Japanese iaido swords

Japanese training swords

Japanese iaido swords, more commonly known as iaito, are the weapons used in practicing the Japanese martial art iaido. Shopping for the right type of iaito sword is not as easy as it seems. Particularly for an iaido practitioner, it is very essential to choose the best practice sword for a more efficient execution of sword art movements.

Get to know the martial art Iaido and find out about the qualities an iaido sword you should look for.

What is Iaido?

Iaido is one of the most widely-practiced Japanese sword arts. It is the art of smooth, controlled movements of drawing a sword from its sheath, striking on an opponent, removing the blood from the blade, and placing the sword back to its sheath. Iaido teaches its practitioners how to use actual weapons.

The Iaito Practice sword

An iaito is the primary Japanese practice sword used in different Japanese sword fighting techniques especially in iaido. This sword looks very similar to the Japanese long sword katana: from the shape, fittings, to its furnishings. Generally, an iaito is lighter than actual swords although it may often be designed to have more or less the same balance and weight to a katana.

The Japanese iaido sword is usually made of aluminum-zinc alloy. Because such material for sword is weak, it is not suitable for combat and sword fighting exercises. It is only used for solo drills (with imaginary opponents). On the other hand, there are also iaito swords made from carbon steel but they are unsharpened pieces to ensure the safety of iaido practitioners. Therefore, an iaito sword is not supposed to be used in Japanese sword cutting technique. Prices of iaito can start at $250 or $300.

Guide in choosing the right Japanese iaido sword:

1. Correct sword length

Blade length is important to draw out a sword smoothly from its sheath. If the training sword is too long, the movement of an iaido trainee will be limited and awkward. It would be difficult for him to control the sword. The following table shows standard sword blade lengths for corresponding body heights (for male only). It is best to consult your martial arts teacher on this:

Body Height (ft in) Blade length (ft in)
4’ 11” 2’ 2 ¼”
5’ 1” 2’ 2 7/8”
5’ 3” 2’ 3 3/8”
5’ 5” 2’ 4”
5’ 7” 2’ 4 5/8”
5’ 9” 2’ 5 ¼”
5’ 11” 2’ 5 ¾”
6’ 1” 2’ 6 3/8”
6’ 3” 2’ 7”
6’ 5” 2’ 7 ½”

2. Weight and Balance of the Sword

A Japanese iaido sword made from aluminum is a lighter sword. This can be beneficial to beginners because it makes an iaido trainee’s movement more refined and accurate. A heavier iaito sword (those made of steel) may also be advantageous because it makes a practitioner be aware of how much a real sword could weigh. This makes the transition from training with a practice sword to training with a real sword not very difficult.

Then again, as a beginner, to be very familiar of every movement is a good way to start in mastering iaido. Therefore, it still usually encouraged to use the lighter aluminum iaito training sword for freer movement.

3. Structure and Aesthetics of the Iaito

Another priority in looking for a Japanese iaido sword is structure and aesthetics. By this it means that the sword must be in its best condition – no tampers, no scratches, no signs of damage whatsoever. You must also see to it that all parts of the practice sword are stable. Ornaments are not necessary but may be considered so long as the decorations are not affecting the balance of the sword. You have to remember that you are going to use the sword regularly, so, it must be of excellent quality regardless of its beauty.

Some tips in shopping Japanese iaido swords:

1. Shop from a recommended supplier and reputable iaito sword stores.

2. If buying a new iaito practice sword is too heavy for your budget, you may also buy a second hand iaito sword (provided that the sword is not yet more than three years old). Why? So that it is still usable. It is also better if you personally know the previous sword owner.

3. Always ask assistance or guidance from your iaido teacher when you are about to purchase a Japanese iaido sword for your training. He can be of great help!

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