This sacred samurai shrine is the birthplace of Iaido, a form of martial arts that was founded by Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu in Murayama-shi. When he was a young child, his father was murdered on his way home, inspired him to meditate and create the battojutsu, a technique of quickly pulling out the sword from it’s sheath which later spread among samurai all over Japan.
Despite Shigenobu’s dramatic history, Iaido focuses on self-improvement. The samurai sword was once only used for killing, but now it’s a tool for finding inner peace and bring balance to the body and spirit through discipline – the tool that was once meant for cutting thing down is now used for building thing up. After offering prayers, the masters at Hayashizaki Iai Shrine offer you the opportunity to become a legendary samurai.
The opportunity for self-improvement through Iaido is open to anyone, as there is no age or gender restrictions. laido masters have spent decades of their lives perfecting the art of Iaido, and their experience shows as they patiently guide the lessons. From their calm and kind demeanor, it is easy to forget that they are carrying deadly weapons on their hand. However, they always not forget to emphasize the respect that should be shown to the Japanese katana (sword) throughout the experience and during the kata demonstration.
Kata in martial arts is a series of precisely choreographed movements that test the strength of both the mind and body. The Iaido kata taught at the Hayashizaki Iai Shrine was inherited over 450 years ago, and the masters here are the only instructors in the area to lead this unique samurai experience. The smooth, deliberate movements of the instructors seem easy to imitate, but in reality, each kata is incredibly detailed and difficult to perform – especially the action of safely sliding the razor-sharp sword back into it’s sheath.
At Hayashizaki Iaido Shrine, you can also take part in tameshi-giri (Tatami cutting) experience, where participants will have the chance to wield a real Japanese katana. Knowing the history and power behind the katana, the thought of swinging the mighty Japanese sword is exciting yet intimidating.
As I held katana during my experience session, I felt a thrilling surge of power. The weight of the katana in my hands carried a sense of strength and severity that can’t be experienced in any other way. Using the fundamentals taught during the kata lessons, I took a deep breath, aimed the sword, and slashed through my tatami target. The cut was so clean and quick that the lobbed-off piece of the tatami fell to the floor for the tension and focus built up for the swing hand a chance to release, resulting in a hilariously delayed reaction. The lack of resistance as the blade slid through the target was a stunning display of how sharp the ancient Japanese weapon really is.
Unexpectedly, I also gained a new-found respect for the samurai for their discipline and the power they wielded. No longer were the fearsome samurai something of legend, they felt real and relatable – like anyone could obtain their strength with enough training. Just like the world-famous swordsmen, the Iaido Original Experience has a life long lasting impact.