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Thread: Iaito versus Shinken

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    Question Iaito versus Shinken

    A question for all you iaidoka. Our MJER Sensei requires that all students use an iaito, while our MSR Sensei requires that all students use a shinken. Both have good reasons. And it doesn't matter how much iaido experience the students have in either case.

    So I'm wondering how many of you are using which sword type, & why? A brief note as which ryuha & how long you've been studying would be useful to know, too.
    Ken Goldstein
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    Judo Kodansha/MJER Iaido Kodansha/Jodo Oku-iri
    Fencing Master/NRA Instructor

    "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it'll annoy enough people to be worth the effort."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken-Hawaii View Post
    A question for all you iaidoka. Our MJER Sensei requires that all students use an iaito, while our MSR Sensei requires that all students use a shinken. Both have good reasons. And it doesn't matter how much iaido experience the students have in either case.

    So I'm wondering how many of you are using which sword type, & why? A brief note as which ryuha & how long you've been studying would be useful to know, too.
    In Seiki Ryu we started with bokken and moved to iaito for the iai practice, but stuck with bokken for kumitachi.

    I don't know when -- or if -- we would have moved to shinken because the dojo closed before I got any significant rank. (I was there for two years.)

    At Muso Kai (MSR), Konno Sensei encouraged (required?) shinken for high ranking practitioners (above 6th dan, if I recall), allowed it for some lower grades, and discouraged it for beginers. (I was a beginner.)

    Unless one is doing cutting, I think iaito are fine for practice. There is a cost saving, they're allowed to be taken into Japan if one should have the opportunity to travel there, and -- let's be honest -- there is less liability.
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    I use an iaito because I cannot afford a shinken. I live in Japan which limits my options. I have been given the OK for using a shinken from sensei and encouraged to do so (often strongly) by my sempai. Only a few sempai directly above me use iaito, but most use shinken. Shinken have been forbidden while practicing any of the tachiuchi.

    I train in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and have done so for a little more than 3 years.
    無雙直傳英信流・日本古武道居合研究会 - Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu ・ Nihon Kobudo Iai Kenkyukai
    東京蘆洲会 - Tokyo Roshukai

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    Would you give a ferrari to a 17 year old who hasn't taken a test... no.

    I use bokken, iaito and shinken, but would not be keen on my beginners picking up an iaito until they had worked out which way up the saya needs to be for noto.
    Note swords would be blunted way back when for beginners until they had some basics down, then they get sharpened. In these days of sueing etc it is not very sensible to give beginners shinken....
    Tim Hamilton

    Why are you reading this instead of being out training? No excuses accepted...

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    Size of the Training area and liability insurance is also a factor.
    Mat Rous

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    Default Blunted swords for beginners?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chidokan View Post
    Would you give a ferrari to a 17 year old who hasn't taken a test... no. 。。。。。。。。。。。
    Note swords would be blunted way back when for beginners until they had some basics down, then they get sharpened. 。。。。。。。
    Interesting - I'd never thought of that, had assumed that most styles just started with bokken. Any references for this?

    thanks,
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    While I absolutely don't encourage them for beginners, I also don't have much to say about who uses them and when. Our students tend to start using them when they feel ready, so far that's stretched from about nidan to godan.

    For myself I started with a wall-hanger, then when I snapped the plastic hilt in half went through a very heavy shinken (gunto), then some white metal "iaito" that broke at the habaki, and finally to the bliss of a half-way decently balanced iaito with the right length and a proper aluminum blade.

    It was only when I started using the iaito that I was able to push the envelope and my iaido improved dramatically.

    Now use a shinken made in China that's a dream, light, stiff and great balance.

    The transition between shinken and iaito was never big, but the safety of your practice with an iaito can help your learning so I recommend starting with one.

    Kim Taylor

    MJER, FIK, started 1983 with a bokuto and switched to wall-hanger very shortly after that.

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    I'm well aware of the potential problems of liability, training area size, & letting a beginner/teenager use anything sharp, but I'm more interested in what everyone else is using for iaido.

