – Front
- Ushiro – Back
- Uke Nagashi – Block & deflect
- Tsuka Ate – Handle strike
- Kesa Giri – Diagonal cut
- Morote Zuki – Two handed thrust
- Sanpo Giri – Three directions cut
- Ganmen Ate – Face Strike
- Soete Zuki – Hands together thrust
- Shiho Giri – Four directions cut
- Sou Giri – Many cuts
- Nuki Uchi – Draw/strike
- Bokuto (wooden sword) – initially supplied by the Club
- Knee pads – should be purchased by the student ASAP
- Keiko gi (uwagi, hakama, obi, juban) – should be purchased once the student decided to commit to practicing Iaido. Note that kendo gi is acceptable attire
- Sword (iaito) – no sharp swords are allowed until a student has practiced many years. Before purchasing an iaito (non sharp practice sword), the student should obtain the advice of one of the Club instructors regarding the appropriate weight and length as this will vary from student to student
- Books – The ZNKR Iai Manual published by the All Japan Kendo Federation is recommended but no mandatory. To obtain a copy, go to the ZNKR site at http://zenkenren-shop.com/en/iai/jodo/index.html