Iaido is the art of drawing and cutting with the Japanese sword (katana). Iaido practioners (iaidoka) practice solo forms that consist of drawing the sword suddenly, from a standing or seated position, to strike a hypothetical opponent.
A typical iaido class consists of repeated practice of one or more forms (kata) practied against an imaginary opponent. Each form begins with the sword sheathed and the iaidoka in a standing or seated position. The iaidoka draws the sword from the scabbard, executes one or more stikes, shakes the imaginary opponent's blood from the blade, and replaces the sword in the scabbard. Practice is led by an instructor (sensei) who demonstrates proper technique and gives advice and feedback for students to refine their forms. Unlike kendo, iaido practice does not involve sparring or drills with partners. At Baltimore-Annapolis Kendo, students must be at least 16 years of age to participate in iaido.
Iaido students learn the 12 forms approved by the All United States Kendo Federation, known as the Sei Tei Gata. Advanced students learn additional forms from specific classical traditions, such as Mugai Ryu. Iaido uses a rank system similar to other Japanese martial arts, in which beginning students progress downwards through a series of kyu grades and more advanced students progress upwards through a series of dan ranks (equivalent to degrees of "black belt" in other arts, although in iaido all practioners wear the same clothing and there are no visible indications of rank). Iaidoka progress through ranks by participating in official examinations (shinsa) in which they demonstrate solo kata in front of a panel of high ranking iaidoka. Iaido practioners may also choose to participate in competitions, which consist of two iaidoka performing their kata at the same time next to one another, with a panel of referees determining which competitor has the more perfect form.