Updated: May 17
A list if frequently asked Iaido-related questions. Last updated 17 May 2023.
What is Iaido?
At its most basic level Iaido is the traditional Japanese martial art of drawing, cutting, and re-sheathing a katana (a particular type of Japanese sword). However, many practitioners would say that there is a deeper purpose to Iaido, one that strives to develop awareness, centeredness, sincerity, a calm mind, and mental and physical harmony through the practice of traditional sword techniques.
It is perhaps the martial art most closely associated with the samurai class and Japanese nobility. The Ryu Ken Chi (RKC) Dojo offers training in ZNKR (All Japan Kendo Federation) Iai. This is a modern set of 12 kata taken from various koryu (old schools) and standardised to provide everyone with an excellent understanding of the basics of Japanese swordsmanship.
This allows students to grade and take part in competitions internationally.
What does it take to practise Iaido?
The decision to study Iaido is not one to be made lightly. Practising Iaido requires a long term commitment. As one learns the fundamentals and develops an increasing technical understanding the techniques themselves increase in difficulty and as such they demand a longer period of time to learn. The subtle of even the simplest movements can take years to fully understand and appreciate it. But with that commitment comes a great sense of achievement, personal and technical development and a unique skill set and place in an unbroken martial tradition.
Where does Iaido come from?
Iaido originates from Japan. There are many different styles or “ryu” of Iaido practiced and these developed as a result of different families and provinces, and of course different directions of thought. Each of these in turn has their own lineage and pedigree. For more information about the general progression of Iaido’s history check out this page -
How do you pronounce Iaido and what meaning has it?
It’s hard to write it’s pronunciation and is one of many questions best asked of an Iaido instructor in person but to write it the best approximation would be ee-eye-do. As regards the meaning of Iaido, there are a number of interpretations and translations available and it does not translate into English at all easily. The word itself is comprised of 3 Japanese characters: i-ai-do. Roughly, “I” comes from Iru, to be; Ai (as in Aikido) means coming together, harmony, or love; and Dō means road, or Way (in the Buddhist sense). Loosely translated then, Iaido means being in harmony with one’s surroundings, always being prepared for any eventuality.
What benefits can I expect from the study of Iaido?
Different people find different things in Iaido and that is perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity. The theories and cultural context from which Iaido originated are long gone. No longer do we walk around with 2 swords at a time when deadly personal combat was a daily possibility.
Many of the sensibilities from which these techniques were derived are alien to us in the present, however the underlying principles upon which they were based are still deeply relevant today. In fact, many find these principles are more important today given the nature of our society.
For some Iaido is an art where they get to practice a living breathing history, to be part of a continued tradition and preserve an important piece of cultural history. Others enjoy more personal benefits, in learning to develop a sense of calm while in the midst of stress. All participants regardless of their personal motivations and benefits they derive from the study of Iaido all share in the increased physical coordination and dexterity improved through training along with substantial
improvement in mental awareness, concentration and 'focus' and the lifelong friendships and community - all forged through regular practice.
Many martial artists find Iaido captivating and complex enough to serve as their sole art, others find it the perfect complement to their core system, but previous experience of martial arts is not required to benefit.
How fit do I have to be to start Iaido training?
Not that fit at all. At least not at the start. Iaido is not as aerobically challenging as many of the other Japanese martial arts such as Kendo, Karate, Judo or Aikido and so can be practiced by young and old alike. With that said however, many advanced students find the activity of training gruelling both mentally and physically due to the great mental focus, deep stances and movements. It’s not uncommon to be breathing heavily, the sweat dripping off your brow and your legs shaking after a particularly good training session. Ultimately, as with many things, you get out what you put in, and as always the best way to find out is to drop in and try a class.
The study of Iaido is certainly worthwhile both from a mental and physical point of view, as it emphasizes not only physical and psychological strength but mobility and fluidity of movement and thought. Many techniques do involve kneeling, and if you have a history of joint or knee problems it would be advisable to talk this over with an instructor and to wear knee pads.
Am I too old to study Iaido?
