Sword Related Accidents
Compiled and Edited by Nathan Scott
Sword safety is quite a serious subject. For some reason, certain exponents of unrelated arts like karate, tae kwon do, kumdo, hapkido and others have become notorious for consistently embarrassing themselves and those that do seriously study Japanese swordsmanship by performing what can only be described as unnecessary, public stunts of stupidity. Often times, Japanese swords have no historical relationship to their art. Their obvious lack of formal qualified training in Japanese swordsmanship shows clearly during public demonstrations such as the ones listed below, reeking of ignorance and poor judgment. Many of these acts are simply irresponsible, and nothing short of offensive to their own art, swordsmiths, Japanese culture, and most importantly - those that sincerely follow the way of the sword.
The Japanese sword is not simply viewed as "another weapon" in Japan; in the past or the present. Following are some brief references that hopefully provide some insight into how the sword is viewed in Japanese society.
|In the earliest written records of Japanese history, the sword is said to have|
The Sanshu no Jingi are considered core symbols of the Shinto belief system, as well as the symbols of authority and legitimacy for the presiding Emperor of Japan.
Shinto rituals are still included in the forging of new nihonto by traditional smiths, as well as by many traditional martial ryu-ha before and after training. Despite the changes in battlefield tactics and strategy over the centuries of civil wars in Japan, the sword still served as the central weapon of study, which is why even today, instructors of many Japanese martial arts still insist that swordsmanship should be studied at some point to more deeply understand their own art. Japan has historically depended on the sword both literally and figuratively over the years as a symbol of power, virtue, justice - and historically, as the symbol of the samurai class (daisho).
Even in modern times, there can still be found numerous Japanese sayings and anecdotes that refer to the Japanese sword. For example, to do something "shinken" (real sword) means to approach an endeavor as seriously as if you were handling a live blade. "Shinogi wo kezuru/kezutte" (shaving the ridgeline) is to fight furiously, or, to walk the narrow line. "Saya ate", striking another persons scabbard with your own, indicates a rivalry (traditionally resulting in an immediate duel should proper apologies not be offered). "Seppa ga tsumaru/tsumatte" (sword spacers packed together) refers to being compelled by necessity, or driven into a tight corner. "Sori ga awanai" (incorrect sword curvature) is to not get along well with another person. "Moto no saya ni osamatta" means to make up after a quarrel and be reunited. These types of sword references remain in use by modern Japanese even though the practical need for swordsmanship has long since past.
There have been many generations of kenshi that have devoted their entire lives towards preserving and transmitting the methods, virtues and philosophy of Japanese swordsmanship. Such individuals tend to take these matters very seriously. Hopefully this brief overview of the sword in Japanese culture will help to illustrate the necessity for proper instruction, etiquette and respect with regards to Japanese swords and their use.
Accidents can happen to anyone, but the types of incidents listed below are reproduced here because they all could have been avoided through discretion, experience and/or proper instruction in swordsmanship. These examples involve individuals with martial art and/or sword training that became involved in irresponsible public acts, and in some cases, criminal acts. Though not all incidents recorded below involve Japanese swords, it is the author's belief that sword accidents by exponents of any style of sword art will negatively affect all others training in swordsmanship in the eye of the public. This page is published in hopes of encouraging others to act responsibly with good judgement when such choices and decisions present themselves.
PLEASE seek qualified instruction in swordsmanship before attempting to wield a sword - especially around other people.
Corrections, updates or additions are appreciated: [email submissions]
At the "26th Annual Diamond Nationals World Karate Championships", held at the Radisson River Front Hotel St. Paul (or St. Paul River Centre), and officiated/hosted by NASKA [North American Sport Karate Association]/UTK/JLB Productions, .
...threw a live-blade katana up in the air, spinning it 360 degrees, hoping to catch the sword again by its hilt. Instead, he caught the sword half on the hilt and half on the edge, which cut his fingers open and caused the medical team rush up to treat his injuries. He apparently injured himself earlier that year during another competition, in which he was trying to spin the sword around his neck, and ended up requiring medical attention to examine his cuts at the conclusion of his form.
- Reported on Iaido-L, January 1st 2004.
