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No article can magically make you a master of the samurai sword, but the tips outlined here, from iaido instructor Minobu Miki, will put you on the martial path to that destination!

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. 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. 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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Japanese swordsmanship master Toshishiro Obata founded his art of shinkendo in response to the incompleteness he found in other samurai training. Learn how he set out to develop his own art rather than change those already in existence.

If you want to be a swordsman, you have your work cut out for you. For true samurai education, you must learn how to properly handle and maintain a real blade. You must master the basic body-sword mechanics and train safely and effectively in two-person and solo forms. You must study combat strategy, etiquette and the philosophy of the warrior — all elements of the samurai code of bushido.It's a tall order, to be sure. For guidance in this quest for samurai education, which is one of the most popular in the martial arts, Black Belt turned to Toshishiro Obata, a renowned master in samurai training who now heads the International Shinkendo Federation in Los Angeles. Before delving into the essence of samurai education and samurai training according to Toshishiro Obata, some background information will help put things in perspective.

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Seiseki Abe discusses the role of weapons training in aikido, Steven Seagal offers a testimonial for the man who was his teacher, and the interviewer defines the terms you need to know to understand the traditional art.

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Hoplology: Martial Arts Weapons and How Humans Fight

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If you're a beginner, the Japanese sword arts — with their bokken, shinai, shinken, iaito and so on — can be intimidating. This article provides a brief overview of the categories of weapons and the ways they're used in arts like kendo, kenjutsu, iaido and so on.

This article provides a brief overview of the categories of Japanese swords and the ways they're used in arts like kendo, kenjutsu, iaido and so on. That knowledge is important because before you can wield a weapon — whether it’s made of foam, hardwood, bamboo or steel — you need to understand what it was designed for. Wooden Sword The bokken, or bokutou, is the ultimate learning tool in the sword arts. Its lack of sharp edges and a point allows you to practice techniques and execute moves. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate student or advanced practitioner, a bokken can teach you a great deal, including one- and two-handed gripping and cutting patterns. Many bokken have a tsuba, or hand guard, which makes partner practice even safer. Bamboo Sword The shinai is a piece of bamboo about 40 to 45 inches long that’s been split into four strips. Held together by leather, the strips form a weapon that’s less rigid than wood because it has a built-in shock absorber. Being lighter and less likely to injure, a shinai can be manipulated at full speed during sparring sessions. It’s used to teach students how to efficiently incorporate energy into their movements. All those qualities make the shinai the weapon of choice in kendo. Competitors focus on developing their timing, rhythm, speed and breath control, which are essential to success in the sport and help build a solid foundation for other forms of sword practice. Endorsed by Japan’s Department of Education, the shinai makes frequent appearances in the nation’s middle and high schools.

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