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The origins of
the samurai sword




An art born of necessity



Iaijutsu adapts to new sword design

History of Iaijutsu

The history of iaido cannot be completely understood apart from the history of the samurai and the samurai sword. The samurai as a class within Japanese feudal society arose in the mid-9th century. This was also about the time that the first swords that we would call "samurai swords" were developed. The key factors giving rise to the widespread fabrication of samurai swords appear to be the discovery of large iron deposits on lands controlled by the Minamoto clan, and the development of high-quality smelting techniques. These earlier swords were considerably longer than the swords we now use in iaido and iaijutsu, and are called tachi -- "great swords." Tachi were often wielded by warriors on horseback, and had a reach capable of engaging foot-soldiers on the ground. These tachi were the standard armament of the samurai for the next 700 years. But that changed with the birth of the art of iaijutsu.

Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto no Shigenobu was born in 1549, at the height of the tumultuous Sengoku ("Warring States") period of Japanese history. As a young man, probably before he was 20, his father was killed in a sword duel, and Hayashizaki vowed to avenge his father's death. Knowing that he did not yet have the skill to defeat his father's killer, Hayashizaki sequestered himself for 100 days at Hayashizaki Jinja, the local Shinto shrine to pray and seek inspiration. While there, he developed and practiced the concept of drawing the tachi from its scabbard and cutting the opponent in a single, smooth, unexpected motion. Using this technique, Hayashizaki succeeded in avenging his father's death, and his system became known as Hayashizaki-Ryu.

It is probable that in Hayashizaki's time his art was most commonly called batto-jutsu, "the art of striking suddenly with the sword," and the terms iaijutsu and iaido were not coined until much later. By that time, the sword itself had changed. As the 16th century drew to a close, swords were being made shorter and with less curvature in the blade. These shorter swords are known as katana or daito, and are the weapons most people think of as "samurai swords" today. This change in sword design required that the techniques of Hayashizaki-Ryu be modified for the differently shaped weapon.

Hasegawa Eishin Shuzei no Suke was the 7th grandmaster of Hayashizaki-Ryu, and was generally considered to be the equal of the style's founder in skill with the tachi. It was Hasegawa who adapted these techniques to the katana and thereby created what we practice today as iaijutsu or iaido. 


Eishin-Ryu style is born


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2003   Leonard J. Pellman

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