View Full Version : iaido and seiza

11th August 2000, 16:40
I was thinking about the real deal of iaido and I知 confused.
If i were a samurai sitting in seiza and suddenly an attack is made against me. What would i do?
I知 sure i will draw my wakizashi and tanto rather than my long sword . It get worst when I think about the ettiquete and behavior of the samurai. . I don稚 know if I知 wrong (i know little about the subject) , but a samurai would sit in seiza with his long sword along with wakizashi/tanto in the obi ?
Why the samurai wore the wakizashi?
Just curiosity ,
Thank you

Nelson Sanz

11th August 2000, 18:56

Katana were not worn indoors; therefore, no reason to sit in seiza with one. That "convention" occured after Omori was expelled from Eishin Ryu. He went out, combined Ogasawara Reigi (etiquitte training) with the raised-knee forms of Eishin Ryu, and called his new style "Omori Ryu." After Eishin died (7th soke), Omori was readmitted to the Ryu by the 9th soke. From this time the seiza "Omori ryu" (shoden waza) were incorporated.


11th August 2000, 21:09
As Guy pointed out, learning to draw the long sword from seiza has no combative background. For me it's a fine training for proper movements and for strengthen the hips.
In MJER (as in many others) you find also Tachi Ai and Tate Hiza (in some Ryu also Iaigoshi). From the historical background, this postures makes much more sense if you are talking from getting in action with your sword.

Best regards

Ruediger Meier

13th August 2000, 00:57
Originally posted by ghp
Katana were not worn indoors; therefore, no reason to sit in seiza with one.

Its a little hard to believe that no samurai "ever" wore their katana indoors. Lets face it we just don't know how common or uncommon it really was.

13th August 2000, 17:02
Its a little hard to believe that no samurai "ever" wore their katana indoors. Lets face it we just don't know how common or uncommon it really was.

Why do you say this? Anybody refusing to remove their katana at the genkan [foyer] would be seen as an enemy; they would be either prevented from entering, or an alarm would be raised. It is akin to walking in someone's door with your shotgun at the ready. The kodachi was worn indors but not the katana -- it was removed and either placed on a sword rack, or carried in the right hand so as not to be easily used. The only time a katana would be "worn" indoors would be in a dojo setting -- not in a home setting.

And why do you think we do not know how "common or uncommon" the practice was of wearing katana indoors? At least Japanese know quite well the katana was not worn indoors. I have yet to meet an iai teacher who accepts the theory that a katana was worn indoors. My own teacher, Nakamura Taizaburo, used to ask Japanese iai teachers "why do you do iai from seiza when katana were not worn indoors?" It's a question that would dumbfound them -- not because the question is stupid, but because they know katana were not worn indoors. The most common response was "that's the way we are taught." However, the best responses were "seiza strengthens legs;" "seiza are kodachi waza modified for katana;" and "seiza teaches the proper etiquitte."

Don't rationalize seiza iai. It is an artificial convention started by Omori after he was expelled by Eishin. Omori went off and blended techniques of Ogasawara Ryu Reigi (school of etiquitte) with what he learned from Eishin. It's easy to see that the Shoden waza (Omori Ryu iai seiza-bu) are adaptations of the Chuden waza (Eishin Ryu iai tate-hiza) in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (including Muso Shinden Ryu).


13th August 2000, 18:59

As usual, Guy is most correct. The truth is, there are only two kata in Omori-ryu that are unique: Kaishaku (Junto) and Tsukekomi (shinchuto). Anything is possible. I'm sure that at some point, somewhere, a bushi sat in seiza while wearing the katana but it certainly wasn't the norm. Omori-ryu was the product of peaceful times and has little to do with combat reality. The ryu was included in Eishin-ryu (and Muso Shinden-ryu) as a training set -At least, that's my take on it.

Nathan Scott
14th August 2000, 00:07

One other small point that may be worth mentioning is that Bushi generally did not sit in Seiza *outside*.

Higher up's might occaisonally use short stools to sit on, like during military campaigns, but if you were outdoors, you would typically squat in sonkyo if necessary or remove your hakama (if in private) to keep from getting the silk clothing dirty while resting.

So, for the most part, if you were in seiza it was because you were indoors. We know these kinds of things because Samurai followed agreed upon methods of etiquette, such as the still extant and popular Ogasawara ryu, and these types of things were guided by strict etiquette.


