Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu – June 23, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Let’s move back toward kenjutsu once again from iai. What was the relationship between these two?

Relation Between Iai and Kenjutsu on the Traditional Books

Research Journal of Budo Vol. 19 (1986-1987) No. 1 p. 10-16

Tetsuya WADA
Kagawa Medical School

The practical characteristics of Iai and Kenjutsu are quite distinct when they are phenomenally judged. In Iai, on the whole, unsheathing the sword is the most important technique and great weight is given to the process of unsheathing it. In Kenjutsu, on the other hand, the technique begins after unsheathing the sword and taking a certain posture (kamae). So we can regard the relation between the two as “mihatsu” (before unsheathing) and “ihatsu” (after unsheathing).

Closer investigation, however, reveal that Iai has “kata” not only of “mihatsu” but also of “ihatsu” in the case of “tachiai” (initial moving from standing posture), and that Kenjutsu also has its own techniques to unsheathe the sword. Thus these two martial arts, in which to use the Japanese swords, have the technique in common with each other.

But, the main purpose of Iai is to cope with emergencies in daily life, so the point of view was directed to various, broad aspects of daily life, and in Kenjutsu, the point of view was directed only to the aspects of fighting after taking a certain posture. On that point these two were remarkably different from each other.

Iai and Kenjutsu, after Edo era, had tendency to develop in their own way and to specialize as well. But on account of this, there appeared reversed thought that these two should be regarded as compensating each other.


Here we have the idea that iaido, concentrating on the draw and thus preparedness for emergencies, and kendo, concentrating on the fight, have become distinct entities. But today they ought to be thought of as complementing each other as (they say) two wheels of a cart.
This would seem to be the orthodox view of the kendo federation. What to do if you aren’t in the kendo federation? Does one practice the tachiai (the partner kata of your particular iai school) or some other koryu kenjutsu? Or do we worry about this at all? Surely iai alone or kendo alone is sufficient for most modern usage. My feelings on this are in fact, quite conflicted as I can see how each art contains everything you need, but then again, each kata contains the whole. All of swordsmanship can be derived from a single cut provided one understands it correctly.

The difficulty is how to tell if what you’re deriving, or should we say inventing, is correct? If we practice kendo, iaido and jodo in the kendo federation we can be fairly certain we are getting the full theory of the kendo federation. If we do just one of those arts it will be a bit less easy to see the whole, and so on. What would studying an outside kenjutsu do for our kendo federation member? Would it open up the wider world of the “Japanese sword”? Is this a good thing? As we have so often in the past, we come down to your reasons for practicing. If it’s to learn to fight it may not be a good idea to learn too much. Be excellent at less instead. If it’s to preserve the cultural history of Japan, again, learning too much may be counterproductive as you confuse waza from one school with another. If you want to study the limits of Japanese sword, perhaps this accumulative approach is best, as you will eventually be searching for that which does not exist rather than what does.

For myself, I’m a bit old to think about being the best in the world. Mostly I’m just curious and am concerned more with who is teaching than what is taught. I have investigated several schools over my years and have kept up a few of them for the ease with which they teach different aspects of combat. I think this is close to what the kendo federation had in mind when it adopted iai and jo into the organization. Iaido to teach the handling of the katana to those who use the shinai. Kendo to teach the iaido folks about a real opponent. Real swords for imaginary, real opponents for imaginary. Jodo? More a case of the central role the police have had in the kendo world than what jo can teach a kendoka I suspect.

Kim Taylor
June 23, 2015

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