What To Expect in Iaido? A Martial Arts Overview

Iaido is a martial art with roots in the 16th century. Unlike many martial arts, its main focus is not on teaching you how to fight but rather on achieving mental clarity and awareness. As such, it may be the perfect martial art for you if you’re looking for relaxation and peace of mind. 

In Iaido, you can expect a great focus on kata centered around sword-fighting techniques. These techniques emphasize elegance, beauty, and ease of movement alongside constant mental awareness of your surroundings. The goal is to make you ready to quickly react to any possible attack.

Read on to find out more about this martial art, its history, the equipment you need, and its pros and cons. In the end, you’ll be able to decide if it is the right choice for you. 

A Brief History of Iaido

The beginnings of Iaido lie in the middle of the sixteenth century. Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu is usually credited as the creator of the martial art. 

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Dai Nippon Butokku Kai was founded. This organization, sanctioned by the Emperor of Japan himself, had the goal of standardizing and codifying traditional martial arts. In 1932, it officially recognized Iaido. 

Later in the century, many different organizations that embraced Iaido emerged, each with their kata and views of the sport. Today’s two most important organizations are the All Japan Kendo Federation and the All Japan Iaido Federation. 

What Do You Wear for Iaido?

The uniform for Iaido is similar to many Japanese martial arts. The basic uniform consists of a gi, obi, and hakama. A gi is the upper part of the uniform, similar to a jacket. A hakama is a loose lower garment, similar to a pair of pants. An obi is a traditional sash—a belt tied around the waist. 

Here’s a Youtube video on How to wear an Iaido uniform: 

The Iaido uniform has to be black. Some schools allow white gis, but it’s best to wear all black clothes. 

Do You Wear Shoes in Iaido?

There are no shoes in Iaido. However, after the eight dan (hachidan), Iaidoka are allowed to wear the special slippers, called tabi. They can only be white. Women are allowed to wear them from shodan.

However, if someone needs to wear slippers for some special reason, like health, they can do so after getting permission from their Iaido school or organization.

If you have the option to train barefoot, there are a number of notable benefits to doing so. For details on the benefits of barefoot training in martial arts check out my post 7 Benefits of Training Martial Arts Barefoot.

What Equipment Is Required for Iaido?

Apart from the uniform called a Hakama, you are going to need a practice sword. These swords come in different variations but are all modeled after the katana. You will most likely use a bokken—a blunt wooden sword—as a beginner.

Uniforms for Iaido are fairly standardized and similar to Kendo and Aikido and are typically black or navy like this one (available on Amazon.com). Typically schools will use a fairly standard practice sword like this one (available on Amazon.com) but check with your school since standards might vary based on individual schools.

As a more advanced learner, you might use an iaitō, a blunt-edge sword made of metal. A few experienced practitioners use a sharp-edged sword, the shinken. 

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Iaido?

You do not need to be physically fit to start Iaido. It is less physically taxing than you might expect, especially if you’re a beginner. It gets harder with time, but you’ll also develop your fitness as the difficulty increases.

You don’t need to prepare for Iaido in any specific way. You can just dive in. Iaido places a far greater emphasis on mental fitness rather than physical fitness. 

Do I Need To Be Strong for Iaido?

You do not have to be strong for Iaido as a beginner. However, your physical strength, at least the kind of physical strength necessary for Iaido, will increase over time. You need some physical strength to utilize all the deep stances, but you’ll develop that strength through training. 

Some degree of upper body strength may be necessary, but you’re likely to develop it over time. You won’t start with a real metal sword, but with a wooden one, which is fairly light. In order to maximize your training or gain better overall strength, you should incorporate some form of strength training into your routine like calisthenics or lifting.

For information on how to choose a good supplementary strength-training program that makes sense for you check out my post Should You Choose Calisthenics or Lifting for Combat Sports?

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Iaido?

Iaido requires some degree of flexibility. Some stances will demand you to be flexible, and you will also kneel sometimes. However, you don’t have to be as flexible as a new Iaidoka, and you will achieve the necessary degree of flexibility with practice. 

Flexibility is undeniably helpful in a martial art that requires balance and smooth movement through stance changes and katas. However, you will develop some of the flexibility and mobility through practice, and if you want to improve further you can consult your teacher for tips.

If you have knee pain or pain in any other joint, discuss that with your instructor. If the pain debilitates you, you can ask to wear knee pads. 

Is Iaido Good for Getting in Shape?

Iaido can be good for getting in shape. Even though it is not the most physically demanding martial art out there, it becomes progressively more demanding with time. This will eventually give you a certain degree of endurance and stamina and keep you in shape. 

If you like it and can stick to it, it is suitable for getting in shape. It is possible to individually practice your katas at a higher pace and do additional related exercises outside of class to develop your fitness further.

Is Iaido Good for Self-Defense?

