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Iaido - Iaijutsu

History and Introduction

Iaido | Iaijutsu | Kenjutsu | Malta

Iaido, abbreviated with iai, is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes being aware and capable of quickly drawing the sword and responding to a sudden attack.

Iaido consists of four main components: the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard (saya), striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. While beginning practitioners of iaido may start learning with a wooden sword (bokken) depending on the teaching style of a particular instructor, most of the practitioners use the blunt edged sword, called iaitō. Few, more experienced, iaidoka use a sharp edged sword (shinken).

The origin of the first two characters, iai, is believed to come from saying Tsune ni ite, kyū ni awasu, that can be roughly translated as "being constantly (prepared), match/meet (the opposition) immediately". Thus the primary emphasis in iai is on the psychological state of being present. The secondary emphasis is on drawing the sword and responding to the sudden attack as quickly as possible.


The last character, do, is generally translated into English as the way. The term iaido approximately translates into English as "the way of mental presence and immediate reaction", and was popularized by Nakayama Hakudo.


The term emerged from the general trend to replace the suffix -jutsu ("the art of") with -dō in Japanese martial arts in order to emphasize the philosophical aspects of the practice.


Iaido was introduced in Malta by Christian and Roderick Bajada. The first official session was held on the 3rd of March 2003 at the Jiushin Kan in Luqa. The style of iai taught at the Jiushin Kan is Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. It consists of both solo and paired forms (kenjutsu/kumitachi).


Peerless, Directly Transmitted School of Eishin


Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū is a Japanese sword art school and one of the most widely practised schools of iai in the world. Often referred to simply as "Eishin-ryū", it claims an unbroken lineage dating back from the sixteenth century to early 20th century. 17th undisputed headmaster, Oe Masamichi, awarded at least 16 licenses of full transmission, resulting in the school fracturing into multiple legitimate branches.


The school takes its name from its seventh headmaster, Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Hidenobu, who had founded Hasegawa Eishin-ryū. ‘Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū’ means ‘peerless, directly transmitted school of Eishin’. ‘Eishin’ is an alternative pronunciation of ‘Hidenobu’.


The founder of the earlier school Eishin-ryū was Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu. Hayashizaki was born in Dewa Province, Ōshū (present-day Yamagata Prefecture). He lived c. 1546-1621 in what is present-day Kanagawa Prefecture. Many of the historical details of Hayashizaki's life are suspect, since, like most famous martial artists in Japan, his story has been widely fictionalized. It seems that he grew up during a time of constant warfare in Japan and was exposed to sword-fighting methods from an early age. According to legend, Hayashizaki’s father was killed and to take revenge he began training in earnest. He went to the Hayashizaki Meijin shrine to pray for guidance and received divine inspiration for a new technique of drawing the sword and attacking in one movement. Legend says that he eventually defeated his father’s killer.

Iaido | Iaijutsu | Kenjutsu | Malta

Following this, Hayashizaki continued on his martial arts pilgrimage, training with renowned swordsmen and attracting students of his own (such as Tamiya Heibei, founder of Tamiya-ryū). Hayashizaki established his own style of swordsmanship, calling it Shinmei Musō-ryū.


Hayashizaki's art has had many names since it was established, such as Hayashizaki-ryū or Jūshin ryu. It is considered the foundation for many of the major styles of iai practised today, in particular Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū and Musō Shinden-ryū.


The seventh generation sōke of Hayashizaki’s school, Hasegawa Chikaranosuke Hidenobu (Eishin), was one of its most important headmasters. He had a major influence on the school. In particular, he adapted techniques originally developed for the tachi to use the contemporary katana. He devised many new techniques, some of which now form the Tatehiza no Bu (Chūden) set. Hasegawa’s influence and adaptation led to the style being named Hasegawa Eishin-ryū. It was also referred to as Hasegawa-ryū or simply Eishin-ryū.


Ōe Masamichi demonstrated sword technique. The line of Jinsuke-Eishin, called Tanimura-ha, was created by Gotō Magobei Masasuke (d. 1898) and Ōe Masamichi Shikei (1852-1927). It was Ōe Masamichi Shikei who began formally referring his iaido branch as the Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū during the Taishō era (1912-1926).


Some regard Hasegawa as the primary founder of Eishin-ryū, which would make him the first generation sōke rather than the seventh, and make Shinmei Musō-ryū a parent school of Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū.

Iaido | Iaijutsu | Kenjutsu | Malta

The ninth generation sōke was Hayashi Rokudayū Morimasa. Hayashi introduced a set of techniques executed from the formal seated position seiza. These techniques are thought to have been developed by Hayashi’s kenjutsu teacher, the Shinkage-ryū swordsman Ōmori Rokurōzaemon,  and are said to be influenced by Ogasawara-ryū etiquette, hence starting from seiza. They were taught alongside Eishin-ryū as Ōmori-ryū. Hayashi was responsible for introducing the school to the Tosa Domain at the behest of the ruling Yamauchi family.

As the school took root in Tosa, it came to be referred to as Tosa Eishin-ryū. Eishin-ryū and Ōmori-ryū were taught to the Yamauchi family, with a few peculiarities (such as exaggerated leg movement to account for long hakama).


After the death of the 11th headmaster, Ōguro Motozaemon, the school split into two branches. They later became known as the Tanimura-ha and Shimomura-ha (after their respective 15th and 14th headmasters, Tanimura Kamenojō Takakatsu and Shimomura Shigeichi).


One of the most important sōke was the seventeenth, Ōe Masaji. Born in Asahi (nakasuka) Tosa in 1852, in his youth Ōe studied Kokuri-ryū and Oishi Shinkage-ryū Kenjutsu, along with Shimomura-ha Eishin-ryū (Musō Shinden Eishin-ryū). At the age of 15 he took part in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, following which he studied Tanimura-ha Eishin-ryū under Gotō Magobei. He also studied Eishin-ryū Bōjutsu under Itagaki Taisuke. Ōe inherited leadership of the Tanimura-ha, becoming its 17th headmaster. He combined the school’s teachings with those of the Shimomura-ha and restructured its curriculum. Ōe reduced the number of waza from around 160,  and reorganized them into the Seiza (Shoden), Tachihiza (Chūden), Okuiai (Okuden) and kumitachi-waza sets practised today. Although he retained the original techniques, he changed the names of some waza to aid understanding. Ōe named the reorganized school Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū,  during the Taishō era (1912-1926).  In 1900 he began teaching kendo and Eishin-ryū at the Kōchi branch of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai and at local schools.  In 1924 he became the second person (after Nakayama Hakudō) to be awarded Hanshi in iaidō by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.  Ōe died at Enokuchi in April 18, 1926. His many students went on to spread Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū Iai beyond Tosa and throughout Japan. 60 years after his death a memorial stone was raised to honour him on Mt. Godaisan.

Iaido | Iaijutsu | Kenjutsu | Malta
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