Iaido Samurai Experiences in Murayama City
The blink of an eye, the flash of steel, and the flutter of the blade. In one swift movement, the head of the rolled tatami mat suddenly tumbles to the floor and the swordmaster resheaths his katana. With nearly 30 years of training and experience, 21st-century samurai Yoshihiro Abe is carrying the traditional Japanese swordsmanship art of iaido into the modern era preserving not only the past but also embracing the future.
Nestled into a fertile river valley enclave of the Mogami River, with snow-crested mountains looming on all sides is the quiet town of Murayama. Less than 45 minutes away from Yamagata City by car, Murayama City is most famed as the birthplace of iaido (pronounced ee-Ay-doe), a traditional Japanese sword art dating back to the 15th century. Here, Abe-san and a handful of fellow iaido practitioners are devoted to assuring that in a world of smartphones, bullet trains, and skyscrapers that the ancient arts of the samurai are not only still being practiced, but that the skills and techniques bequeathed down to them by their predecessors will still be passed down from one generation on to the next.
Yoshihiro Abe instructing a student
Similar to kendo, iaido is a traditional Japanese martial art that focuses on training the mind and body through developing a spiritual appreciation of the art of the sword and the spiritual relation the blade has in connecting life, death, movement, and stillness. Developed over 450 years ago, iaido was founded by the famed swordsman Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu of whom sought to hone his technique to perfection in order to enact vengeance against his father’s killer. According to legend, the secrets to the technique were revealed to him during his stay at a shrine where the spirit of the shrine visited him in a dream and said to him:
“Do not draw, do not force others to draw. Do not cut, do not force others to cut. Do not kill, do not be killed. Even if one encounters the greatest of sinners, one should kindly offer sermon and show them the path of good men. If the worst occurs and they do not conform, then without hesitation apply Kesauchi and send them to Buddha.”
“The art of the sword without fighting” became the founding philosophy behind iaido and the new sword form was formed. The object of iaido is to overcome one’s opponent by swiftly drawing the blade from the sheath, taking down the aggressor with one fell swoop. The aggressor is never even given the chance to draw their own blade. Iaido is a reflection of the traditional Japanese bushido warrior spirit and the morals instilled by the samurai. By truly comprehending the value of life and the weight of death, unnecessary violence can be mitigated by taking the opponent out with a single cut rather than clashing blades.
Today Iaido lives on in the form of the educational demonstrations and iaido experiences that Abe-san offers in his Murayama City dojo. While traditionally the art is practiced with a real sharpened katana sword, those looking to experience and train in the art will learn using a dulled steel blade to replicate authenticity while still maintaining safety. During the iaido experience, you will learn traditional forms known as “kata” that embrace some of the essential elements of the martial art. Removing the blade from the scabbard in one smooth motion, making a clean cut strike with the blade, removing the imaginary blood from the blade with a graceful flick of the arm, and receding the blade back into the sheath in one movement are four of the foundational elements that you will learn during this experience. While sounding simple in nature, these four elements take years of training to master. Under the guidance of Abe-san’s expert instruction, you will be able to appreciate the truly hard work and devotion that go behind this 450-year-old art in addition to the meaning and cultural significance the legacy of iaido has to offer.
The climax of your iaido experience however will be combining what you have learned into attempting to slice a rolled tatami mat in half with a real sharpened blade. As this is one of the few places in Japan that you will have the opportunity to handle a real sharpened katana, Abe-san will first demonstrate the technique and safety precautions before he instructs you. If you are successful in slicing the head of the bamboo mat in half, you can keep it as a souvenir of your triumph to take home.
Event Date(s) Year Round, See Below
Activity Length Approximately 2.5 hours
Activity Time Flexible, see below
Venue Iai Shrine
Price 12,000 yen/person
10:00-10:20: Meet at Iai Shrine, learn about the history and philosophy of Iaido.
10:20-10:35: Get changed into dogi (robes) and stretch.
10:35-10:45: Explain parts of the sword (names, usage, method of making).
10:45-10:50: Brief demonstration of kata and proper techniques.
10:50-11:10: Begin learning foundational moves.
11:20-12:00: Explain why we learn kata, learn the kata, and put it all together.
12:00-12:20: Abe-san demonstrates the tatami cut strike before students do it.
12:20-12:30: Final Question and closing remarks about protecting the future of the art.
12:30-finish: Customers change and finish
Reservations and Important Notes
-This program is available year-round and activity times are flexible.
-This tour is indoors inside of a Japanese dojo.
-This experience is co-led with an english translator who is experienced in Iaido.
-Please send in reservation inquires a week before you wish to book.
-Please send us a reservation inquiry to book this experience.
This program requires at least 2 participants to operate.
Single applicants may be accepted on a case by case basis with an additional fee to cover the time for the instructor and translator.