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What is Iaido?

Iaido is an ancient Japanese art of swordsmanship. It is the way of drawing and simultaneously cutting with the sword, either defensively or offensively, against one or more opponents. The techniques begin and end with the sword in the scabbard. This is in comparison to Kenjutsu or Kendo, which are arts of fencing with a sword already drawn. The extraordinarily sharp katana was worn thrust through the belt, with the cutting edge upwards, so the draw and cut could be made in a single, lightning-fast movement. Just as in the Wild West, the gunslinger practised his “quick draw”, so the Samurai polished his skills in drawing the sword. However, in common with many East Asian martial arts, the emphasis came to be on the mental and spiritual state of the practitioner; a state in which the rationalising and calculating functions of the mind are suspended so that the mind and body can react immediately, reflecting the changing situation around him.

The term Iaido, like many Japanese concepts, does not translate into English at all easily – very roughly, I comes from Iru, to be; Ai (as in Aikido) means coming together, harmony, or love; and Dō means road, or Way (in the Buddhist sense). So, loosely translated, Iaido means being in harmony with one’s surroundings, always being prepared for any eventuality.

It is generally accepted that Iaido originated from the Shinmei Muso Ryu, founded by Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu (1542 – 1621). Many of today’s styles can trace their lineage to this school, though the family tree is complicated, with many offshoots and branches.

There have probably been several thousand ryuha, or schools of Iaidō, with perhaps a few dozen still in existence today. Possibly the oldest extant style is Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. Among the most commonly seen today are Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu. These styles are called koryu – old schools. Because of the difficulty of comparing different styles for gradings, etc., the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation) devised a “standard set” of kata in the 1960's that can be practised by all Iaidoka, regardless of their koryu. This Seitei Gata is an eclectic series of twelve kata, with techniques drawn from several different styles. Its development has helped popularise a seemingly esoteric and arcane Art, and the Seitei Gata set is practised by Iaidoka all over the world today.

In virtually all schools of Iai, the kata are composed of four essential elements. These are:

  • Nukitsuke – The initial draw and simultaneous cut.
  • Kiritsuke – The decisive finishing cut.
  • Chiburi – A symbolic shaking of blood from the blade.
  • Noto – Resheathing the sword.

Practically all kata have these fundamental parts in some combination or other, but may also include blocks, deflections, thrusts, and multiple cuts, depending on the scenario. Iaido kata are performed solitarily, against imaginary opponents, called kassoteki, or teki. (There are also partner kata, though these are mostly practised by very high-level koryu practitioners.) The fact that there is no real adversary means the practitioner needs to be aware of where teki is at all times, and to focus his techniques accordingly. This demands intense concentration from the Iaidoka. Each kata, though outwardly simple, has myriad technical details that can make it fiendishly difficult to master. Indeed, a single kata could easily take a lifetime’s study, and still not be perfected. However, it is this quest for almost unattainable perfection that makes Iaido what it is – a Way of strengthening the body, developing the character, and forging the Spirit.

Our Iaido at USA Martial Arts

The iaido practiced at USA Martial Arts is a blend of Iai Tate Do and Suio Ryu.

Iai Tate Do was founded by Kiyoshi Yamazaki Sensei, a dedicated martial artist with a lifetime of experience in a number of martial arts.
Yamazaki Sensei found himself attracted by producers in Hollywood and as a result, he has served as a technical advisor, instructor, and even acted in several movies. Some of his celebrity students include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sting, Richard Hatch, Sandra Bergman, Wilt Chamberlain, Bridget Nelson, and Grace Jones. Some of Kiyoshi Yamazaki's big screen credits include movies such as "Daragon Heart" and "Conan The Barbarian." With Kiyoshi Yamazaki's busy schedule, he appointed top student Roger Jarrett Shihan to take charge of the International Iai Tate Do Federation. Shihan Roger Jarrett has over 40 years experience of studying, teaching, training and competing in the martial arts. Through those years, he has sought out and trained with some of the foremost martial arts experts in the world. A former National Champion and Karate All-American himself, he has trained numerous national, international, and world Karate champions. He now travels the world refereeing, coaching, training, and teaching.
Jarrett Shihan is also the President and Chief Instructor for many martial arts organizations including: USA Martial Arts Training Centers, USA Martial Arts Federation, Chong Shin Tae Kwon Do Karate Association, USA Aikido Association, USA Judo/Jujitsu Association, USA Iaido Shoshin Ryu and the International Iai-Tate Do Federation.

Suio-ryu was founded by Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu in the early Edo period (circa 1615). Yoichizaemon's perseverance in both his physical and spiritual training led to his eventual enlightenment. In his twentieth year of exertions he was struck with a vision of white gulls floating effortlessly and without conscious throught on water. He realized he could now use his sword in the same effortless manner. Based on this vision, the birth of Suio-ryu or Water Gull Sword style arose.

Iai Tate Do today teaches the setei gata, as well as various other kata seen in other styles of iaido such as katori shinto ryu.  The training also includes various kata of the Suio Ryu, the kumi iai of the Suio Ryu, kumi tachi (wooden sword against wooden sword), tameshigiri (test cutting against targets with live blades.)

If you are interested in training in Iaido or any of our Martial Arts call us today 304-237-1290