The Philosophy And Purpose Of Iaijutsu





Definition of Iaijutsu


Originally called batto-jutsu (sword drawing art), which is the term used to describe the action of drawing the sword, the term iaijutsu was first used during the 17th century. Batto-jutsu is still used today, and is often inter-changeable with iaijutsu, although some arts prefer one or the other. The word ‘jutsu’ (art) may also be interchanged with the word ‘do’ (way) as an ending to both terms. The word ‘Iaido’ was first used in the 1930’s. The meaning of the word iai is as follows:


IAI - ‘Being constantly prepared to meet the opposition immediately’


The term is derived from the Japanese phrase:


‘tsune ni ite, kyu ni awasu’ (whatever we may be doing, or wherever we may be, we must always be prepared)


Pronounced ‘ee-eye in English, it is actually made from two words, each with its own kanji:



‘I’ - To remain, to reside, to be found in, Inhabit.





‘AI’ - To match, to harmonize, to fit in with.






One of the most common questions people ask themselves when regarding iaijutsu is ‘what use can it be in the modern world?’. With the apparent impractical benefits for use ‘on the street’, it can be overlooked by many who do not see it as a valuable and rewarding martial art.


Iaijutsu training begins, like all martial arts, with learning the physical actions first, with the intention of performing them with easy and efficient movement. But a martial art has both inner and outer layers, and at the core of iaijutsu (and any true martial art) can be found spiritual and mental discipline. This can sometimes manifest as a bi-product of learning the outer physical actions of an art, but if it is to be strong, it also needs to be cultivated alongside the physical training, developing the student into more than just someone who knows how to defend themselves. Iaijutsu can be the perfect art to accomplish this, as the nature of what we do helps us turn our attentions inward more easily than in some more popular martial arts. In our societies swords cannot be carried on our streets or worn in public, so must be carried within ourselves. With correct training, both an inner and outer calm becomes apparent in the iaijutsu student, and they find themselves well prepared to face confrontation in any form, in all areas of their lives, as the iaijutsu waza (techniques) become part of who they are.





Iaijutsu training can be characterised by the following concepts, which are found in the kata (forms) of the ryu's curriculum:


  • Applying attacking pressure (seme) toward an opponent, combining this with initiating the sword draw
  • Drawing and cutting in one motion (nukitsuke), the type of cut depending on the opponents reaction to our seme.
  • Making at least one kirioroshi (downward finishing cut) or multiple follow up cuts.
  • Removal of the blood from the blade, by one of several chiburi (blood removal) actions.
  • Returning (noto) the sword to the saya (scabbard), all the time maintaining zanshin (remaining heart), being aware and ready to act.


Iaijutsu is typically seen as drawing and cutting, but iai can also mean to draw the sword and assume a kamae (posture and attitude) without cutting, or drawing into a blocking or deflecting technique.


The core of Iaijutsu training involves the study of both solo and paired kata. The kata have a fixed outcome, and through their study we learn how to emerge victorious from encounters with sometimes multiple opponents, by using the strategy (heiho) of our ryu (each ryu has its own philosophy on how victory can be achieved). Exploring these concepts, we find they become deeper and deeper, and even relatively simple kata will reveal themselves over time to contain much more than was initially obvious. Performing kata while keeping physical and mental balance, using the correct muscles for techniques, maintaining correct breathing, focus and staying consistent with the overall strategy of the form is challenging, and rewarding in many ways. Some other of the benefits of such training include:





  • Harmonisation and strength of body, mind and spirit
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Refined character
  • Improved manners
  • Courage
  • Patience
  • A peaceful state of mind






In kata, there is no enemy, there is only ourselves and the faults we bring with us, which we strive to eradicate through training. A lifetime of study awaits the Iai student, as with any real budo (martial way) it is an endless pursuit. Iaijutsu training also has a strong affinity with Zen, and the two are often interlinked and cross studied.