Earl Hartman
14th August 2000, 16:58
Do you know how painful it is to sit in sonkyo for any length of time? In the formal kyudo ceremony known as a yawatashi, an assistant sits in sonkyo at one end of the target bank to retrieve the arrows shot by the archer. I have done this before, and although you do not sit in sonkyo for more than 2-3 minutes before the first arrow is shot, it is just hell on wheels. It takes a tremendous amount of practice to be able to do this for any length of time and still have the use of your legs.

My guess is that in a military situation iaigoshi, sitting on your haunches with the left knee on the ground with the right knee raised, was the preferred posture. If one were wearing armor, getting one's hakama dirty would not be a consideration, and the iaigoshi posture is much better from the point of view of preparedness for quick movement. Your sword can be easily drawn, and your legs are not strained. In Nagao Ryu, for instance, one never sits in seiza; the sitting position is a modified iaigoshi-type posture called kiza, where you are up on your toes but both knees are on the ground. From this position, you can move very rapidly using your toes to push off. Also, unlike modern kyudo (the ceremonial etiquette of which was adapted from the Ogasawara Ryu) the seated posture of the Heki Ryu is an iaigoshi-type posture, with the left knee on the ground and the right knee raised about 8 inches off the ground. From this posture the archer can very quickly and easily assume a kneeling posture for shooting.


Nathan Scott
14th August 2000, 18:27
That's a good point, Mr. Hartman, I had forgotten about Iaigoshi when writing the last post.

Even without armor, I've been told that it is preferable to "squat" in Iaigoshi and have one knee dusted a bit than to drop to two knees.

Thanks for the addendum.


14th August 2000, 22:10
And don't forget the classic asian squat. It drove me nuts to see these little old farmers squating next to their fields in Japan. They can sit like this for an hour at a time, and I couldn't even stretch my legs enough to get to the position. They squat with their feet flat on the ground, and their butt hanging just an inch or so off the ground. This makes tremendous sense in a region where nightsoil was the fertilizer of choice. It also explains the taboo against anything touching the ground. Outside in Japan, traditionally, and to this day, you squat. Inside, prior to the Tokugawa era, Karl Friday has said that tatehiza was the most common posture, and that seiza became popular after 1600 (I wish I had saved that post).

Peter Boylan

PS Now I can do that squat for about 10 minutes at a time.

Earl Hartman
14th August 2000, 22:31

Yes, people squat a lot in Japan, and I found it fairly easy to do, for some reason; but outside of putting a neon "I Am An Uncultured, Low Class, Country Hayseed" sign on your head, squatting in public is about the best way to call immediate attention to your status as either an inakappei or a chinpira, or at least a slovenly, low-class person in general (at least according to my wife, anyway).


[Edited by Earl Hartman on 08-14-2000 at 05:37 PM]

15th August 2000, 01:44
Hi Earl,

Living in darkest Shiga, I was an innakapei, and proud of it! It worth remembering though, that prior to the 20th century, this is the way the vast majority of Japanese would have sat outdoors. Frankly, I can't imagine anyone actually SITTING on the ground when nightsoil was the fertilzer of choice, and had to be hauled through the streets to the fields.

That said, I doubt that anyone in armour could get into seiza, and I'm sure that they couldn't get out of it if they somehow managed to get down their.

What we need are uncle Karl's solid history. Joseph, do have the post lying around anywhere?

Peter "innakapei" Boylan

Joseph Svinth
15th August 2000, 10:50
Earl -- A reading history backwards theory. While field grade officers and the soldiers assigned to their staffs are often enormously concerned with spit'n'polish, lower-ranking soldiers who pride themselves on superior job performance are often equally proud of being comparatively slovenly in appearance. Thus in a British context, while Guards Grenadiers wore red suits and shakos, the Indian Army proudly wore khaki.

Again reading history backwards, it is my experience that most soldiers outside the staff sections usually care more about taking a nap or stealing eggs or hustling the honeys than staying spotlessly clean. After all, you can always clean up but you can't always take a nap or steal eggs or find a honey worth hustling. The staff folks care about the same things, mind you, it's just that they pay somebody to shine the boots and clean and press the uniforms. Even drill instructors change clothes half a dozen times a day to maintain that fresh look.

