Katana

The sword

The most important piece of equipment for practicing Iaido. You get a sword at the earliest after about half a year of practice (with the wooden sword = Bokken ).

Sword names

Hover over the parts of the sword illustration above. The names of the individual parts are shown (sorry—in German yet).
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Technical terms katana

Sword purchase

The quality problem seems to be solved in Germany. Almost every dealer knows that the swords (= Iaito) offered for Iaido training must be stable enough under liability law. An Iaito as a sports device is not sharp, hardened or folded. It has a (relatively) blunt die-cast alloy blade and decent, solid equipment. You can reliably order swords online in Japan. Chinese brands are doubtful (not all of them).

Characteristics of a good iaito
Blade shape
The blade shape is normal and has harmonious coordination of length and sword curvature (Zori).
Material
The blade is better not made of steel (magnetic test) because it is too heavy to start with. Cheap replicas made in China never have the typical conical blade shape of a katana and are then unbalanced top-heavy. Sharp (forged) swords are out of the question for safety reasons. (Japanese) iaitos made of zinc-aluminum are better and easier to practice with.
Surface
The surface / chrome plating is consistent with no imperfections (e.g. gaps, cracks, bubbles). Slight abrasion is normal later – after about three years of training there is abrasion on the cutting edge.
Blade basic
The blade hinge sits snugly in the handle and is therefore well anchored – nothing must wobble; otherwise the handle must be removed and relined with wood shavings (only to be done by a specialist).
Handle (Tsuka)
The length of the handle is appropriate for the length of the sword. Don’t buy a sword with an extra long handle! This shifts the center of gravity of the blade to disadvantage. Extra long handle, cheap short sword length is cheap for retailer pricing, but bad for sword balance.
Optics
Special trim, colors and expensive fittings are at the bottom of the wish list. The more of it can be seen on the sword or offered for selection, the lower the sword quality, never the other way round.
Names
Last but not least: normal Iaitos have normal (Japanese) names. It is serious. The ›Katana of Lady Xena‹ or the ›Dragon blade‹ look good, but are not suitable for training. In the first place, solid construction stands for safety. You can’t practice with decorative swords.

Suppliers

There are many ways to order. Orders in / from Japan are ideal. These dealers deliver and bill correctly and there are hardly any difficulties. However, you may have to Fight with customs fees & transport costs along with delivery times. German retailers have also established themselves.

DealerComments
Iaido24Very friendly and competent, usable selection of equipment affordable starter set.
TozandoThe traditional supplier from Japan. Large selection and recurring campaign weeks.
YamatobudoguThe traditional supplier from Japan. Large selection and cheap.
SeidoThe traditional supplier from Japan. Large selection and sorted from cheap to expensive.
NihontoGerman specialist for real weapons. Assessment, restoration & trading of Japanese swords.

Perfect sword length

The length of the blade is specified by reputable dealers with the Japanese measure of Shaku (1 Shaku = 30.3 cm). The length of the sword is measured in a straight line from the tip of the blade to the habaki. The following table provides information on choosing the correct length. Strong people and advanced users choose a longer length. Women and slim Iaidoka can also take smaller swords.

HeightShakuLength in cm
155 – 160 cm2,30 Shaku69,7 cm
160 – 165 cm2,35 Shaku71,2 cm
165 – 170 cm2,40 Shaku72,7 cm
170 – 175 cm2,45 Shaku74,2 cm
175 – 180 cm2,55 Shaku75,8 cm
180 – 185 cm2,60 Shaku77,3 cm
185 – 190 cm2,65 Shaku78,8 cm
190 – 200 cm2,70 Shaku83,3 cm
Usually women with an Iaito 2.45 Shaku and men with 2.5 Shaku start practicing. It is best to try out different sword lengths from training partners in the dojo. Let your own trainer watch. With his experienced checkup you will surely find the right length.

When with a sword?

The right time to start practicing Iaido with a sword can be relaxed. Intensive learning of the kata arouses the desire to try everything with a sword. A bokken seems to place too little strain on the practitioner. A lot can be learned in the ›swordless time‹. Bokken exercises are useful for beginners. The shapes and movements are relieved of complex sword handling.

First you learn the sequence of the forms yourself. The refinement of the technique, the memorizing of technical terms and mastering certain details (eg Chiburi) take a long time. This process can take two to five years for Seitei-Iai (starter forms). An Iaidogi (training clothing) is purchased – light movement in Iaido clothing is demanding. Sitting down correctly, walking, folding the iaigi takes some getting used to. When the movement is adjusted, the Hakama no longer slips, the Obi (belt) does not wear off and the knots remain tight. Basically, an Iaito can be purchased at this time.

Used Iaito purchase

As a beginner you can buy a used Iaito. So you can get to the first Iaito cheaply. Many exercisers change the sword length after a relatively short time (1 to 2 years of training) and buy a new blade. There are some quality features that you should check before buying a used egg ito. Safety first!

Checklist for purchase of used Iaito
Age
How old is the Iaito? Iaito blades are made of solid metal, but this material also ages (especially under heavy loads). For security reasons, one should refrain from buying Iaitos older than 3 years.
Fits
The blade is firmly in the handle and does not move, especially with trial cuts; otherwise the handle must be removed and relined with wood shavings (only to be done by a specialist).
Blade lock
The Mekugi (the bamboo pin in the handle to secure the sword hinge) sits tight (but is not glued in, so one can check the core).
Wrapping of handle
The wrapping of the handle winding (Tsukamaki) should be intact and not slip or be loose in places. Then a new winding is due. If the winding dissolves at the intersecting points or appears rough, then (too) intensive training can be assumed.
Saya
The saya (sword sheath) should be free of cracks. A few small dents don’t matter. Pay special attention to the opening of the saya. Their degree of wear clearly shows how well the previous owner handled the sword.
Condition
Let your trainer advise you. Rather, he can see whether the sword is in order, the quality and workmanship are right.
Core of handle
Take off the handle (disassembly only by an experienced specialist) and inspect the condition of the handle, Mekugi and sword hinge.
Previous owner
Last but not least: do you know the previous owner of the sword? All the better. Trust doesn’t replace control, but it can clarify whether the blade has been handled with care.
Disclainer
Something can always break – avoid cutting towards the practitioner, not even indicated. You have thus complied with the most important safety rule in the dojo. Check your used sword for rattles, wobbles and overall condition. Despite the tips above, I cannot promise ultimate security, so I hereby decline liability for a bad purchase 😉