Iaido – Smooth Draw


When Samurai warriors existed in Japan, the swords they used were revered by the warriors and held the blades in a higher regard than their own lives.
In present era, all Japanese swords, or Katanas, need to be registered and carried in scabbards with registration certificates attached. The swords aren’t sold at antique stores or even specialist knife stores, and they can’t be taken abroad without permission from the Japanese government.

The martial art of “Iaido” (ee-eye-do) is an ancient Japanese martial art that uses katana swords in training. Less mainstream than high school taught martial arts such as Judo and Kendo, Iaido’s focus is on the anticipation of imminent attack, and the most efficient response to dispatch an attacker by drawing a sword directly into a cutting technique.
In Iaido, practitioners value each movement, from drawing the sword, preparing the strike, to returning the sword back into the sheath. The focus is on being aware of an opponents motive, and drawing only in response to imminent threat – lest a premature draw be an act of aggression. This kind of ethos is uncommon for marital arts and it’s very specific to Japan.
Unlike Kendo, Iaido doesn’t comprise strikes and intense physical exercises, which allows anyone to learn Iaido regardless of any age and gender. However, Iaido is performed with sharpened swords and requires absolute control of one’s emotions and mental state. Iaido’s serene and quiet movement and Kendo’s rapid and aggressive movement are cited as two sides of the same coin.

Iaido is said to have been founded 450 years ago in the Muromachi period. Training in Iaido was quite dangerous, and one could even lose their life, so during the Meiji period the number of Iaido practitioners dropped significantly due to the dangers. In 1952 Iaido joined the All Japan Kendo Federation and Iaido was officially established as a martial art.
The first national Iaido competition was held in 1996 and from then on competitions in the sport became more common. Now competitors and enthusiasts in Japan and from abroad increase every year. Iai international competitions have been held in and out of Japan and Iaido is expected to be spread and prosper.

We spoke to local Iaido expert, Kendo teacher, business person and town councilor, Mr. Shinji Furuya.


How did you come about Iaido?
My father had started learning Iaido when I was in elementary school, and then he later talked me into learning Iaido when I became a junior high school student.

What are the best things about Iaido?
In other sports your performance declines as your physical strength weakens, but that’s not the case for Iaido. You can develop technique as you gain experience in Iai and you can keep practicing Iai for as long as you live.

What do you enjoy about learning Iaido?
Every motion has its logic, and I find that those individual motions come together to form technique by practicing continuous movement respectively. It’s important to control my body to follow the principles.

What purposes does Iaido serve?
Iai is aimed not to kill people but to let people live, and we train ourselves to live. It’s best to defeat our rivals without using swords but by understanding relative positions of each other and keeping the distance in respective manners, you make your points clear. It’s a negotiating act. We would like people to feel compassion from martial art demonstrations.

Do you teach by yourself?
Yes, I teach at my brother’s training hall once
a week.

What’s good about learning Iaido?
You don’t need physical strength to learn Iaido. Gender differences don’t affect the learning or performance of Iaido, and learners can learn to find peace in the mind. We have had an increase of female learners recently as well.

What do you think of using real swords in Iaido?
Use of real swords lets trainees improve techniques of Iai. Beginners use fake swords at first and start using real swords as they improve. Real swords have a sharpened blade and handling the real swords in the wrong way can lead to injuries of oneself and others, hence it means the trainers and trainees have to take it very seriously and control their motions accurately.

What type of people would you recommend Iaido to?
Anybody. Age gender and physical ability don’t matter; anyone can do this martial art even children. Small children should learn Kendo and Iaido at the same time.

Any advice to those that are interested in Iaidio?
Iaido is not a flashy type of martial art. I think anyone can find the smooth motions of Iai interesting and you will be surprised to discover more and more as you go. Martial arts are fascinating and you can enjoy them your whole life.

Have you experienced any other sports?
I took time off from Iai for a decade as I played hockey and did cycling, and running in college. I had an opportunity to teach Kendo to kids and that was at that time I started training for Iaido again.

How did you start in Kendo?
I’m the youngest of four siblings and my father was a Kendo instructor. All my siblings started learning Kendo as they entered elementary school and there was nobody to look after me at home so at the age of 6 before entering elementary school, I started Kendo and continued through high school.

What are the differences between Kendo and Iaido?
I’ve learned both Kendo and Iaido simultaneously, so there aren’t many differences between them to me. The basic principles are the same, however, Kendo uses bamboo swords, not the real ones, and the training methods are different.

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