In the field, standards deteriorate fairly quickly. Yes, this drives martinets and sergeants major nuts, but it is nonetheless a fact of military life. (There is a great Bill Mauldin cartoon that show Willie and Joe looking especially bedraggled in front of a sign saying "Entering Third Army. Ties will be worn, etc. By Order of General George S. Patton Jr." One of them is on the radio in the jeep, saying, "Tell the Lootenant we'll be a little late getting back, as we have to take this thousand mile detour.")

Peter -- Unfortunately, no I do not have that post. Do you think perhaps the original source was not E-budo but iaido-l? I say that for three reasons. First, it sounds like something that might have been said there. Second, Professor Friday posts there more than here. And finally, I don't recall reading it here, and usually I try to pay attention to historical trivia. If so, perhaps it is archived in iaido-l someplace?

ADDITION: If interested in this, try http://listserv.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9804&L=iaido-l&P=R10997 , or search "Friday seiza".

[Edited by Joseph Svinth on 08-17-2000 at 04:08 AM]

15th August 2000, 12:39

Never run when you can walk,
Never walk when you can stand,
Never stand when you can sit,
Never sit when you can lay down
Never stay awake when you can sleep.

A little ditty shared by my old man from his days as an Ashigaru.


Earl Hartman
15th August 2000, 16:36
I doubt the flat-footed squatting posture, which is the same one that is used when one relieves oneself in the field (and is probably why people think that it shouldn't be assumed in public) was used much by warriors who wanted to maintain themselves in readiness for a very simple reason: your swords would get in the way and such a posture would prevent you from getting to your sword quickly in time of need. I find that squatting posture to be quite relaxing, actually, and I would imagine that it was used quite often by soldiers if they were in a situation where rest, rather than readiness, was a priority. However, from the point of view of combat readiness, if one is going to sit, iaigoshi is the best posture. Looks cooler, too.


16th August 2000, 00:09
Iai-goshi (at least of the Katori Shinto Ryu) certainly does take some getting used to. When i first started iai, my ankles were in sheer pain, and the balls of my feet were even worse off. Learning to leap and move from that position using accurate and dynamic motions while maintaining balance and power was one of the more difficult things i have learned in my life. BUT, once your legs loosen up and your used to the new pressure in new areas, you relax into the posture, making it quite easy to stay in that position for quite some time. I find regular seiza to be excruciating compared to iai-goshi. And without a doubt, the speed of the draw compared to one from seiza is mightily fast.
Oh yeah. I know what chinpira means, but is inakappei like a country bumpkin or something.

[Edited by gmellis on 08-15-2000 at 07:12 PM]

Earl Hartman
16th August 2000, 00:31

Yeah. "Inaka" means country, and the "-pei" suffix is meant to make fun of a certain kind of accent (Ibaraki-ken, I think), where everybody ends their sentences with "-pei", e.g., "So dappei" for the standard "So desu ne", or something like that. Thus, hayseed.

I never said iaigoshi was easy, only that it beats its competition (sonkyo) by a country mile. This has been mentioned before, but the slow, seiza-based iai in MJER and MSR is only for training. In MJER, the movements are supposed to become progressively faster as you work up to tachiwaza, which, as I understand it, is the oldest part of the curriculum of the ryu.

I have seen some demos of the TSKSR iai stuff and it looks damn difficult due to the speed. I imagine its hell on the legs, at least in the beginning. Totally cool stuff, though.

Speaking of weird sitting postures, am I the only person out there who has trouble with the concept of tatehiza? I find it hard to believe that anyone would actually sit like that. I have been told that it is some sort of posture for sitting in armor, but it is, if anything, more combatively "dead" than seiza, since it is so much harder to get moving (Yokkara shoi-to!) I have heard it said that when wearing armor it would be impossible to sit in seiza because the sune would dig into the back of the knee joints; if this is true I think it would be just as much of a problem with tatehiza, where your left knee is bent at an acute angle and you are sitting on top of your own ankle (huh?).

Anyway, iaigoshi seems best, or at least not counter-intuitive.


Nathan Scott
16th August 2000, 00:58

I sit in seiza all the time wearing suneate and bogu while practicing Naginata, and iI've never found it uncomfortable. While the suneate are obviously modern and somewhat modified for practice purposes, they do appear to be pretty damn close in design to real suneate. In fact, mine even came with leather on the inside ankles to protect the user's ankle bone from the horses stirrups!

I'd guess it is more likely the haidate (thigh skirt) or just the weight alone that may have made seiza uncomfortable/impractical. But I'm just guessing...


