Beginners start their iai study with a bokken (wooden sword). As their iai improves, they progress to an iaito (unsharpened practice blade) and finally, after a number of years, a shinken (live, sharpened blade). All weapons are checked before and after practice for damage or wear (bokken users check for splinters/notched blades and iaito/shinken users check the mekugi (pin that holds the sword’s blade) for signs of wear) – this helps ensure that our practice is safe for the students and the sensei (especially the sensei, so she says!). When we practice kenjutsu or jodo, wooden weapons are used throughout.
For obvious reasons we cannot spar against each other like karateka do. – this would make for an incredibly dangerous art, whereas in truth, injuries are very rare. We leave the full-contact elements of the sword arts to kendoka, who can practice safely with shinai (bamboo swords) and armour.