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Thoughts on Iaido
by Nakamura Taizaburo with Guy H. Power & Takako Funaya

This is a translation of an article appearing in the 25 March 1988 issue of Nippon Budo Monthly.   (1)  -  indicates footnotes.

I am not surprised that iaido has become remarkably spread and developed after World War II. Until the end of World War Two Japan's national identity was expressed through the Three Sacred Treasures--the mirror, the jewel, and the sword. The sword represents the spirit of the warrior to we Japanese; therefore, it is only natural to me that today there is an upsurge in the spirit of the Japanese Sword. This new popularity tells me that iaido has naturally spread among the Japanese. Before the war, not many people studied iaido even though they may have owned numerous swords. Those people had only owned swords simply because they were entitled to do so. In fact, kendo practicioners would say, "Studying iaido will prevent you from improving in kendo.' This attitude is attributed to the fact that iaido is composed mainly of kneeling techniques. In this sense, iaido has no relation to kendo, which contributed to iaido's not having been spread as widely as kendo in those days.

Until the end of the war sword techniques and forms were prohibited from being shown even to the parents and brothers of a practicioner; this way, the techniques could be transmitted only to the direct students of certain styles. However, one style made exception to this policy--Jigen Ryu. The techniques of this style were instructed to anybody within the Satsuma Clan of southern Japan. In most styles, techniques were transmitted only to those who were inducted into a dojo. It is typical that documentation regarding the densho (transmitted writings from generation to generation) of those schools did not include any exact methods of showing detailed descriptions in order to keep techniques secret.

For instance, the Omori Ryu's densho reads very much like the table of contents in a book. Only the names of techniques are mentioned, such as "front", "left, "right", "rear", "multi-layered hedges", etc. The one from Eishin Ryu uses such names as "side cloud", "first step of the tiger", "lightning", "floating cloud", etc. The techniques these terms describe are impossible to understand unless explained by the practicioners of these styles, although nowadays techniques and forms are fully explained by text and photographs in books circulated on the market. The other day I had the opportunity to talk with a certain martial arts expert. He stated that even in today's society, "...the prearranged forms of budo technique should not be revealed to others, but kept only to yourself for your discipline." He still carries through with his convictions. I was so impressed, thinking of the disparity between the present day and the olden times.

After the war I had the distinct honor on three occasions to meet sensei Nakayama Hakudo(1). He was from Ishikawa prefecture and told me that in the year of Taisho five (1917), he traveled to Tosa in Kochi prefecture to ask the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu headmaster for permission to receive instruction, only to be refused entry simply because "he is from other prefectures."

However, later in his life they decided to initiate him into the teaching, allowing him to present a petition on the condition that he not teach what he learned. The situation surrounding the transmission of teachings was like this even during the Taisho period (1912-1925). In short, without trying to find fault with old techniques, the predecessors of the old tradition of sword techniques (koryu toho) should preserve the techniques as nontangible cultural assets. The successors are, in my opinion, responsible for passing the tradition of techniques to the next generation.

Given such situations, once in a while I see strange, "fishy" forms and techniques of some styles during martial arts demonstrations and tournaments, causing me to call their effectiveness into question.(2) Before the Pacific war, around the time of the Manchu Incident (1931) which brought Japan into the China war, sensei Takayama Masayoshi, a Japanese Imperial Navy kenjutsu master-teacher, maintained that one cannot kill people with a sword using only kendo training. He withdrew from the Butokukai(3) to go to China where he experienced actual battlefield sword techniques.

After his return to Japan he codified these techniques, named the style Jissen Budo Takayama Ryu Batto Jutsu, and taught it at the Imperial Naval Academy; eventually he had the chance to teach Prince Takamatsu-no-Miya. Because of his sword testing in China(4) Takayama sensei was later classified as a war criminal and was sentenced to twenty five years confinement in the mountains of Oita prefecture. Later I was able to exchange ideas with Takayama sensei which was significant in my establishing Nakamura Ryu Happo Giri.(5) In relation to this exchange, three parties of the Butokukai belonging to the Army and Navy created logical(6) systems of standing sword techniques based on their battlefield experiences and extant old-school sword techniques.

