From very early times laido has evolved as the great sword art of Japan. It began with the refinements of sword making and its development has been at the centre of Japan’s historical martial arts.
laido is, physically, the art of drawing the sword and attacking one or more opponents in one flowing, continuous motion. The object of laido is to develop one’s mind and body and the emphasis is on developing one’s ability to remain calm and in control of oneself when under pressure.
However the true spirit of laido does not necessarily mean to cut an enemy, but rather to cut the enemy within oneself. Victory in Iai is the non-revengeful heart and the cessation of conflict through not drawing the sword. Thus you may understand why lai of old was called Saya-no-Uchi, invincibility without drawing the sword. In other words, Iai is a training process towards human perfection, never of murderous intent, but peaceful minded. The modern significance of Iai is peace and tranquillity for human life. In the larger sense Iai means the Way of Dwelling in Harmony, through endless practice seeking harmony with the universe.
Iaido is practiced by beginners using a Bokuto or wooden sword. When a basic level of proficiency is attained the practitioner can begin to use an laito, a metal sword, which cannot hold a sharp edge. An laito may be used up to 5th dan and after this a Shinken should be used. This is the traditional, razor sharp sword of the Samurai and is very expensive to buy.
Practice in laido involves learning basic cutting techniques and using them in forms or kata. A form is a sequence of defined moves against an imaginary opponent or opponents. There are many schools of laido and each has its own set of forms with functional and stylistic differences between the schools. Some schools are ancient and some modern, as a beginner you will start by learning the twelve forms of Seitei laido which were created in the 1970s especially for beginners.