Iaidō: Wikis


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Focus Weaponry (Katana)
Hardness Forms competitions only.
Country of origin Japan Japan
Creator Nakayama Hakudō (c.1873–1958) is generally credited with first use of the term "iaidō".
Parenthood Iaijutsu
Olympic sport No

Iaidō (居合道 ?) is a Japanese martial art associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. While new students of iaidō may start learning with a wooden sword (bokken) depending on the teaching style of a particular instructor, many of those who study iaidō use an unsharpened sword (iaitō). Advanced practitioners of iaidō use a sharpened metal sword (shinken).

Because iaidō teaches the use of actual metal weaponry, it is almost entirely based on the teaching of forms, or kata. Multiple person kata do exist within some forms of iaidō, but the iaidōka (practitioners of iaidō) will usually use bokken for such kata practice. Iaidō does not include direct competition or sparring of any kind. Because of this non-competitive aspect, and iaidō's emphasis on precise, controlled, fluid motion, it is sometimes referred to as "moving Zen."

Iaidō in North America and Europe is often taught in dojo that also teach Aikido, Aikibudo or Kendo.



The word iaidō approximately translates into English as "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction."

In the book Bugei Ryuha Daijiten by Watatani Kiyoshi and Yamada Tadashi, Hayashizaki Jinsuke (Minamoto no) Shigenobu is credited with establishing the influence and popularity of the art early in the sixteenth century, that is today widely practised as iaidō. However, around a century before his birth, the dynamic art of iaijutsu had been developed by Iizasa Ienao, the founder of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū.

Iaidō should not be confused with kendō or kenjutsu:

  • Kendō teaching does not include drawing and re-sheathing of a sword. The main weapon used in kendō, a flexible bamboo weapon(shinai), uses no scabbard. Kendō is practiced with a partner, in full contact training or in Nihon-kendō-kata(kata) practice.
  • Kenjutsu is generally practiced with a partner, in the form of predetermined routines, and often does include drawing or resheathing of the sword.

Iaidō is often used interchangeably with Battōjutsu, literally meaning "technique of drawing the sword". Battōjutsu is the historical (ca. 15th century) term encompassing both the practice of drawing the sword and cutting (tameshigiri). The term iaijutsu (居合術) became prevalent later (ca. 17th century), and the current term iaidō is due to the general trend (stemming from gendai budō) to replace the suffix -jutsu with -dō in Japanese martial arts in order to emphasize a philosophical or spiritual component. In contemporary usage, battōjutsu focuses on the techniques of cutting, with individual practice that starts with the sword in the sheath.

Iaidō forms (kata) are performed solitarily against one or more imaginary opponents. Some traditional iaidō schools, however, include kata performed in pairs. Some styles and schools also do not practice tameshigiri, cutting techniques.

The primary emphasis in iaidō is on the psychological state of being present (居). The secondary emphasis is on drawing the sword and responding to the sudden attack as quickly as possible (合). Starting positions can be from combative postures or from everyday sitting or standing positions. The ability to react quickly from different starting positions was considered essential for a samurai (侍).

A very important part of iaidō, is nukitsuke or the life of iaidō. This is a very quick draw accomplished by both drawing the sword out of the saya and moving the saya back in saya-biki. Nukitsuke is a quick horizontal cutting motion.

History of Iaidō

The Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū (天真正伝香取神道流) included iaijutsu in its curriculum in the 15th century. The first schools dedicated exclusively to sword drawing appeared some time during the late 16th or early 17th century. Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu (林崎甚助源の重信) (1546–1621) is generally credited with as being the originator of the first dedicated school of sword drawing. Little is known of his life, leading some scholars to doubt his historical existence as a real person. The two largest schools of sword drawing that are practised today are the Musō Shinden-ryū (夢想神伝流) and Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū (無雙直傳英信流). Both schools trace their lineage to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu.

Before Nakayama Hakudō (1873?-1958) coined the word iaidō early in the 20th century, various other names such as battō, battōjutsu, or saya no uchi were used. Iaidō is the usual term to refer to the modern self-improvement oriented-form taught by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF), while Iaijutsu is used for some amongst the older koryū combative techniques.

Seitei Iaidō

Respect shown to the sword (tōrei) before and after practice.

Seitei Iaido (制定) or Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Iaido is the iaido style of the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF, Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei or ZNKR). The twelve Seitei iaido forms (seitei-gata) are now standardised for the tuition, promotion and propagation of iaido within the kendo federations. Although not all kendo dojo teach seitei iaido, the AJKF uses them as a standard for their iaido exams and shiai. As a result, seitei iaido has become the most widely recognised form of iaido in Japan and the rest of the world.

