Brief Look At Japanese Sword Arts
By Bob Hubbard
sword arts are considered some of the finest in the world. The katana
is prized for its sleek efficient design and balance. A complete look
at these arts can and has filled entire books. In our limited space,
I am going to give a brief overview of a select few.
or “the art of the sword is usually of a combative nature. Kenjutsu
movements begin with the sword already drawn. Classical kenjutsu schools
(also called ryu) are about as close as you can get to the classical
warrior training today. Many of the classical schools are closed to
outsiders and tend to be very secretive.
training gear is very traditional, consisting of a hakama (a split skirt
type trouser), keikogi (a heavy weight jacket worn tucked in) and obi
(belt). Training is done with either a bokken (wooden sword) or a live
is done individually at first, but later as one becomes more proficient,
partner drills are added to the mix. Many repetitions of the kata (forms)
are required to learn the intricate motions of the art. At later stages
actual cutting and thrusting is done using water soaked rolled straw
mats and poles, called tameshigiri. This simulates the feel of the blade
cutting through flesh.
“the way of the sword” is a Japanese style of fencing that
evolved from Kenjutsu as many began to wonder if a higher understanding
could be found through practice with the sword. This movement from “art”
to “way” began in the middle of the 14th century. Initially,
Kendo was a way to train in kenjutsu without the risk of harm from the
live blade, but later it began to come into its own during the Meiji
period in Japan (1868-1912)
is done in traditional uniforms. To this is added the budogu or fencing
armour. This is similar to that worn in the west. The men is a face
mask with throat protection, the do (a breastplate) the kote (gloves
and gauntlets) and a tare or heavy apron are the components of the budogu.
The weapon used in Kendo is the shinai, or bamboo sword. The shinai
is approximately four feet in length and is made of four carefully formed
bamboo slats bound together to form hollow cylinder. A cord runs along
the length of the shinai.
a more limited legal strike area than other arts. Part of this is for
safety reasons. I’ve also heard it said that these are the harder
to hit areas, and if you can hit them, you can hit anywhere. These areas
are the wrists, sides of the do, three head shots (left right and center)
and 1 thrust to the throat. To make a valid cut a player must strike
his opponent with the side opposite the cord. In addition the point
must be struck with the top third of the shinai.
and advancement are done by kyu and dan, similar to the colored belt
ranks found in other arts. The difference is that the obi (which is
sometimes deleted) remains a constant color. At higher dan ranks, some
proficiency with a live blade is required. Classical ryu have all but
vanished, and today kendo emphasizes more of the sport aspects.
sword art to cover here is Iaido / Iaijutsu.
Iai is differentiated from the ken styles in that the sword is initially
sheathed. Iai is composed of drawing the sword, bringing it to combative
use in minimal time, and then resheathing it. You start from both combative
postures, and at-rest positions such as seated. The reason for these
non-combat positions is that they are everyday positions. Once could
expect attack at any time, so the ability to respond and survive was
student progresses, the ‘do’ aspects are often left behind
and the jutsu becomes more pronounced. The major difference between
the 2 styles is that while Iaido focuses on the mental aspects, Iaijutsu
focuses on the combative techniques. Many students find iaido to be
a meditative art in their search for perfection of the draw.
traditional gi is worn as in kenjutsu, and styles vary in how they handle
rank. Iaido is practiced today as an aid to self-discipline, improved
coordination, and for the sake of posterity. In most styles of iaido
the actual cutting techniques are valid, but the practice of iai for
defense or war is no longer necessary in modern times.
Hubbard is an administrator of the popular martial arts portal site
MartialTalk.com. A student of all the arts, he is currently studying
Modern Arnis. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
published in MartialTalk Magazine August 2003
Copyright ©2003 Bob Hubbard - All Rights Reserved