About Iaido

About Iaido

Respecting the sword; performed before and after practise
Iaido is a sword-based Japanese martial art that trains the motions associated with drawing a katana from its sheath, striking an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then re-sheathing the katana with smooth, controlled movement. Modern day exponents typically use iaito (blunt edge) instead of shinken (sharp edge) at least in beginning stages of study.

Iaido is often confused with both kendo (kenjutsu), and battojutsu. While all three are martial arts involving the Japanese sword, they differ in focus and methodology. Iaido concerns itself primarily with drawing and sheathing the sword, while battojutsu focuses on cutting technique. Kendo, as an art, is not interested in drawing/sheathing since the shinai uses no scabbard, and adds a sporting aspect over the other two arts. Furthermore, iaido is performed individually against one or more imaginary opposers in pre-arranged situations (kata) and with a metal blade, while kendo is meant to be done in pairs and since there is free, full contact sparring, a flexible bamboo sword and protective armor are needed.

The primary emphasis is on the psychological state of being “present”. The secondary emphasis is on drawing the sword and responding to the sudden attack as quickly as possible. Starting positions can be from combative postures or from everyday sitting or standing positions. The ability to react quickly from different starting positions was considered essential for a samurai.

A very important part of iai (short for Iaido), sometimes called the ‘life of iai’, is nukitsuke. This is a very quick draw accomplished by drawing the sword out of the saya (scabbard) while drawing the saya itself back (saya biki). The blade can be brought out of the scabbard and used in a slashing motion very quickly using nukitsuke.


The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu included iaijutsu in its curriculum in 15th century, and first schools dedicated exclusively to sword drawing appeared some time during the late 16th or early 17th century. Most modern schools consider a samurai called Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu (1546-1621) as the originator of iaido. Not much is known about his life, and some scholars doubt his existence as a historical figure. The two largest schools of iaido that are practised today, Muso Shinden-ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, both claim a lineage starting with Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu.


While not a hard and fast rule, frequently the word iaido is used to refer to the modern self improvement oriented form taught by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) and other iaido associations while iaijutsu is used for the older, combative techniques of the koryu. The word iaido itself was coined by Nakayama Hakudo (1873-1958) in early 20th century. Before that various other names like batto, battojutsu, or saya no uchi were used instead.