Frequently Asked Questions
Compiled by Nathan Scott
What are some good references?
-Non-Fiction; Strategy (heiho/hyoho)/Manner (Reiho/Reishiki)/History (Nihonshi/Gunsho) -
-Non-Fiction; Swordsmanship/Budo/Koryu -
- Non-Fiction; Swords -
- Miscellaneous -
- Historical Fiction -
- Japanese-English Dictionaries -
- Online Book Reviews -
The Purpose of Menuki (sword hilt ornaments):
Menuki originally evolved from the decorative ornamental cover used in metal motagi (early period one or two piece retaining pin), used to secure the blade in shoto/tanto. The decorative cover was later adapted and used under the tsuka-ito as an ornamental palm swell, to aid in the user's grip of the hilt. However, the menuki were separated from the mekugi pins, generally made of hard bamboo, and shifted aside to allow for the removal of the mekugi pin(s) and blade, despite the tsuka-ito binding. This configuration can be seen, for example, in Tachi mounts, and interestingly, in World War II era NCO Gunto swords (aluminum cast tsuka). However, the practice of positioning the menuki under the palms was and continues to be widely overlooked by tsukamaki-shi since the introduction of the uchigatana and the now popular katana/wakizashi mounting, for reasons unknown. Positioning the menuki under the palms in a katana mounting is now referred to as "gyaku menuki", and is still preferred by exponents of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, Nakamura-ryu, Shinkendo and perhaps various other traditions and styles. Information on mekugi in English is difficult to find, but the following citations at the very least clearly confirm that menuki were intended to be used as decorational palm swells:
Blocking with the Edge:
It is not *preferable* to block with the edge of a sword. But a swordsman will find themselves (during real combat, shiai, or even practicing freestyle in the dojo) tricked off guard at times, and will have to use the edge to save themselves from being struck down. Blocking with the edge is simply the fastest, most direct, and strongest (alignment wise) defense against an incoming cut.
The convex katana blade shape was heat treated and tempered to take (cutting) stress against it's sharpened (or in some cases blunted) edge, and as such is strongest along this line (between edge and back, or, ha to mune). The back of the blade is the weakest in terms of hardness and design geometry. While the edge will likely chip/gauge if used to block, A heavy strike to the side of the blade would cause it to either bend or break, and blocking with the back of the blade (the relatively soft part of the blade) is not only likely to destroy the sword - since it was not designed to accept trauma from that direction, but is more importantly suicidal since the edge is facing it's user now! However, keep in mind that, if the edge is *not* facing the user during a mune block, then the opponent is not cutting toward the defender's centerline, which means the blade can be diverted using the side of the blade (like the shinogi) instead of the back (mune). Diversions and parries are typically performed with the side of the blade when possible, and hard blocks and blade-controlling techniques are applied with the edge only when necessary.
Another factor to consider in favor of blocking with the edge is the considerable leverage you are able to apply against the incoming strike. The grip is technically weak in relation to the direction of the incoming strike if a block with the side of the blade is attempted. This liability is acceptable if applied correctly in a diversion, but must be taken into consideration.
Technically, it could be said that an advanced swordsman would be less likely to be "stuck" in a position where a block is necessary, and as such would be utilizing more refined movements such as diversions and parries, where as a less experienced kenshi would still be relying at least part of the time on the edge to block with.
Extant records indicate that swords and other weapons were more often than not heavily damaged during a single battlefield engagement anyway, contrary to what many modern day romantic stories of multi-generation family heirlooms would have us believe.
In August, 2000, Obata Toshishiro (Shinkendo Kaiso) conducted an online Q&A session on the popular discussion forum E-budo.com. During this "spotlight", Obata Kaiso stated:
"There are several practices that seem to be not well known regarding battlefield fighting:
Before a battle, one would strike sand over and over with the cutting edge of their sword. This is called 'Habiki'. This means that you dull your blade so it doesn't chip or crack on impact of hard materials.
Then you get close to the enemy and strike their helmet causing them to become unconscious or possibly much worse, then follow this attack with a thrust. No matter how many times you attack the enemy with a rounded sword [edge], the sword will almost never crack or get damaged [if used within reason]. There are many things that are done that people in the modern ages would probably never think of.
This research is further supported by Nagayama Kokan, awarded National Living Treasure for his expertise in Japanese swords, in his book "The Connoisseur's Book to Japanese Swords" (pg. 15):
"But a blade that is too sharp breaks easily, and so is useless against hard objects like armor. Likewise, the hira-zukuri blade was losing popularity, because its flat surface prevents it from moving smoothly when used as a weapon, and requires a great deal of power to effect a cut. The very act of cutting with it puts substantial pressure on the blade."
