Iaito And Katana

This page is my advice on what to look for and possible sources for acquiring swords for use in iaido.

Basics - especially for beginners

Iaido is and art practiced with the Japanese katana. But actual katana are not usually used by beginners for two main reasons:

  • Real katana, whether antique or new, are quite expensive, and
  • Real katana are normally quite sharp, and it's easy - especially for a beginner - to cut themselves with one, and
  • In some places (Japan in particular) an actual katana is regulated as a weapon

When you add in that there is little actual cutting (in the sense of actually cutting an object) in early iai training, most beginning students opt for one of the other options.


Katana are sized by measuring from the munemachi (the notch in the blade the habaki fits into) to the tip in a straight line. They are usually sized in shaku (a traditional Japanese measure that is just short of a foot long - 11.9303 inches). 2.45 shaku is a fairly typical length, but 2.25 shaku is an in-stock size at all three of the sources I generally use.

There are no hard rules for how long a katana should be, but generally the rule of thumb I use is to hold the sword loosely in my hand; its point should be a couple of inches off the floor. The other test is to be sure that you can sheath the sword, although with practice your ability to sheath a longer sword will improve somewhat.

There's a table available in a couple of places (specifically here) that attempts to suggest the appropriate length for a katana based on height of the iadoka.

Iai Bokken

It is possible to set up a wooden practice sword to be a useful practice weapon for iaido, and this is likely the first option a beginner should look at.


While you could call any sword used in iaido an "iaito" (since the word means "iai sword") the term is generally used for a training sword made specifically for practicing iaido. Instead of a steel blade, they are made with a non-ferrous alloy (aluminum and zinc, if I recall correctly). As a result, they are much softer than a steel blade, and are not sharpened on the edge.

As a safety note, an iaito's point is fairly sharp and can inflict a painful, if minor, puncture wound

Purpose-built iaito are commonly sold in martial arts supply stores specifically for the practice of iaido and related arts. The three first sources I look at when looking for such iai supplies are:

  • eBogu (Southern California). eBogu carries a relatively limited stock of iaito compared to the other two on this list, but they are in Southern California and are very responsive. As I write this, most of their iaito seem to start at about $600.
  • Seido (Tokyo) Their in-stock iato start about $460, and they also will make custom iaito. Additionally, they carry iai wakasashi (and tanto)
  • Tozando (Tokyo). They carry a wide variety of iaito at various price points, starting at about $400.

All three of these offer good to excellent iaito, with the various price points for in-stock iaito varying primarily with the koshirae (the various fittings of the blade, including the handle and scabbard). Custom made iaito will be noticeably more expensive.

Wall Hangers

Non-Japanese "katana"

Shinken (live steel katana)

Other Useful Accessories

  • Cleaning kit: Iaito are not as sensitive to being kept clean as steel blades, but still should be cleaned regularly. Traditional cleaning supplies are sold in kits, and that's the simplest way to get them.
  • Sword bag: You'll probably want a simple sword bag to protect the sword while it's being stored and transported. While there are fancy (and expensive) bags available, all you actually need is a simple bag. Check the sword you're buying; it's likely that a simple bag will come with the sword.
  • Carrying bag: It's convenient to have a bag that you use to carry all of your weapons (sword, bokken, jo) to and from the dojo. While all of the suppliers I like have several varieties, my favorite types come from eBogu.