Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Cutting Edge...

It’s a well know fact that just about everybody within the martial arts community around the globe can distinguish between most of the more common empty hand arts or systems. I, as most people who know me well will know, have been involved with the martial arts since childhood and now teach my own progressive combat system. In addition to empty hand training I also student the Japanese sword arts; I say student as I believe one never stops learning or refining ones knowledge of the weapon arts, their history and the techniques within the art or any other martial art for that matter.

Lately I have been extremely fortunate to have been invited to teach the Japanese sword around schools and dojos in the UK. This has been of tremendous benefit in helping to spread the weapon arts and also the added benefit of meeting some top class instructors and students who have now become friends.

That said, it does surprise me somewhat how many senior grade instructors there are who cannot distinguish between the Japanese sword styles and there uses. With this issue in mind I have drafted a small but hopefully useful explanation of each individual art and its purpose. One should be very aware however that there are unique and sometimes very subtle differences between each school (ryu ha) 学校方法 and these subtle differences can have a dramatic impact on the art and the use of the sword. Other differences can include the syllabus and purpose; for instance we shall use kenjutsu as an example. Some kenjutsu schools will only dedicate themselves to the use of the sword however other schools will study such topics as senjo kumiuchi (battlefield wrestling/fighting techniques) or hojo jutsu (rope tying/restraint techniques) or the use of both. Other schools will study the spear (yumi ) or the halberd (naginata 鉾槍).

Here follows a basic description of the main sword arts and their uses. I hope they prove useful but please note that they are basic descriptions only; further and deeper examining of the sword styles is encouraged to improve your knowledge:


Iaido is one of the Japanese traditional budo concerned with drawing the blade and cutting in the same motion. (Budo means martial arts or military arts in Japan). A typical form consists of the draw and cut, a finishing cut, cleaning the blade and returning it to the scabbard, all without looking away from the imaginary opponent.

Most practice is solo, eventually with shin-ken (a real blade). In contrast with Kendo, Iaido is performed without protective coverings of any kind. Students must strive to achieve power, precision and perfection in their form. Along the way they learn balance, grace, and control both of the body and the mind.

Iaido dealt more with everyday situations rather than those on the battlefield. The term "Iai" is taken from the Japanese phrase: "Tsune ni ite, kyu ni awasu". The meaning of this is, whatever we may be doing or wherever we may be, we must always be prepared from any eventually.

The techniques themselves dealt with many situations such as a sudden attack by several opponents, a surprise attack while bowing to someone, an enemy lying in wait behind a sliding door or an attack in a darkened room. The permutations (suppositions) were countless.


Iaijutsu is an ancient sword art that predates the more common iaido and focuses on the art of drawing and using the sword. Although the terms are very ambiguous generally speaking many use the term iaijutsu to speak of a more combative form of iaido, whilst kenjutsu focuses on the actual use of the sword rather than the drawing and re-sheathing. The origins of iaijutsu are unclear, some credit its creation to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu who founded the Muso Shinden-ryu school of swordsmanship, however others argue that Iizasa Choisai Ienao devised a system that we would now recognise as iaijutsu almost 100 years before.

Iaijutsu skills were not designed to be used on the battlefield but rather existed to allow samurai to defend themselves in day to day life, hence the focus on drawing the sword very quickly and disabling your opponent should the situation arise. This also explains why many iaijutsu and iaido kata are practised from sitting and kneeling positions as well as from general, everyday standing up.


Kenjutsu is a military art form which was created in Japan in the 15th century. It was primarily designed to prepare samurai, as well as ordinary soldiers for combat on the battlefield. The main emphasis of kenjutsu centres on the practice of swordsmanship. But in some styles the practice of other battlefield-related weapons is also an integral part of their martial study. At the simplest level, it can be viewed as a collection of combat techniques for various weapons, most notably the sword. At a more complex level, it can be considered the study of the strategy large-scale and small, offensive as well as defensive.

The study of Kenjutsu is purely the study of the sword art and it’s developed through practice. Any person can swing a sword but to study the sword you must develop the mental and spiritual aspects of the art as well as the physical.

Shin-Ku-I (Body, Mouth, Mind) or more accurately Action, Word, and Thought is how the Samurai were evaluated. What make the difference between a student and a swordsman is Ken Shin Ichi Nyo, or Sword and mind as one. One must train as if the sword was a part of them; if it is looked at as a separate entity you will never develop the skill to master the art.

The sequence of training in Kenjutsu is as follows:

Kihon O Manabu :- Emphasize the basics

Kaisu O Kasaneru :- Development through repetition

Jiga Ni Tsuite :- Controlling your ego

Dai - Kyo - Soku - Kei :- Big - Strong - Fast - Light

Saigo Made Einoku Suru :- persist to the end – never give up. This is true for both the practice of the art and the attitude in combat.

