Iaido classes are conducted in a traditional Japanese manner. Terminology is usually in Japanese, although instruction is in English or by demonstration. Beginners are instructed separately until they have learned enough of the basics to train with the advanced students.
Initially, beginners don't need to worry about buying a hakama, gi, or any equipment needed for iaido. You should wear some comfortable clothing that you don't mind sweating into (training pants/shirt or karate-dogi) - we will provide the rest. Beginners can expect to spend most of their early classes practicing basic footwork, posture and strokes as well as an introduction to the first seitei iaido kata. After a few months (two or three is about average) the student is ready to start practicing with an iaito or practice blade.
After a month or so, you will be expected to purchase a uniform (hakama and gi) for about $120. The sensei will help you with your equipment ordering needs.
Iaido is based on Japanese Bushido (the way of the warrior), where reishiki (etiquette, respect, and manner) is just as important as fighting skill. Iaido is a modern-day descendant of earlier techniques of drawing the sword to inflict deadly injury on someone else. With that in mind, we need to change our mind set when we are practicing Iaido. Not only to practice safely, but also to consider the true essence of iaido.
The dojo is a place apart from our home and our work, and should be considered so. There is an excellent article about Reikisihi written by Deborah Klens-Bigman on the Fighting Arts web site. The following is a portion of her article that I think relates directly to the type of attitude one should have when practicing iaido.
"Reishiki not only teaches respect and self-control, it sets off time in the dojo from time in ordinary life. As many anthropologists studying ritual have pointed out, an opening/closing ritual “sets off” the time in between as “special time.” In terms of iaido practice reishiki sets off the dojo as a place to recognize practices and hierarchies not normally considered in everyday life. For example, a construction worker may become a dojo chief instructor, a successful attorney may be gently cuffed around as an unranked beginner."
Iaido practice involves the use of swords in a confined space, a potentially dangerous activity. Reishiki signals an atmosphere of mutual trust in the dojo where these activities may safely take place.
These guidelines are based on the traditional Japanese iaido dojo, and follow safety as well as manners.
When entering or exiting the dojo, one should always bow to the front of the room (Shomen) regardless of anyone being present.
Whenever arriving or departing the dojo, bow and give proper greeting or farewell to those present and to sensei.
If you arrive late for a training session, after you change clothes, you should sit off to the side of the dojo, perform mokuso, bow to the front of the room and remain in seiza until recognized by the instructor. After recognition you should bow in using the correct manner and may then join the class at the instructor's direction.
If a student must leave early he should inform the instructor before hand. When it is time, go to the side facing the Shomen and bow out.
The prescribed uniform is a white keiko-gi and a white hakama. Students who've studied another martial art may use their pants and top as long as there are no logo or rankings on it, but a proper hakama is preferred. Students with full black hakama may wear them on the first week's practices in each month.
In matters of training, protocol, and etiquette always follow your senior's directions. Do not question a senpai's instruction while you are in the dojo, even if you think he is mistaken. The time for discussion is after the training session.
Instructors are to always be addressed as "Sensei." Higher ranking students as "Senpai."
Junior students should help tend to the instructors' needs, e.g., carry their equipment to and from the training area, prepare their equipment before practice and put away their equipment after practice, fold their keiko-gi and hakama, etc.
When an instructor enters the training area, everyone should bow and give greeting.
Students are not to instruct other students unless specifically directed to do so by the head instructor. A senpai may assist their own kohai when paired by the Sensei.
If not actively practicing, sit in seiza or stand. Do not lean against the walls, sit in chairs or bleachers, or sit on the floor with your legs outstretched.
When going around others, try to pass behind. If for any reason you must walk in front of a fellow kenshi, extend your right hand in front of you, bow and excuse yourself as you pass. Always be aware of your surroundings.
Be constantly mindful of the courtesies extended to other kenshi. Be particularly mindful of the courtesies and respect that is to be extended to Senpai (senior members), regardless of their rank.
Students assigned dojo equipment for their use assume all responsibility for the care, and maintenance and of the equipment.
Students assigned dojo equipment for use assume all responsibility for replacement, in whole or in part, of the equipment where damage is beyond repair and was sustained through other than normal, intended usage.
Students assigned dojo equipment will return the equipment in good condition upon the students discontinuing iaido practice, termination of membership, or upon an instructor's request.
The use of dojo equipment shall not take place unless an instructor is present and supervising its use.
All equipment is to be examined before and after each practice for good functional condition. Faulty equipment is not to be used under any circumstances. When in doubt, ask the Sensei.
Always carry your katana with your thumb or forefinger on the tsuba.
Never ask directly to examine another's katana or other equipment.
Cleaning, oiling, or examining of katana is to be done outside the Dojo training area and not until the practice session has officially ended.
When accepting another's sheathed katana always take the katana in both hands, parallel to the floor, cutting edge towards the other, and bow to the katana with a short, respectful bow. Return the katana in the same fashion except that the cutting edge is towards yourself. The general rule is that when passing a katana to another (either sheathed or unsheathed) the edge should always be toward the person who is passing the katana to the other person.
When accepting an unsheathed blade grip the tsuka firmly with your left hand near the tsuba; after the owner relaxes his grip turn the cutting edge towards yourself and grip the tsuka with both hands. Bow to the katana and its owner. Reverse the procedure when returning the blade.
Never stand over, walk over, or stumble against another's katana, bokken, or other equipment. Never use another's katana without permission.
When bowing with the katana along your side, make sure the saya is not resting upon your hakama.