Iaido is typically practiced through a set of seitei (standardized) kata. These kata were standardized by the All Japan Kendo Federation (Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei). When originally set up in 1969, there were seven kata. Three more were added in 1977, and two more were added in the fall of 2000.
Having standard set of kata permits a more objective measure for testing. A student of any ryu would learn the seitei kata for the purpose of obtaining a Federation recognized rank. The benefit of a Federation rank is that it is portable: it is recognized by any school or club that is a member of the Federation. The seitei kata are recognized by all major federations today.
The kata are broken up into four fundamental phases:
- Nukitsuki (Nukiuchi)
- The first cut that flows from the draw.
- Kirioroshi (Kiritsuke)
- This is the killing blow.
- Chiburi (Chiburui)
- Shaking the blood off of the sword.
- Sheathing the sword.
There are also four basic points that must be mastered:
- This word does not translate into English, but it is the sense of awareness and readiness that comes after an action.
- The interval between you and your opponent. This is not simply physical distance, but distance is part of it.
- Where your eyes are focused
- Te no uchi
- Proper grip
The character of the seitei kata clearly demonstrate that its foundations do not belong to any particular ryu. The kata differ widely in character because different kata come from different ryu and focus on different methods. Even the opening and closing reiho are different -- the opening coming from Muso Shinden Ryu, and the closing coming from Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu.
It is common for modern iaido schools to focus on the seitei kata in the beginning, and allowing more advanced students to move onto koryo. Even so, most schools have a clear koryo heritage that can be seen in the way various movements are performed. For example, a school with a Muso Shinden Ryu heritage will perform noto differently than a Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu school, even if performing seitei kata.
The twelve seitei kata are named:
- Mae (front)
- Ushiro (rear)
- Uke-nagashi (flowing redirection)
- Tsuka-ate (strike with the butt end)
- Kesagiri (cutting the robe's sleeves)
- Morote Tsuki (two-handed thrust)
- Sanpo Giri (three-sides cut)
- Ganmen Ate (strike the face)
- Soete Tsuki ("aligned hands" thrust)
- Shiho Giri (four-sides cut)
- Sou Giri (cut repeatedly)
- Nuki Uchi (dodge)