Iaido represents combative quick-draw sword techniques. Iai systems emphasize efficient, lethal attacks on an opponent. Their scenarios (kata) also tend to more accurately reproduce battlefield situations and, when reflecting civilian combative situations, more clearly reenact premodern Japanese society. This art is both offensive and defensive in that the sword is quickly drawn from its resting place in the scabbard in order to deal with an enemy. (Over the centuries it has been known by a variety of names: batto, battojutsu, iaijutsu, nukiai, bakken, etc.) Iaido is normally performed as a solo exercise (in contrast to partnered kendo) and may be executed from a variety of positions such as standing, kneeling, and crouching. As with the historically later derivative systems of iaido, most (but not all) kata are performed in four stages:
- Nukitsuke (drawing the sword)
- Kiritsuke (cutting)
- Chiburi (flinging off the blood)
- Noto (replacing the blade in the scabbard)
Since the appearance of the classical ryu in the fourteenth century, approximately 400 traditions have included iai within their curriculum. One of the earliest to do so was the Katori Shinto Ryu.
The purpose of Iaido was to slay an opponent with one stroke of the sword immediately after unsheathing it. In order to create such a defensive system, situations and circumstances of surprise attacks were studied to devise a systemized way to utilize the sword efficiently against many forms of attack.
Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu
Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu is one of the most widely practiced schools of iai in the world. Often referred to simply as “Eishin Ryu,” it claims an unbroken lineage dating back from the sixteenth century to early 20th century. The school takes its name from its seventh headmaster, Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Hidenobu, who had founded Hasegawa Eishin Ryu. ‘Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu’ means ‘peerless, directly transmitted school of Eishin.’ ‘Eishin’ is an alternative pronunciation of ‘Hidenobu.’
Muso Shinden Ryu
Muso Shinden Ryu was founded by Nakayama Hakudo in 1932. Nakayama Hakudo studied under both Hosokawa Yoshimasa, a master of the Shimomura branch of Hasegawa Eishin Ryu, and Morimoto Tokumi, a fellow student of Oe Masamichi of the Tanimura branch. The name Muso Shinden Ryu most likely comes from the name given to the Shimomura branch by Hosokawa, Muso Shinden Eishin Ryu.
Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Seitei Iai
Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Seitei Iai was developed by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF, Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei or ZNKR). This style of standardized iaido is also known as Seitei Iai or Zen Ken Ren Iai. The twelve seitei-gata are standardized for the tuition, promotion and propagation of iaido within the kendo federations. Although not all kendo dojo teach seitei iaido, the AJKF uses them as a standard for their exams and championships. As a result, seitei iaido has become the most widely recognized form of iaido in Japan and the rest of the world.
Ryushin Shouchi Ryu
Ryushin Shouchi Ryu is a school of kobudo (ancient martial arts) specializing in iaijutsu (the art of drawing and cutting) founded by Kawabata Terutaka and is composed of over 60 kata (prearranged solo forms), and iai kumitachi (two man bokken training). The origins of the iaijutsu kata can be traced to the Japanese swordsmanship schools of Katori and Kashima. The current headmaster of the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu is Yahagi Kunikazu.
In 2006, Kawabata Terutaka established the Ryushin Jigen Ryu, a system of kobudo specializing in iaijutsu composed of over 60 kata and a series of iai kumitachi. The origins of the iaijutsu kata can be traced to the Japanese swordsmanship schools of Katori and Kashima, which derive their techniques from proven battlefield experiences, and have been passed down from master to student for over 500 years. According to Kawabata, the katas preserved in the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu are the accumulation of wisdom, inventions, and the intents of the masters who lived hundreds of years ago. Kawabata has endeavored rigorously to preserve the integrity of these katas, which brings to life the way in which samurai fought during the Sengoku and Bakumatsu periods. In addition to these forms of training, Kawabata also places a strong emphasis on tameshigiri (cutting); a practice that is performed on a regular bases at his dojo- Seiseikan.
On the 1st of January in 2008, Kawabata relinquished his position to his senior student, Yahagi Kunikazu.
In 2011, to clarify the purpose of the school and dojo in cultivating the mind and conditioning the body through rigorous training, the original name of the school, Ryushin Jigen Ryu, was changed to Ryushin Shouchi Ryu.
Today, the Ryushin Shouchi Ryu is practiced across the globe with several dojos in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Every year, Yahagi makes official trips to conduct training courses abroad, where he receives the warm support of his overseas students.