View Full Version : Self-Taught Iaido

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David Maidment
07-18-2009, 12:37 PM
I've been thinking a lot recently about the positive effect other martial arts could have on the quality of my Aikido.

Karate stands out, for one; whenever I train with karateka, they never leave themselves open for jabs, etc., which is something which tends not to get as much focus as it really should in the Aikido we practice.

The art which has really been getting my interest, however, is Iaido. I know that of all the arts out there, it's got to be one of the main ones with which aikidoka cross-train. There are practical applications and it seems like the art of drawing and cutting can really help remind us where our Aikido comes from.

I've looked into learning Iaido properly, but travel and financial reasons make it rather difficult (not impossible, but it'd stretch me thin... later on I have every intention to join a dojo).

Naturally (and here you can mock me for going completely the wrong way about it), I've tried to learn what I can by myself. YouTube and the library were obviously my first port of call. The literature I've been skimming over is very insightful, but ultimately it's more difficult to actually learn anything from.

My question is: what resources would anyone recommend to assist in teaching myself the basics? Bearing in mind that I just want to learn what I can to help my Aikido until I'm a little better and maybe one day equipped with a car.

Also, any thoughts or stories on cross-training in these two arts would be wonderful to read :)

Janet Rosen
07-18-2009, 01:08 PM
The nature of the art is so precise (there is totally a right way to do it) that I really can't imagine trying to learn it without an instructor. Those of us who mostly practice on our own due to moving away from instructors are very aware of a slow, insidious error creep that eventually distorts the form as we introduce a deviation in weighting, angle or whatever that then become part of our muscle memory and starts affecting other things....

07-18-2009, 01:20 PM
Gotta join Janet on this one.
I have trained in Iaido for a couple years now.
Most is "hidden in plain sight", but you won't see it if it is not pointed out to you be a competent qualified instructor.
You may have to unlearn all your self-learning.
But, best of luck to you.

Kent Enfield
07-19-2009, 04:58 PM
Just don't.

Sure, you'd probably be able to do something that looks pretty close to the kata/waza you're trying to learn, but you'd miss out on the bulk of what makes training those kata useful.

Janet Rosen
07-19-2009, 07:38 PM
David, not to be totally negative (and I didn't imply any mocking of your idea in my reply - I think the two arts really DO complement each other really well. But my advice would be to focus on aikido until it is practical for you to train IRL in iaido.

Robert Cowham
07-20-2009, 07:18 AM
Hmm - have to agree that the chances of you going wrong are very high without good teaching.

Having said that, if you were to try things on your own, then my advice is to use a live blade. A live sword is a dangerous thing - and you will have to treat it with respect. It will also challenge your tanden and spirit. If you want to avoid losing parts of your anatomy you need to go real slow and careful. There is an element that the sword itself can teach you - if you let it.

Even with that advice, I would seek out a teacher to get basically started - you might only need a few lessons though to to give you stuff to work on. Then work, work, work the basics - don't worry about advanced/complicated kata.

Note that this advice is based on my experience learning Kashima Shinryu battojutsu (rather than iado).

Mike Sigman
07-20-2009, 08:20 AM
I don't do Iaido, although I've had superficial brushes with it for many years (plus I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express!). I don't do Shodo, traditional Japanese dance, Tea Ceremony, Kuroda Sensei's sword style, DR, etc., either, but I can tell you that all of them have aspects of the ki/kokyu skills and those skills are, as I've said many times, the essence of the "hidden" teachings in many Asian arts. I watched a video about a year ago of a well-known Iaido expert (old man)... and he definitely used those skills. Most Iaido I have seen otherwise has not had those skills.

Not that I want to get into another discussion about the ki/kokyu skills, but I did want to make a nod toward some of the posts to the O.P. about being careful to get a qualified instructor. I think it's harder than that. There are "qualified instructors" in all the arts I listed above and many of them have various licenses and diplomas, know many "subtleties", and so on... but they don't seem to have the basic ki/kokyu skills.

