Essentially, the fundamental skills one needs to master before moving on to higher levels are:
- Proper grip Te no uchi
- Proper stance Kamae
- Suburi Practicing kiri-oroshi or the overhead cut
- Drawing and sheathing the sword Nukitsuke and noto
- Balance and posture
- Footwork and foot placement Ashi-sabaki
- Spacing Ma-ai
- Proper attack
Iaido simply is just drawing the sword, cutting and re-sheathing the sword. This simple movement has so many layers and is so precise that it can take a life time to perfect.
In traditional Japanese training, we first experience the art through the act of doing without trying to understand it. One must master the basics of the body before one can truly “understand” the art. Therefore, there is a great emphasis is placed upon practicing first and gaining knowledge and understanding much later.
There are many techniques in Iaido done in three different stages depending on one’s proficiency level: shoden (初伝), chuden (中伝) and okuden (奥伝). Some of the techniques are done from a seated position while others are practiced while standing. Each level has a set of skills to master which build upon each other. Students should not move on to the next level until they have gained a strong level of proficiency.
The Japanese sword is a precision weapon, which necessitates that the proper method of handling the sword be mastered in order to execute the techniques properly.
Achieving proficiency over the basic fundamental skills of Iaido aren’t difficult, but they won’t come easily. The use of the sword must become “second-nature” which then requires constant and consistent repetition. With constant and consistent, and correct practice anyone can easily master the fundamentals of swordsmanship and from there the rest of sword training will come effortlessly and naturally.
Most of what we see in television or movies or in competitive swordplay is that the movements lack energy and are overly dramatic. All the techniques in Iaido also must be full of energy or ikioi (勢), but yet display the warrior’s aesthetic of jimi (地味) which is a “quiet or hidden” unadorned beauty in the movement which demonstrates a simple, but dignified type of strength.
As stated before, each Iaido technique basically follows the “simple” act of drawing and cutting with the sword and then returning it to the scabbard. One’s hands move in a very specific technique toward the sword and then draw the sword from the center of the body and then project the power into the monouchi, or cutting area of the blade which penetrates it into the target area while maintaining a specific mental focus, timing, spacing, ikioi and breathing pattern.
From this brief description, we can see that physical Iaido is much more than just swinging the sword around as hard or as fast as we can.
It may look easy but this seemingly “simple” task is very exacting and demands a great deal of precision which cannot be realized without proper training. Every tiny movement, even the tiniest, has a rule to follow in Iaido. Every movement must be complete and full and, at the same time, be filled with one’s energy and have an awareness of the present moment.
In Iaido, it is not so hard to learn the basic movements. What is hard is getting accustomed to handling the sword. There is no “intellectual” way to understand this. One must practice the sword constantly and consistently over a long period of time until they become accustomed to it, however long it takes.