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Ancient Art of Drawing Sword

History of Iaido

  (Andrej Diamantstein)

Iaidō (居合道), approximately "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction", is a Japanese martial art associated with 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. Modern day iaidō exponents typically use a blunted metal practice sword (iaitō) for practice, especially among beginners, while many advanced practitioners use a sharpened sword (shinken).

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 iaidō, early in the sixteenth century. 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 kendo or kenjutsu:

* Kendo teaching does not include drawing and re-sheathing of a sword. The main weapon used in kendo, a flexible bamboo sword (shinai), uses no scabbard. Kendo is practiced with a partner in full contact training or in forms (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.

Delineation from battōjutsu, literally meaning "technique of drawing the sword" is more difficult: 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 individually against one or more imaginary opponents. Some traditional iaido schools, however, include kata performed in pairs. Some styles and schools also do not practice tameshigiri, cutting techniques.

The primary emphasis in iaido 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 iaido, is nukitsuke or the life of iai. This is a very quick draw accomplished by drawing the sword out of the saya by moving the saya back in saya biki. The blade may be brought out of the saya and used in a quick nukitsuke slashing motion.


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