Progression of Skills
In both Kendo and Iaido, everyone wants to progress and become skilful as fast as possible in the beginning. Here, it is important to have the correct mindset. Although there are many books written on how to strike Men and Kote, training in the heart and mind should be the first. This is the resolution of those who takes up the path of training in Kendo.
There are many types of personalities, such as optimistic, brave, timid, as well as many types of body shapes and sizes. There is not 1 single person who is exactly alike to another, but the teachings in Kendo and Iaido are yet somewhat standardized. This is the philosophy of Japan's farming culture. In farming for rice and vegetables, there are no special methods for the strong, weak, big or small. It seems that Japan lacks of specialized treatment for different types of people. It is the Japanese people's typical belief that nobody can be born exceptionally gifted. Of 100 persons, there will be 100 different way of thought, personality and body structure. The instructor must have the ability to recognize each person's abilities so as to help them to improve. To teach everyone in the same way without consideration demonstrates a lack of prudence on the instructor.
There are many proverbs in this world. To our club, there is one very important one from Shindo Munen Ryu.
"The sword acts in accordance with the hand. The hand acts in accordance with the heart. The heart acts in accordance with the principles. The principles act in accordance with God. Train hard and long to forget the hands. The hands will forget the heart. The heart will forget the principles. The principles will forget God. Entrust it to the heart of all souls. Change is inevitable and we shall achieve formlessness."
This is just a passage and it expresses the depths of the human soul.
Everyone walks a different path in life. Even though the paths taken are different, it is still a serious matter when we are met with some difficulties in life. To help with that, is also the role of the instructor in the Dojo. To allow a person's personality to be expressed is one of the purposes of our club.
Iai, The Art of Sword-Drawing
Iai is said to have been originated during the Edo-period. In order to train in correct swordsmanship, many different styles were created. In our club, we practice in Omori-Ryu and Hasegawa-Eishin Ryu, as passed down by Haga Junichi Sensei, who was known as the "Genius of Showa-Kendo", and he was the top disciple of Nakayama Hakudo too.
In today's modern Iai, a lot of people use Mogito, which is made of alloy materials and have a blunt edge which cannot cut. In our club, it is our principle that everyone uses real sharp swords. Sometimes we will also cut Makiwara, in order to verify our gripping, blade-alignment and swing.
What kind of sword is ideal?
It seems that among those who aspire to learn Iai, very few are familiar with the Katana and actually do research on it. A lot of people use Mogito, so perhaps that may result in the lack of knowledge about real sharp Katana. It will be best to learn about it and consider the details about a real Katana, as the sword is the equipment that we are using for training our mind and body.
Those who are collectors of old swords might be more interested in the shape and condition of the sword. Whereas for Iai-practitioners, we should be more concerned about having a sword of the correct length. This will be good information to know when ordering your own sword.
Length of the Sword
There are a lot of people who have a strong fixed idea with regards to the Katana. During the Edo-period, the standardized length of the blade used by many people is around 70cm. During that time, the males' height were around 150cm tall, and this blade-length is catered to their height. However, today the average height of males is around 170cm in our society, thus the length of the blade should increase as well to match up to the increase in stature height. The recommended blade length for people of different height is as follows:
|Stature Height||Recommended Length|
Weight of the Sword
The weight of the sword should be according to factors such as physique, chronological age and skill level. Below is a chart for your reference:
|20 ~ 40 years old||Around 900 to 950grams|
|40 ~ 50 years old||Around 900grams|
|50 ~ 60 years old||Around 850 to 900grams|
|60 years old||Around 800 to 850grams|
|The weight of the fittings are added separately.|
After deciding on the length and weight of the sword, next will be the width. It seems that a lot of Iai-practitioners like to have a strong sword, and therefore prefer a wider sword. Generally, an appropiate width is about 3.2cm to 3.3cm. Though a thicker sword might look more magnificent, at the same it might appear to look short too. On the contrary, a sword with a smaller width will appear to be longer and slimmer. This is up to one's preferences.
The sword is thickest near the hands, and gradually becomes thinner down to the tip. When we consider things like weight, appearance, usability and such, we strive to achieve a most-balanced sword for ourselves.
The "Tsuka" is where we grip the sword, and have 3 important metal components: Fuchi, Kashira, Menuki. As mentioned, a lot of Iai-practitioners like to have a wider blade, thus their Fuchi will have to be bigger too. There weren't many Katana in the past which had wide blades, thus it is hard to find a big Fuchi in the market. To fit onto modern Katana, the Fuchi has to be around 3.9cm to 4.2cm in length. The Fuchi is generally about 7.5mm wider than the width of the blade. The size of the Fuchi has to fit nicely with the mouth of the sheath.
The Kashira has to be about 10% smaller than the Fuchi. The material used for the Kashira and Fuchi for Iai is meant for martial arts practice and different from the swords carried in the castles, thus iron is preferred. Fuchi in the past were usually small, thus those who are planning to buy a sword should keep this in mind.
The sword is thickest near the hands, and gradually becomes thinner down to the tip. When we consider things like weight, appearance, usability and such, we strive to achieve a most-balanced sword for ourselves. As the Menuki is wrapped on the handle, it is not very noticeable. Thus, please search for one that you like. As there are many types of Menuki around, searching for the ideal one might take some time.
The Tsuka-Ito is usually black in color, but now we have many types of colors available. We should choose a color that matches with the color of the sheath. Light colors are beautiful at first, but they get dirtied easily. Therefore it might be good to get a dark color for the handle-wrapping.
Length and Thickness of Handle
During the Edo-era, the handle is around 24cm long, while the blade length is around 76cm. The thickness of the handle is dependant on the thickness of the handle-wrapping, and should fit nicely with the size of your palm. When gripped tightly, the middle finger should touch the base of the thumb.
There are enthusiast who likes just the Tsuba for itself, and thus there are many types of Tsuba in the market. So it should not be difficult to find one of your liking. Although a smaller Tsuba will make the sword easier to use, generally the diameter of the Tsuba is around 7.5cm. The Tsuba is very important to the entire sword with regards to balance. We should consider factors such as weight carefully.
The Saya is constructed to fit the sword in, so the thickness of the Saya is up to your preference. Although constructing the Koi-guchi (mouth of the sheath) with metal will make it stronger, it is undesirable as it will damage the blade. The position of the Kuri-gata is dependant on the size of your hand.
In the past, any other color other than black was expensive. Now it has become quite affordable, so you may choose a color of your liking for your sheath. However, you should also consider to have the sheath's color match with the color of the handle-wrapping. Besides the color, you may also have your family crest on the sheath.
In our club, we perform test-cutting on maki-wara that we've prepared. We do not use tatami-omote. Ours have a thickness of around 15cm, a height of 90cm, and it's soaked in water for around 20hours. Somewhere in between this time, the water will be changed, and the excess bits of straw will be removed. This size simulates roughly the size of a naked torso.
We can make the maki-wara stand and perform diagonal cuts, or place it horizontally to cut it as a sue-mono. The purpose of test-cutting is to confirm the correctness of our technique with the sword.