A Trial Week journey into the world of Iaido

SFU Recreation’s trial week offers students an opportunity to try new sports for free.

Iaido, kendo, and kuydo all hail from a similar branch of Japanese martial arts. — Photo credit / SFU Kendo Club

By: Meera Eragoda, Staff Writer (they/them/theirs)

I decided SFU Recreation’s trial week would be a good opportunity to try out an activity that would not normally be up my alley. I chose iaido because, though I had never heard of it previously, when I read the description, I thought, “Cool! Swords!”

Iaido is the Japanese art of sword drawing, and the iaido sessions on campus are offered by the SFU Kendo Club. Armed with my incredibly limited knowledge of the sport, I entered the Central Gym at Lorne Davies prepared for anything. I was instructed to take off my shoes and socks, and was handed a bokuto, which is a wooden training sword. We were then led in a series of warm-up exercises that included how to step properly, how to hold and raise the bokuto, and how to hold the desired tempo — slow for the drawing, but quick for the cuts.

Iaido has a series of twelve sequences, called katas, and one of the club members walked us through the first kata, mae. It entailed swiping vertically with the bokuto, then back to cut down enemies behind you, and finally, bringing the bokuto to your temple in a move called chiburi that literally translates to “wipe the blood of your enemies off your sword.”

From everything I’ve described, iaido might seem cutthroat, but the best way I can describe it is like tai-chi, but with swords. Every movement is very controlled, as iaido is meant to be more about defense than offense. At its core, it’s actually about self-improvement and people practice the same moves for years. This may sound a little monotonous, but you would be surprised how quickly the time will pass when you are focused on perfecting the zen art of swords. I’ve only tried the first kata, but even then there are so many components to it, such as what angle to hold the bokuto at, how quickly to draw it, and how to step and maintain your centre.

If you want to try something a little bit unusual that involves moving your body without super high-intensity, iaido might be for you. The steps and moving the sword will strengthen your arms, back, legs, and core. It’s also like a more dynamic form of meditation because it forces you to be highly-aware of your body, but you don’t have to sit still while alone in a room to do it.

Once you prove yourself with a bokuto you are allowed to upgrade to an iaito, which is a non-sharpened sword, but only with permission from the sensei. SFU iaido meets happen on Mondays and Wednesdays and the registration fee is $74 per semester plus a $5 club fee. The club supplies the bokuto, but students will need to buy knee pads as many of the movements involve quite a bit of kneeling. Once someone has decided to commit to iaido, they will also need to purchase a keikogi, or uniform, which costs around $120. Intakes happen at the beginning of each semester. If you are looking for a new martial art to practice, it’s definitely worth taking a stab at iaido.