A Hapkido demo culminated in a display of the head instructor's (grand master Kim, I believe he called himself) sword prowess. Please keep in mind that this account is second hand from my student who was present, so if some minor details are a little off I apologize.
Apparently the master had his assistant wear some sort of head gear, of which was attached two spikes sticking up from the sides of his head (rabbit ear fashion); each of which are placed some sort of vegetable (apparently something like a large white turnip). In the center, across the top of his head was some sort of long cylindrical object that appeared to be a vegetable (perhaps a cucumber).
Then the master blindfolded himself and drew his sword. After a couple of practice swings and one near miss the master realized he was out of range. After a closer step he swung again, cutting the two upright (rabbit ear) vegetables. Next it was the cucumbers' turn, and as he performed a straight downward cut a loud CRACK was heard.
The sword obviously penetrated more deeply than planned, and had split the assistants skull open. When the assistant leaned forward holding his head with blood streaming from a gash in the top of it, the audience new something had gone horribly wrong.
The assistant ended up with 32 stitches in the top of his head, and the Korean "Master" apparently fled the scene, as he had overstayed his visa length and was considered an illegal alien.
- Reported by Howard Quick, Australia.
Nishiki Minoru, a swordsman of Hokushin itto ryu iaido under Ono Jujiro; Muso shinden ryu iaido under Omura Yuji; and Toyama ryu under Nakamura Taizaburo, was among a group of Japanese budo-ka visiting Long Beach California for the Itosu-kai International Karate Campionships, invited and hosted by karate instructor Fumio Demura, "Japan Karate-do Federation" (JKF) Chief Instructor. Nishiki is also a karate instuctor, having studied Shito ryu karate under Demura beginning in 1958. Mr. Nishiki was apparently sharing a hotel room with a karate instructor from South America when the two began to have a heated argument after a heavy night of drinking. Mr. Nishiki is said to have drawn his sword and attacked the other karate instructor, who defended himself successfully using a bed mattress (which Nishiki impaled with his sword). Nishiki in fact chased his roommate down the hallways of the hotel with his sword drawn, and was finally disarmed at gunpoint by the Tustin Police Department after the hotel employees reported the assault. Afterwards, Mr. Nishiki was quietly invited to return to Japan early with, interestingly enough, no criminal charges being filed in America. However, upon reaching Narita Airport in Japan, he was met by his mother and he apparently began yelling at her, which caused him to be arrested by the Japanese police at the airport.
- Reported by several budo-ka in America. Bio details extracted from Inside Karate Master Series, "Martial Arts Masters", September 1995.
The accident took place on August 15, 1998, at a medieval fair and tournament in Bohuslän on the west coast of Sweden. A stunt-fighting troupe ("Biderums kämpar", mostly consisting of guys in their upper teens) was to hold a sword fighting performance. The area was roped off, and the spectators were about 3-5 meters from the fighters. Usually, this is enough room as a safety precaution. But on the day of the accident, it had been raining and the ground was slippery. When the fight began, one of the teens slipped and lost hold of his sword (the grip was wound with steel wire). It flew towards the audience, and hit a 7 year old girl in the face point first. The sword (make not known) penetrated to a depth of 10-15 cm, just by the nose. She was rushed to the hospital, and the sword was removed one and a half hours later. It had narrowly missed the brain, eyes, vital nerves and blood vessels. The x-rays show that the sword was in fact sharp - not blunted. The performer who had caused the accident (he was just 17 years old) was shocked, and there are rumors that he was suicidal afterwards. The little girl recovered without anything more serious than a scar. The man responsible for the safety within the stunt troupe resigned. According to one of the members of the group, they had told the people responsible for the event that the ground wasn’t safe, but that they had been told to hold the show anyway. The District Attorney looked into the case, but decided against the court case a year later.
- Reported by Björn Hellqvist, Sweden.
During a combat re-enactment, a British performer bled to death in a matter of seconds after having had the femoral artery in his thigh sliced open by a blunted-sword that had broken during the performance. The sword used was a cheap re-enactment blade that was really only intended for use for about a year or so. A quick introductory weapon, in other words. The actual age of the blade was somewhere around 15 years old at that time, as the guy who made these swords stopped that model around 1980. Since the breakage appeared to be the result of metal fatigue, the surviving performer tried to sue the manufacturer of the sword, but lost on the grounds of user negligence.