Although the three fencing instructors could not bring their systems into uniformity in terms of prearranged forms, they taught their combat effective standing techniques until the end of the war. However, after the war they reverted to old-school sword techniques, belittling the teaching called "Shu Ha Ri".(7)
 I cannot help but to feel regrettful for the iaido prearranged forms training of the old-schools. Needless to say, I am under the impression that these old-school sword techniques seek development in artistic aspects. In my view, there are distinct differences between kendo and iaido, regardless of whatever logical argument each may make, including the theory expressed in the maxim "Kendo-Iaido, One Body". Marking the new Heisei dynasty (1989), and in celebration of my "Kijyu" (77th birthday), I decided to consolidate my long harbored views about Japanese sword techniques into the following 20 sections. I am afraid that the article might include some overlapping ideas and sentences due to my shallow knowledge; however, I ask the reader to allow me to be bold enough to present my observations.

1. I suppose it cannot be helped that the "art" theory has become popular these days, merging together with kendo. The martial ways are different from sports in that they involve situations where a clear distinction is made between life and death. Comparitively speaking, hasn't iaido become an "artistic" sport?

2. The similarity alluded to in the maxim "Kendo-Iaido, One Body" is theoretical. Technically speaking, sport kendo and the kneeling techniques of iaido must be considered as separate entities. I do not think there are any matching techniques between the two.

3. Iai is sword-technique art, and is said to be sword dancing. Because people outside Japan do not sit on their knees, it is physically difficult for non Japanese to study iai.

4. There is no possible reason for sitting erect on the knees while wearing a long sword, although it is correct to wear the short sword thus. When entering any building it was always proper to remove the long sword from the wearer's sash while at the foyer. Drawing the long sword while in the formal kneeling position is wrong in terms of etiquette and sword technique.

5. "Shohatto"(8) employs a movement from the formal kneeling position in which the practicioner steps forward in one move by completely raising the right foot, in a stomping manner, while simultaneously making a horizontal cut to the front; the left knee maintains contact with the ground. Because of having only one point of balance, and due to the strong force generated in actually cutting through an object, the practicioner can lose balance and fall down. Instead, the practicioner should glide forward by sliding the foot close to the ground.

6. When stepping forward while unsheathing the sword from the kneeling position, your stride is automatically two steps--this is technically not desirable. More than one step is unnecessary.

7. Omori Ryu has ten kneeling forms and only one standing form. Within these forms, all have downward vertical cuts; however, none employ a right or left diagonal cut. For this reason, I think this style lacks research on its techniques.

8. Omori Ryu has a technique in which you pivot your body to the left from the kneeling position while making a horizontal cut. I am doubtful as to the effectiveness of this technique; however, shifting the body to the rear or right is fine.(9)

9. In 1951 I performed Omori Ryu forms within the earthern entranceway of the country house of a well known Omori Ryu teacher. Since this was on the bare earth I decided to adapt the kneeling techniques to standing techniques so as not to dirty my clothes. After finishing, the teacher looked extremely disturbed and said, "that is not Omori Ryu!" These types of people are inflexible, obsessively sticking to the old ways. As such, they are incapable of thinking of practical applications for their techniques.

10. Modern iaido incorporates breathing methods into its techniques; such as, "in front of your enemy take two breaths, on the third, hold your breath". I wonder from what style this descends--this sword method really makes me call modern iaido into question.

11. One old-school rendition of the technique called "nukiuchi" calls for the blade to be silently and slowly drawn until only about three inches remain in the scabbard.(10)  The practicioner then quickly slashs away in one motion to strike the target. I believe this is an "artistic" sword technique.

12. Attacking with the pommel of the sword's handle is illogical; manipulating an enemy with the tsuka (handle) is nothing but a contrived artifice.

13. In the old-school styles there are no withdrawing techniques after a thrust has been executed. Hikinuki, the disengagement of the sword after the thrust, is technically the Zanshin(11) regardless of whether it is in spear techniques or bayonet fighting.

