What is Iaido?

Iaido is the art of drawing and cutting with the traditional Japanese Sword.

Hayashizaki (Jinsuke) Shigenobu is generally credited with establishing the influence and popularity of Iaido early in the sixteenth century. However, around a century before his birth, the dynamic art of iai-jutsu had been developed by Izasa Ianao, the founder of the Tensin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu.

The term “iaido” can include many styles of Japanese swordsmanship, “all of which subscribe to non-combative aims and purposes.”

The martial arts of iaido and kendo have developed together and many people believe that they complement each other.

Like kendo, iaido can also provide a pathway to personal and spiritual development.

Seitei Iaido

An Iaido Division was formed within The All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) in 1956. In 1969, the AJKF introduced the Setei Gata curriculum of seven kata (techniques or forms) for iaido. These seitei gata were drawn from several of the major traditional sword schools, including Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu and Muso Shinden-ryu.

In 1980 three more kata were added and then two more in 2000, thus increasing the seitei gata curriculum to the current twelve

These twelve seitei gata are now standardised for the tuition, promotion and propagation of iaido and as a result, seitei iaido has become the most widely recognised form of iaido in Japan and the rest of the world.

The twelve Setei gata consist of:

Three kata commencing from a seated (seiza) position.

  • Mae. Front. Forestalling, then cutting an opponent attacking from the front.
  • Ushiro. Rear. Forestalling, then cutting an opponent attacking from the rear.
  • Ukenagashi. Receive, parry then cutting an attacker approaching from the left.

One kata commencing from a kneeling (tate-hiza or iai-hiza) position, with one leg partially raised.

  • Tsuka-ate. Striking with the (tsuka) hilt. Forestalling, then cutting two attackers, one each to the front and the rear.

Eight kata commencing from a standing (taito) position.

  • Kesagiri. Diagonal cut. Forestalling, then cutting an attacker approaching from the front .
  • Morote-zuki. Two-hand thrust. Forestalling, then cutting three approaching attackers, two in front and one from the rear.
  • Sanpogiri. Three direction cut. Forestalling three approaching attackers, one each to the right, left and front.
  • Ganmen-ate. Hit to the face. Forestalling two approaching attackers, one in front and one from the rear.
  • Soete-zuki. Two handed thrust. Forestalling, thrusting, then cutting an attacker on the left.
  • Shihogiri. Four direction cutting. Forestalling four approaching attackers.
  • Sogiri. Complete cuts. Uke-nagashi (parry), then followed by a rapid sequence of five different and complete cuts.
  • Nukiuchi. Sudden draw. Avoid, then respond to a single attack from the front.

All kata include a quick draw and cut or thrust with the sword, followed by the delivery of single or multiple cuts or strikes to one, two, three or four opponents. All kata are performed only as a last resort and as a response to an attack from an opponent, that has already commenced.

Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu

Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu (MJER), is a koryu (old school) sword art and one of the most widely practiced schools of iaido in the world.  MJER is sometimes referred to simply as “Jikiden” or “Eishin”.   MJER claims an unbroken lineage of teachers, dating back to the sixteenth century.

The school takes its name from its seventh headmaster, Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Hidenobu, ‘Eishin’ is an alternative pronunciation of ‘Hidenobu.’

The MJER kata is quite lengthy and complex, when compared to Seitei iaido.

A description of the MJER kata is here.