    As mentioned, my MJER Sensei insists on all 14 new students using an iaito, or a bokken with saya if they can't afford that, while my MSR Sensei (Menkyo Kaiden) equally insists that all his students use shinken, even while they're just starting out. He says that students will be a lot more careful learning with a live blade than with a dull iaito, & I can see his point. Watching how carelessly several of our new MJER students handle their iaito makes me grit my teeth (I thoroughly chewed one out yesterday [25-year-old Marine] for using his tsuba for scratching his back while holding onto the blade!). Needless to say, he sat out the rest of that practice session....

    Our three newest MSR students are an aikido sensei & his assistant, & a seasoned police officer who is an assistant judo sensei, so these are not your typical beginners who are taking up iaido because they thought Conan or Lord of the Rings was pretty cool. But none of them have ever handled a katana at all. My wife & I graduated to shinken quite a few years ago in MJER, & have a lot of respect for our blades (& our fingers!). Chikodan, neither of us are using "Ferrari-quality" shinken (I have a decent Showato, while Linda uses a very nice Shinshinto katana), but Chinese & Korean shinken are available these days for a few hundred dollars, so cost isn't really a major factor; I was picking up a new obi in downtown Honolulu last week, & saw a Paul Chen practical katana for sale for $199, with 20% off for dojo members....

    So my question to list-ka isn't why you shouldn't use a shinken, but rather what you are using (iaito or shinken - or bokken with/without saya), ryuha name, & how long you've been training in it.
    Ken Goldstein
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    Judo Kodansha/MJER Iaido Kodansha/Jodo Oku-iri
    Fencing Master/NRA Instructor

    "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it'll annoy enough people to be worth the effort."

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    Default The things I use.....

    For iai, I primarily study (when possible from travel, etc.) Takeuchi ryu iai (as part of overall TR training). Have for a year and a half. But in jodo for over 3 yrs, it's strictly a bokken, a rather hefty one with a largish tsuka, but standard length.

    Beyond that I have several friends and acquaintances in other iai styles that are glad to have me sit in and mimic their practice on occasion, just for fun and research; the privilege of knowing a lot of different guys over years, I guess.

    I use my bokken stuck in my belt, another bokken I have w/ a plastic saya, a decent commercial iaito I bought in Japan (but changed out the tsuba), borrowed bokken, whatever....

    Why? Beyond sloth, there's the question of the practicality of whether I can carry my own kit on a given day (in Tokyo, it's not just a matter of leaving it all in the trunk of your car, you may have to drag it around town, sometimes all day, to business meetings, or a business dinner after practice, etc.).

    And, to some perhaps heresy, but I have a theory that you should practice regularly with a variety of swords, of different lengths, weights, etc., to get the feel of different weapons.

    I pick up whatever I have at hand, swing it a couple of times to get the weight, length, balance, how the tsuka feels in my hand, and if the tsuba gets in the way. Sometimes I smack the back of the blade to confirm the center of percussion, then it's off to town.

    Why?

    To me it's the practicality of the form, and reminding me that I control the sword, not the other way around. I think that mastery of a movement means that I can pick up any reasonably balanced, useful sword and perform to some reasonable degree.

    Of course, that may be one of the many reasons my iai is not so, hmmmm, distinguished. But I think it odd that different swords seem to throw folks off.

    Despite your post limiting the conversation, it seems to me that training is the difference. If you always train as if there's a edge to your 'sword', then handling a shinken becomes more natural. It's training with complacency, lack of awareness of others around you, maai, etc., that gets you into trouble with a shinken.

    Having said that, I personally don't have much use for them in a dojo, don't see the point. Especially with some of the beginners I've seen! scary..... but I do collect sharp, pointy things, just don't have a great desire to wave them about.

    What do US insurance companies say about shinken in the dojo?
    Lance Gatling ガトリング
    Tokyo 東京

    Long as we're making up titles, call me 'The Duke of Earl'

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    Interesting response, Lance! Thanks!

    On the insurance question, our MJER dojo is covered via a group policy from the local kendo federation which covers "swords of all types," whatever that means. On the SMR side, I have no idea but will ask Sensei when he gets back from his trip; good thing to know.

    Like you, Linda & I use several katana &, now that I think about it, different bokken, too. I bought my shinken based on the fact that it has a very slim blade, & weighs within a few grams as my iaito. Linda decided to buy a shorter shinken, so there's not much weight difference from her iaito, either. My MJER bokken is a standard white oak model, but my SMR bokken is (like yours) very hefty (pau ferro, ash, & purpleheart, thanks to Kim Taylor ) to keep those nasty jo as far away as possible! My tameshigiri shinken is about 400 grams heavier than my other blades, & a couple of inches longer, too.

