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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-competitive 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:

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 solitarily 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.

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 (??) 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.

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