Iaido we learn to draw the sword as fast as possible and to retaliate
with a counter attack against one or multiple adversaries. Thus Iaido
is complete martial art, it is the ideal complement for Kendo. The
kata, predefined movements, practiced on your own are the basis for the
techniques used in Iaido. These exercises are practiced with a copy or
a real sword, they are totally inoffensive.
Iaido develops the coordination between body and movements. And more, augments the ability of concentration of the participant. Certainly it seems the same as a form of "active" meditation.
Iaido is the martial art of attacking an enemy at the moment of drawing the sword and emphasizes the mental attitude and awareness required of such an action. Originally, it was developed as a response to sudden raids by the enemy and was designed to cut down the enemy in one stroke. Today, students practice the kata (forms) to train their minds and characters.
Iaido is the practice of sword techniques which embody a series of cutting and thrusting movements in the drawing and resheathing of the blade. These movements are performed against an imaginary opponent, and requires great concentration.
"The essence of swordsmanship" lies in its perfection. It does not mean to cut the enemy, but rather to cut the enemy within oneself. Iaido and Kendo are sister arts. They are practices in the same spirit and, like the two wheels of a cart, they form together the art of Japanese swordsmanship.
It was natural for the samurais to practice everyday with their sword. To the samurai the sword was their foremost weapon and privilege - other groups in the society was forbidden to bear swords. Furthermore the practice with the sword was much more than preparing for battle. Around the Japanese sword grew a whole philosophy. It has many names, as ken, katana, tachi, and to.
The sword was thought to purify your spirit; the training became a kind of meditation in motion. A truly noble man handled his weapon with an entirely different style than the less noble, and the most noble thing would be if he never needed to draw his sword at all. All of the better samurais knew that to return victorious from a fight depended much more on your spiritual qualities than on your physical skills. The samurais´ training was much about being like the sword - pure, straight and sharp.
It was also an amazing weapon they had in their hands. The Japanese sword is yet today an impressive work. It consists of thousands of layers of steel, and it is as sharp as modern razor blades. Such a weapon must be handled with respect.
To practice with the sword it is necessary to do it by yourself, pretty much like boxers do. This kind of training is called iaido and it is preformed in kata, that is certain patterns of movements. You perform a series of blocks and cuts against an imaginary opponent. Each kata begins with drawing your sword as protection against a figured attack. You repeat the kata again and again under concentration.
Iaido is defensive, since each kata assumes that you are attacked. You never start attacking in iaido. When you practise iaido you can use either bokken, iaito or katana.
Iaido Techniques & Training Methods
Though only samurai men traditionally practiced long sword, men and women from all walks of life around the world now study iaido. There is no difference in the standard of training for men and women.
Currently, the most practiced styles of iaido are the Muso Shinden Ryu and the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, presumed to be branches of the original style of batto jutsu founded by Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu (Taylor and Ohmi 1997: 83). Both styles contain three sets of kata: a beginner's set, a middle level set and oku (secret) forms for high-level students. The names of the sets are the same for both styles, though the names of the individual forms have been changed.
The beginner's set, the Omori Ryu, consists of twelve kata, eleven beginning from the kneeling position called seiza, and one starting from a standing position. These forms acquaint students with the basics of properly drawing, cutting, and sheathing the sword. The kneeling position provides the student with a stable base, building strength and control in the lower body.
The middle set, Hasegawa Eishin Ryu, consists of ten kata, nine originating with the practitioner sitting in tatehiza, a position with one knee raised, and the tenth in seiza. The imaginary opponents in these forms are in much closer proximity to the student than in the first set, requiring close-in stabbing and cutting movements. The footwork is more intricate, featuring weight shifts, sliding back and forth along the floor on the knees, and stepping towards and away from the imaginary opponent. The high-level set, called Okuiai (secret iai) consists of both standing and tatehiza forms. Kata at this level looks surprisingly simple--like natural movement, but the simplicity is deceptive; a student may study for 10 years or longer before beginning to comprehend and technically be able to handle these forms. Throughout iaido training, emphasis is placed on mindfulness, a sense of calm concentration, and the building of character.
