LESSONS IN IAI-DO (lessons 1-4)

The Iai-bu of the Hawaii Kendo Federation compiled a photo journal of iai-do instructions to share with other students.  The photos are captioned with key points of each movement.  The information was extracted from the 1995 publication of the "Aiea Taiheiji Kendo Manual" and from a second publication nearing it's completion by Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi.  The photos and captions were reviewed by Dr. Noboru Akagi, Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi and Mr. Dick Teshima.

"In iai, the opponents are imaginary, but the sword is real.  In iai, one reacts to a sudden attack from an imaginary opponent by artfully drawing the sword (nukitsuke),  striking (kiritsuke), shaking the blood from the sword (chiburi), then returning the sword to the scabbard (noh toh)."       

The lessons will be added to the website every six weeks.  The first lesson begins with manners including toh rei and tai toh.  This will be followed with the 12 techniques of the All Japan Kendo Federation Sei Tei Iai as follows:

1. Ipponme: Mae (Facing the Front)
2. Nihonme: Ushiro (Facing Back)
3. Sanbonme: Ukenagashi (Receive-deflect)
4. Yonhonme: Tsuka-ate (Striking with the Tsuka)
5. Gohonme: Kesagiri (DiagonalCut)
6. Ropponme: Morotezuki (Stab with Both Hands)
7. Nanahonme: Sanpohgiri (Cut Three Directions)
8. Hachihonme: Ganmenate (Striking the Face)
9. Kyuhonme: Soetezuki (Stab with Left Hand Assisting)
10. Jupponme: Shihogiri (Cutting Four Directions)
11. Ju-ipponme: Sogiri (Cutting Five Directions)
12. Ju-nihonme: Nukiuchi (Fast Draw)

[ Note: The hawaiikendo.com website only includes Lessons 1 through 4. ~ jks ]


Key Points in Iaido

These photo lessons were meant to be used with reference to the manuals by Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi.  If you have any questions regarding the information provided to you in this section, please refer to your own instructor for further guidance.

The following are points to remember throughout one's performance:

1. Position of sitting---The Kamiza is diagonally to your left.  The direction you are facing is the shomen (forward).

2. The Kamiza (identified as the altar, honored guests or a national flag) is always bowed to before and after one's performance.
3. Zarei (how to bow from sitting) is always done with respect to your teacher or to your sword.  The student should bow before the Teacher does and one should remain bowing until the Teacher has completed his bow.
4. When standing, bring the sword up to the left hip, raise your right foot near the left knee, then stand up without bending your body.  Bring the left foot to the position of the right foot, then return to keitoh position.
5. Eyes or focus of the vision should be 4-5 meters (to the floor) in front of you. The eyes should be half-closed and "gazingat the distant mountain."



An introduction by Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi

Reiho is an essential part of all Japanese martial arts, especially in iai-do.  Iai-do begins with rei and ends with rei.

An iai practiioner enters the dojo and bows to show respect and appreciation for the place of training.  Before beginning the practice, he bows to the kamiza (shinza, shomen, altar) to show respect for the higher being.  This is done from a standing stance with the sword in a position to reveal absolutely no aggression.  From the seiza stance, he bows to the sword not only for the respect but to ask the sword to protect him/her while he/she practices.  At this time it should be noted that the kensen should not point directly towards the kamiza.  When practice is over, he bows again to the sword, kamiza and then to the teacher.

[ Note: Click on any of the photos below to enlarge. ]

Lesson 1: Ipponme Mae/Front

Notes are from Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi's book

Scenario: Both of you sit in seiza position facing each other. You sense your opponent may attack you. You seize the opportunity and draw your sword, cutting across your opponent's temple (between the right ear and eye), and finally dropping your sword squarely from above for a coup de grace or the finishing stroke on your opponent. You shake the blood from your sword (chiburi), return your sword to the scabbard (noh-toh) and maintain zanshin (state of readiness) as you watch to make sure your opponent does not move or strike back.

[ Note: Click on any of the following photos to enlarge; image number 20 does not enlarge. ]


Lesson 2: Nihonme Ushiro/Rear

Scenario:  Your opponent is sitting behind you.  You feel the sakki of your opponent.  You take sen, draw your sword, and cut into his temple as you turn around to face him.  Further, strike downwards squarely from above to make a decisive victory.

[ Note: Click on any of the photos below to enlarge. ]

Lesson 3: Sanbonme Ukenagashi

Scenario: Your opponent is sitting on your left side when he suddenly stands up and starts to attack you as you are sitting. As you stand up, you deflect the opponent's strike and immediately return the attack with a diagonal cut from his left shoulder to his waist.


A. Sit in seiza position facing to the right (your left side is to the front). Feeling the opponent's attempt to strike you, you turn your face toward him, place both hands on the sword and straighten your toes as you start to lift your hips. Step forward with your left foot bringing it close to the right knee while pointing the toes slightly toward your opponent as you raise your sword around your chest and up above your head. The blade faces back and the kissaki is lowered in ukenagashi position (deflection by sliding down the opponent's sword over the omote shinogi portion of your sword).

Note 1. Unlike the other forms, you bring the right hand to the tsuka from the side in order to make the blade face backwards in ukenagashi.

