HOME PAGE How do I get started? FAQ's OUR PROGRAMS
Taekwondo Kickboxing-Muay Thai Ninjutsu/Budo Taijutsu Kobudo
Traditional Martial Arts Academy
2505 Tracy Blvd.
Tracy, CA 95376

History and description of Iaido


Iaido  is a Japanese martial art associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. While new students of iaido may start learning with a wooden sword (bokken) depending on the teaching style of a particular instructor, many of those who study iaido use an unsharpened sword (iaito). Advanced practitioners of iaido use a sharpened metal sword (shinken).

Because iaido teaches the use of actual metal weaponry, it is almost entirely based on the teaching of forms, or kata. Multiple person kata do exist within some forms of iaido, but the iaidoka (practitioners of iaido) will usually use bokken for such kata practice. Iaido does not include direct competition or sparring of any kind. Because of this non-competitve aspect, and iaido's emphasis on precise, controlled, fluid motion, it is sometimes referred to as "moving Zen."

Iaido in North America is often taught in dojo that also teach Aikido or Kendo.


The word iaido approximately translates into English as "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction."

In the book Bugei Ryuha Daijiten by Watatani Kiyoshi and Yamada Tadashi, Hayashizaki Jinsuke (Minamoto no) Shigenobu is credited with establishing the influence and popularity of the art early in the sixteenth century that is today widely practised as iaido. However, around a century before his birth, the dynamic art of iaijutsu had been developed by Iizasa Ienao, the founder of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu.

Iaido should not be confused with kendo or kenjutsu:

  • Kendo teaching does not include drawing and re-sheathing of a sword. The main weapon used in kendo, a flexible bamboo sword (shinai), uses no scabbard. Kendo is practiced with a partner in full contact training or in forms (kata) practice.
  • Kenjutsu is generally practiced with a partner, in the form of predetermined routines, and often does include drawing or resheathing of the sword.

Iaido is often used interchangeably with Battojutsu, literally meaning "technique of drawing the sword". Battojutsu is the historical (ca. 15th century) term encompassing both the practice of drawing the sword and cutting (tameshigiri). The term iaijutsu  became prevalent later (ca. 17th century), and the current term iaido is due to the general trend (stemming from gendai budo) to replace the suffix -jutsu with -do in Japanese martial arts in order to emphasize a philosophical or spiritual component. In contemporary usage, battojutsu focuses on the techniques of cutting, with individual practice that starts with the sword in the sheath.

Iaido forms (kata) are performed individually against one or more imaginary opponents. Some traditional iaido schools, however, include kata performed in pairs. Some styles and schools also do not practice tameshigiri, cutting techniques.

The primary emphasis in iaido 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 iaido, is nukitsuke or the life of iai. This is a very quick draw accomplished by drawing the sword out of the saya by moving the saya back in saya biki. The blade may be brought out of the saya and used in a quick nukitsuke slashing motion.

 History of Iai

The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu  included iaijutsu in its curriculum in the 15th century. The first schools dedicated exclusively to sword drawing appeared some time during the late 16th or early 17th century. Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu  (1546–1621) is generally credited with as being the originator of the first dedicated school of sword drawing. Little is known of his life, leading some scholars to doubt his historical existence as a real person. The two largest schools of sword drawing that are practised today are the Muso Shinden-ryu  and Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu . Both schools trace their lineage to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu.

Before Nakayama Hakudo (1873?-1958) coined the word iaido early in the 20th century, various other names such as batto, battojutsu, or saya no uchi were used. Iaido is the usual term to refer to the modern self-improvement oriented-form taught by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF), while Iaijutsu is used for some amongst the older koryu combative techniques.

 Seitei Iaido

Seitei Iaido  or Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Iaido is the iaido style of the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF, Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei or ZNKR). The twelve Seitei iaido forms (seitei-gata) are now standardised for the tuition, promotion and propagation of iaido within the kendo federations. Although not all dojo teach seitei iaido, the AJKF uses them as a standard for their exams and shiai. As a result, seitei iaido has become the most widely recognised form of iaido in Japan and the rest of the world.

 Toho Iaido

The All Japan Iaido Federation (ZNIR, Zen Nihon Iaido Renmei, founded 1948) has a set of five iaido forms, Toho Iaido. This is essentially the ZNIR equivalent of the Seitei Iaido set. These five forms are from the five different major iaido schools.

