Iaido

8 Steps That Will Guide You to Mastery of the Samurai Sword

Westerners are attracted to iaido because it’s a fascinating method of sword fighting with roots that can be traced back more than 400 years. They like the formal training the art entails, as well as the ritual and tradition that inspire them to wonder what it would have been like to wield a sword in battle against a warlord’s army.

“Another reason people like iaido is because instructors usually discourage them from over-emphasizing competition,” says Minobu Miki, a karate master who’s studied the sword art for more than 40 years. “That helps them control their ego and avoid having to prove themselves as they journey toward enlightenment and a higher level of mental and spiritual development.”

For practitioners of other martial arts who wish to embark upon the iaido journey, Miki offers these eight steps to mastery.

1: Find the Right School

It’s best to enroll in an iaido school that’s internationally recognized and certified. That will ensure that you’re learning proper technique from a qualified instructor in a safe environment, says Miki, who is the chief instructor of the Japan Karate-do Organization.

While karate schools can be found in just about every town in the United States, iaido schools are rare. That makes learning iaido similar to learning how to fish: You have to go where the fish are. A good way to start your search is to inquire at local dojo that teach karate, aikido and other traditional Japanese arts.

Minobu Miki with bokken

2: Obtain the Right Equipment

You should buy at least three swords for your arsenal. The first is a bokken, or wooden practice sword. As a beginner, you’ll use it to hone your techniques. Consider getting two or three bokken because eventually you will have to practice sanbon kumitachi (pre-arranged three-point sparring drills) in which more than a little wood-on-wood contact will occur.

The second type of sword is a dull metal practice weapon. Like the bokken, it’s used for solo practice and partner exercises.

The third type is a samurai sword with a live blade. Although such a weapon may be your prized possession, don’t take it to the dojo unless your instructor tells you to. In the wrong hands, it can be deadly.

As an iaido stylist, you’ll need a three-piece uniform: a hakama (pleated trousers), a keikogi (heavyweight jacket) and an obi (belt). You may also need to purchase a pair of black tabi (traditional split-toed socks).

3: Adopt the Right Attitude

“Many people think that iaido is about attaining a high rank, cutting objects with a sword, and looking cool by carrying a sword and wearing a hakama,” Miki says. “But that is not what the art is all about.”

Rather, iaido is a serious form of training, and you must dedicate yourself to learning etiquette and protocol. You must adopt the formalities of caring for and handling the sword. You should know that even though your primary physical task is to learn how to draw your blade, cut your opponent to shreds and return it to its scabbard, you will likely never have to wield your weapon against an attacker.

Minobu Miki with steel sword

4: Learn the Right Basics

True warriors know that the hardest part of combat is not the fighting but the waiting. Likewise, learning the formalities of iaido is tedious and time-consuming. They include learning the proper manner for entering the training hall, the etiquette for beginning and ending class, the way to bow to the sword, the method for picking it up and putting it down, and the technique for attaching it to your belt. The proper methods for cleaning, transporting and storing the sword are also covered.

You’ll also learn how to position your body. Iaido teaches three such positions: shoden, which is the full kneeling position; chuden, in which one knee is up and one is down; and okuden, in which you’re standing. Each position has its history and applications — for example, shoden and chuden could be used if a samurai became injured or crippled in battle.

“The person who is true to his training at this early stage will progress rapidly,” Miki says, “and in time he will have a basis to practice iaido at any training hall in the world.”

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5: Develop the Right Mechanics

In iaido, your ability to draw and cut depends on your ability to properly grip and swing the sword. For the standard one-handed forward grip, wrap your fingers and thumb around the handle. Your grip should be tight from your little finger to your middle finger and thumb but slightly loose at your index finger. It should feel like you’re …

The Passing of a Samurai Sword Master: Masayuki Shimabukuro

Dear Friends and Fellow Martial Artists,

It is with much regret that I extend to you all the tragic news of the passing of our honorable teacher Masayuki Shimabukuro, Hanshi. He was the 21st-generation master of the Masaoka line of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido and a founding member of the North American Japan Masters Association.

Our mentor and teacher transitioned from his life here with us on September 7, 2012, following a prolonged battle for his good health. The news of his passing will have a profound effect throughout the budo world, but even more so in the world of his family members and friends.

The immediate family will conduct services with appropriate ceremony for a man of such inspiration and humility. On behalf of the Shimabukuro family and JKI/KNBK members around the world, we would like to express our gratitude to our budo colleagues who sent their condolences. We know how much our teacher has touched our lives, and we understand the impact he has had on all those who were in his life.