    It honestly never occurred to me to pick up another katana to use while I'm on travel, Lance, & I don't see why that would make much difference in performance. But I'd probably choose to use an iaito instead of an unknown shinken, all things considered....

    I didn't realize that I was "limiting" the conversation by not including training; I just wanted to minimize comments on why not to use a shinken. I'll admit to being a bit surprised when Sensei stated that he wanted us to use shinken in SMR training, but at least Linda & I had considerable experience handling live blades in MJER. And as we are also MJER sempai, we work with new students enough to know just how "different" handling a katana can be, & have developed techniques to help them learn safely. Our SMR dojo is the middle of a big grassy field (yeah, that works year-round out here in Hawaii, although we get awfully wet some times),& it's a considerably different training environment than inside our MJER dojo. Not sure why that makes any difference, but it does. Maybe it's the dive-bombing flocks of screaming lorikeets..., yeah, that's it!
    Ken Goldstein
    --------------------------------
    Judo Kodansha/MJER Iaido Kodansha/Jodo Oku-iri
    Fencing Master/NRA Instructor

    "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it'll annoy enough people to be worth the effort."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken-Hawaii View Post
    ....but Chinese & Korean shinken are available these days for a few hundred dollars, so cost isn't really a major factor; I was picking up a new obi in downtown Honolulu last week, & saw a Paul Chen practical katana for sale for $199, with 20% off for dojo members....
    Chen blades and the like are still not balanced well enough to use them regularly in kata - most are ok for cutting but still pretty crowbar-like. I would not be encouraging their use for beginners as bad habits will creep in.

    A good Iaito from Japan is light years away from these and are regularly used in Japan as well .They aren't all light either. My iaito is 1150g and is hefty but is also fast due to being well made.

    If I could afford a Japanese Shinken, I'd expect it to be as well balanced as the iaito I use. I'm still saving for one.(House prices here are $$$$).
    Mat Rous

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    I personally only use an iaito for safety reasons. While training at seminars, I notice that Hooper-sensei (6th dan, renshi iaido) also only uses an iaito. I asked him why and he mentioned that shinken are not necessary unless you need to cut something. Iaito work just fine for iai as we aren't really cutting any targets (I hope ). I agree with his logic.

    Shinken are pretty, but pretty things often bite.
    Jonathan DeSousa

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    I believe Iwata Norikazu is in the same camp regarding shinken. He's a bokuto kinda guy most times when he's not actively practicing, isn't he?

    Michael Hodge

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken-Hawaii View Post
    Chikodan, neither of us are using "Ferrari-quality" shinken (I have a decent Showato, while Linda uses a very nice Shinshinto katana), but Chinese & Korean shinken are available these days for a few hundred dollars, so cost isn't really a major factor;
    At the risk of putting words into Tim's mouth, I don't think he was talking about cost. In the hands of a beginner driver, a poorly judged tap on the gas will send that Ferrari off the road whereas something like a Civic would be much more forgiving of mistakes. And even an experienced driver has to pay attention all the time, as that Ferrari won't suffer idiots at the wheel.

    Extending the analogy even further, you could argue that it would be the rarest of beginner drivers who would have a hope of not cracking up a Ferrari, and only very good drivers indeed could drive one well.
    Last edited by gendzwil; 14th April 2008 at 23:37.
    Neil Gendzwill
    Saskatoon Kendo Club

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    My situation is a bit different from that of people who practice MSR or MJER. My sensei has taught me a little bit of batto (in this case the same as iai), but only as a supplement to the kenjutsu that I study. The idea is that if I spend all of my time using bokuto and fukuro shinai, it's possible that I'll build up some habits that don't transfer well; the batto is there strictly to acquaint me with the feel of a sword. For that reason, it would be fairly useless for me to use a bokken in my batto practice. I've opted to use a shinken for most of my training, as that seems the option most compatible with the spirit of getting me used to "the real thing." As other people have said, I think that using live steel has heightened my awareness and sensitivity in a very useful way.
    David Sims

    "Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum." - Terry Pratchet

    My opinion is, in all likelihood, worth exactly what you are paying for it.

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