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The practice is largely done in the form of kata, and also by actual cutting and thrusting of the blade against water-soaked rolled mats and bamboo poles tameshigiri . The practice tool is either bokken (wooden sword), iaito (unsharpened swords for safety purposes), or shinken (real swords such as katana, tachi, etc.). A common misconception of practitioners and observers alike is that the bokken is used for safety when performing two-man kata, when in fact it is used to minimize the chance of damaging the blade of either the shinken or iaito. Some schools of kenjutsu have adopted the shinai (bamboo sword) from kendo for safety reasons, and at least one family of schools (derivatives of Yagyu-Ryu ) uses a modified leather-wrapped version of the shinai.
Some ancient sword schools still exist, such as Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, Kashima Shinto-ryu , Kashima Shin-ryu , Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu. As in other koryu arts, belt colour is not used to show the practitioner's ability. Instead of grades, licences such as menkyo kaiden are given. Most of these schools trace their lineage to the early years of the Tokugawa shogunate, when large numbers of samurai had become "unemployed" (ronin) and turned to sword instruction as a means of making a living. (A similar phenomenon can be observed in the proliferation of tae kwon do schools in the United States run by Korean emigrants.)
The major distinction between iaijutsu and kenjutsu was the condition of the sword at the start of combat - in iaijutsu, the sword begins sheathed and the emphasis is on the initial strikes, while in kenjutsu, the sword begins unsheathed, and the emphasis is on both attack and defense. Kenjutsu also often includes consideration of combat against opponents wearing armor while iaijutsu generally assumes that the opponent is unarmed.
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