Mr. Shimabukuro’s eyes were always the brightest when he was in the company of his budo family and colleagues. Our hearts will carry on his spirit for as long as we maintain his sincerity within our lives. He touched us all.

May each of us find peace and solace in his words and teachings. I wish you each a quiet moment of reflection and communion with your memories of a great man and all that he has bequeathed to you during his exceptional lifetime.

With bowed head and heavy heart,

Carl Long
Kokusai Nippon Budo Kai/JKI

Samurai swordsmanship master Masayuki Shimabukuro

Japanese Weapons Master Masayuki Shimabukuro Demonstrates Samurai Sword-Cutting Techniques in Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship DVD Preview!

In their new Japanese martial arts DVD collection, Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship, samurai sword masters Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long detail and demonstrate a variety of samurai sword techniques. In this exclusive DVD preview, Long introduces Shimabukuro’s cutting demonstration, or suemono giri. “We’re going to explore the more advanced section of test cutting,” he explains. “The first one we’re going to do is called inazuma. Inazuma means ‘lightning strike,’ so it’s key that the cuts never truly stop moving. The sword continues to move properly back and forth through the mat.”

SAMURAI DVD PREVIEW VIDEO
Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship
by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long


The three-disc set Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship details a variety of cutting techniques, various attacks and defenses in two-man sword-sparring situations. Some of these situations involve equal swords, some are long sword vs. short sword, and some are even sword vs. an unarmed man! These methods for practice are explained first by Long and then demonstrated with his sensei, with particular attention paid to footwork, timing, hand positions and rhythm.



Topics in Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship include the following:

  • two-man sparring
  • deep-level practice of kata (forms)
  • agility and body movement
  • precision-cutting demonstrations
  • mastery drills for timing, blocking and drawing
  • expert development of footwork
  • on-screen glossary of samurai swordsmanship terminology

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Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu demonstrates and explains the history, construction and rituals of the 400-year-old art of battojutsu. Filled with detailed picture sequences illustrating the fundamental principles and techniques of samurai swordsmanship, it includes in-depth discussion of tameshigiri (test cutting), batto waza (sword-drawing forms), uniform care, sword etiquette, kumitachi (paired drills) and samurai philosophy. AVAILABLE NOW!


An eighth-dan in muso jikiden eishin-ryu iaijutsu and the 2006 Black Belt Hall of Fame Weapons Instructor of the Year, Masayuki Shimabukuro has received official appointment as the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai’s international representative for iaido and battodo.

Carl E. Long oversees certification of Jikishin-Kai International’s North American, South American and European instructors. The JKI vice chairman and director is a five-time recipient of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai’s yushu-sho, one of the highest awards granted for the performance of iaido.


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Masayuki Shimabukuro was featured on the first cover of a six-issue collection commemorating the 50th anniversary of Black Belt magazine, celebrated in June 2011! These six magazines are now available as a set! Follow the timelines as Black Belt travels back into the past with vintage cover prints and photos of famous martial artists from the past 50 years. Order your set today and relive martial arts history!


Real Samurai Sword Masters in Action on New Japanese Martial Arts DVD Collection!

Japanese weapons master Masayuki Shimabukuro takes you to the next level of samurai sword mastery in this three-disc samurai DVD set! In Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship, Japanese sword master Masayuki Shimabukuro and his senior student, Carl E. Long, delve deeper into the elegance of body-and-weapon movement that defines personal mastery of the legendary Japanese weapon.

As Shimabukuro and Long wrote in their recent book, Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu (available now in our online store), “The study of the sword is the study of face-to-face combat–the study of life and death. It therefore stands to reason that in order to truly understand the sword arts, it’s necessary to engage in the regular practice of kumitachi (also known as katachi), which are the paired waza of kenjutsu and battojutsu. However, most practitioners of the Japanese sword arts today focus only on batto waza and engage in little if any paired practice. This is a mistake that results in an incomplete understanding of how to truly use the sword–how to really express the true depth and breadth of the battojutsu and kenjutsu.”

And thus, in their new 3-DVD set, Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship, Shimabukuro and Long spend a significant portion of the instruction time detailing various attacks and defenses in two-man sword-sparring situations. Some involve equal swords, some are long sword vs. short sword, and some are even sword vs. an unarmed man! These methods for practice are explained first by Long and then demonstrated with his sensei, with particular attention paid to footwork, timing, hand positions and rhythm. After all, as these sword masters write in Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu, “A training partner changes the feeling and understanding of everything in a practitioner’s swordsmanship–timing, footwork, distancing and the feeling of receiving a real attack, to name just a few.”

Pre-order Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship from our online store today!

