Iaidō (居合道), abbreviated with iai (居合), is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes being Iaido is for the most part performed solo as an issue of kata, executing changed strategies against single or various fanciful rivals. Every kata starts.

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Bernard of Clairvaux, Liber ad milites Templi: De laude novae militae. None of the following should be taken as absolute truth. Iai is an art, or perhaps training method, using a real or almost real sword in solo practice. Katas start and end with sheathed sword, and hence involve the drawing and sheathing of the sword.

Iaido is most often translated as the way of harmonious kattas, the art of adapting to circumstance, or the way of being here and now. The name consists of iru beingai harmonyand do isido.

An introduction to Iaido

In iaido, the practitioner battles non-material opponents with techniques that today are completely obsolete and devoid of any practical application, and do not even offer the satisfaction of affirming technical superiority over other practitioners through competitive encounters.

As a true Budo, iaido is a battle with the self, a cutting away of all redundancies. Trough the precise and immutable movements of the kata, the practitioner seeks to mobilise his entire being, to unite the intention, the action, and the sword, every detail being vital, a matter of life and death. Through this unification of sense, will, and action, the sword becomes a tool for spiritual development seishin tanren. For this reason, more and more budoka turn to the austere practice of iaido.

Most traditional sword schools primarily use partner practice with wooden swords as training method, and solo practice with the sword which may or may not be referred to as iai is usually a minor part of the curriculum.

Iaido as an art that focusses on iai as its major component, is usually attributed to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu Little is known about him, but his supposed students originated most of the Iaido styles practiced today. While many consider Hayashizaki as the father of Iaido, it is nevertheless mistaken to attribute the invention of Iai to him.

The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryu for example predates him by about a century, and its curriculum contains several iai sets. To state the obvious, sword drawing techniques must have been practiced ever since swords were drawn. Hayashizaki may have been the first to emphasise the potential mental and spiritual benefits of Iaido training.

One of his best-known students was Tamiya Heibei Narimasu founder of Tamiya ryu. Hayashizaki’s memorial stone posing in front is Nakamura Taisaburo. The style we practice at Sakura Ternat is Muso Shinden Ryu, which is actually a collection of several rather accidentally related koryu styles with a geneaology that could give anyone a headache.

The official lineage traces back to Hayashizaki’s Shimmei Muso ryu, but the majority of the enclosed ryu have quite different origins. The earlier part of the geneaology is also shared with many other styles.

In the 20th century the masters Katss Masamichi Shikei and Nakayama Hakudo Hiromichi significantly reorganised and modified the curriculum, and presented the collection of three ryu of the tradition as just one style, calling one ryu ‘basic techniques’, another ‘intermediate’, and the third one ‘advanced’. Omori had also studied under Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Eishin Hidenobu but was thrown out over a personal conflict. Omori combined the kata of Yagyu Shinkage ryu with Osagawara ryu reishiki of which he was also a student.

They continued ,atas the Omori ryu together with the other styles then contained in this ryu.

Iaido Katas

In the 20th century an extra kata was added to Omori ryu, the names and order were changed, and the ryu was dumbed down a bit to fit its new role as beginner’s fare. The Chuden or intermediate style is based on Muso Jikiden ryu, founded by a Onkeibo Chohen of which very little is known. Izasa Ienaofounder of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryuis said to have been 7th headmaster of this school. The Okuden techniques are the oldest if we disregard the mythical foundation of Muso Jikiden ryuand attributed to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu, who called his style Shimmei Muso ryu.

The Okuden consists of a suwariwaza set and a tachiwaza set. This part of the lineage crosses many other styles said to derive from Hayashizaki. Tamiya ryu founder Tamiya Heibei Shigemasu was also 2nd headmaster of Shimmei Muso ryu how anyone managed to pass on 2 styles is left as exercise to the readerand from his teaching derive also the Shin Tamiya ryu, Jikyo ryu and Mugai ryu the latter two having merged later. The third headmaster, Nagano Muraku was student of both Hayashizaki and Tamiya, and he passed on Shimmei Muso ryu as well as developing his own Muraku ryu, while one of his students, Ichinomiya Sadayu Terunobu, who was also a student of Hayashizaki, founded his own Ichinomiya ryu.


It is virtually impossible to determine how much resemblance the current Okuden waza have to whatever it was Jinsuke Shigenobu developed. Nakayama Hakudo doing Hasegawa Eishin ryu and Tsumiai no kurai. At the death of Oguro Motoemon Kiyokatsu the ryu split into two branch school, the Tanimura ha and the Shimomura ha.

Therefore he is often named as the “founder” of Muso Shinden ryu. Actually it was only after his death that his followers started to formally use this name for Hakudo’s particular style.

Nakayama Hakudo was trained in both Tanimura and Shimomura ha which at the time included Muraku ryu, or at least Hakudo is said to have learned iaiod from Hosokawa Yoshimasaas well as Iaieo Itto ryu and Shindo Munen ryu another derivative of Shinkage ryu.

Oe Masamichi, 17th headmaster of Tanimura ha, fixed the name of the Tanimura ha at Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and made many changes. He dropped 2 of the 13 okuden tachiwaza and these are no longer practiced. Actually a lot more was dropped as the ryu supposedly contained yawara, bo and torinawa techniques as well as various sets of kumitachi. New techniques were added such as hayanuki and bangai. Like Hakudo, Oe practiced both Tanimura and Shimomura ha and is sometimes named as the 15th headmaster of Shimomura ha.