Other Experiences and Opinions
An instructor of Kashima-Shinryu (a friend who wishes to remain anonymous) described his observation of kenjutsu demonstrations and experience with edge-to-edge contact in his own tradition as follows:
"In every demonstration of every ryuha that I have witnessed the kata are demonstrated with edge to edge contact, not just when using wooden swords (bokuto) or leather-covered bamboo swords (fukuro shinai) but also when using steel swords. In fact I saw one especially memorable demonstration by members of the Jikishinkage ryu in which two swordsmen used real swords in a sustained period of extremely fast and powerful attack-parry-counter attack. (What I would characterize as two-person combination ukenagashi-kirikaeshi, although my terminology might not be understood outside of Kashima-Shinryu). Sparks flew into the air throughout the exchange. Afterwards I got to look at the swords they used. They had so many nicks in their blades that they practically looked like saw teeth."
"In reference to the question of whether or not edge-to-edge blocks are taught as part of the kata curriculum, the complicated answer is "yes and no." In other words, it is impossible to know what is being taught just by observing kata from the outside. Good kata should work on the practitioners and should be all but invisible to outside observers".
"Regardless of kata --- from the beginner ones to the most advanced ones --- I can easily perform any one of them with edge-to-edge contact, with back-of-blade-to-edge contact, or without any sword-to-sword contact at all. It is so simple to go from any one of these modes to any other one that it requires no thought, no preparation, no time, and no reflexes. In fact, we usually practice battojutsu by unsheathing the sword and striking the receiver in one seamless motion. The strike is performed with the back of the blade. But the same kata can be performed in front of a makiwara that will be cut in half. The motion, movement, timing, speed (etc.) are exactly the same regardless of what part of the blade is used.
Moreover, even edge-to-edge is not any 'one thing'. Beginners usually perform strikes, parries, and blocks in unskillful ways that causes their own weapon to absorb much of the force of impact. When they start learning Kashima-Shinryu beginners will break bokuto in half quite frequently, as often as every few months. More advanced practitioners learn how to project the force out of their own weapon in such a way that the entire force of impact is concentrated on the opponent's weapon. No impact at all should be absorbed by their own weapon. They can practice for years without breaking a bokuto even though they strike with more speed, force, and power than can be generated by beginners. If one masters proper tenouchi, it is possible to deliver an edge-to-edge strike in such a way that it will leave my edge (mostly) intact while shattering the opponent's blade.
Of course, the opponent should also know how to achieve similar results. Even a well-made sword that has tested well can break. For this reason we also practice variations of sword kata during which we discard our sword mid-swing and pin the opponent to the ground with jujutsu. Or in mid-swing we drop the long sword and finish the technique by unsheathing a short weapon. The possible variations are endless.
Anyone who watches a Kashima-Shinryu demonstration, though, will not see any of the above. All that might be visible to them is the sounds of bokuto being struck together with considerable force and speed. It sounds like destructive edge-to-edge and if they look closely it will appear that way too. The outside observer might dismiss it as impractical with real swords. Without this kind of seemingly destructive practice, though, no one would learn how to master the more practical applications that cannot be seen".
Other well respected traditions, such as Yagyu shinkage ryu, Tatsumi ryu and Tenshin shoden katori shinto ryu also support edge to edge contact. Following is a short excerpt from koryu.com (Koryu Books) regarding a commentary made at the (1997) 15th Nihon Kobudo Taikai in Japan, given by Otake Risuke; honbu shihan of Tenshin shoden katori shinto ryu:
Additionally, Mr. Earl Hartman (senior budo exponent) wrote of his experience discussing the edge-to-edge issue with his seniors in Japan. The full discussion is archived on the popular online BBS e-budo.com:
"Regarding the issue of edge to edge contact in the tachiuchi no kurai, I asked about this in general when I was in Japan, mentioning that I was under the impression that in parrying and guarding you would try to avoid edge to edge contact because of the damage to the blade that would result."
"To make a long story short, I was laughed at and told that anyone in a sword fight who was worried about damaging his blade was an idiot who would be undoubtedly killed forthwith. There are other sets in the MJER kata where blows are stopped with the edge, the blades clashing in direct opposition to each other. The reason I was given was quite simple and seems to me pretty compelling:"
"Also, and this is probably something that will engender debate, I was told that while nagashi type parries and guards use the side of the blade, that is only because the enemy's sword is not being stopped, it is being deflected; thus the sword does not absorb direct impact. However, if one were to try to actually stop the enemy's cut with the side of the blade, the blade would be likely to bend, rendering it completely useless, with the result that it's wielder would be left defenseless and likely to be killed. Therefore, the 1st order of business is to ward off the attack and kill the enemy. If this can be done without direct blocks, all fine and good, but if edges must clash, so be it. I know that we all try to take very good care of our swords and get upset at the least little nick or stain, but I find it hard to believe that a man who had to defend his life with his sword would be similarly concerned".
