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IAI-DO The art of Drawing a Sword

Iaido (ee-eye-doe), a derivative of Japanese Kenjutsu (swordsmanship techniques), is the study of drawing the sword, cutting, and returning it to its scabbard, all with a minimum of exertion. The essence of iaido, a non-combative discipline practiced for an individual's spiritual cultivation, is much different than its forerunner, Iaijutsu. Iaijutsu is also a sword-drawing art practiced with combative applications being stressed during training.


"I feel that every man on earth has something to contribute to the subject which he loves, and I can say without any remorse that I have a love affair with the Japanese sword."
....Darrell Craig, IAI The Art of Drawing the Sword

The Samuri sword has long been considered as the symbol of the spirit of old Japan. It is said to be the embodiment of the Samurai's code, the expression of his steel discipline, unswerving devotion, and peerless skill. It is the product of the sword makers of Japan and a result of a life devoted to the perfection of their craft, the Samurai sword is indeed a beautiful work of art as well as a formidable weapon.

Iaido is practiced today as an aid to self-discipline, improved coordination, and for the sake of posterity. In most styles of iaido the actual cutting techniques are valid, but the practice of iai for defense or war is no longer necessary in modern times. Training to deal with a surprise attack, with a minimum of exertion while defending oneself, however, can easily be seen to be a worthwile pursuit for the sake of day-to-day dealings with others. With iaido the physical and mental benefits are available to all practitioners, regardless of that person's martial arts background, if any.

Swords were primary weapons of the ancient Samurai (Japanese warrior class). They wore two shinkken (real swords) known as daisho. One was long (katana) and the other was short (wakizashi). Most Iaido training today is with the katana. With its characteristic curved blade, the katana eventually became the samurai's premier weapon, and it still represents the soul of ancient Japan.



Training begins by learning the code of the Samurai (bushido) and sword etiquette (reishiki). Reishiki includes knowing how to wear the practice uniform, how to care for the sword and wear it properly and how to bow (rei) in order to show respect to the art, one's teacher, fellow students, those who have preceded us and added to our knowledge, and the sword.


Many teachers recommend using a wooden sword (bokken or bokuto) in early Iaido training. Bokuto includes the long wooden sword (daito) and the short wooden sword (shoto). The bokuto with a similar feel to a shinken are fairly inexpensive (about $100). Practicing with them will give you the opportunity to learn the art relatively safely while you decide if you want to invest more time and money in it.


Even though iaido kata actually consist of a single flowing motion, four stages can be distinguished: drawing the sword and delivering the first cut (nukitsuke), delivering the final cut (kiritsuke), cleaning the sword (chiburi), and returning the sword to its scabbard (noto). The kata begin with a sheathed sword. In reaction to an attack by one or more imaginary adversaries the sword is drawn and the plot is converted into a lightning fast counterattack. When the danger is over, the sword is resheathed in a prescribed fashion, and the iaidoka returns to his position of departure in total concentration and vigilance. "You must go deeply into the inner spirit of the art. Training in Iaido can only be successful when you have absorbed the mental as well as the physical techniques so that they are so much a part of you that using them is purely intuitive and unconscious."
....Darrell Craig, IAI The Art of Drawing the Sword

Important Iaido Terminology

  • Budo --- martial arts
  • Iaido --- the way of drawing the sword
  • Soke --- headmaster of iaido
  • Sensei --- instructor of iaido
  • Iaidoka --- one who practices iaido
  • Katana --- long, sharpened sword used when practicing iaido
  • Wakizashi -- short, sharpened sword used when practicing iaido
  • Katana-Bukuro - cloth cover for the katana
  • Ha --- edge of katana blade
  • Kissaki --- tip of katana blade
  • Mune --- back of katana blade
  • Omote --- face of the katana blade
  • Monouchi --- upper third of katana blade (the cutting portion of the blade)
  • Tsuka --- handle of katana
  • Tsukaito --- handle wrap of katana
  • Menuki --- ornament for grip of katana
  • Tsuba --- swordguard of katana
  • Seppa --- collar of katana
  • Saya --- scabbard for katana
  • Sageo --- cord on scabbard
  • Kurigata --- loop for cord on scabbard
  • Nukitsuke -- drawing the sword from its scabbard when practicing iaido
  • Furikaburi - lifting the sword above the head when practicing iaido
  • Kirioroshi - downward cutting motion when practicing iaido
  • Chiburi --- flipping blood off the sword after cutting an opponent
  • Noto --- replacing the sword into its scabbard when practicing iaido
  • Bokuto --- wooden sword used when practicing iaido
  • Iaito --- unsharpened sword used when practicing iaido
  • Daisho --- set of two swords carried by samurai (katana and wakizashi)
  • Hakama --- pleated skirt worn when practicing iaido
  • Gi --- jacket top worn when practicing iaido
  • Montsuki --- jacket top worn at form occasions
  • Obi --- wide cloth belt worn when practicing iaido
  • Reishiki --- proper etiquette displayed when practicing iaido
  • Rei --- bow to show respect when practicing iaido
  • Zarei --- all seated bows when practicing iaido
  • Toeri --- bow to show respect for the weapon when practicing iaido
  • Tachiwaza -- correct standing techniques when practicing iaido
  • Seiza --- correct seated posture when practicing Iaido
  • Suwariwaza - any technique that begins from a seated position
  • Tatehiza --- half-seated position with right knee raised
  • Sagaru --- command to take several steps backward at the end of a form

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