It would be unlikely. Many practitioners of Iaido come to the art at later stages of life, and some of the most renowned experts and practitioners only started training in their 40’s!
Currently in our Dojo members range in age from 11 to 45 and it's expected that practitioners train with an intensity that suits their own physical condition.
At the early stages of training, a fair amount of time is spent on tanren or development drills to take you from any level of fitness and conditioning to that required for Iaido. As always this is done at an appropriate pace for the individual student.
You don’t have to be fit at all to start, and over time you will develop the unique blend of stamina, endurance and strength that comes from Iaido and that will serve you well in your lifetime. Many of the greatest Iaidoka today are in their late 90’s and still train daily.
What equipment do you need to start?
A beginner will start training with a wooden training sword called a bokken/bokuto and a plastic scabbard (saya). This could be provided by the dojo for you to use during class. However, you could buy your own if possible. Occasionally, the will have sock of this. The use of the saya at the beginining is invaluable.
What do you wear?
As regards clothing, during Iaido special clothing is worn. Iaidoka train wearing a hakama (traditional Japanese wide pleated trousers) and kekio-gi (jacket similar to that worn in karate). An obi (belt) is also worn. The Iaido obi is about 65mm to 100mm wide and approximately 4m long and wraps several times around the waist beneath the hakama. This allows the sword to be held securely.
Because many Iaido techniques are performed from a kneeling position, kneepads are strongly recommended.
Hakama and keiko-gi are robust versions of the formal samurai clothing of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are worn during sword practice, in preference to something like the clothes worn in karate, in part to emphasize the formality of occasion.
Iaido training is meant to be more than just physical training, and the choice of clothes emphasizes this. Additionally, the clothes add grace and dignity to an already graceful and dignified art. From a practical standpoint, the hakama is cool and
comfortable, allows easy movement and disguises the feet from the opponent.
Colors worn are usually dark, with black being generally preferred, but it is advisable to check with one’s instructor before ordering a uniform. No outward sign of rank is worn, though kimono-type gi and striped hakama are usually the preserve of high grades (fourth Dan and above), and generally only worn on formal occasions. Training is normally done barefoot, unless there is a medical reason for not doing so, though tabi (Japanese socks with a separate big toe) may be worn outdoors or for
In the beginning any clothing that permits a good range of movement can be used – a tracksuit, or judo or karate suit is ideal.
A judo/karate belt will also suffice in the initial stages.
Do you Use Real Swords?
For the most part, we use a type of blunt training sword called an Iaito. And iaito can be made of steel however most commonly they are made of a zinc-aluminum compound. The edge is unsharpened, allowing us to train with a sword that has the appearance and feel of a real sword without the risk of injuring ourselves or someone else. Very advanced Iaidoka would use a live sharpened blade called a Shinken. This is capable of cutting.
Beginners are fine using a wooden sword called a bokuto, meaning wooden katana. That said, after a few months of training and if you decide Iaido is for you; your instructor may recommend you purchase an Iaito. Training with an Iaito (sword-copy) often results in your educational level and the intensity of your learning developing a little faster.
Before you get an Iaito it is important that your instructor thinks you are ready for it and also that you get the correct type and size for you.
Iaito come in different lengths to suit the person wielding them, as always, talk to your instructor before making a decision.
Can I use the sword I bought on EBay or a local martial arts store for Iaido practice?
Generally and most probably not. There were many “samurai swords” available before the new legislation came into effect, in “martial arts” shops, eBay and so forth. Unfortunately the majority of these are totally unsuitable for Iaido practice. Many of these swords are pressed and sharpened and also extremely brittle and can fracture unexpectedly. Additionally they lack a full “tang”, the part of the sword that extends into the handle. You should not attempt to use any sword purchased until it has been checked by your instructor.
Is Iaido expensive?
Iaido is like any other hobby or leisure pursuit, and can be as expensive as you want to make it. However that is entirely at your discretion and it certainly does not have to be expensive to enjoy the art.
Bokuto are often provided by the club although you can purchase your own.
Training swords - called Iaito - can be expensive, but purchase of an Iaito is not necessary until you are well advanced with your studies. Even so, great quality weapons are now available from Japan at very reasonable prices.