Although it's not about Iaido, this interview with Seiseki Abe about using "kokyu" in Shodo/calligraphy, kotodama training, etc., is relevant not just to calligraphy, but to Iaido and other arts as well. All of these things penetrate the arts and are interconnected:



Mike Sigman

07-20-2009, 09:07 AM
There is no way to do Iai; particular, highly detailed, or other wise.
Drawing a sword is drawing a sword and any number of teachers will tell you the other guy is right or wrong-though granted- some things are just plain dumb!
Stated clearly there are any number of ways and methods. Some are almost completely inane even with kokyu skills. Kokyu skills are NOT a panacea for all that ails the arts. You would have to know a bit about iai-do and various Koryu to really understand why that is so. Suffice to say once you change your body and the way you move, those body skills will permeate all the martial skills you then learn. But they will NOT make waza that were essentially pointless -effective. You will just be doing what was already inane waza more efficiently for what ever that is worth.
There is a prevailing presumption that all waza, in all arts, were and are martial. And that they had and still do have underpinnings of viable martial movement in all things. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One final comment. Never, E-V-E-R use a live blade as a beginner slow or not. Heck, I don't even know you, but I can like you enough to want you to stay intact!
You can teach yourself generic means and methods to draw a sword. It's not rocket science. But you will also spend many years either reinventing the wheel (repeating mistakes that generations of men before you already fixed to one degree or another) or not even getting what are mistakes and what are better ways to do it. Then again, sorry to say you can also find a teacher and get caught up in arts that will-in the end-wreck your knees and elbow and give you a never ending, exhaustive list of overly exact nothings to fit their way of doing Iai.
Find a teacher.

07-20-2009, 02:49 PM
check out the BKA and see if they have a dojo or ask around on kendo-world.

if you do go down this route, don't buy a wall hanger.


Why do you want to study iaido? Is it to have a better understanding of swordwork in aikido?

David Maidment
07-20-2009, 03:02 PM
Thanks for all the replies, guys.

Hunter: there is an Iaido/Jodo dojo half an hour from me, but at the moment I don't have transportation and BKA membership is a bit costly. It's where I plan to go when those problems disappear, however. I want to study Iaido both to help understand where Aikido techniques come from and to study Iaido as and for itself. I own a couple of wall hangers and a low-end shinken, but for now they're just hanging on my wall ;)

To everyone else: thank you for being honest with me. I was afraid of as much, but it is still something that holds my interest. Perhaps what I need at this point is some standard bokken stuff to work on (i.e. something more directly related to Aikido techniques than Iai)?

I shall continue my research. Please do not stop with the replies :)

Ron Tisdale
07-20-2009, 03:28 PM
I own a couple of wall hangers and a low-end shinken, but for now they're just hanging on my wall.

I suggest that you leave the wall hangers either on the wall or in a closet somewhere (mine is in the closet in the bed room...it may not be any good for JSA, but I'm sure it would make a home intruder think twice :D).

The low end sword may or may not come in handy. Most teachers require that they approve any item used for practice in their dojo. For good reason. No need to have blades flying across the room due to poor mounting or poor maintenance.

Cautionary tale...I took a few classes in a koryu sword art, enough to learn the gross movements of some entry level kata. I would practice these on my own at home. One day I inspected my saya...and found I had cut a nice groove in it, and it was about to split at the koiguchi. Couple more times drawing the sword that way and I would have been sure to cut my hand...badly.

I put the sword up on the wall and left it there, until I decide to spend the time and effort under a teacher. I strongly suggest that you do the same. Beats losing a thumb, for sure.


07-20-2009, 07:40 PM
You might also run into some problems given the "samurai sword ban".


Apparently being a BKA member will exempt you.

David Maidment
07-21-2009, 01:13 AM
The samurai sword ban's actually quite odd... although I see where it's from (people were using the wall hangers to commit crimes), it makes it perfectly legal to buy a live, razor-sharp shinken, but illegal to buy an iaito (unless a member of the BKA or similar organisation). I guess they thought no one would want to empty the bank just to get a weapon?

07-21-2009, 10:15 AM
I understand your eagerness to learn. I myself have just begun my iaido journey (started in April). Having done what I have, I would not endeavour to learn iaido on my own. There are so many little things that are pointed out to me that I wouldn't realize otherwise. If you decide to train on your own, I wish you the best of luck. :) I find the time I spend training fun, peaceful, frustrating and a buch of other things all mixed in.