Tōhō Iaido

The All Japan Iaidō Federation (ZNIR, Zen Nihon Iaidō Renmei, founded 1948) has a set of five iaidō forms, Tōhō Iaidō. This is essentially the ZNIR equivalent of the Seitei Iaidō set. These five forms are from the five different major iaidō schools.

Classical period Iaidō

List of koryū iaidō-schools

Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū and Musō Shinden-ryū

Although there are a wide range of koryū or classical iaido (or iaijutsu) styles practiced in Japan, the two most popular classical styles of iaidō practiced worldwide are Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū and Musō Shinden-ryū. They resemble each other quite strongly because they branched off from one style sometime in the 18th century, first forming the branches of Shimomura-ha and Tanimura-ha.

These two branches would co-exist for many years until Ōe Masamichi Shikei, the 17th headmaster, brought together the Tanimura-ha, Hasegawa Eishin-ryū and the Ōmori-ryū to form what is today's Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū.

The last Shimomura-ha (claimed) headmaster, Nakayama Hakudō who is considered the 16th, created a new iaidō-art called Musō Shinden Battōjutsu that was heavily influenced by his Shimomura-ha training, but also took elements from other iaidō-arts and would later become the modern Musō Shinden-ryū.

Although the schools' techniques resemble each other, there are several differences. Outwardly the most obvious differences might be seen for example in the nōtō (sheathing the katana back into the saya). In Shinden, the start of the nōtō is done on the horizontal plane, then rotated to the vertical plane by the end of the nōtō. In Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū, the nōtō starts in an almost vertical plane and continues in that plane throught out the nōtō.

There are several branches of Eishin-ryū and Shinden-ryū that are practised today. Different lines and Iaidō organisations generally recognise different people as their sōke.


Mugai-ryū was once one of the more famous styles in Japan in the Edo period and was developed from a strong influence of Zen. It is characterized by short, direct movements. As it was developed in 1697 by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi [or Sukeshige], a Zen practitioner, it has deep links with Zen Buddhism. The original style created by Gettan was a kenjutsu school rather than iaidō. Today's Mugai-ryū Iaidō was established by Takahashi Hachisuke Mitsusuke and his younger brother Hidezu in mid Edo period. They studied a style called Jikyo-ryū under the fifth and last generation headmasters Yamamura Masashige. There are several distinct lineages of Mugai-ryū throughout Japan today.


Suiō-ryū is a traditional style that specialises in sword drawing, both solo and paired, but other arts, like jōjutsu, naginatajutsu, kenpō and kusarigamajutsu are practised as well. It was founded by Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu c. 1615.

Other styles

Other styles that incorporate sword drawing in their curriculum are, for example, Motobu Udundi from Okinawa, Shindō Munen-ryū, Shinkage-ryū, Hōki-ryū, Tatsumi-ryū, Tamiya-ryū, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Takenouchi-ryū and more.

Modern Iaidō/battō

A newer style of iaijutsu is Toyama-ryū battōjutsu. This is a style originating in the late 19th century, and taught primarily to officers in the Second World War. It is different from the Edo period styles primarily in that all techniques are performed from a standing position. Toyama-ryū was in turn the basis of Nakamura-ryū, created by Nakamura Taizaburo; incorporating nōtō and kamae from older Koryū, notably Ōmori-ryū. It has been a long time since any differing schools have competed using shinken (sharp blades); hence it cannot be said that the traditional schools are superior to the modern schools, or vice versa, in the ultimate test.

See also

Further reading

  • "Art of Japanese Swordsmanship : A Manual of Eishin-Ryu Iaido". Publisher: Weatherhill; 1 edition (Jun 1 1994).
  • "Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Iai", English Version Manual, 3rd edition, published October 2006, by All Japan Kendo Federation, Tokyo, Japan.
  • "Japanese Swordsmanship : Technique and practice". By Gordon Warner & Donn F. Draeger. Publisher: Weatherhill; 1982.
  • “Flashing Steel, 2nd Edition : Mastering Eishin-Ryū-Swordsmanship”. By Masayuki Shimabukurō & Leonard J. Pellman. Publisher: Blue Snake Books; 2008
  • Craig, Darrell Max (1991), Iai: The Art Of Drawing The Sword, Charles E. Tuttle Company, ISBN 0804870233  

External links

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