Note 2. When facing the opponent, pull your left shoulder backward gently to allow his subsequent movements to follow smoothly

Note 3. The speed of drawing your sword is slow in the beginning and fast at the very end.

Note 4. At the completion of the draw, the left hand is still holding the koiguchi, and the left shoulder is somewhat drawn to the center as the blade is protecting you.

B. Then, place the right foot to the inner side of the left foot as you stand up. Turn the kissaki from behind to the right upper side (just as your opponent's sword hits and slide down your own sword). Turn your body toward your opponent. Bring the left hand to the tsuka and without hesitation, strike down in kesagiri (diagonally on your opponent's left shoulder as you slide your left foot behind).

Note 1. At the moment the opponent's swords hits the shinogi portion of your sword the force will enable you to flip your sword upward to extend your right elbow to hold the sword high above your head.

Note 2. From the tachiagari (standing up) to kiriotoshi (striking down) is a single smooth movement.

Note 3. At the completion of the kirioroshi, both hands stop in front of the navel and the kissaki is slightly lower than horizontal.

C. Bend the right knee slightly and straighten the blade. Bring both hands to the left front with your elbows straight as you place the monouchi area of the sword on the right knee.

Note 1. When bringing both hands to the left forward position, loosen the grip of the right
hand and face it upward. Now, your right thumb and index finger hold the tsuka.
The left elbow is completely straightened and positioned diagonally to your left
and the left fist is at your breast level.

Note 2. The monouchi area is gently rested over your right knee.

Note 3. This movement is called chinagashi (a form of chiburi) but also meant to keep
zanshin attitude.

D. Take the right hand off the tsuka, then re-grasp it with the palm facing downwards.

E. Take the left hand off the tsuka to hold the koiguchi, then for the right hand to face upward, turn the sword in a pendulum-like motion. Insert the sword into the saya in yoko ichimonji. Complete the correct nohtoh move as the left knee touches the floor.

F. When finished nohtoh, stand up and bring the left foot toward the right foot while keeping

G. Remove the right hand from the tsuka, then assume the taitoh position.

H. Take a step back with your left foot while keeping zanshin and return to the original position.

Reference: With permission by Jinichi Tokeshi, M.D., from his Iai-do manual.

[ Note: Click on any of the photos below to enlarge. ]

Lesson 4: Tsuka-ate / Striking with the Tsuka

Notes are from Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi’s Iaido manual

Scenario:  You are seated in full armor.  You have an opponent facing you and an opponent directly in back of you.  You feel your front opponent may strike, you strike first to the suigetsu of your opponent with a tsukagashira (tsuka-ate).  Then you unsheathe your sword, turn and stab the suigetsu of your rear opponent with the sword in your right hand.  Finally, the frontal opponent is struck again squarely and decisively from johdan position.

Note:  The movement is done while sitting in a tatehiza position which is appropriate for a warrior sitting in full armor.

[ Note: The original photos below have been lost and cannot be enlarged. This is a screen capture from the old website. ~ jks ]

The Key Points in Iai-do

The following key points are for all techniques and therefore listed here in the appendix. Further additions will be made as new key points are introduced with new lessons. The key points were written with simplicity and does not include a full explanation. Please refer to your instructor or Dr. Tokeshi's manual for further explanations.

Kokyu-breathing: Breathe using your abdominal muscles inconspicuously so your opponent cannot tell which cycle of breathing you are in. Between waza, take two slow breaths and at the end of the inspiratory phase of the third breath, initiate the next movement.

Seme-Physical or psychological pressure applied to the opponent before striking.

Nukitsuke-drawing and striking of the sword without hesitation.

Furikaburi-raise the sword above the head using a full arc when cutting the opponent. Nukitsuke and furikaburi should be performed in one movement.

Saya-biki-pulling back of the scabbard. Pulling back of the scabbard along the left waistline is used simultaneously during the moment of drawing the sword and sometimes during chiburi. The purpose is to give an extra "snap" to the strike and chiburi.

Kirioroshi-cutting down the opponent. This movement of coup de grace or bringing one's opponent to his demise is preceded by nukitsuke and furikaburi. With sword in two hands, after nukitsuke, raise the sword above the head (furikaburi) using a full arc, strike the opponent with one powerful movement. During he final motion as the sword meets the opponent, one should squeeze the arms and hands for a powerful end.

Chiburi-shaking the blood from the sword. There are three different ways to perform chiburi in various wazas. The first waza is similar to shaking the rain from an umbrella. This is done by bringing the sword in hand to the right temple and then shaking the blood by "whipping" the sword in a diagonal motion from the right temple to waist. The second is to bring the sword to the side with the blade in a horizontal position to the floor. The third is simply to allow the blood to run off of the blade by tilting the sword.

Zanshin-leave the mind on your opponent after defeat. It is very important to keep your attention focused on your opponent after defeating him to remain alert and ready to strike immediately should there be a movement. Your eyes and mind should be maintained on your opponent until the end of the waza.

Metsuke-focus of your eyes should be directed about 4 to 5 meters ahead, whether you are sitting or standing. The partially closed eyes should be as though one is gazing at a distant

Nohtoh-returning the sword to the scabbard. It is most important to keep zanshin while returning the sword to the scabbard.


"Copyright 2002 All rights reserved, reproduction is unlawful without permission from the Hawaii Kendo Federation."

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