A Brief History of Iai.

Iai is a term used to describe a collection of related Japanese sword arts, which focus on the draw, execution, and re-sheathing of the sword. However in order to understand Iai’s relevance, we must first examine its origins as a distinct samurai military skill set. The samurai, Japan’s warrior elite, were not just warriors, they were in fact a distinct class of nobility. Like their western counterpart, the European Knight, they were also expected to be literate and culturally aware, to act as competent administrators, dispensers of justice, and political arbiters. Their military training was just one part of a much wider education. Within the Samurai’s military curriculum, or  “Bujutsu”,  were many distinct syllabus, archery(Kyūjutsu ), and unarmed combat (Jiujutsu), to name just two. Furthermore, separate and distinct schools of warfare, came to be, which championed their own specific styles in relation to each battle craft. These are often referred to as “koryū”, “Ko” meaning “old”, and “Ryū” meaning “school”. The syllabus known as “Kenjutsu”, was the “method of the sword”, and there were many distinctive “Kenjutsu” koryū which developed over time. As assassination attempts and ambushes from rival clans, were not uncommon in feudal Japan, a samurai had to be prepared to unsheath their sword at a moments notice. Consequently,  within the discipline of Kenjutsu developed the sub-discipline of “Iaijutsu”, or “method of the  quick draw”. Aside from correct weapon handling, it was also considered essential to possess the correct state of mind. The state of “no mind”, as championed by Zen Buddhism was highly prized, and if truly perfected was considered to render the warrior almost undefeatable.  It was this blend of both mindset and skill that was to be the hallmark of the Samurai.  To maintain this combination of technique and mindset, situations were visualised and rehearsed on an almost daily basis resulting in the development of a mental and physical “tool kit” in the form of Kata, many of which continue to be practised by Iai practioners to this day. In the early 19th century as feudal Japan was increasingly forced to open up to Western trade and influence, the influence of the samurai class begun to wane in the face of overwhelming western military superiority.  The Meiji reforms in the late 19th century, officially abolished the samurai class, ending their unequivocal rights  to bear arms and political office.  However instead of shrinking into the historical annals of time the samurai mindset simply adapted to its situation, and redirected its energy to running Japan’s modern military, businesses, and systems of governance. The late 19th and early 20th centuries, saw their whole scale transmission far beyond their origins in the culture and times of feudal Japan. Today we are all privileged to enjoy this most fantastic art form. The world of Bushido teaches us that our mindset is just as important as our physical state, and at Kensaki Iai Dojo, we aim to develop both.

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