Proper Tenouchi and Sword Length
There isn't *exactly* a set rule or method that we use. The *rule* is that the sword should not be too short or too long.(!)
Obata Kaiso feels that a kenshi's sword should correspond with their overall strength and size. It is not reasonable to require a 4'11" person to use a 30"+ nagasa blade. Conversely, a larger person looks awkward using a noticeably short blade.
Your reach and distance are very important to cutting your opponent, as well as for saving yourself from being cut. Proper length also applies to the manner in which you perform blocks/parries. Why would a tall person limit themselves to a relatively short sword when they have a natural advantage?
In shinkendo there is a lot of battoho, and as such it is required that swords not be uncomfortably long. That's not to say that a long sword *cannot* be drawn or resheathed safely, but in a world-wide federation it is not an area that we are interested in exploring as a federation wide open policy - for safety reasons.
Drawing and resheathing the sword is probably the most dangerous part of sword practice, so we prefer not to introduce any variables that are not necessary for our style. Realistically, if you intend to practice batto/noto repetitively, you will probably be happier in the long run learning with an average sized sword that suits your body type.
In the past, various well known swordsmen have made strong comments about proper sword length in their writings and transmission documents. For example, in 1883, "sword saint" Yamaoka Tesshu posted a notice in his dojo regarding that focused on this subject:
Tesshu states similar feelings in other documents as well:
A large amount of space in the "kaze no maki" of Gorin no Sho, a work attributed to the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi ca. 1600's, consists of discussions about the strategic liabilities of relying on non-standard length swords to gain an advantage (whether too long or too short):
In any event, for most people the tradition they study will dictate the length of their sword to some degree. There are several ways to calculate the appropriate sword length. Here are a few:
1) Let the sword hang down in proper grip (right hand only - don't break the angle of your wrist either) and make sure the tip clears the ground. This is important - in our style at least - so that the ground is not hit while performing "makuri" (continuous cutting) techniques. This was also a popular method of measuring gunto in the Imperial Japanese Army, which are noted as being (generally) on the shorter side.
2) A method I came up with is as follows: measure with a tape measure the length from the outside joint-indentation of the top of your right deltoid (feel with your finger where the connection is between your outer right arm and your shoulder joint) and measure down to the tip of your (extended) middle finger. This relates to the length of a blade from its tsuba to the tip. I came up with this method based off the length of the person's arm and how it relates to drawing and resheathing, and it seems to work pretty well. I found that it is not accurate to eye ball a person by their height to determine the blade length, as people can have different length arms that are not always proportionate to their height. This method ensures that the proportional length of the sword to the arm(s) will create the ideal "triangle" between the tanden, sword tip, and eyes.
If a tape measure is not available, an unsheathed sword can be substituted. *Carefully* take the unsheathed blade and lay it from tsuba (at your shoulder joint) to kissaki/middle finger tip to check the length. But, keep in mind that you might not want to do this with another person's sword without their permission!
This method I use for my own reference usually, and don't formally teach it since it might be considered unorthodox. However, a persons arm length is not always perfectly in proportion to their height, and that is why I like to confirm length estimates using the above method. Obata Kaiso can actually tell by looking at someone's blade how long it is within a half inch or less, and can tell by looking at you in chudan kamae if it is too long or short. I suspect that he is judging the blade length in comparison to the arm length (using the triangle rule), which is logical, and another reason why I am comfortable with my method.
But when in doubt, the real test is to wear the sword and perform batto and noto. Again though, keep in mind that sword dealers will almost always deny permission to do so with their sword (don't ask).
In conclusion, we don't have strict rules in Shinkendo or our line of Toyama ryu. Just make sure that your sword is not too long or too short, or, too heavy or too light!
Noto (resheathing) as performed in Shinkendo
The way we noto in Shinkendo is in fact not performed by pulling the mune across only the gokoku (web between the thumb and index finger), it is balanced by the middle knuckle of the index finger as well (yama-tani). When you grab the saya with your left hand (which is usually egg shaped, for reasons of orientation and balance) the gokoku should be exactly in line with the edge side of the saya, and the middle knuckle of the index finger should be exactly in line with the mune side of the saya (matching the angle of the blade opening).