In addition, the All Japan Kendo Federation has developed kata drawn from various styles, called the Zenkenrenmei or Seiteigata forms. Affiliated kendo federations around the world practice these forms and hold standard ranking examinations for them. The popularity of practicing these forms varies among kendo players. For example, in Eastern Canada and the US, there is a great deal of interest in Zenkenrenmei; whereas in parts of Japan, it seems less important.
Various kendo organizations have sponsored forms competition in iaido, and competition for ranking in Zenkenrenmei is intense in some US kendo dojos. In these cases, there may sometimes be a distinction between men's and women's competition, as there is in modern kendo. However, iaido remains mostly a noncompetitive martial art, with a relatively small number of practitioners, in which mindfulness through proper technique remains the goal of practice.
Iaido Etiquette & Customs
Iaido practice is framed by respect and politeness. There is a great deal of etiquette with regard to Japanese swords in general, and, though it is simplified in the iaido dojo, the rationale is essentially the same: to prevent damage to the sword, to prevent injury to the iaidoka using the sword, and to prevent injury to others in the room, whether fellow practitioners or bystanders.
Practitioners therefore are expected to be properly dressed in well-fitting hakama (traditional Japanese pleated trousers), obi (belt or sash) and keikogi (training uniform), with a minimum of skin showing at the neck. They are expected to exercise self-control in language and action. Losing one's temper in an iaido dojo usually amounts to immediate expulsion, owing to the potentially deadly nature of the art form.
As in most traditional dojo, the organization is hierarchical, with the highest levels of respect paid to seniors and teachers. Seniors, in turn, have an obligation to instruct junior students in all aspects of iaido, including dress and deportment as well as technique.
The etiquette and hierarchical structure of an iaido dojo is perhaps best illustrated in the sequence of bows performed before and after training. At the beginning of class, the first bow is directed towards a specifically designated area, variously the kamidama (Shinto or spirit altar), kamiza (upper seat: a postion of honor or respect which is often the front wall of a dojo where there are scrolls, a Shinto alter and/or photos of a teacher or founder), and shinzen (Spiritual center; another name for kamiza). A mixture of Shinto, Buddhism and ancestor worship has traditionally guided many Japanese martial practices. Iaido, as a more conservative art form, still retains a vestige of these practices even outside Japan, though the extent of the religious connotation of bowing to the shinzen varies. At the very least, the opening bow connotes the specialness of practice, respect for the practice space, and an acknowledgment of teachers who have gone before (practitioners also bow at the entrance of the training room upon entering or leaving for the same reasons). Next, students and teacher bow to each other as a sign of respect, and lastly, the practitioners' swords are presented and bowed to before practice begins. At the end of practice, the bowing ritual takes place in reverse: sword, teacher/student and shinzen.
Students also bow to each other before and after kumidachi practice. Outside of showing mutual respect, the bow signifies that students are prepared and ready for partner practice, and are not being taken unawares.
Iaido Practice Clothing/Uniforms
All participants wear the same style of practice clothing and follow the same curriculum. The uniform consists of keikogi (a loose-fitting top), hakama (wide-legged, pleated trousers), and an obi (belt). Depending on the style, the uniform may be white, dark blue or black. Higher-ranking practitioners may wear formal kimono (traditional Japanese dress worn by both men and women), obi and hakama for public demonstrations. Except for optional knee pads, no protective gear is worn, or considered necessary. Iaito, unsharpened practice swords, are mostly used, though some practitioners use shinken (real swords) with the permission of their teachers. Shinken can be modern, steel blades or antiques, depending on the resources of the practitioner. In any case, the blades and fittings must be sound enough to withstand the rigors of practice.