Iaido, as most forms of budo, have a number of mental concepts connected to it. The taking of a life is no simple matter, and samurai of the past recognized this. One of the central concepts in iaido is SAYA NO UCHI NO KACHI, which translates as winning with the sword sheathed. As all fights encurs an element of risk you should strive to avoid a fight and defuse it without drawing the sword when possible. Another side to this is that the iaido-ka (someone who pracices iaido) demonstrates such confidence that the opponent is intimidated and gives up. This should not be confused with acting in a bullying manner, however.
Another concept based around the sword is KATSU JIN KEN, which means “the life-giving sword”. One interpretation of this concept is that the practicioner strives to defuse hostilities and bring about peaceful solutions.
- DAI, KYO, SOKU, KEI (Large, Strong, Fast, Soft)
This refers to the developmental process of an iaido-ka, from beginner to advanced (and eventually teacher). In the beginning you learn to use big movements with a lot of strength, eventually adapting it to a fast and soft iai.
- ENZAN NO METSUKE (Looking at distant mountains)
Avoiding to let your gaze be captured by a singular detail, try and take in the whole scene at the same time. This is likened to looking towards the distant mountains way off in the horizon.
- FUDOSHIN (Immovable mind)
Keep your mind from being overcome by thoughts of fear and defeat, avoid focusing on a singular detail. It is when you aren’t expecting something that you can react to the unexpected. In the beginning your mind will be filled with details, but after practicing for a long time it is not necessary to do this as the body remembers. This is the point where you can begin to demonstrate fudoshin.
- KI KEN TAI ICHI (Energy, Sword and Body synchronized)
If one part is not synchronized the attack will not be successfull. The mind, body and sword need to work together in harmony.
- SAYA BANARE (Flight from the scabbard)
This refers to the escape of the sword from the scabbard (saya). It should be drawn in a smooth and effortless manner, as if flying out of the saya.
- SAYA BIKI (Pulling of the scabbard)
This is one of the most central concepts in iaido. In order to execute a draw and cut in the same movement the left hand needs to pull back on the saya as the right hand pushes the sword out. This provides both balance and saves time, which is limited in a confrontation.
- SEME (Mental and physical pressure)
Seme is the demonstration of pressure against the opponent, in order to control them. If the opponent is pressured this will make it easier to find an opening to attack, or pressure them to give up.
- TACHI KAZE (Wind of the sword)
The sound generated by the sword during a cut is dependent on its angle, and can thus be used to tell whether you are using proper technique. The sound also tells you at which moment the speed is at its highest. Depending on the sword the sound will differ, depending on its length, groove, etc.
- ZANSHIN (Awareness)
Zanshin is a central concept in all of Japanese budo. It is a state of awareness, a relaxed alertness, which is extremely important to demonstrate at the end of a kata. The iaido-ka should be prepared to act if any new opponent reveals themselves, or possibly deter them from acting.
No matter the kata, these technical concepts are present:
- NUKITSUKE/NUKIUCHI (The initial draw and cut)
- KIRI OROSHI/KIRITSUKE (The large two-handed cut)
- CHIBURI (Shaking the blood off the sword)
- NOTO (Returning the sword to the saya)
All of the above movements need to be executed whilst demonstrating control, precision and balance. Good iaido looks natural and effortless, with no wasted movements. This minimalistic approach is what exemplifies the beauty of iaido.