For more details on training costs, please mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The largest costs associated with the art are travel expenses to attend various international seminars, competitions and gradings.
Is there sparring in Iaido?
There is no “free sparring” as in the conventional sense often seen in other martial arts, however many styles of Iaido engage in paired pre-arranged forms that safely simulate sparring. These drills, designed to teach proper distance and timing are
performed using bokken, though some extremely advanced practitioners use Shinken.
At the RKC, because we are relatively new as Iaido practitioners, we currently only practise the ZNKR iaido solo-Katas that emphasis pratise with an "imaginary" partner.
To help with timing and distance, using wooden swords (bokken/bokto), we practise the Kendo no Kata, a set 10 sword forms with a partner.
Is Iaido dangerous?
No. Iaido is a very safe martial art. However, as with any physical activity injury is a possibility.
Can I use Iaido for Self-Defence?
Not directly. Iaido may be derived from the sword methodologies of the ancient samurai, however, modern Kendo has evolved into a more spiritual practise that combines some elements of sports into it (i.e. competition).
Furthermore, no one really walks around with a sword, hence, it would be impractical to base your self-defence response on something that is not really a possibility.
However, there are many other attributes and skills that are developed through Iaido practise that can be used INDIRECTLY for self-defence. These attributes relate to body (becoming better co-ordinated); mind (increased focus, concentration and alertness); and emotions (being able to deal with fear, doubt, anxiety and hesitation). For specific self-defence training, please refer to the self-defence classes offered by Defence Unlimited, www.defence-unlimited.com
Why join the RKC Dojo?
The RKC Dojo is a professional martial arts institution that combines quality training with your martial arts goals. Furthermore, our dojo has created a culture based on three foundation principles:
1) FOCUS on helping ALL our members develop good Kendo, Iaido, and/or Jodo..
2) ...Whilst still having FUN during our time of training and socializing together...
3) ...Resulting in lifelong relationships that make us ALL feel a part of the RKC-FAMILY.
You'll be able to train (at least) twice a week, either at the dojo (in-dojo), online, or a combination of the two methods.
You will also have access to an ever-expanding library of online training and resources!
Lastly, you are invited to an (almost) monthly social which will give you an opportunity to get to know your fellow dojo members OUTSIDE the dojo.
As an affiliated dojo of the South African Kendo Federation (SAKF), all RKC members are also able to do additional training at all other SAKF-Affiliated dojos at no additional costs. It would be good etiquette to first inform the other dojo of your intent before attending. This can be done on your behalf via the RKC Representative. T&C's apply, namely that there is no outstanding debt to either the the dojo or the SAKF.
PLEASE NOTE: The RKC is currently the ONLY dojo that offers ZNKR Iaido that is endorsed by the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF). The AKJF is the international governing body for ZNKR Kendo, Iaido, and Jodo.
What does it cost?
Monthly training cost will depends on what membership status you choose to be on, as well as the other martial arts disciplines you may want to practise at the RKC.
Furthermore, we offer a variety of discounts that makes it cost effective for family members to train at the RKC. T&C's will apply.
There is an annual membership fee that is paid upon joining that include both a club membership fee, as well as a membership-affiliation fee to the SAKF that allows you additional benefits.
Lastly, optional Iaido events such as gradings, seminars, social-gatherings might incur some additional costs. These will be communicated to members prior to the events.
Kindly contact the RKC Dojo directly to discuss what the best options would be for you.
Would my Dan grade (black belt) be recognised internationally?
Yes. The RKC Dojo is a member of the South African Kendo Federation (SAKF), which is the only recognised Kendo association in South Africa. The SAKF is affiliated to Martial Arts South Africa (MASA), the International Kendo Federation (FIK) and the European Kendo Federation (EKF).
Once you obtain your Dan grade, the SAKF will register you with your appropriate grade with the EKF, who will inturn, register you with the FIK. This will then be recognised internationally by all who are affiliated to the FIK.
Your may check your internationally-recognised dan grade (or any other valid dan grade's) credentials via this link: http://www.ekf-eu.com/index.php?page=person-grades