What is Iaido?

Gyakuto

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This video which gives a nice idea of the art of Iaido. Most people think that Iaido looks rather pointless and clumsy because of the many poor demonstrations and explanations of the the art one comes across on Youtube, but this video does a good job of demonstrating and explaining the purpose for why we enthusiasts spend many years training in the art.

 

Bill Mattocks

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Very nice!

I found myself also thinking of the people who are under the impression that one cannot learn martial arts by 'punching air' or doing kata; i.e., that one must spar vigorously or one cannot learn. I'm guessing sword art practitioners don't actually chop people up, yet there is little doubt in my mind that they can.
 
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Gyakuto

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Its a contentious issue, Bill. I personally think that an average, conscripted farmer/ soldier (ashigaru) of old Japan, with a bit of battlefield experience would make mincemeat of even a high-graded Iaidoka, because of their limited slash & kill experience - something Iaidoka simply cannot gain because of the potential lethality of using a sword.

But I dont think being combat ready is the purpose of Iaido. Physically, its like a museum, or more precisely, a repository of idealised techniques that were once honed in combat. Mentally, the repetition and attention to the minutiae of the movements is exactly the same as the attention that a Zen practitioner might bring to bear on the control of their breath and careful positioning as they meditate, or mindfully wielding a broom, sweeping the precincts of their monastery or perhaps carefully eating their meal安hatever that ultimately leads to.

I often feel like fraud when I post on here as most of you are engage in combat, albeit very controlled and stylised, whereas what I do is as far removed from that as can be地lmost like precision dancing. Thus I always post as a 3rd Dan in Wado Ryu Karate to alleviate my discomfort
 

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Its a contentious issue, Bill. I personally think that an average, conscripted farmer/ soldier (ashigaru) of old Japan, with a bit of battlefield experience would make mincemeat of even a high-graded Iaidoka, because of their limited slash & kill experience - something Iaidoka simply cannot gain because of the potential lethality of using a sword.

But I dont think being combat ready is the purpose of Iaido. Physically, its like a museum, or more precisely, a repository of idealised techniques that were once honed in combat. Mentally, the repetition and attention to the minutiae of the movements is exactly the same as the attention that a Zen practitioner might bring to bear on the control of their breath and careful positioning as they meditate, or mindfully wielding a broom, sweeping the precincts of their monastery or perhaps carefully eating their meal安hatever that ultimately leads to.

I often feel like fraud when I post on here as most of you are engage in combat, albeit very controlled and stylised, whereas what I do is as far removed from that as can be地lmost like precision dancing. Thus I always post as a 3rd Dan in Wado Ryu Karate to alleviate my discomfort
So much to appreciate about this post.
 

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I think Iaido can be called an elegant art - simple, direct, purposeful. Perhaps because its root purpose was to face death and kill the opponent. I found it to be much different than karate in many respects, both physically and spiritually/mental attitude. I actually enjoyed doing the iai kata more than karate's. While physical execution is important in both, as most of iai's sword techniques are more drawn out, more attention can be applied to each individual move and "savored," flavored with zanshin. One of my big regrets is not having had the opportunity to spend more than a few years in it.
 

Tony Dismukes

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I often feel like fraud when I post on here as most of you are engage in combat, albeit very controlled and stylised, whereas what I do is as far removed from that as can be地lmost like precision dancing. Thus I always post as a 3rd Dan in Wado Ryu Karate to alleviate my discomfort
Speaking as a HEMA practitioner who greatly enjoys messing around with swords, I understand where you're coming from. There are a few places in the world where people sometimes commit violence with machetes, but we have no way to recreate the experience of living in a world where the use of swords for dueling and warfare was commonplace. Nor would any of us want to if it were possible.

Theoretically speaking, it might be possible to achieve the skill of a competent historical swordsman. (Although not the skill of a master swordsman with significant experience in life-or-death battles.) Here's what I think that would entail ...

Practice based on techniques from actual historical sources from an era where swords were commonly used. (To avoid the development of technique that only works due to the vagaries of a particular competition ruleset or other simulation.)