Iaido is not that good for self-defense because it teaches sword techniques and includes no live sparring. The awareness of your surroundings that is developed could arguably be considered helpful for self-defense, but if self-defense is your goal, there are better martial arts choices out there.

What Style of Fighting Is Iaido?

Iaido is focused on sword-fighting, and to be specific, on the art of quickly unsheathing, cutting, and resheathing. It focuses on awareness of your environment and quick reactions to any possible dangers around you. 

Developing mental clarity and an awareness of your surroundings is the main goal of Iaido, allowing a student to develop readiness to respond to attacks quickly. Training Iaido also promotes calmness of the mind, tranquility, and harmony. 

Does Iaido Include Live Sparring?

Iaido doesn’t include live sparring. There are, however, controlled drills, which simulate sparring. These drills focus on proper timing, creating the right distance, good movement, and responding to attacks. 

Are There Competitions in Iaido?

There are competitions in Iaido, called taikai. The competitors compete in performing the kata while focusing on the aesthetics of the movements. They perform simultaneously, often wearing uniforms of different colors.

This is not a sparring competition to determine skills in combat, but rather a competition to show command of forms and aesthetics of movement quality.

Is Iaido Dangerous To Practice?

Iaido is not dangerous to practice. Since there are no live sparring components against resisting opponents and grace of movement is emphasized, the level of injury risk is quite low. Accidents can occur, but they are rarely serious.

Is Iaido Hard To Learn?

Iaido isn’t hard to learn as a beginner. Learning the basics of Iaido is not difficult, but truly mastering it takes years of practice.

Like so many other martial arts, Iaido takes an enormous amount of time and effort to perfect. However, you’re not required to go after that level of challenge.

How Long To Learn the Fundamentals in Iaido?

Some of the fundamentals of Iaido can take only a few classes to learn. However, the exact time varies from person to person. As you progress, you’ll learn many subtleties, which means that it may take years to fully grasp even some basic things.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Iaido?

It can take up to ten years to reach the black belt in Iaido. While rankings in Iaido are different in different federations, most use the kyu and dan system.

Iaido is a lifetime pursuit. Even after getting a black belt, practitioners still have more to learn.

Can You Learn Iaido at Home?

You can’t learn Iaido at home because you won’t get proper instruction that way. You’ll have no way of advancing through the ranks, as you won’t be recognized by any governing body. You can learn some basics through videos and books, but you must join a school for proper training. 

What To Expect at Your First Iaido Class?

In your first Iaido class, you can expect to be taught some basics of the philosophy behind Iaido and its goals. You’ll also be introduced to the equipment and shown some basic footwork and strikes. However, different instructors have different approaches, so it may vary between schools.

What Does Iaido Cost?

Membership fees vary between regions, but you’ll usually spend around $60 – $70 per month. You can also get a gi and hakama set for about $100, and a bokken for as little as $30. You may not even need to buy your own since your school may provide it.

If cost is a major concern check out my post Practicing Martial Arts on a Budget | A No-Nonsense Guide for a guide on how to fit martial arts into your budget.

Is Iaido Good for Kids?

Iaido can be great for kids. It is very safe and teaches its students to be focused, calm, and mentally ready for challenges. They’ll have a chance to stay in shape while doing something safe, as well as to exercise their mental faculties.

It can also be a great way for them to make friends and to have fun playing with swords, which is appealing to many children. 

Is Iaido for Physically Smaller People?

Iaido is great for smaller people due to its approach to training which does not include live sparring components and generally emphasizes awareness and grace over physical strength and athleticism. It is a great choice for a smaller martial artist.

Iaido focuses on the technique and the beauty of the movements, which means that size is not really an advantage here. 

Is Iaido Good for Women?

Iaido is good for women, as it focuses on technique and not on raw strength. Some women who may be intimidated by martial arts can practice this lower-impact martial art. Female practitioners of Iaido are also not uncommon, so it will not be difficult to find a suitable partner. 

Iaido’s focus on kata and the aesthetics of the movements and its lack of live sparring mean that, just like size, sex is not a significant factor, and everyone can participate.

Final Thoughts 

Iaido is a very approachable martial art to train. The emphasis on individual movement quality and awareness provides a lot of mental benefits and physical benefits without being too hard on the body. Since it lacks live sparring is it a relatively safe martial art to practice even though it includes weapons.

Additionally, since live sparring is absent children, women, and smaller students can enjoy this martial art without their size being a major obstacle to enjoying the martial art.

For another traditional sword fighting martial art check out What To Expect in Kenjutsu | A Martial Arts Overview.

For a different flavor of weapons-based martial arts check out What To Expect in HEMA | A Martial Arts Overview.

Andre

Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I have always been fascinated with martial arts and train them as often as I can. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and train judo and wrestling as secondary martial arts. I help to coach a kid's grappling program that blends all three martial arts. I hope that you find the value that you are looking for in the articles on this website.

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