  • Maegiri Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu
  • Zengogiri Mugai-ryu
  • Kiriage Shindo Munen-ryu
  • Shihôgiri Suio-ryu
  • Kissakigaeshi Hoki-ryu

 Classical period Iai

Although there are a wide range of koryuor classical iaido styles practiced in Japan, the two most popular classical styles of iaido practiced worldwide are Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu and Muso Shinden-ryu. They resemble each other quite strongly because they branched off from one style sometime in the 18th century, under Oguro Motoemon Kiyokatsu sensei. After Oguro, there came into being two branches that were formed on philosophical differences between two students of Oguro: The Shimomura-ha and Tanimura-ha (branches), the former being headed by Matsuyoshi Teisuke Hisanari and the latter by Hayashi Masu no Jo Masanari, who became the 12th soke.

These two branches would co-exist for many years until Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu officially came into being in the early 20th century through the initiative of Oe Masamichi Shikei, the 17th headmaster of Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu. Prior to his death in 1927, Oe would bring together the Tanimura-ha, Hasegawa Eishin-ryu and the Omori-ryu to form what is today's Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu.

The Shimomura-ha held its own headmasters and philosophy for many years but would eventually fade away. The last Shimomura-ha (claimed) headmaster, Nakayama Hakudo who is considered the 16th, created a new iai-art called Muso Shinden Battojutsu that was heavily influenced by his Shimomura-ha training, but also took elements from other iai-arts. Nakayama Hakudo is not known to have taught the "pure" Shimomura-ha teachings in its complete form to any of his students and thus it can be argued that Shimomura-ha no longer exists as a separate entity, even though elements of it remain in what would later become the modern Muso Shinden-ryu.

One of the differences between the two schools can be seen in the noto (sheathing the katana back into the saya). In Shinden, the entire noto is done on the horizontal plane, i.e. the flat of the blade parallel to the floor. In Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, the flat of the blade is is rotated from 45 degrees to perpendicular to the floor by the end of noto.

Another style of iaido is Mugai-ryu. Mugai-ryu was once one of the more famous styles in Japan in the Edo-jidai and was developed from a strong influence of Zen and is characterized by short, direct movements. Chiburi, for example, is performed with a much smaller movement than in other styles, and is not used at all in suwari waza [Goyo and Goka kata sets]. As it was developed in 1697 by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi [or Sukeshige], a Zen practitioner, it has deep links with Zen Buddhism. The original style created by Gettan was a kenjutsu school rather than iai. Today's Mugai-ryu Iaido was established by Takahashi Hachisuke Mitsusuke and his younger brother Hidezu in mid Edo-period. They studied a style called Jikyo-ryu under the fifth and last generation headmasters Yamamura Masashige. In advanced waza, called Naiden and attributed to Gettan himself, the focus is on techniques that neutralize the sakki (killing mood) of the opponent. There are several distinct lineages of Mugai-ryu throughout Japan today. The last soke of the main line was Nakagawa Shiryo Shinichi who did not appoint a successor upon his death in 1984. There have been several popular movies made featuring Mugai-ryu, including Kurosawa's last film project, Ame Agaru.

In a similar vein, some may be familiar with Suio-ryu from our friend Ogami Itto who purportedly uses Siuo-ryu in the "Lone Wolf and Cub" series.

There are several branches of Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu (MJER) that are practised today. Different Iaido organisations generally recognise different people as their soke. One person who is considered to be a soke for (MJER Iaijutsu) is Miura Takeyuki Hidefusa, who holds a 9th Dan in MJER. The Great Japan Iaido Federation (Dai Nippon Iaido Renmei) recognises Ajisai Hirai (9th Dan Hanshi) as the 22nd soke of MJER.

There are several lines of transmission extant for Muso Shinden-ryu also. One of them claims Mitsuzuka Takeshi as the soke, second one (those who are affiliated with Nippon Iaido Kyokai) regard Takada Gakudo as their head teacher.

In the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) or Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR), there are two lines representing the Muso school. In the All Japan Iaido Federation (ZNIR) or Zen Niippon Iaido Renmei, the 21st soke (21st Grandmaster recognised by the ZNIR ) for Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu was Fukui Torao, (deceased 2001). The ZNIR 22nd soke is Ikeda Takashi Seiko, (10th Dan Hanshi). The last soke for Muso Shinden-ryu was Nakayama Hakudo with no official successor.

 Modern Iai/batto

A newer style of iaijutsu is Toyama-ryu battojutsu. This is a style originating in the late 19th century, and taught primarily to officers in the Second World War. It is different from the older styles primarily in that all techniques are performed from a standing position. Toyama-ryu was in turn the basis of Nakamura-ryu, created by Nakamura Taizaburo; incorporating noto and kamae from older Koryu, notably Omori-ryu. It has been a long time since any differing schools have competed using shinken (sharp blades); hence it cannot be said that the traditional schools are superior to the modern schools, or vice versa, in the ultimate test.