Sparring/competition practice which rewards as closely as possible the techniques, tactics, and principles found in the historical sources. Every single sparring methodology I can imagine is flawed in multiple ways as a true simulation of real combat with blades. Therefore I recommend sparring under different rulesets so that hopefully the strengths in one method can help compensate for the flaws in another.

Cutting practice. This should move beyond the beginner stages of focusing on a single powerful cut from a static position and eventually include cutting a moving target and utilizing all the techniques which are in your technical repertoire.

Practice in quickly drawing and using the sword, a la Iado/Iaijutsu. If you can't deploy your sword quickly when attacked, you can't defend yourself with it.

Practice wearing a sword in its scabbard as you go about your daily business and getting used to all the various inconveniences and adjustments that requires. This isn't going to be possible for most of us in real life, but may be an option at some historical recreation events (although depending on the event the blade would probably need to be either a blunt replica or peace-bonded in the case of a live blade).

Practice fighting (sparring) in groups. Fighting in formation is very different from one-on-one dueling.

Study the various miscellaneous cultural and practical details that came along with the historical carry and use of a sword. This is an area where I suspect some of the koryu systems may have useful insights.

After all this, the biggest factor separating the modern sword practitioner from their historical counterpart would be the actual experience of life or death combat, of having someone try to kill you, of killing or maiming another human being, of seeing other people killed or injured by real swords. I imagine that a soldier with experience on the battlefield or a violent criminal might have comparable experiences which would fill that gap. I personally have no desire to invest in either path.

Then again, there were plenty of people historically who trained with a sword just in case or because it was expected of their social status but who never actually got in a sword fight. Since we have better safety equipment to train with now, it's possible that a modern practitioner might be able to surpass many of those individuals.

Fortunately, the odds of any of us ever needing to use a sword in a real fight are so low as to be practically non-existent. So we can practice for fun or for spiritual self-development or whatever other purpose we desire without worrying about having to test our skills against Fiore or Musashi.
 
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Thats an interesting thesis, Tony.

I do sometimes wonder if there wasnt an element of luck in the careers of those who became noted swordsmen, especially those forged in the slashing, cacophonous melee of the battlefield. Eventually one mightve missed a sword arcing toward them from the left while avoiding a stab from the front and :WAZO: theyre ex-swordsmen taken out of the elite race to being famous warriors.

I suspect urban, one-to-one swordsmanship, that is how Iaido may be characterised, required far more skill because of the stand off, waiting for the first move in a state of hyper awareness and then only a handful of precise cuts and parries before it was all over.
 

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I do sometimes wonder if there wasnt an element of luck in the careers of those who became noted swordsmen, especially those forged in the slashing, cacophonous melee of the battlefield. Eventually one mightve missed a sword arcing toward them from the left while avoiding a stab from the front and :WAZO: theyre ex-swordsmen taken out of the elite race to being famous warriors.
Luck absolutely plays a part when blades or guns are in play.

Let's put it this way, in submission grappling, it's pretty rare for me to be submitted by a significantly inferior grappler or to submit a significantly superior grappler. That's because the superior grappler has to make a good number of mistakes and the inferior grappler has to take advantage of all of them before it results in a submission.

But in fencing I've frequently scored on a superior fencer or been scored on by an inferior fencer. It only takes a split second of distraction or misjudgment for the inferior fencer to land a strike which could be fatal. Especially when the inferior fencer isn't being cautious to avoid double-kills.

For that matter, "scoring" itself is a questionable concept outside of a sporting setting. With real blades, a half inch difference in targeting might make the difference between a dashing scar or bleeding out. Under the stress of a real fight, I'm certain that often that half inch variance comes down to chance.

And of course, on the battlefield survival can depend on many factors beyond the control of an individual soldier. Morale, logistics, unit cohesion, group tactics, numbers, terrain, signals and communication, etc, etc...

I suspect urban, one-to-one swordsmanship, that is how Iaido may be characterised, required far more skill because of the stand off, waiting for the first move in a state of hyper awareness and then only a handful of precise cuts and parries before it was all over.
I strongly suspect that the origins of Iado/jutsu lay more in the ability to react to an ambush (or possibly quick drawing to murder a victim before they could react). Standing off against a known opponent without having your sword already drawn strikes me as a cinematic invention, like the cowboy showdown at high noon.
 
