The Student Mind.
Buying you first iaito
I've asked my students to purchase their first iaito. I know that when I purchased my first sword for training, I wish that I had a guide or reference to help me navigate the many aspects of what can be a quite sizable and significant purchase. I hope that these posts will help you to make an informed decision when choosing your own sword!
There are many things to consider when buying a sword for training. Weight, size, blade curvature, aesthetics, and "feel" - the most intangible but arguably the most important aspect of choosing your sword. Of course, there's one more very important factor: price. In my following posts I will discuss each of these qualities and how to make a decision to find the sword that's right for you.
PART 1 - SIZE
Size matters. It's the truth. But this doesn't mean that bigger is better!
Generally, iaito blades vary in length from 27-29 inches. The handles, or "tsuka" usually range from 10-13 inches. Of course, as there is no "standard" sizing in sword creation, it is not unusual to find much longer or shorter swords often custom made to the purchaser's preferences and proclivities. It is important to note that the blade and handle lengths must be considered separately, as these lengths will vary from person to person based not only on the practitioner's height, but also on their training style and preferences.
Blade Length - The length of your sword's blade should not be determined by your height alone. You height will of course play a factor, but arguably more important then your height is your arm length. When drawing the sword, the right hand not only draws the sword forward, but simultaneously the left hand draws the scabbard (sword case) or "saya" back until only the tip of the blade remains in the mouth of the saya. When in this position, the body may turn a little bit, maybe 10-15 degrees, but should not turn more then that. Ideally, the body should remain almost completely square and faced-front and all but the tip of the blade should be out of the saya. Those with shorter arms will find that they have to compensate with turning their body more if they have a long blade, which should be discouraged. Likewise, a person with long arms and a short blade will find that the sword has exited the mouth of the saya before they've fully extended their right (drawing) arm.
Generally, a longer blade will be heavier and a shorter blade lighter. There are merits and deficiencies to both, but I will address this in a following post.
Handle (tsuka) length - Determining the proper sized tsuka depends mostly on hand size, and usually will vary in length proportionally to the size of the blade. The longer the blade, the longer the handle. Again, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, and will vary according to preference, but less so than the blade length. The reason for this is that longer blades have a different center of gravity than shorter blades, so the fulcrum point of the sword must be lowered in order to optimize the cutting potential.
To find the proper length of the handle, you must maintain the proper grip. This is similar to the relaxed "golf" or "tennis" grip where the last two fingers on each hand are doing most of the work, and the blade "rests" in the rest of the fingers. An incorrect grip is one in which all the fingers are grasping tightly. The left hand should be on the bottom, with the little finger about 1 - 1 1/2 inches from the end cap of the sword. The right hand grips in a similar fashion, with the right hand little finger at a space of two finger widths above the left. Ideally, this should position the right hand index finger just below, or even just grazing the blade guard (tsuba). If there is more then a finger's width between the right hand and the tsuba, your tsuka is too short.