14. There are techniques in which the palm of the left hand is placed along the back ridge of the blade. These are ineffective and are a waste of time.(12)

15. The sword's angle of attack and arc path are not discussed in the old-school styles. Based on my own test cutting experience, I feel that these are important in swordsmanship and must be studied.

16. Regardless of which art you are involved in, be it iaido or kendo, unless you experience cutting with a real sword, you will never begin to taste true sword technique.

17. In Japan iaido has been refered to as "iai-nuki". I dislike this usage since it was a term used among street performers after wearing the sword was abolished. It gives a bad connotation to iaido.

18. Most old-school styles do not know how to bring a sword cut to a halt without the blade wavering or trembling. The stopping action should be executed precisely and crisply.

19. In terms of sword techniques, uke-nagashi (to parry and deflect an overhead blow) is acceptable; however, uke-tome (block and stop) is fatal.

20. The correct name for iai-do is "batto-do". In the Muromachi period (1392-1572) the term "batto-jutsu" was used; it was only from the middle of the Edo period (1730s) that "iai-jutsu" began to be used. The correct naming of iaido is a separate issue to be addressed; I earnestly desire the adoption of either "iai batto-do" or "batto-do" as the official name.

In response to the above musings and from my research in test cutting over the years, I developed a logical system of sword techniques in 1952 which I call "Nakamura Ryu Battodo". The genesis of my system is based on a hint I received from the basics of calligraphy called "eiji happo"---the eight rules for writing the Chinese character "eternal".(13)  My teaching is composed of the "Eight Fighting Postures", the "Eight Methods of Cutting", the "Eight Methods of Resheathing", and contains eight forms. This is a logical system based on my in-depth analysis of various swordsmanship forms, as well as research I conducted in actual test cutting; neither are enough, alone, to create combat effective techniques. I expect that I will receive criticism in my above reflections from iaido and kendo lovers, as well as from seniors, masters, and headmasters.

"The Japanese sword is the spirit of Japan. The Life-giving Sword trains and polishes Self; the road to cultivating yourself and self-discipline."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Nakamura Taizaburo, now 83, was born in 1912 in Yamagata prefecture. He began his study of kendo at the age of 15; when he joined the Imperial Army in 1932 he was already 3rd dan in both kendo and judo. After teaching kendo to the officers and noncommissioned officers of his regiment, Nakamura sensei was assigned to a boy's military academy as a fencing instructor; during this time he also studied Omori Ryu iaido. Later, Nakamura sensei was selected to attend the Army Toyama Academy where he became an instructor of actual-combat swordsmanship, bayonet, and knife fighting. He was dispatched to Manchuria as a "special fencing teacher" and instructed members of the select Yamashita Special Attack Force. During the final days of the war he further conducted research in test cutting by attempting to cut through the necks of five bulls, which were then butchered and fed to the regiment. Nakamura Sensei was the driving force in renovating the Hayashizaki Shrine, the only shrine in Japan dedicated to iai-battodo.

He also kept alive the tradition of the Toyama Academy by founding the All Japan Toyama Ryu Iaido Federation. Since that time he has been the Senior Master of Toyama Ryu. In 1952 he founded the Nakamura Ryu and has been involved in swordsmanship until this day. Nakamura Sensei resides in Tsurumi, Yokohama where he presides over the International Iai-Battodo Federation and teaches battodo for the Kaku Sei Kai. His titles and degrees are as follows:

Soke (Headmaster): Nakamura Ryu Batto-do (Happo-giri). So-Shihan (Senior Master): All Japan Toyama Ryu Federation. Battodo: Hanshi10th dan (International Martial Arts Federation). Kendo: Hanshi 8th dan (IMAF). Kendo: Kyoshi 7th dan (All Japan Kendo Federation). Jukendo (bayonet): Hanshi 8th dan (All Japan Jukendo Federation). Tankendo (short sword): hanshi 8th dan (AJJF). Kyudo (archery): 4th dan (All Japan Kyudo Federation). Judo: 3rd dan (the pre-war Judo Association). Calligraphy: Hanshi. President: International Iai-Battodo Federation. Senior Advisor: All Japan Battodo Federation. Senior Authority: Butokukai (Battodo section).