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Gyakuto

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I strongly suspect that the origins of Iado/jutsu lay more in the ability to react to an ambush (or possibly quick drawing to murder a victim before they could react).
Yes, youre likely correct.
Standing off against a known opponent without having your sword already drawn strikes me as a cinematic invention, like the cowboy showdown at high noon.
How dare you! They happened如lease
 

isshinryuronin

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I strongly suspect that the origins of Iado/jutsu lay more in the ability to react to an ambush (or possibly quick drawing to murder a victim before they could react). Standing off against a known opponent without having your sword already drawn strikes me as a cinematic invention, like the cowboy showdown at high noon.
This makes some sense. The basic seitei kata are done not only standing but from a kneeling position as well, as if you were conversing or sharing tea with another Samurai who suddenly tried to kill you.

Interesting to note that karate had a number of combat techniques executed from a kneeling and sitting position as well. I remember seeing some old film of this, possibly by Funakoshi. Can't say whether this was from iaido influence or developed independently. This is rarely seen or practiced in karate today.

Also, those were the days when being shoulder-bumped by another Samurai while walking down the road could be interpreted as an invitation to a spontaneous duel to the death. There was, in fact, an actual protocol for passing another Samurai on the walkway to avoid this situation. These cases, along with simple assassination, would call for a quick draw and cut.

As in Europe and the USA, formal duels were done by Samurai to either avenge some slight to one's honor or to merely test one's skill. I suspect though that the cowboy showdown on main street shown in movies was more often a less than honorable murder or gangbanger-like shootout with bullets flying all over, devoid of elegance.
 

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I often feel like fraud when I post on here as most of you are engage in combat, albeit very controlled and stylised, whereas what I do is as far removed from that as can be地lmost like precision dancing. Thus I always post as a 3rd Dan in Wado Ryu Karate to alleviate my discomfort
Nope, your thoughts are very much valued and appreciated here. Martial arts is very widely encompassing, and to me as I always say the arts exist along a spectrum, each art placed at certain points along it and offering a different focus and emphasis. They each develop different things in relation to the martial or combat usage, as well as other "stuff".

And you should some of my home training, some of it very much resembles dancing haha, but it all helps to develop that real intimacy with my experience and control of my body, perceptual awareness, and deep understanding with how to generate movement, flow, power etc. It doesn't look like combat, but to me develops meta-qualities which inform the martial aspect of training. Iaido to me develops certain qualities and particularly along the lines of perceptual framework, along with technical proficiency and mastery.

I very much delve into and apply the Zen "approach" with my training, and approach kata in that manner. And what can be better self-defence than cultivating mindfulness, inner stability/peace and a sense of flow and ease in your everyday mind huh ;)
 
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This makes some sense. The basic seitei kata are done not only standing but from a kneeling position as well, as if you were conversing or sharing tea with another Samurai who suddenly tried to kill you.
Seiteigata Iaido is a 20th century invention devised to give bamboo stave-waving Kendoka some experience in handling a curved, steel sword. So its really a form of toho, training in sword handling. A samurai would never enter a house/tearoom/hall or allow another to, without giving up their sword at the entrance and perhaps placing it on a kake (stand). They might keep their short sword, definitely their tanto. So the kneeling kata of Seitei are not a reflection on reality.
Interesting to note that karate had a number of combat techniques executed from a kneeling and sitting position as well. I remember seeing some old film of this, possibly by Funakoshi.
Its know as Idori and I remember Suzuki Tatsuo Sensei showing us these! His teacher was Funakoshis top student.
Can't say whether this was from iaido influence or developed independently. This is rarely seen or practiced in karate today.
Since Karate as we know it now is a 20th century invention it might have been influenced by Iaido, but I doubt it.

