The style of Iaido I practice is called Musō Jikiden Eishin-Ryū Iaido, hereinafter referred to as MJER Iai. MJER Iai is a globally practised school of Iaido. Some refer to it simply as Eishin-Ryū, but Eishin-Ryū refers to a specific set of kata that is only a piece of the whole picture.
Within MJER Iai, there are several kata sets as follows:
- Zenkenren Iai (ZKR) a.k.a. Setei Iai
- Omori Ryū
- Eishin Ryū
- Oku Iai, Seated Set
- Oku Iai, Standing Set
Along with the kata sets, partner drills, where the application of the katas to a controlled sparring situation, are practised.
I enjoy the partner drills. At my dojo, we do them on the first Sunday of each month. The partner drills are where one can get a feel for how one might combine techniques from other arts with Iaido for those times where you are too close to draw your sword or simply to maintain control over your opponent.
Because I am petite, sometimes I have to do techniques different when it comes to partner practise. While doing kata, we make the assumption that our opponent is the same size as we are. When you’re 4’10 and some change and about 115 lbs, it’s rare your partner will be the same size in actuality. Partner drills allow us to do a little application with our theory and adjust for discrepancies. You also experience things like people unintentionally hitting your hands with their tsuba (sword guard) or you hitting them in the head with your bokuto (wooden practise sword).
With partner drills, we have to learn both attacker and defender sides of the kata, so we learn the katas twice.
Something to note: My dojo practises MJER Iai like many others, but that does not mean everything we do is exactly the same as another MJER Iai dojo. For example, our sensei may have a preference for the exact location of where to tie the sageo (sword scabbard cord) to the hakama (pants) that is different than the sensei from another dojo.
Grading is mainly performed on the ZKR set of kata because they are standardized. For 2-Dan and above, non-ZKR kata are added, but it’s not like karate where you perform every kata you have ever learned each time you grade. Sometimes you get to choose which kata and other times, the judges choose. The judges often travel from Japan and with hundreds of students to grade there wouldn’t be enough time for that. More on grading can be found on the Canadian Kendo Federation site here: http://www.kendo-canada.com/CKF%20Grading%20info.html
The katas within the sets often change slightly as the governing body constantly reviews how well the technique works, whether or not it makes sense, if it looks aesthetically pleasing, and whether or not it fits with the rest of the set.
Your rank is not indicated by your obi colour in this art and the ranking structure is different. Currently, I am called a ‘No Kyu’ or ‘No Rank’. I have not graded yet. I probably should have at the seminar in Guelph, but I did not feel I was good enough as I couldn’t remember how to perform any kata beyond Ipponme Mae, or tie my hakama properly, or perform the etiquette. I will grade in December and hopefully become an ‘Ikkyu’ or ‘1-Kyu’. After Ikkyu comes ‘Kyu’ or ‘1-Dan’ or Shodan. There are waiting periods in between each level of black, so while it is quick to get to a first black belt compared to other arts, you won’t be eligible to grade again for a while.
As per the Canadian Kendo Federation site the waiting periods are as follows: “Between 1-Kyu and 1-Dan is 6 months. Between 7-Dan and 8-Dan is 10 years. For all other ranks you must train for the same number of years as your current rank. (i.e. To grade for 2-Dan requires 1 year, 4-Dan requires 3 years, etc…”
To learn more about how long it takes between levels, check out the Canadian Kendo Federation site here: http://www.kendo-canada.com/iaido/grading.html
When you do grade, you have no guarantee that you will pass, so you need to work for it otherwise beyond the feelings that go with not passing, you’ve also paid grading fees and not been successful.
Special thanks to Jarvie Senpai for helping me with this post!
– Roy Iaidoka