Yudan Nashi :- Never off guard.

The motto of the Samurai was "Shinu Kikai O Motomo", "Looking for the opportunity to die".

This was not a defeatist attitude. The Samurai held life in great esteem and were very selective on what "cause" they would lay their life on the line for. It is easy to kill a man when you yourself are willing to die.

In terms of learning to fight with a sword, kenjutsu has a more complete curriculum. Kendo of necessity limits the range of techniques and targets. Kendoka generally use shinai, which allow techniques which do not work with real swords. Kenjutsu practitioners do not usually use shinai in training, preferring to use bokken (wooden swords) or katana (steel swords) in order to preserve the cutting techniques of real sword fighting. Kenjutsu training largely consists of practicing cutting technique and performing partner kata. For safety reasons, free-sparring is seldom practised with bokken or katana.

It was natural for the samurais to practice every day with their sword. To the samurai the sword was their foremost weapon and privilege - other groups in the society was forbidden to bear swords. Furthermore the practice with the sword was much more than preparing for battle. Around the Japanese sword grew a whole philosophy. It has many names, as ken, katana, tachi, and To.


Kendo which translates literally to 'The Way of the Sword', is a contemporary Japanese martial art that evolved from the traditions of the samurai, the warrior class of ancient Japan, based upon sword fencing techniques developed over centuries of combat. Like many Japanese martial arts, the philosophical foundations of Kendo revolve around the precepts of Zen Buddhism, and the guiding belief that enlightenment and heightened awareness, flow from the ability to focus and calm the mind. Following in the footsteps of the samurai, modern practitioners of Kendo, or 'Kendoka', as they are called, strive not only to master the physical techniques of the Japanese sword, but, also, the mental and spiritual aspects as well.

Although Kendo’s roots lie with the ancient samurai, the art has evolved over the centuries, adapting as societal conditions changed, to its present form where competition between practitioners involves not life and death combat with razor sharp blades, but controlled matches governed by strict rules of conduct, and non-lethal instruments. This difference in focus, distinguishes Kendo from 'Kenjutsu', which is also a Japanese sword art deriving from traditional fencing. Unlike Kendo, whose techniques are updated for practice as a non-lethal aesthetic, Kenjutsu’s primary focus is combat and warfare, and as such, closely parallels the actual lethal techniques employed by the samurai on the field of battle.

In place of the katana, the traditional sword of the samurai, modern Kendoka use shinai, an implement constructed of four bamboo staves bound together at specific junctures with leather bands. This non-lethal weapon, along with the use of body armour, or 'bogu', as it is referred to in Kendo, enable Kendoka to engage in fencing contests without the fear of death or serious bodily injury. The bogu is modelled after the traditional armour of the samurai, which unlike the cumbersome metal armour of European knights, was lightweight and designed for optimal movement and flexibility.

Kendo practice traditionally takes place in a training hall or, 'dojo'. Organization of a dojo is hierarchical, with the master at the top, and beginning students at the bottom. As in the other Japanese martial arts, the belt or 'kyu' system is employed, with the highest rank or 'Dan' being the black belt. Students train in Kendo through the practice of 'kata', a series of formal exercises passed down through time that replicate the movements and techniques required in traditional combat. In addition to learning and practicing the different kata, Kendoka also engage in informal matches known as 'keiko' or 'kumite' which are moderated by senior members of the dojo, and test the practitioner’s live combat ability.

A challenging and rigorous martial art, Kendo distinguishes itself from other forms of martial endeavour primarily due to its intense involvement with observing the etiquette and form of established traditions. While other martial arts primarily focus on the physical performance of the practitioner, Kendo is concerned equally with the mental and spiritual development of the individual as well. Through the mastery of traditional kata and the experience of kumite, Kendoka strive to achieve the same sense of transcendence and discipline exemplified by the samurai, Japan’s original swordsmen.

Batto Jutsu

Battojutsu is a form of traditional Japanese swordsmanship. Literally translated as "sword drawing techniques", battojutsu is defined as rapidly drawing the sword from its scabbard while performing a simultaneous cut or strike, all in one continuous motion. Such skills were essential to the classical warriors of feudal Japan, better known as the samurai who trained to use their swords with blinding speed from nearly every conceivable situation. These techniques are referred to as iai (drawing the sword from a seated or kneeling position), tachiai (drawing the sword from an upright position such as standing, walking, and running). 

The initial actions involved with batto include nukitsuke (the simultaneous draw and strike); which may be followed with furikaburi (bringing the blade around); and a killing blow such as kirioroshi (cutting downward). Follow-up actions include some form of chiburi (removing the blood from the blade); and noto (re-sheathing the blade).

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