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Question w/background: Hi, I'm interested in practicing Iaido, mostly because of the mental aspect of it. After some research, I got to the conclusion that iaido can be considered as meditation in motion, That's why I'm interested in starting iaido. However, after trying to join a local dojo, the sensei told me that in order to practice iaido, I had to practice kendo as well(They practiced both things at the dojo, the didn't teach them separately). The reason behind this was that these two martial arts complemented each other, and that should not be teached separately. So, I went on and tried to find another dojo which would teach iaido(I practiced kendo before, and I'd like to avoid it), but got to think about what the sensei told me, is this true?

Short version: Is kendo necessary when practicing iaido, as if iaido was just a tool to do better kendo? Or is it an art by itself completely independent from the other one?

Kind of weird question, but I can't seem to find any info about this. Help appreciated! Thanks

  • You might also speak with the teacher and find out whether he's saying that one is indispensable to the other or if he was just saying that he only teaches them as a bundle for financial reasons. If it's the latter, it might still work out for you if the price is right. – Macaco Branco Mar 1 '16 at 13:51
  • When I asked him, he said that this was the "philosophy" of the dojo, one without the other one is like crippled. And so, they don't teach them separately. – twkmz Mar 1 '16 at 14:28
  • Ah. That's fair. Best of luck finding another school. – Macaco Branco Mar 1 '16 at 14:33
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Iaido is roughly translated as "the way of the quick draw". You can think of it as a class of different martial arts, not a style in and of itself. The actual style will have a proper name like Muso Shinden Ryu. So in that case, it is called Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido (but most people just refer to it as Muso Shinden Ryu, since iaido describes pretty much everything they do). There are many ryu that can be called iaido.

Each ryu that teaches iaido generally has a series of sword kata, both solo and partnered, that must be mastered by the student. There are beginning kata up to advanced kata. These kata teach what each ryu considers the correct and most important techniques and principles for actual sword combat. The movements themselves are often useless without a good teacher explaining what is happening in the motion and the philosophy behind it.

There's also something called "Iaijutsu". Whenever you see -jitsu or -jutsu, instead of -do applied to martial arts names, it implies that you are doing it for the purpose of combat. Whereas the -do arts imply that combat is no longer the central focus of the art. Instead, personal development (usually of ones character and spirit) is the goal, and combat is secondary.

Similarly, there is kenjutsu vs. kendo. Kendo is worlds apart from kenjutsu, by the way. The two often don't look a thing like each other. That's because kendo has been highly standardized and made into a sport, with rules and limits placed on what you can do, how you can attack, what you can attack, what you wear, etc. Whereas, kenjutsu schools teach everything relating to combat, are each highly stylized and different, and do not teach it for sport.

Your Kendo teacher is correct that Iaido practice will help your Kendo performance. The sword cuts and methods of drawing the sword that Iaido teaches will give you a more precise, more focused, and stronger technique as well as strategies for dealing with circumstances you'll find yourself in when doing kendo. And of course, there are many things Iaido teaches that do not apply to Kendo practice.

The feeling you get when practicing kendo and iaido will differ completely. Kendo will emphasize the reality of having an opponent who's there trying to win against you. You are going to be highly active, breathing hard, sweating, and fearing getting hit. It's a very good test of how you'll perform under stress.

Whereas iaido will feel like everything is frozen, calm, and without emotion. Everything is over in an instant in Iaido. The only stress you feel will come from your own mind.

So as you can see, you need both. Or actually, I'd say all three: Kendo, Iaido, and Kenjutsu. Kendo gives you a framework for seeing how your Iaido and Kenjutsu can work when you have to attack and defend simultaneously against an opponent who is trying his/her best to win against you. It is messy, interactive, stressful, and alive.

It's one thing to practice sword technique in a nice environment, in solo or possibly with a partner who just lets you do stuff to him. Yes, that requires great skill and a level of mental concentration that most people will never achieve. But it's quite another thing to have to deal with someone who's attacking you. Iaido and Kenjutsu give you the former, and Kendo gives you the latter. Each aspect gives you something.

No, Iaido is not necessary for learning Kendo. Plenty of Kendo students do fine at the sport without ever learning a single Iaido kata. (Actually, Kendo itself has kata which imparts some concepts that Iaido also imparts, but that's besides the point.)

And no, Kendo is not necessary for learning Iaido, either.

But each does complement each other. There's some overlap between them. The insights you get from one can help the other. But more importantly, combining all these aspects of sword fighting will make you better at sword fighting.

I think it's more rare that people train in Iaido these days, even and especially in Japan. Kendo, with its emphasis on the sport aspect, has really taken off in popularity. It's Japan's national pastime. But it's also not uncommon for Kendo students to train in Iaido or Kenjutsu to make their understanding of sword fighting more complete. It's well understood that Kendo is far removed from the sword technique trained in feudal ko-ryu.

Hope that helps.

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  • You see. my main goal is not to be perfect at handling a sword, but more like doing some kind of moving meditation, and I don't like kendo all that much. So I guess I'll be starting Iaido and see where it goes from there. Maybe I'll end up doing both anyways. Thanks a lot for the answer, very complete – twkmz Mar 1 '16 at 13:06
  • Iaido sounds like a perfect match for what you're looking for, then. I think you're right to pursue it. You might also consider Tai Chi. – Steve Weigand Mar 1 '16 at 15:27
  • I did try a class, I didn't like the fact that it was focused on health and kind of therapy instead of being strictly a martial art. Plus, it's Chinese, not Japanese(Yep, what you've just read). So, going with iaido. – twkmz Mar 1 '16 at 17:24
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    Well you did say you wanted more of a meditative style, like that was the main focus. Tai Chi gives you that. But as for the martial aspect of it, if it wasn't for the prejudice against Chinese martial arts, I would suggest you look at a Chen style Tai Chi school instead. Chen style generally keeps its martial art quality intact. Whereas 99% of other Tai Chi schools you might run into are exactly as you described. Chen style Tai Chi is not. But it doesn't matter. You've found something that interests you in Iaido. Pursue that and have a good time. – Steve Weigand Mar 1 '16 at 18:02
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The word 'iaido' is most commonly used to describe the study and practice of sword exercises (kata) and related subjects. Traditional schools (koryu) were dominated by these exercises which they used to preserve and transmit their syllabuses. It is important to realise tho that koryu are not Martial Arts in the modern sense because they were not restricted to one kind of fighting.

Kendo is a Martial Art that emerged with the development of mock bamboo swords and armour that were safe enough to fence with. Kendo quickly became very popular whilst the various koryu declined. Most now no longer exist.

As a consequence of this, the problem emerged that kendo practitioners became unfamiliar with the handling characteristics of actual swords. So a selection of kata drawn from a number of different koryu were incorporated into kendo study.

Today, the vast majority of people who do iaido are kendo students doing this selection of kata. But the has been a resurgence of interest in koryu and it is perfectly possible to do iaido without kendo or kendo with a bare minimum of iaido.

It is also worth mentioning that mental aspects are not absent from kendo. They are very strongly emphasised.

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I practice Aikido (Iwama )which has a strong weaons emphasis and seems more martial than the later styles. Would it be correct to say that Iaido can help one's Aikido in such things as centering and ki extension?

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  • Welcome to the site. I would strongly suggest you took the tour to see how this site works. Sadly, this answer does not answer the question and is more of a question in itself. This will attract down votes. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jul 19 '17 at 7:09
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    It looks to me like Peter has phrased his answer in the form of a question (maybe due to politeness or uncertainty). If you replace Would it be correct to say with I would suggest then it makes perfect sense as an answer. – slugster Jul 20 '17 at 2:05

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