16th August 2000, 20:32
I couldn't help but notice that the above posts imply that everyone already understands and agrees on the meaning of words like seiza, sonkyo, tatehiza, etc. In discussions of this type it is important to realize that the meanings of words change in accordance with context, regional patterns of usage, and historical evolution.

After the start of Meiji (1868) various authors and national organizations began to establish standard definitions and national norms for daily practices such as sitting. When modern Japanese draw distinctions between sonkyo, tatehiza, and iaigoshi, therefore, they do so based on the general notions of etiquette that were popularized at that time. Prior to Meiji there existed widespread variation among regions, social classes, and historical periods. We cannot rely on modern distinctions to interpret premodern texts or practices.

Our best historical evidence for evaluating how groups of people normally sat (or any other behavior) is pictorial. Illustrations, however, frequently depict scenes that the artist never witnessed. Even when artists were eye-witnesses, they often re-arrange details for artistic or other considerations. For this reason, even illustrations present many problems of interpretation. When we try to describe those illustrations in words, or when we read historical texts that describe the appearance of some scene it becomes immediately obvious that our vocabulary is too vague. Words alone cannot convey the scene accurately.

Just for fun, I checked how the terms used in the above discussion are actually defined in the *Nihon kokugo daijiten* (20 vols.) published by Shokakan. This is the largest and most historically accurate dictionary now available for Japanese. Instead of merely copying definitions from earlier dictionaries (as is usually the case), the editors of this dictionary carefully compiled usage notes from thousands of works of literature and collections of historical documents. Here are their definitions.


za: any bodily position between standing and lying down

seiza-1 (NOTE: written with kanji for "correct sitting"): sitting in a correct position as dictated by rules of etiquette

shoza (NOTE: this is another way of reading the same kanji that are used for writing seiza): sitting directly in front of or facing a guest

seiza-2 (NOTE: written with kanji for "quiet sitting"): (1) to quiet the mind while sitting and to concentrate one's will power; (2) in Confucianism, to sit in meditation in a manner similar to sitting in Zen (zazen)

sonkyo: (1) any crouching, squatting, or cowering position; (2) the act of bending both knees, lowering one's body and bowing one's head as a superior person walks by; (3) the type of bow performed in martial arts such as sumo and kendo in which one spreads one's legs, squats down on the balls of one's feet and lowers one's head --- it is sometimes performed while touching one's left knee to the ground

tatehiza: to sit with one knee down and one knee drawn up

iai: (1) sword technique in which one squats with one knee drawn up while holding an unsheathed sword across one's back in preparation for cutting upward at an enemy; (2) a martial art developed during the Tokugawa period in which one unsheathes a long sword while uttering a kiai, also known as "iai nuki" or "iai no jutsu"

iaigoshi: (1) to draw up one knee while raising one's hips (as one is about to stand up); (2) to sit in the manner used while practicing the martial art of Iaido; (3) a word used in a metaphorical sense for any unsettled state or condition


From the definitions above, I think it is clear that when reading a historical document we cannot know for certain exactly which bodily position any of the these words might indicate. If one squats down in a ceremony according to the proper form, then one is squatting in seiza. If that squat is located in the central position, facing a guest, then it also is shoza. At the same time, anyone observing or writing about the ceremony could describe that exact same squat as: sonkyo, tatehiza, or iaigoshi. Unless one stipulates a precise definition for use in a particular context, then the exact referent remains unclear.

Martial art traditions stipulate definitions for use by the people who practice those traditions. Those stipulative definitions, however, are meaningless outside of that particular tradition or lineage. Consider sonkyo, for example. The book _Zusetsu Nihon bugei bunka gairon_ (Illustrated Overview of Japanese Martial Art Culture, 1994) by Osano Jun includes a section with photographs and illustrations of sonkyo as performed by various martial art lineages (koryu). All of them are different. Some touch their left knee to the ground. Some touch their right knee to the ground. Some touch neither knee to the ground. Some bring a hand down to the ground, some keep both hands on the knees, and so forth.

Similarly, the way that iaigoshi is practiced and taught various widely from one martial art lineage to the next. In some martial art lineages, iaigoshi is not a sitting posture at all. Rather, it refers to a way of shifting the weight of one's hips.

Moreover, the vast majority of fighting men (and women) in premodern times, especially prior to the Tokugawa period, never studied any systematic methods of combat. They learned by hunting, by trial and error, and by following the idiosyncratic examples of their compatriots and elders. There is no reason to expect that they behaved according to any widely observed norms.