SAMURAI DVD TRAILER | Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship
by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long


This three-disc samurai DVD collection includes:

  • mastery drills for timing, blocking and drawing
  • agility and body movement
  • precision-cutting demonstrations
  • two-man sparring
  • deep-level practice of kata (forms)
  • expert development of footwork
  • on-screen glossary of samurai swordsmanship terminology

An eighth-dan in muso jikiden eishin-ryu iaijutsu and a Black Belt Hall of Fame member (2006 Weapons Instructor of the Year), Masayuki Shimabukuro has received official appointment as the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai’s international representative for iaido and battodo.

Vice chairman and director for the Jikishin-Kai International, Carl E. Long oversees certification of its North American, South American and European instructors. He is a five-time recipient of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai’s yushu-sho, one of the highest awards granted for the performance of iaido.…

Katana Tricks and Stupid Japanese Sword Injuries

Do not allow anyone to swing a sharp sword at you.

You’d think that would be common sense—like “Don’t walk in front of a speeding bus.” Apparently, though, while people walking directly and deliberately in front of oncoming traffic is blessedly rare, it’s fairly easy to see videos of people in a dojo or a demo standing or sitting while some “master” swings a sharp sword at them. Sometimes, they’re prostrate, with a watermelon or some other fruit on their exposed belly, allowing Master Bozo to hack it to pieces. Other times, they’re in various poses, looking like department-store mannequins, holding fresh produce in different ways while the master wanders around, whacking away as if he’s creating a salad.

This is almost insanely stupid.

Let’s get some initial observations out of the way. First, cutting fruits and veggies laid on bare skin or held in the hand without cutting into the flesh below is easy to do, even with a dull blade. Japanese swords cut not from the touch but from the horizontal sawing action. Teachers in classical swords schools in Japan sometimes explain the mechanics of good cutting by tapping a blade against their palm. As long as they just hit straight on, the blade, although razor sharp, doesn’t cut. Further, just as it’s possible to slice into the rind of a melon and split it using a butter knife, a dull sword can work the same way. So these masters aren’t proving anything about their supposedly incredible control.


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Second, no classical school of Japanese swordsmanship has any training that’s even remotely like this. Chopping stuff balanced on a student’s body has never been an aspect of traditional martial arts. No matter what ridiculous tale has been told to you by the master in question, aside from solo iai training designed to teach students how to get the sword out of the scabbard and cut with it, live blades almost never appear in a classical dojo.

Certainly they’re never used to slice and dice. For one thing, it’s too dangerous. Even among experts, accidents happen. Exponents of these old schools regularly get bruises and dings from dull wooden bokken. What would happen with just a tiny slip or error in distancing when using a live blade? Contrary to a lot of romantic goofiness, the traditional martial arts weren’t about courting death; they were about building a strong, cohesive unit that could protect the group. You don’t do that by killing or maiming your own guys in training.

For another, swords are too expensive to be put to such abuse regularly.

What exactly is the point of such demonstrations then? Are they intended to impress an audience? To show how great the master is? If so, somebody’s got an ego problem.

If they’re to bring in students who are supposed to want to learn from this guy, it’s not particularly effective. Were I to witness one of these displays, I’d be tempted to ask the master if he’d switch places with his student. Isn’t the proof of a good teacher in his student? Shouldn’t he be willing to risk his safety to demonstrate the quality of his students? After all, he’s asking those students to do that for him.

There’s always been a romance, a mystique, about the Japanese sword. Tales of its incredible sharpness and power are legendary. A lot of tripe has been written about how it was the “soul of the samurai.” (In reality, it was a tool. Tools in Japan, whether a warrior’s sword or a carpenter’s saw, have always been thought to have an indwelling spirit, and they’re typically treated with a respect we don’t have for tools in the West.) So a lot of martial artists take up the sword in their dojo, even if the dojo is devoted to karate or some other art that doesn’t involve such weapons. That’s a sure sign of trouble.

Japanese budo teachers are not immune to this. I’ve seen Japanese karate teachers suddenly appear at tournaments, outfitted in hakama and wearing a sword, doing some sort of kata they’ve created, clearly imagining they’re embodying the spirit of their ancient samurai ancestors.

It’s all laughable. Until there’s an accident. And the master is standing there, watching the paramedics wade through a pool of blood to work on the student. At best, these displays pervert the real nature of the martial arts. At worst, they can cost someone his life.

There’s no reason, rationale or legitimate explanation for putting yourself in the path of a sword during a demonstration. Trust your teacher, yes, but do not throw away your common sense. Do not, if such a demo is being planned …