Iaido is the art of drawing, manipulating and re-sheathing the Japanese style sword with efficiency and dignity. Iaido was developed in ancient Japan to keep the samurai in fighting shape, fit and flexible.
Development of Iaijutsu started in the latter half of the 16th century, about the same time three great generals were working to unify the various factions of ancient Japan. As their hierarchies succeeded each other less minor battles were being fought. In 1598 an innovative general, Ieyasu Tokugawa, defeated the army of Western Japan which led to the consolidated government of the country. Tokugawa then took over military control of the country and became the shogun, the de facto ruler of Japan.
After the unification of the country at the beginning of the 17th century, Japan had entered an extended period of peace during the Tokugawa Shogunate which continued for more than 250 years. During this time the leaders noted that their warriors were loosing their abilities, so they encouraged the practice of Iaido to maintain the warrior skills and fitness. They also recognized that the practice of Iaido helped to maintain the virtues and mental abilities of the samurai as well.
居 I = Reside, live, dwell Part of the first kanji means old or ancient.
合Ai = combine, join together, unite, meet
道Do = Path, Way, Road
Iaido strengthens the body through the long term careful repetition of precise motions which are gradually refined over time, rather than by the quick repetition of difficult calisthenics.
The concentration habits learned with this practice can lead to better study and work habits and improved efficiency.
In the old days the samurai trained to achieve a concept called muga mushin (no self, no mind). The thought in battle was if you were not concerned deeply with the outcome, the intuition of the body would take over and protect you and respond correctly to the attack. With focused correct training over time, one may develop an ability to perceive deeper truths in the world around you.
The earliest evidence of swords in Japan occurs around 200 b.c. These early swords were straight and often two edged. There was often warfare, with an almost continuous demand for swords. Around 700 a.d. curved blades started appearing which were easier to draw and more efficient for cutting. These blades were strengthened and lengthened for fighting from horseback. Longer reach was needed to reach men on the ground or to reach men riding on horses. These swords were called tachi and carried with the curve down to facilitate drawing the long blade.
Later in history the fighting styles and weapons changed to more individual engagements on the ground. The long blades were hard to handle on the ground so they were shortened and evolved to the swords seen today. This shorter version of the sword is called the katana. This blade can be efficiently drawn vertically, horizontally or on a diagonal path of a lethal cut as it exits the scabbard. In the individual combat split seconds might determine life or death.
By the time of the unification of Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate, culminating in the final military government consolidation around 1610, the common weapon was the katana. After the unification, this dynasty created a peace that lasted through to the Meigi Restoration of government lead by Emperor Meigi around 1870. When the leaders noted that their warriors were loosing their martial abilities, they encouraged the practice of Iaido to maintain the warrior skills and fitness. They also recognized that the practice of Iaido helped to maintain the virtues and mental abilities of the samurai as well.
Now days Americans are stressing well being. The virtues of the samurai which are developed by the practice of various martial arts lead to greater well being. The five elements of well being are; Engagement, Relationships, Positive Emotion, Accomplishment and Higher Meaning. These elements can be found in the practice of both Iaido and Aikido.
Here is a video of Nishio Sensei teaching the first basics of Iaido at the Venice Japanese Community Center in Los Angeles, CA. about 1989. Shoji Nishio Sensei Omori Ryu
The next two videos show Nishio Sensei in Japan, perhaps the Nishi Kawaguchi Budokan, however there are differences from the time I was there 1990 - 1997. Perhaps it has been remodeled. The time period seems to be 1998 or 1999. Nishio Sensei is showing his Aikitoho Iaido at that time. He makes a statement at the end of Part 2 that this is all still in work and may change.
It did change. Things were always changing. I believe it is up to the practitioner whether to still refer to this or not. Personally, I like it all and keep practicing it all. I even go back and practice the 1980's and early 1990's movements. There are still realizations to be discovered.
This video from Denmark in about 2002 or 2003 seems to be the last definitive video showing the progress of the Aiki Toho Iaido. I'm sure Sensei would not think of this as the end and cast it in concrete forever.
There is a Japanese battleship, the Mikasa, in Yokosuka, entirely surrounded in concrete. It was the flagship of the Japanese Fleet in 1904 when they destroyed the Russian Fleet in the Tsushima Straits between Korea and Japan. Of 38 Russian ships, only 3 made it to Vladivostok, 28 were sunk. The Mikasa has been a museum ship for the past century. Nishio Sensei would not like his Aiki Toho Iaido to be locked up in concrete like that ship. He would pass it to the next generation and expect us to keep improving.