We cannot automatically rely on schools of etiquette or their manuals for any help in sorting out these variations. Etiquette exists for the purpose of reinforcing distinctions of social class, status, and privilege. In other words, it is used to clearly indicate who knows the proper methods and who does not. Rules of etiquette define the elite few and distinguish them from the common masses. If everyone followed the rules of etiquette, then there would be no reason for codifying them into rules. By definition, then, rules of etiquette describe how a relatively small portion of the population behaved under certain limited circumstances.

In the end, we are on much safer ground if avoid broad generalizations until after we have clarified which cases we know, which ones we can guess, and which ones we cannot know.

Neil Hawkins
16th August 2000, 23:53
A question.

If, as we are all pretty much in agreeance, katana were not worn indoors, ever, why are there iaijutsu kata that perform many variations on the theme of sitting in (what we today understand as) seiza and iaigoshi? I have practiced ones from in front, from beside, from behind and against multiple and/or standing opponents. I think the techniques originally came from Mugai Ryu but were absorbed into Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu at some stage.

I can understand iaido using them as exercises, but these were two person kata, were they "reverse engineered" from the iaido forms, or is it possible that there were times when you would sit beside or infront of a person wearing thier sword?

I thought maybe as you wait to go into battle, you may wait in ranks. Possibly at roadside inn or stalls where you sat outside, but even then I was under the impression that it was good form to remove the sword from the obi and put on your right hand side.

Any ideas?


Brian Dunham
17th August 2000, 00:07
I think the whole seza contraversy is pretty silly. I don't think that the "apparent" combative nature(or lack of) shouldn't be taken too seriously. The funny thing, to me anyway, is that none of my Iai teachers have ever claimed that the sword was worn in seiza or that the kata were actually meant to be applied that way. Some Kata do not always make sense, combatively, until we study them very deeply and discover the lessons they are meant to teach. Iai from seiza is meant only to serve as a foundation, to teach the mechanics of the system, and to train and develop the legs and hips(as stated previously). This is similar to the way the kata Sanchin is used in Goju ryu Karate do. It builds the foundation for further study. At first, the feet are turned in and certain muscles are used to "grip the floor". Later, in advanced kata, the feet are not turned in, and there is little tension, but there is the same effect. This could not be achieved without the initial study of Sanchin. As with Omori ryu(shoden) in MJER/MSR, it is a vital part of the PROCESS.
My Iai Sensei, the late Paul Sylvain(7th dan MSR) explained it this way: Shoden(Omori ryu) is to teach the mechanics, or the fundamentals, Chuden(Hasegawa Eishin ryu) is to teach how to move low with the hips(although some schools emphasize this more or less than others), and Okuden(okuiai) is the real applications of the art.
Another view on the use of seiza is that you need some static postion from which to begin a kata. Seiza is technically simpler than Tate hiza, so it makes sense for the beginning set. Also, after training from seiza, tatehiza, and tachiai, one should be able to move and draw from any sitting, crouching, standing, or transitional position that you find yourself in when you are attacked.

Brian Dunham
MSR San Shin Kai

Gil Gillespie
18th August 2000, 03:48
One of the most impressive images from my stay in Japan in 1981 was observing the construction of a traditional house. None of the carpenters seemed younger than 60. There were no workbenches or power tools. They all worked in the above flat-footed squat, hours on end, equipped only with their double-edged pull-stroke saws. After the beams were completed using dazzling intricate joinery dowelled together, no hardware, the entire tiled roof was completed. That squatting posture was confortably employed on the pitches of the roof as well. Then the interior was completed. No paint. Only lustrous satin staining of perfect woods. It all reminded me of Musahi's carpentry metaphor in the beginning of Go Rin No Sho.

Earl Hartman
18th August 2000, 18:25

Squatting in a work environment of the type you describe was not what I was talikng about. In many situations, the squat is the most zppropriate posture to use, and I have used it myself quite often when the situation demands it. It is just that in Japan, in general, it is considered inappropriate to sit that way in public, while you ware waiting for a bus or a train, for instance, or if you are talking with your friends in a public space. Of course, it goes without saying that women should never sit that way in a public place unless they're on the farm. Like most things in Japan (or anywhere, for that matter), this is a matter of suiting your actions to the place and situation in which you find yourself. It's sort of like being able to blow your nose loudly in the locker room shower without worrying about a Kleenex, but you can't do that anywhere else.