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How the Iaitō Rose to Popularity

March 13, 2018

How the Iaitō Rose to Popularity

The iaitō remains one of the most popular and widely used training swords in Japanese martial arts. Nearly all styles of traditional martial arts under kenjutsu use it, attesting to its popularity. Although the iaitō features a metal blade, it's still considered a practice sword because of its blunt and dull edge. So, how did this traditional Japanese practice sword rise to popularity?

What Is the Iaitō?

As shown in the photo above, the iaitō mimics the characteristics of a traditional Japanese katana, featuring a similar blade length and curvature. Upon closer inspection, though, you'll realize some key differences, the first of which is that it lacks a live blade. The iaitō doesn't have a cutting edge, nor does it have a sharp tip. Rather, both edges and the tip are dull to protect against injury, thus making it a safe and effective training sword for kenjutsu practitioners.

This doesn't necessarily mean the iaitō is a "fake sword," however. Even though it lacks a live edge, it's still strong and durable enough for use in martial arts. This made the iaitō an excellent tool for use in battojutsu, iaido, boken and other forms of traditional Japanese martial arts.

Iaitō Construction

Looking further into the iaitō's construction, this practice sword was often made of aluminum-zinc alloy instead of high-carbon steel. Aluminum-zinc alloy was cheaper and easier to source than high-carbon steel, resulting in a lower production cost. However, the iaitō still featured many of the same characteristics found in other, live swords like the katana and wakizashi. Among other things, the iaitō featured an authentic weight, hamon pattern, shape and overall design.

Laws Pave Way for the Iaitō's Popularity

Aside from its utility in kenjutsu, the iaitō become popular for another reason: new laws restricting the prohibition and use of swords with a live blade made of ferrous metals. Towards the end of World War II, the Japanese government agreed to stop production of many weapons -- those not used for ceremonial or artistic purposes. This meant that people who wanted to practice budo or other forms of Japanese swordsmanship were forced to use a different sword that didn't feature ferrous metals or a live blade.

Although the restriction on Japan's swords has since been lifted, the iaitō remains the preferred training weapon for use in many styles of martial arts. Its authentic construction and similar characteristics make it ideal for this purpose. Ans since it lacks a live blade, there's minimal risk of injury when compared to other swords that have a live blade.

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