Hakama-Sabaki — discussion about a subtle move

Subtle Movements in Iai and Hakama-Sabaki

Every Iaido practitioner knows the ‘special’ moment when you realize that even the ‘simple’ movements need to be practiced carefully. For example, without proper Sayabiki (scabbard drawing) with the left hand, decisive sword movement combined with turning (such as in the ZNKR Kata Ganmenate) could be fatal. A splintering crack alerts the practitioner of the end of his scabbard wood, which gives way at that moment of hasty blade handling.
Now one wonders how to properly arrange one’s Hakama when sitting down in Seiza (iaido kneeling position):

a) with a strong left-right swing to spread the skirt wide or
b) to gently move the fabric aside?

The Essence of Iaido

At the heart of Iaido lies perfection of self-control and movement. It is an art form that has been refined over centuries, and every gesture has meaning. The way a practitioner handles their Hakama — the traditional garment worn during practice — is also a reflection of their understanding of self-control and discipline.

Minimalism vs. Show

The debate over Hakama-Sabaki, the movement of evenly spreading the Hakama’s skirt when sitting down, is ongoing. Some argue that a conspicuous spreading of the ends—the so-called ‘wing’ look—is aesthetically pleasing and contributes to the proper appearance of the Iaidoka. Others see it as an unnecessary and exaggerated gesture that contradicts the philosophy of Iaido, where efficiency and modesty should prevail. In addition, one could discuss the constant demand for a clear ‘slapping sound’ during Hakama-Sabaki (Japanese onomatopoeia: “Hatta-hatta!”) in relation to the discussion about the correct ‘volume’ of a sword cut. But that’s just as nonsensical, because at this point one should rather speak of a strike technique. But I digress.

Efficiency Over Aesthetics

Those who advocate for a minimalist movement emphasize that Iaido is more than just a physical exercise; it is a mental discipline where any unnecessary movement is seen as a distraction from the true essence. A subtle Hakama-Sabaki, just enough to avoid entanglement or stepping on the Hakama hem and tripping over one’s own feet, shows a higher degree of skill and control. Sovereignty is not shown by how large one appears, but by how precise and conscious each movement is executed.


When we look at high-ranking Iaido competitions, it becomes clear that the masters of the art do not need theatrical gestures to demonstrate their skills and self-confidence. Perhaps we should move away from the notion that our Hakama ends need to create a ‘majestic’ appearance. Instead, we could focus on refining our movements to embody elegance and control—quietly, efficiently, and without unnecessary fanfare.

Study some Hakama-Sabakis

From the series of competitions: 58th All Japan Iaido Tournament, 7th Dan Division.

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