Idori is still part of the Wado Ryu syllabus.
Also, those were the days when being shoulder-bumped by another Samurai while walking down the road could be interpreted as an invitation to a spontaneous duel to the death.
I think its unlikely that two armed swordsman wouldve allowed themselves to get that close, but yes, they were an uppity bunch!
There was, in fact, an actual protocol for passing another Samurai on the walkway to avoid this situation. These cases, along with simple assassination, would call for a quick draw and cut.
The still at the beginning of the video I posted is a kata showing an assassination (and seen in its entirety at 7:20- Sodesurigaeshi) The swordsman sees a crowd of people, perhaps surrounding and listening to someone giving a speech. He draws his sword, pushes the crowds out of the way, and cuts down the speaker. I like to imagine the victim is an objectionable politician or maybe a social media influencer, but Im just a horrid person .

Theres a saying often quoted in Karate circles, Karate in sentenashi - theres no first attack in Karate. This is not the case in old school swordsmanship (Koryu). You kill when the opportunity presents with no regard to supposed chivalry!
 

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Seiteigata Iaido is a 20th century invention devised to give bamboo stave-waving Kendoka some experience in handling a curved, steel sword. So its really a form of toho, training in sword handling. A samurai would never enter a house/tearoom/hall or allow another to, without giving up their sword at the entrance and perhaps placing it on a kake (stand). They might keep their short sword, definitely their tanto. So the kneeling kata of Seitei are not a reflection on reality.
It's possible they are outside together in close kneeling proximity I suppose. I understand that the long sword is impractical inside a tearoom or home, but then, what is the purpose/origin of the seiza forms? Seems odd to have such a thing without it being inspired by some practical reason.
 

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Its a contentious issue, Bill. I personally think that an average, conscripted farmer/ soldier (ashigaru) of old Japan, with a bit of battlefield experience would make mincemeat of even a high-graded Iaidoka, because of their limited slash & kill experience - something Iaidoka simply cannot gain because of the potential lethality of using a sword.

But I dont think being combat ready is the purpose of Iaido. Physically, its like a museum, or more precisely, a repository of idealised techniques that were once honed in combat. Mentally, the repetition and attention to the minutiae of the movements is exactly the same as the attention that a Zen practitioner might bring to bear on the control of their breath and careful positioning as they meditate, or mindfully wielding a broom, sweeping the precincts of their monastery or perhaps carefully eating their meal安hatever that ultimately leads to.

I often feel like fraud when I post on here as most of you are engage in combat, albeit very controlled and stylised, whereas what I do is as far removed from that as can be地lmost like precision dancing. Thus I always post as a 3rd Dan in Wado Ryu Karate to alleviate my discomfort
But are not all the sword arts based nowadays on that YouTube? Its all a method of learning restraint and of demonstrating a cultural activity. Most countries don't walk about carrying blades these days. There are those that do it for enjoyment that will never be really good at it. The same with combat arts.
 

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It's possible they are outside together in close kneeling proximity I suppose. I understand that the long sword is impractical inside a tearoom or home, but then, what is the purpose/origin of the seiza forms? Seems odd to have such a thing without it being inspired by some practical reason.
Iwata Norikazu Hanshi would say. "Its to educate the body to use the hips and hara to generate power". Technically you don't sit. The buttock muscles are already elevated off the knees. You also see this in Ogasawara Reiho and other things.
 
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It's possible they are outside together in close kneeling proximity I suppose. I understand that the long sword is impractical inside a tearoom or home, but then, what is the purpose/origin of the seiza forms? Seems odd to have such a thing without it being inspired by some practical reason.
They are a complete contrivance designed to teach sword handling skills (toho). Theyre analogous to the punching exercises performed in Karate: you would never hold your extended arm after a punch in a combat situation and yet thats what Karateka do for 90% of their training! But thats done to hone ones punching skills. Similarly, suwari waza (seated techniques) are practised so the Iaidoka can learn to move from awkward positions (tate hiza is very awkward!). drawn their swords efficiently, and control and balance their centre of mass (hara) etc. Thats not to say they might have some basis in practical movements but theyre likely tenuous.
 

