Part 2: Iaido and Jodo in the Kendo Federation
By Kim Taylor
What is the position of iaido and jodo in the federation? Why are they there?
From the kendo point of view, these arts are present to make better kendoka. If you read the early statements about the inclusion of iaido, you will see phrases like “Iaido and kendo are two wheels of a cart”. Of course shiai and the Nippon Kendo Kata are also two wheels of a cart and eventually I think we might be referring to an 18-wheeler, but never mind.
Historically, the formal union of the three arts extends back to the late 1960s and those facts and figures are not hard to find online so I will not repeat them here. Some of the top kendo instructors at that time also practiced iai or jō, so a historical connection between the arts existed, but why put them into the same organization? After all the All Japan Iaido Federation was already in existence when iaido was included in the kendo federation, so why not separate federations?
I strongly suspect that other than the official reason of improving kendo, there were reasons of convenience (who wants to administer multiple organizations when one will do), history (the pre-war Dai Nippon Butokukai was a multi-art national organization) and self-interest (let’s face it, kendo is a huge pool of potential students for the other two arts, which are well-sheltered within the federation).
Any student in the kendo federation may practice any of the three arts, and three similar but separate grading streams exist. A rank in one art, while respected, is not recognized as certification in the others.
The situation today, especially outside of Japan, is somewhat changed from 1968. In many countries, anyone who wishes to study iaido or jodo will find the local kendo federation is the most convenient choice. Many countries are finding that a growing number of its members practice only iai or jō, and when I last had access to the financials of my own country, the absence of iai and jō would have resulted in a 20% decrease in yearly revenue. As the arts become better known in an area, participation of the iai and jō sections in the kendo federation becomes more of a choice and less of a necessity.
All Japan Kendo Federation Iai
The AJKF iai (seitei iai) was formed as a “common language” amongst several koryū lines to be used in grading and tournaments. While it was originally formed from several koryū it has, in the last 45 years, become a unified practice in its own right. Of the koryū sources for seitei, the dominant influence was the Muso Shinden-ryū and Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryū lineage, but you will also see elements of other schools in specific kata.
The grading system in the iaido section moves, at a minimum, from ikkyū through shodan to 8-dan and has a shōgō system of Renshi, Kyōshi and Hanshi which are overlaid on the top three dan grades. Grading usually consists of a written test and demonstration of five kata which are selected from any of the 12 seitei kata and may include koryū as well. At the 8-dan level there are two practical exams, the first of seven seitei kata and if that is passed, a second of seven koryū kata. In this way the kendo federation shows support for the koryū while not actually providing certification.
Instructors in the iaido section are certified through the kendo federation and teach the AJKF iai kata to their students in order for them to grade. Many instructors also teach a koryū, but this instruction, as mentioned before, is somewhat inside and outside the federation. At a minimum, students who require a koryū kata to grade, must obtain instruction in one or two koryū kata, but the implied meaning is that all iai students should also study koryū.
All Japan Kendo Federation Jō
The AJKF jō practice is organized in a very similar way to the iaido section, with the same grading system. The seitei kata are all taken from a single koryū, the Shindo Muso-ryū, and gradings in most areas tend to be done by “rolling through” the set. By that I mean that lower dan levels tend to use the first few kata of the set and the upper levels use the later kata. As a result, instructors may teach the set in a graduated way as well, introducing them as needed for the next test.
If a jō koryū is taught, it is almost inevitably the Shindo Muso-ryū. In the past, koryū kata have been required for gradings, but in recent years this has been changing to an “all seitei” format. The 8-dan exam is now two sections, both using seitei. I will not speculate as to why these changes have been put in place, but even in Japan jō is by far the smallest of the three arts, and the existence of koryū instructors is not common.
Jō practice also includes two sets of kihon, basic movement training, one solo and one with a partner. These can be compared to the Bokuto ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho practice in that they are to teach fundamental motions.
Kendo Federation Sword Practices
In the kendo federation then, we find the following types of practice: Bokuto ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho, Nippon Kendo Kata, shiai kendo, AJKF iai kata, AJKF jō kata, solo jodo practice and partnered jodo practice. These are all regulated by the kendo federation.
In addition it is not unusual to find iai and jō koryū lines in some dojo and even kenjutsu koryū such as Ittō-ryū. These are not regulated by the federation but they could be considered adjunct arts which may even contain students who are not registered in any kendo federation, depending on specific instructors who may allow koryū only students.
My next article will examine the similarities and differences of koryū and seitei.