Iai-Do

The art of drawing the sword.

Iai-do is a twentieth century development of the art of iai-jutsu or batto-jutsu. The invention of the art of batto-jutsu as a wider study of swordsmanship, kenjutsu is generally attributed to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu. Shigenobu lived about 400 years ago in the province of Oshu, Japan.

Batto can be translated as 'striking from the sheath' and the art of batto or iai-jutsu as it became known, soon gained popularity as a specialisation of a number of kenjutsu schools or ryu.

The years of peace that ensued during the Edo period have to a certain extent diluted the original combat effectiveness of iai and emphasised the character building aspect of the art. The emergence of iai as a 'do' form in the twentieth century is seen by many as an evolutionary development of the older styles.

In the old iai-jutsu, the objective was both offensive and defensive. it taught the warrior to go into action instantly upon a sudden encounter. Striking on the draw distinguishes iai-jutsu within kenjutsu. The earlier schools of sword fighting placed no great importance on the drawing of the blade but rather on the effectiveness when unsheathed.

After the Meiji Restoration the feudal period of Japan was over. The edict from the Emperor that saw the abolition of the wearing of the swords by the samurai, also saw the abandonment of many of the martial arts that had been bred into the warrior class for countless generations. The art of kenjutsu fell into decline as the samurai were forced to turn to other areas of occupation for Japan had entered the modern era and was hungry for industrialisation to catch up with the rest of the world.

However, although swords were banned, the warrior did not need an opponent to practice iai-jutsu, this could be done alone. Slowly the combative aspects of the many schools of iai-jutsu became absorbed and students concerned themselves with training as a means of personal development of mind, body and spirit. This way iai-jutsu eventually became iai-do.

Modern Iai-Do.

Although iai-do practice should be aesthetically pleasing, all the techniques are firmly based on a practical foundation. A full iai technique combines the draw and cut with a quick return into the scabbard. The sword is worn in the belt (obi) with the cutting edge facing upwards to enable the draw and cut to become virtually a single action.

After paying his respects to the shrine within the dojo (training hall) the swordsman sits back on his haunches in a typically Japanese position. His next gesture is to bow to his sword which is positioned in front of him. This respect truly exemplifies the high regard the Japanese and people who train in Iai-do hold for the Katana (sword).

Today in Japan there are many schools of iai, but every school adheres to the basic principles which can be divided into four parts.

First is nukitsuke, which is the actual drawing of the blade from the scabbard. Then comes kritsuke, the cut, followed by chiburi, or the symbolic shaking of the blood from the blade after a successful cut. Finally there is noto, the returning of the blade to the scabbard. The principal behind noto is to return the blade quickly without loss of concentration. This latter part requires perfect precision since the slightest mistake could result in damage to the hand on the razor sharp blade. That is why students train for many years with an iai-to (blunt sword) before nihon-to (live/real blade).

The Meaning of Iai-Do Today.

One must ask the question as to what motivates a modern-day Japanese, or a non-Japanese person, for that matter, to devote such a considerable amount of their time to the training required of them when they study the art of sword drawing.

With so many other sports and martial arts out there, what makes thousands of people train in iai-do. The fact that the practitioners of these traditional arts are obviously interested in the Japanese cultural heritage surly motivates their studies. Each of them may be conscious or not of the fact as they enjoy their practise of the art of their choice, they are acting positively to preserve worthwhile skills and outlooks from the past. Iai-do, in particular becomes an exercise in cultural preservation because of its association with an obviously old element of Japanese culture.

But what is it about iai-do that attracts so many people to undertake training in this art? One possible answer to this question lies in the fact that many modern systems of education have developed many ways for a person to broaden their minds and explore vast field of science and technology. But many present-day systems of education lack the means by which the student can develop an understanding of his spiritual self. Exponents of iai-do everywhere are attracted to the study of this art because of its educational values in terms of the cultivation of the spiritual self.

We are in a period of major concern in world society. People everywhere appear to be confused and are apparently without solid moral values. Others lack moral courage enough to keep them from committing deeds of socially unexceptable behaviour. People everywhere need outlets by which they can express their individuality, but unless their endeavours in that direction are closely bounded by moral values, they can only add to world chaos.

Iai-do is not a panacea for all the worlds ills, but it has something worthwhile to contribute with regard to making a person a more socially acceptable animal. It is for those persons, who are genuinely in need of some way to more clearly establish a useful purpose for themselves in life.

Those persons who may wish to find a more traveled "road" over which to move for the remainder of their life's journey may rest assured that in the study and practice of iai-do they will find the desired road of life.