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR. Guy H. Power, renshi sixth dan, has studied Toyama Ryu battodo since 1983. From 1990 to1994 he was stationed in Japan where he studied both Toyama Ryu and Nakamura Ryu iai-battodo under Nakamura Sensei; he also studied Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu iai-do for two years during his stay in Japan. Mr. Power was named by the International Iai-Battodo Federation as their official representative for the United States and awarded him their kanban (a traditional teaching license printed on a wooden board) authorizing him to teach both ryu, calligraphed by Nakamura sensei. He is believed to be the only non-Japanese to receive a martial art kanban.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR. Takako Funaya received her Master of Arts degree in Translation from the Monterey Institute of Inter- national Studies in California. She is currently an in-house translator for Fuji-Xerox, Japan.

1. Nakayama Hakudo (1869-1958). 16th headmaster of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (Shimomura branch); founder of Muso Shinden Ryu; kendo, iaido, and jodo master; fencing master to the Emperor's Guard until the end of WWII. He is conceiveably the most famous sword master of the twentieth century.

2. Many of the forms have been taught in a vacuum and have lost their original meaning, or have been subjected to unintentional reinterpretation, others have been contrived during the luxury of civil peace without the benefit of combat experience; consequently, the original technique has become ineffective, but taught as viable.

3. The Dai Nippon Butokukai (Greater Japan Martial Virtues Association) has been the premier governing body of selected martial arts since 1895. Its headquarters, the Butokuden in Kyoto, is still used today as a martial arts training hall.

4. After the war Takayama Masayoshi was classified as a Class B war criminal for killing 10 Chinese prisoners of war with his sword. His style's name is translated as "Actual Combat Martial Ways, Takayama's Style of Sword Drawing Techniques."

5. Nakamura Style, Eight Direction Cut.

6. The Japanese word for logic means a scientific investigation of governing principles which leads to a correct or reliable conclusion. In the English vernacular we use "logic" to mean a 'reasonable expectationÕ.

7. "Shu Ha Ri". Observe (the old without straying), Break (strict observation and adapt different teachings), Leave (advancing beyond both former stages).

8. "Shohatto" (First Presentation of the Sword) is the basic sword technique common to most old-schools. As taught and practiced, the blade would strike the target while the right foot is still high in the air. This results in only the left knee remaining in contact with the ground at the time of impact.

9. Although capable enough of inflicting a wound, not enough force is generated during a left pivot to succesfully cut through a target.

10. The author feels this method is ineffective because not enough force is generated from a slow draw to allow a proper cut.

11. Zanshin (remaining spirit) is the final stage of an omnidirectional all-encompassing alertness. It is cultivated from intensive training and is displayed in a combative engagement stance, usually the finale of a form.

12. And dangerous. A case in point is that of Lieutenant Colonel Aizawa who cut his fingers employing this type of technique. Aizawa once had been a kenjutsu teacher at the former Army Toyama Academy and was an expert in kendo and bayonet fencing. In 1935, using his western model service saber, he assassinated the head of the Military Affairs Bureau, Major General Nagata (this action preceeded the February 26 Revolt of1936). After failing to kill the general with three cuts, Aizawa placed his left palm on the back of his sword at the mid point, assumed a bayonet fencing "half-right stance" and thrust strongly with his right hand, skewering the general completely through from back to front. This technique is very similar to the All Japan Iaido Federation's fifth form called "kissaki kaeshi" and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu's "Iwanami". Aizawa cut all four fingers of his left hand to the bone. He later stated, "As a Toyama Academy fencing instructor, I was disappointed and embarassed that I was unable to cleave the general in two with one stroke."

13. Eiji Happo, "the eight rules for writing the Chinese ideograph Ei (eternal)". The foundation of calligraphy, the "eight rules" specify how to draw the dot and the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal strokes; therefore, in being able to write one basic ideograph, the calligrapher can write tens of thousands of ideographs. These eight calligraphic strokes approximate "Happo Giri", the Eight Directional Cuts: thrust, left and right horizontal, vertical, left and right downward diagonal, and left and right upward diagonal cuts. All other cuts are but variations of these primary techniques. In assiduously practicing Happo Giri, the swordsman can truly become a master.