The origins of the martial arts lie hidden in Japan’s early history. The first Japanese swords date back to the Yayoi period around 200 BC. They still had straight blades and were probably modelled on Chinese weapons. The first typical Japanese swords with curved blades were not made until the Hakuho period around 700 AD.
Techniques for the correct wielding of the sword already existed in the Nara period (710-784).
In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), swords and the arts of swordplay had their heyday due to the political situation in civil war-torn, feudal Japan. Many different schools emerged that developed their own systems of martial arts.
Among the oldest known styles of martial arts are Nen Ryu in 1368 and Katori Shinto Ryu in 1450. The sword fighting systems contained therein, which primarily served to prepare warriors for the various situations in the long-lasting warlike conflicts, formed the basis on which various iaido styles could develop.
The basic aim of these iaido systems was, on the one hand, to avoid tiring conflicts by attacking immediately and, on the other hand, to be able to counter sudden attacks effectively.
Driven by such thoughts, Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu (1546-1621), at the age of 25, immersed himself in meditation for 100 days, according to legend, and came to a „divine“ inspiration. From the „enlightenment“ and his experiences from several sword fighting systems in which he had achieved some renown, he developed the sword fighting system Shinmei-muso-Ryu („Divinely inspired, unprecedented or unique style“) in 1560.
This style was then passed down from generation to generation and received various new names over time. The style received its present name Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu from the seventh generation Soke (Grandmaster of the generation) Hasegawa Mondonosuke Eishin in the Edo period. He added new techniques to the traditional style and changed others to meet modern demands.
These are still taught almost unchanged in dojos all over Japan and in many dojos worldwide.
Further information can be found on the website of the Iaido association [German only].
The forerunners of today’s Iaido styles originated in medieval Japan. The starting point may have been the idea of gaining a technical advantage over an opponent who would be equal or even superior with conventional sword techniques. This advantage consisted of drawing one’s sword faster than one’s opponent and at least seriously injuring him with this first movement of the sword.
Until the „Meiji Restoration“ in 1868, there was evidence of constant duels between samurai. Only when the carrying of swords in public was banned and social structures changed fundamentally did peaceful times return to Japan.
This meant that the martial aspects of the martial arts became less important and new ideas were able to take hold.
The teachers of the old arts had long been aware of the physical, mental and spiritual elements of training and the benefits that could arise for the practitioner. The linking of the martial arts with philosophical ideas also existed long before. With the onset of peaceful times, however, the martial benefits of linking these elements receded into the background and the development of a strong personality was emphasised more and more.
After the Second World War, this was also made clear by the fact that the word jutsu, which was attached to the names of many martial arts and which means technique or art, was often replaced by the suffix do. Do – the path on which the practitioner embarks – should refer to the philosophical, spiritual level of the training.
Thus, also in Iaido styles, the martial aspect of training is no longer in the foreground, but the development of the body and the personality.
This task requires great personal commitment. But every person who is willing to face the training and the obstacles he will encounter can embark on this „path“.
Traditional clothing is worn during iaido training. In the Esaka Dojo Berlin, this includes a black hakama (Japanese trouser skirt), a dark gi (jacket) and an obi (belt). Trouser skirt and jacket are available in common sizes. The belt should be long enough to wrap around the stomach three times. The special iaido obi are available in shops.
As soon as the seiza katas (from the kneeling position) are trained, it is recommended to wear knee pads. Experience has shown that these should not be too thick so as not to hinder a secure stance. Training is generally done barefoot. Any jewellery should be removed before training. Beginners are allowed to come to the training in loose sportswear during the trial training and until they come to acquire the appropriate clothing. For some beginners there is also the possibility to borrow training clothes from the dojo. Training in jackets from other Japanese martial arts (Kendo, Karate etc.) is also permitted.
Originally, Iaido was trained with katanas – the extremely sharp Japanese swords. In order to prevent possible injuries, today Iaido is usually trained with Iaitos – blunt training swords made of a special metal alloy that are modelled on katanas. These should be adapted to the height and arm length of the trainee. Beginners‘ training begins with a bokuto or bokken – a wooden sword modelled on the katana that is also used for partner exercises – to familiarise the practitioner with the basic positions and movements. Very advanced practitioners may also use sharp swords.
We do not recommend training with so-called decorative swords. On the one hand, these swords are often sharpened and therefore pose a significant risk of injury to the practitioner and others. Furthermore, these swords are not built for training and cannot withstand the high demands of regular training.
Advice on the purchase of suitable equipment is given to each individual.