By Deborah Klens-Bigman, PhD.
Iaido is the contemporary Japanese art of drawing the long sword. Iaido contrasts with kenjutsu (combative swordsmanship), techniques done with swords already drawn, and kendo, the Japanese sport of fencing. Basic iaido kata combines drawing the sword with either a defensive block or cut, usually followed by another cut, then chiburi (moving the blade in such as way as to remove blood and tissue) and noto (returning the blade to the scabbard). While kenjutsu and sword-drawing techniques (batto-ho) were originally taught together, they are now usually, but not always, taught as separate art forms. Iaido, as the sword-drawing forms became known in the 1930s, is now used not only to teach sword techniques but as a form of mental and physical discipline, emphasizing correct technique and form, meditation and character development.
The broad connotations and various possible interpretations of the moral culture are often very difficult for the western mind to grasp because this is an aspect of Oriental Philosophy which pervades the lives of Oriental people. In a word, it is the endeavour and process of becoming an exemplary person such as Confucius (552-479 BC).
Kata are also used to grade students, a black belt sometimes has to perform every single kata they have learned to illustrate their mastery before being graded. One single misplaced foot or a loss of balance can make the difference between a good kata and a great kata!
Kata isn’t only to help you perfect the physical motions, in fact, many martial artists perform katas not to improve themselves so much physically as to increase their inner awareness of their own person and how to improve their skill with a purity of mind and body.
I state in ‘Practical Applications for the Kata Jion’ that Kata was originally intended to capture the ‘highlights’ of an effective combative system. The distillate of this system survived over generations as it had an inherent aid memoir that enabled the practitioner to communicate it to his incumbent generation. As a result of the balance needed between reliance on memory and the need to maintain the principles of Kata, an optimal and not a limitless number of movements exist.