From Wikipedia:

Iaido is associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard (or saya), striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. While beginning practitioners of iaido may start learning with a wooden sword (bokken) depending on the teaching style of a particular instructor, most of the practitioners use the blunt edged sword, called iaitō. Few, more experienced, iaido practitioners use a sharp edged sword (shinken).

Iaido is not a contact art; it is completely kata-based (we use the term 'waza' rather than kata - waza for single-person practice, kata is used during paired exercises, which are not commonly taught in North America, to my knowledge), involving solitary practice. The only touching is accidental, and I have hit another person's sword at least twice - though I've drawn my own blood more times than I can count. Despite the fact that at my level we used unsharpened blades, the tip is still mighty pointy.

Although there are many schools of Iaido, I study Muso Shinden Ryu style - the other common style is Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. Both of us though, as well as other schools, all learn seitei Iai, in order for there to be a common ground during gradings. The most obvious differences between the two schools, are the way we perform noto (the re-sheathing of the sword), the lengths of the swords we use because of that (MSR uses longer blades than MJER), and the way we tie the sageo. If you look at the first picture of my sword, the sageo is the cord on the left - it loops through the kurigata on the saya (sheath) and then ties through/around the himo (cords) that hold up your hakama.

It is a very methodical art, deeply detailed, meditative - some have even referred to it as moving Zen. Although initially I would not have described it as being suitable for someone who's not a patient soul, I have found that not to be the case at all. I'm not a patient person, but I am now in a place where I can't imagine my life without it. I think it's probably the first time in my life I've truly dedicated myself to something. It is absolutely suitable for anyone of any age, almost any phisical ability or size. The only real limitation, is your height and the length of your arms. You need to be tall enough - and your arms long enough - to handle a sword. There's no age restriction involved, though this is generally not something you'll find teenagers doing.

In July of 2015, I was out having coffee with a friend who'd lived in Japan for 14 years. I was telling him how I'd always wanted to learn how to handle a sword. I knew actual combat would be right out, given my dismally poor vision and lack of depth perception, but I figured there were still moves I could learn. I always figured some medieval re-enactor would teach me how to use a broadsword. He says, "That sounds like Iaido." Which is a word I'd never heard before in my life. I went home and looked it up. Three days later I was in my first class. And now, here we are.

I sometimes write about iai.

My iaito

An iaito is an unsharpened blade (sharpened katana are called 'shinken'), generally sandcast of aluminum-zinc alloy (as opposed to a forged carbon steel shinken). They are used primarily for the practice of Iaido. The length of the blade depends on the user's arm length and the style of Iaido they practice. The method of noto (re-sheathing of the blade) is the primary factor in school-related sword length. My style (Muso Shinden Ryu) uses the - to my knowledge - longest blades because of sayabiki - how far back to the left we are pulling the saya at the start of nukitsuke and the start of noto. Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu uses shorter blades because their noto starts closer to the front of the body.

I acquired this sword from Taylor Sensei in Guelph in July of 2016. In so many ways it is not aesthetically what would I would have chosen had I the opportunity to get a custom sword made, but the first time I held it in the dojo, I knew this sword was mine. It felt right.

For the detail-oritened - it's 2.45 shaku, with dragonfly menuki and vines around the fuchi.

I read somewhere that samurai used to name their swords. I haven’t yet come up with a name for this iaito yet, but I figure that someday I’ll just know what’s right.

It also goes against custom for one to show one’s blade to people who are not also students of the budo arts – not to mention that hauling your blade out in a public place is illegal in some parts, it being a weapon and all. I hope this doesn’t violate custom!

I also need to take some better photos of it. One of these days.


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