Kaifukan Iaido

May 2005

Maeda Kancho

Iaido has a 400-500-year history in Japan. It is a certain style of technique of swordsmanship. All samurai in Japan practiced the art of swordsmanship, but there were not too many iai practitioners among them. Today the ordinary swordsmanship practiced back then is known as kendo, in which we only use a bamboo stick in place of a sword. Assuming how it should be used as a sword is one thing, but in reality if we only use a bamboo stick we don’t know the effective, correct way and/or the actual sensation of maneuvering the real sword. As its result, kendo practice has a tendency to become a stick-hitting sport rather than the true art of swordsmanship. In order to solve this problem, the fact being that kendoists have no idea what it is like to swing a real sword, AJKF (All Japan Kendo Federation) some 40 years ago started to promote iai practice for their kendoists by newly creating their 12-style iaido waza. This AJKF iai, an offshoot of the traditional old school iai, is called ‘Seitei Iai.’ 

I started my iai practice with ‘Seitei Iai’ some 35 years ago, and soon took up other ‘Ko-Ryu’ or old-school iai on the side. I became AJKF Iai 4-dan in 1984. That was more than 20 years ago and then I stopped taking dan promotion exam. The reason was that I was not satisfied with ‘Seitei Iai,’ with its limited 12-style iai waza, whereas ‘Ko-Ryu’ has as many as 60 waza or more. AJKF Iaido dan examination tests only these 12 waza. Therefore, in order to pass a higher dan, the exam turns into “splitting hairs.” That is to say, having to be extremely careful about minor missteps to appeal to the examiner’s likings. What bothers me is the fact that the dan challengers can very well ignore some 60 traditional iaido waza, which had been handed down for hundreds of years, because those waza are not requirements for the exam. And by merely mastering these 12 waza they receive higher dans and become ‘sensei.’ This is not for me. I would rather like to learn and master all what has been handed down from the past. 

Some time prior to my move to Hawaii I fortunately got to know an Eishin-Ryu Hanshi 8–dan sensei, by the name of Mr. Fujii. He kindly offered to teach me all the Eishin-Ryu waza so that some day I could teach it in Hawaii. Fujii sensei didn’t care for ‘Seitei Iai’ with its newly created waza because he felt that they were not authentic. As a matter of fact, he never practiced them. But he admitted the ability and rationality of my iai performance despite the fact that I had primarily practiced ‘Seitei Iai.’ Fujii sensei, although being busy at teaching in other dojos, generously set up a special session only for me. It was a one-on-one teaching just between Fujii sensei and me. Ko-Ryu Iaido schools organize their own, more than one, respective Iaido Federations independent from AJKF. However, he never suggested me to join his ‘Iaido Federation’ so that I can take dan-examinations. And I didn’t think of that either. What we did was a practice that was pure and sincere pursuit of the spirit of iaido. It was an austerity of the transmission of all that he knew before he passed away later in 2004.

I would like to have my Kaifukan Iaido practice as sincere and as interesting as that of what I had studied under Fujii sensei – that is to say, the transmission of all my knowledge and study together with my students.