The word “iaido” (i-ai-dō 居合道 or just i-ai 居合) approximately translates into English as “the way of mental presence and immediate reaction”.
While new students of Iaido may start learning with a wooden sword (bokken), those who study Iaido will be required to use a blunt-edged sword (iaito). As students become more experienced, they may transition to using a sharp-edged sword (shinken).
Iaido is almost entirely practiced using forms, or kata. Although some schools of Iaido do hold competitions in which participants are judged based on their performance of kata, the art does not use sparring of any kind. Because of this non-fighting aspect, and Iaido’s emphasis on precise, controlled, fluid motion, it is sometimes referred to as “moving Zen.”
Iaido was developed by Hayashizaki Shigenobu in the late sixteenth century. While it is an established
fact that some Iai-jutsu was practiced within other schools prior to Hayashizaki’s birth, he is credited with
the creation of the system we know today as Muso Shinden Ryu, which—along with another system
called Shindo Munen Ryu—forms the main basis of the Iaido practice followed in Birankai.
The traditions and forms of Muso Shinden Ryu were transmitted through successive generations of
swordsmen, among them Nakayama Hakudo Sensei, commonly recognized as one of the foremost
martial artists of the Meiji period.
One of Nakayama Sensei’s top students, Mitsuzuka Takeshi Sensei, established himself in Tokyo and continued the teachings of the Muso Shinden Ryu as transmitted to him by Nakayama Sensei. Birankai founder T. K. Chiba studied Iaido directly under Mitsuzuka Sensei in Tokyo for several years, and used this tradition as the foundation for his own school of Iai Batto-ho.