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I often feel like fraud when I post on here as most of you are engage in combat, albeit very controlled and stylised, whereas what I do is as far removed from that as can be地lmost like precision dancing.
I did not see it as much removed from combat as you, and never imagined it as anything but killing strokes. Perhaps my karate background shaped part of this viewpoint as others at the dojo did not (several practiced softer kung fu styles). An exception to this was our late sensei, USA head of robukai karate as well as an iaido master of iai tate do. He described the style as more combat oriented than what others taught. It was less flamboyant, with a very small chiburi for example (flinging off the "blood" at the end). Although miles apart in skill level, I think my style resembled his more than my seniors for this reason.
They are a complete contrivance designed to teach sword handling skills
The suprise attack while sharing tea is a much better story :D, but I'll defer to your greater knowledge.
in Karate: you would never hold your extended arm after a punch in a combat situation and yet thats what Karateka do
My style snaps back to a guard position, but it's an exception to most all other styles.
(seated techniques) are practised so the Iaidoka can learn to move from awkward positions (tate hiza is very awkward!).
We were taught to stick our folded leg heel up our butt hole in this position. I actually liked this position better than normal seiza - no, not for the butt hole thing, but as it took the painful weight off my insteps.

And I appreciated the videos you included.
 
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I did not see it as much removed from combat as you, and never imagined it as anything but killing strokes.
Of course, the cuts can kill since youre wielding a large razor blade, but a cut from a trained practitioner will less likely result in a broken or bent blade! Iaido is about beauty of movement too. There is beauty in utility, but theres more that in Iai, I believe.
Perhaps my karate background shaped part of this viewpoint as others at the dojo did not (several practiced softer kung fu styles).
I think Karateka might also benefit from closely from looking at their practise! Its healthy.
An exception to this was our late sensei, USA head of robukai karate as well as an iaido master of iai tate do. He described the style as more combat oriented than what others taught.
Interesting. The Koryu tend to have this characterisation, but even these kata are somewhat contrived.
It was less flamboyant, with a very small chiburi for example (flinging off the "blood" at the end).
Chiburi/Chiburui is, again, a contrivance (sorry to keep using that word). Put some blood and gore on your blade and try flinging it off. It doesnt really clean your blade and you wouldnt want to put the blade back in your nice clean saya! Many schools dont even bother doing it! It was probably used to cultivate Zanshin.
The suprise attack while sharing tea is a much better story :D, but I'll defer to your greater knowledge.
Yes, we like the romantic story better! Is it romantic?
My style snaps back to a guard position, but it's an exception to most all other styles.
Ah yes, I see that from Michael Calandra 9th Dan Hanshis video clip. Very unusual.

We were taught to stick our folded leg heel up our butt hole in this position.
<ahem>
I actually liked this position better than normal seiza
Live and let live. What you enjoy doing with your left heel in the privacy of your own dojo is your business and I wont judge you for it

I think tate hiza (literally vertical knee) is horrid. I once asked an 8th Dan Hanshi for tips on how to sit in it more comfortably and he said, It can never be made comfortable. Its really bad for the cruciate ligaments of the bent knee, especially if youre wearing knee pads as the straps in the popliteal fossa (back of the knee) contribute to levering open the knee joint and thus stretching the ligaments which are supposed to prevent tibia and femur subluxation! For heavier Westerners its lethal!
- no, not for the butt hole thing, but as it took the painful weight off my insteps.
Yeah, you say that now were all wrinkling our noses at you!
And I appreciated the videos you included.
It sounds like you enjoyed, Iaido. Why did you give it up?
 

isshinryuronin

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a cut from a trained practitioner will less likely result in a broken or bent blade! Iaido is about beauty of movement too. There is beauty in utility, but theres more that in Iai, I believe.
As I said, it's an elegant art. A poor stroke will not cut well, and who wants to learn to hack?
Chiburi/Chiburui is, again, a contrivance (sorry to keep using that word). Put some blood and gore on your blade and try flinging it off.
I don't know. If there's a lot of blood (a result we all hope for :oops:) much would be shed by chiburi. When I wash my hands, I usually flick off the excess water before reaching for a towel.
It sounds like you enjoyed, Iaido. Why did you give it up?
Only a handful of worthy sensei in the USA, and after I moved couldn't find one. Some dojo use blunt aluminum blades and have too much touchy feeley art vibe and not enough martial depth. I'm lucky to have been spoiled by training with some of the top guys in all the MA I have studied.

BTW, my favorites among the seiteigata were tsuka-ate and uke-nagashi. What are yours?
 

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