In the 20th century the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei created a set of iaido katas, known as the seitei gata standard forms. The purpose was probably to encourage Kendo practitioners to experience the handling of a real sword. Whether this was effective, or whether kendo has influenced the seitei gata to a greater extent than vice versa, is iaaido.

Not all kendoka practice Iaido, and many iaidoka don’t practice Kendo. The Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei also created the Kendo no kata, a set of partner forms using wooden swords, which are required for kendo promotion although whether this is observed in practice is also debatable. They also make competition possible. Again this is debatable, since advanced practitioners are not only allowed, but actually required to include non-seitei “koryu” katas in grading tests or matches.

Iaido – Wikipedia

The “standard” seitei gata also change a bit each year though some may argue the changes aren’t really changes. Many Iaido practitioners, especially those not involved with Kendo, would rather be affiliated with an actual ryu and obtain ryu gradings instead of dealing with the seitei gata.

Unfortunately opportunities to do so are scarce. The most practiced ryu in Belgium is Muso Shinden ryu, which was founded in the 20th century, and whose current succession is unclear, if not non-existant. Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu and Tamiya ryu for example at least have a headmaster, but you have to go to Japan to train with them.

Iaido Katas – Black Belt Wiki

The seitei gata have the advantage that they form a decent introduction to iaido that can be learned from any iaido teacher, almost anywhere, isido little variation. One can’t fully understand the sword by solo practice exclusively.

Muso Shinden ryu contains two kataw more, according to whom iqido ask sets of partner forms, the tachi uchi no kurai standing forms and the tsumi ai no kurai seated formsHowever, these are not very widely practiced, and there is even iaiod doubt on their authenticity, given the important kqtas with the iai part of the ryu. There were supposedly many more sets contained in the ryu, supposedly including a now supposedly lost jujutsu component. Another related practice is iai giri or tameshi giri, cutting objects mostly inanimate to improve cutting technique.

And one can aktas course spar with bamboo sticks in Kendo. The majority of practitioners in Sakura Ternat didn’t start Iaido as their first art. We have aikidokas, jujutsukas, karatekas and even Tai Chi sword practitioners. The ZNKR doesn’t grade children under 14, but we have members that started younger and we don’t employ a fixed minimum age applicants are considered case by case.


Iaido is very often misunderstood, even by experienced practitioners of other martial arts. Quite often it is interpreted as a kind of sterile sword dance, a “moving meditation” somewhat like Tai Chi but much slower, in which practitioners numbly perform the same 4 movements nukitsuke, kiritsuke, chiburi, noto over and over like a kind of physical mantra, until they are overcome by terminal boredom.

Even people who think they have a pretty good idea what Iaido is about, are surprised to hear there exist other katas besides ZNKR seitei mae.

While the term “meditation” is often associated with the practice of Iaido, I think it is an unfortunate kaatas of words; “intense focus” or “concentration” are probably much more appropriate. Rather, gaining skill with the sword is the iado by which the practitioners achieve their purpose. Thus, while the ultimate aim of Iaido is not how to learn to kill with a sword, during practice the practitioner is totally focussed iiaido eliminating the imaginary opponent as efficiently as possible within the parameters of the kata.

The mental plane in Iaido is undoubtedly where most of the action takes place, yet the apparent simplicity of the physical movements is extremely deceptive. Remember that the simplest things are always the hardest. You may have heard that Iaido consists of solo training. This may be slightly misleading. In a typical class, there will be times you might wish you were alone.

You are constantly watched, and told in no uncertain terms about all the things you are doing wrong, that your feet are positioned incorrectly, that you are looking in the wrong direction and completely missed the enemy with your cut, that you are going to lose your balance in the next five seconds, and that additionally iaiod should concentrate on your opponent and not let yourself be distracted by being verbally torn apart, In less than 10 minutes of this “moving meditation” your clothes are drenched with perspiration and you are out of breath.

Casual observers are often confused by the many moments where nothing seems to happen and the swordsperson is apparently taking a little break. People seem to expect a wild rush of activity, swords being torn out of their scabbards and opponents cut down as fast as the laws of physics permit, maybe followed by some flashy twirls as seen on Highlander.

Iaido practitioners, however, try to anticipate the opponent and time their actions correctly, so that no rush is needed. Correct technique and spirit is much more important than speed. Also, when speed is eventually attained, it is generally not by moving faster, but by moving less, eliminating what is superfluous. And, as Ishido Shizufumi sensei says: Iaido is a primarily mental activity, demanding extreme focus, control, and alertness.

None of which is readily apparent to the uninitiated.

Katas from Muso Shinden ryu are practiced depending on class composition. Those who wish to participate in partner practice with wooden swords, can join the training in techniques from Hyoho Niten Ichi ryuwith long, short and two swords. Iakdo Jodo training is also available and highly recommended as “contact” weapons training. Attending seminars is considered very important in Sakura Ternat. Practitioners are encouraged to attend as many seminars as they can.

Besides the extra training, this allows the practitioners to compare what they learn from iaifo with the styles from other teachers. All ZNKR grading tests from first kyu and up are taken either before the ABKF national grading commitee, or during an international seminar like the Nakakura cup or the Ishido summer seminar.

Currently grades below first kyu are internal “club grades” and not obligatory. Sakura Ternat has never used the kyu grading system. We employ a system of three levels called jo, ha and kyu not related to the Tatsumi ryu system which uses the same level names with kyu being the level where people are considered ready to try their first kyu grading test.