- Reported by Björn Hellqvist, Sweden and Rob Lovett, London.
During a demonstration at the "Ed Parker Long Beach International's" tournament, a Karate Instructor opted to include a sword stunt as part of his presentation.
The student laid down flat, face up and bare from the waist up. Then, a cucumber was laid across his throat for the Karate instructor to cut. After a couple of failed, light chops with the sword, the instructor increased the power of his swing and cleaved the cucumber in half. In the process, he also sliced open his student's throat, which bled profusely, and Emergency Services rushed him off to the hospital. The instructor apparently was visibly upset about the performance of his student.
- Reported by Meik Skoss (and others), USA.
This rather famous incident took place at the Japan America Theater in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles during the 50th annual Nisei week "Aikido and Japanese Swordsmanship Demonstration". The demonstration was hosted by Mr. Kensho Furuya of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles, and included sixteen performers from the Zen Nippon Battodo Renmei (ZNBR; All Japan Battodo Federation), led by Mr. Hataya Mitsuo (Rokudan, Shihan).
Mr. Furuya had recently been permitted to operate a branch dojo under the Zen Nippon Battodo Renmei (ZNBR), and had invited a large group of swordsmen to Los Angeles to demonstrate their forms.
Mr. Hataya opened the battodo part of the show by saying a few words, and then the sword demonstration began as planned. However, the packed audience was shocked when part way through one of the demonstrations, Mr. Hoso Nobuharu (Chief Instructor of Okayama Prefecture ZNBR) severed his own thumb off while attempting to rapidly draw his sword. During the second Iai kata, having begun from a kneeling position, Mr. Hoso had attempted to draw the blade in a one handed downward cut and apparently met some resistance towards the end of the draw. Upon adding additional force to the draw to release the last portion of blade, the scabbard split at the mouth area and the blade sliced through the swordsman's left thumb. From the audiences point of view, they were surely alerted by the swordsman's yelp and the severed thumb visibly sailing through the air and landing on the stage several feet away.
Immediately after the injury, the swordsman stood up, glanced at his sword and hastily exited from the stage.
Despite the host's attempt to collect all camcorder tapes of the accident, there are apparently at least two or more versions of this demonstration that have circulated throughout the various sword groups over the years, which has surely attributed to the continued interest in this incident. Interestingly, Mr. Hoso has remained active in Battodo, and can be seen regularly performing or officiating at the Zen Nihon Battodo Taikai (test cutting competitions) in Japan, though he now wears a black glove on his left hand.
- Information obtained through the event's program, and viewing of video footage.
Some 10 years ago, a Czech stage-combat troupe did a rapier show where a Main Gauche (a thin, short style of rapier typically held in the left hand and used in conjunction with a longer rapier held in the right hand) hit the eye of one of the combatants, entering the brain. The guy died; the tragic thing was that the fighters were brothers.
- Reported by Björn Hellqvist, Sweden.
Some 15 years ago, there was a death in Australia. Though the fighters were wearing armor, a hit with a Poignard (a long double-edged dagger) in the armpit penetrated the opponent's heart. There are rumors that it wasn’t an accident, and that the guy who was killed had been sleeping with the wife of the other fighter. But this is unconfirmed.
- Reported by Björn Hellqvist, Sweden.
6th Grade Student Killed While Watching Practice:
KASHIMA. On September 19th at around 8:35pm, Mr. Sakamoto Katsu (45 yrs old) was practicing Iaido in the Kashima Central Public Community Center when the mekugi [retaining pin] of his sword fell out. He swung the sword down and the blade flew out, striking the nearby eldest son of Mr. Nishi Toshikatsu, Takao (12 yrs old). A sixth grade student, Takao was killed when he was pierced in the left side of his chest. He was immediately rushed to the Japan Red Cross Hospital in Kumamoto City where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Takao had just finished practicing Judo, and was observing Mr. Sakamoto's Iaido.
- Reported by the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper, Sunday, 20 September, 1981. Translation courtesy of Guy H. Power.
©2000 Tsuki Kage dojo