Just keep a few things in mind:
1.) You may be picking up some mistakes that will take quite some time to unlearn
2.) Remember there are several styles and each one does things a little differently (even the way they draw, cut and return the sword)
3.) You will be missing out on some of the not so noticable aspects of iaido.
4.) As mentioned in a previous post, use an iaido or even a bokken with a saya. You don't want to keep drawing incorrectly with a live blade and split your saya! My sensei has told me that he has actually seen someone cut their thumb this way.

A few things you could do if you want:
1.) Strength train your wrists
2.) Read up about the history of iaido (if you know the style of the dojo you want to train at, then focus on that)
3.) Familiarize yourself with the names of the kata in that dojo & try to find video clips online for future reference
4.) Go watch a few classes at this dojo
5.) Talk with the sensei
6.) Find out what is required to start training there (do you need a iai obi, a hakama, bokken or iaido when you start?) You can then begin to purchase a few of these. I would suggest not buying an iaido until you start though because they are particular about what you need. Might want to enquire about the color hakama and iai obi you will need (esp if they award rank in that dojo)

07-21-2009, 10:33 AM
From an old thread:


Also, a picture depicting the result of an attempt to learn iaido without a teacher:
(Warning! Very graphic!)

Keith Larman
07-21-2009, 10:42 AM
What's the legal chestnut -- a man who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer? Same idea here. Your current iaido sensei is a fraud -- he knows nothing about iaido. Would you take lessons from someone who doesn't know anything more than what he/she read in a book? Why would it be any different to do it yourself?

Look around. Taking an in-person lesson once every month or two then practicing what was taught there will be vastly better than training daily with a book or video in front of you. Or just wait until you can do it correctly. Why is that so hard?

Or you could work really hard now to teach it to yourself. That way when you start to train the new sensei will get to spend an extra year or two trying to fix all the stuff you thought you knew before ever starting with the real deal. I have many friends/ customers/ etc. who are "long termers" in japanese sword arts. I can think of many times hearing them complain about self-taught students. Not once can I remember a teacher ever saying "Man, that guy came in and he was so good -- self-taught too!" It just doesn't work that way.

David Maidment
10-19-2009, 04:51 PM
Just for a quick update, I've been studying Iaido now for just over a month at the dojo I'd previously mentioned.

As people had pointed out, it was best not to try to actually teach myself techniques. There really is just too much that you can't pick up from a book. Again I do thank all of the people who posted constructive criticism regarding this.

However, that having been said, what I will say is that the literature I had read and all the videos I had studied of the various forms have been extremely helpful. I was able to join the dojo knowing some of the etiquette and having a basic knowledge of the names of the various movements/cuts and [very] roughly how to perform them.

I'm really enjoying what I'm learning, and the effect on my Aikido already is becoming evident -- there are certain bad habits which have never been addressed during the course of Aikido practise which are being pointed out to me as areas to improve for Iaido.

Janet Rosen
10-19-2009, 04:57 PM
Thanks for the update! I'm really glad you have been able to take up the training.

10-19-2009, 10:01 PM
Glad things are working out for you!

Ron Tisdale
10-20-2009, 11:17 AM
Excellent! I hope you continue to enjoy your training, and I'm glad you are staying safe!

Lan Powers
10-22-2009, 02:13 PM
I'm more than a bit jealous......

10-22-2009, 03:16 PM
So how do you like iaito!?! I absolutley LOVE it. :) Were you required to buy anything before you started or are you borrowing?

David Maidment
10-22-2009, 03:28 PM
I'm loving every second of it. I tend to jump straight into things, so I bought a new gi/hakama set the week before I started.

Apparently it's encouraged to start using an iaito as soon as possible, so I went and bought one, but my BKA membership doesn't insure me to use it (I signed up for a 'temporary' membership to save money over a full one which would cost more but expire at the same time... how's that for a kick in the teeth?).

But despite my enthusiasm I'm taking things slowly and trying to soak up every little detail.

10-23-2009, 11:30 AM
Good for you! I started off with just a bokken. Then I got a bokken with saya. Then Sensei wanted us in hakama. My husband had one, but I didn't. So, Sensei let me borrow one of his and then later told me it was a gift. I told him that once I get my own, I will give it back to the dojo so someone else in my situation can us it. Then we bought our iai-obis a month later. It is a bit harder for us because both my husband and I are taking it. So, everything has to be bought for two people. We just don't have $1,000 for us to buy good quality iaito for us yet. One day though. :)