Stephen Mercer practises Iaido

Stephen Mercer practises Iaido

Active life: Students learn art of the sword

Todo Kai Iaido Club in Nanaimo looking to expand its membership.

Nanaimo’s Todo Kai Iaido Club seeks more students looking to hone their sword skills to a razor’s edge.

Iaido is the art of the Japanese sword and Sensei Peter Gunstone and his students operate out of Departure Bay Activity Centre, through City of Nanaimo parks and recreation, on Wednesday nights at 7:30 p.m.

Gunstone said iaido is a tradition of waza (sword techniques) that was practised by samurai to maintain their skills. After the 1600s when Japan was unified, there was no longer constant warfare and samurai moved into more administrative positions, necessitating a way to maintain skills.

Iaido has an aspect to it that is non-combative and non-competitive – there is not direct contact or sparring, but the focus is on smooth motion, control and precision, said Gunstone. It is akin to tai chi, as there is no sport aspect to it.

Students start off learning basic techniques – correct cuts, how to properly hold the sword, spacing and stance, amongst other things.

“All the waza are based on muscle reaction to the situation. I’ve always [said] it’s akin to if you’re riding down the street on a bicycle and all of a sudden a ball jumps out in front of you, you don’t think that method through, you just react,” said Gunstone.

While the club is on hiatus in August, Gunstone said it is still seeking new students – the first lesson is free so people can test it out.

“Iaido is a very cerebral martial art,” said Gunstone. “We will have anybody come and train with us who wants to, but usually 16 years and up is an age bracket that people have the mental wherewithal to really stick with it and study it because … it takes a lot of focus.”

For more info, please go to and look for the Activity Guide under the parks and recreation tab.

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