The saya should be angled sideways while catching the last third (or less) of the blade, and the blade should be positioned on both the gokoku ("tani" - valley) and second knuckle of the index finger ("yama" - ridge), providing two points of contact and a perfectly matching guide between the blade and the blade opening (koiguchi) in the saya. This is why you don't have to look down to know that you are lined up correctly. Furthermore, contact should be made across both the valley and the ridge of the left hand during the entire noto - until the tip catches in the saya, at which time the saya and blade should be adjusted edge upwards so as not to shave the inside of the saya while resheathing. Avoid making unnecessary movements with the body or shoulders, and do not pull the saya up higher in an attempt to make the resheath easier. At more advanced levels, the saya should in fact only be twisted sideways and back, as other movements of the saya are unnecessary.
The majority of people in Japanese swordsmanship seem to either draw across the valley *or* across the ridge, and have to guess through repetition when they are lined up with the saya correctly as well as risk having the blade slide off the saya while pulling back, since there is only one point of contact. This is considered a bad habit in Shinkendo, as is using the left index finger and/or thumb to help guide the blade in, and should be corrected.
Also, it is important to note that the Japanese saya does not usually have anything substantial protecting the wood at the koiguchi (mouth), or a guide, like some countries had incorporated in their sheathed swords.
This is because your left hand is supposed to completely envelop (though not too deeply, or the left hand may get nicked) the koiguchi when resheathing, providing a temporary guide for returning the blade.
*The sword should not be making contact with any part of the saya except the inside channel*
The wood at and around the koiguchi will scratch easily if not performed correctly and show poor technique if the left hand is not incorporated correctly.
Historically, resheathing is performed when there is no further immediate risk of attack. If there is, either do not put the sword away, or gain better positioning first. This rule means that there is no hurry - or risk - to resheathing. Please practice noto slowly and carefully, and consider having Kaiso check your noto during visits to make sure it is correct.
Watching Obata Kaiso noto is all the validation that is necessary, and watching his noto will clearly illustrate how efficient this method is. This noto takes some time to become proficient at, but is worth the practice. It is also important to understand that in Kaiso's more than 30 years of sword practice, that he has never injured himself with the sword - noto or otherwise. I do not know of any other well known sword instructor who can say the same.
Where can I get Tatami Omote mats for cutting?
Tameshiwari & Tameshigiri- "Testing" or martial stunts?
A lot of the martial stunts performed now once came from valid martial art conditioning and skill testing methods. Cutting properly prepared traditional sword targets (like tatami/wara and bamboo) with a real sword is a skill and a test of the student's technique. Allowing others to view this in demonstrations to give perspective on the training methods of your style is generally not criticized, unless the exhibition is embellished with acts of showmanship in order to appeal to the audience's reaction. This is where most consider the dividing line to be between valid demonstration of testing methods and a martial stunt for purposes of entertainment.
This of course applies to breaking boards, rocks and other objects as well.
"Martial/Military Arts" are not sports, games or entertainment by definition. This is an important point to consider when discussing this subject.
To attempt to make it so or add such elements is viewed by many experienced martial artists as embarrassing (to be affiliated or associated with), not to mention "non-martial", changing the very nature of these cultural arts. Martial arts can be fun to practice, and spiritually fulfilling. But they are still martial arts, and many of us that do make Budo a large part of our lives (Jinsei Budo) follow it much in the same way that some follow political views or religion.
Movies are only movies, and these movie stars are either "actors that practice martial techniques" or "martial artists that act". Sometimes there is a fine line, but movies are created for the purpose of entertainment and financial gain, period.
Following are some of the more well known cheating methods used by many today in an attempt to fool and entertain spectators during demonstrations of tameshiwari (breaking feats) and/or tameshigiri (cutting feats). This list is not intended to say that all demos of this sort are faked, but simply to point out that this kind of occurrence is becoming increasingly popular in some groups and that what you see may not necessarily be the same as what is performed in serious martial arts. Viewer beware:
Iaito vs. Shinken
Iaito (sword used for "iai", or more appropriately; a "mogito" = sword with no edge) is understood to refer to an alloy-metal katana replica (usually of zinc/aluminum), designed for the purpose of practicing Iaido. A recent exception to this rule, however, is the "steel sharpened iaito" that is being produced by the Nosyuiaido company, which has a sharpened edge and can in fact cut targets.
Shinken is a generic name for any Japanese-style sword that is "real". While this term does include the swords that are designated as "nihonto" (Japanese swords, forged in Japan), it also applies to any Japanese style sword that is produced more or less in the Japanese fashion.
Iaito are convenient for the aspiring swordsman because:
However, favoring an Iaito for too long when training can become a hindrance eventually because:
However, if an iaito is used within its practical limitations (what it was specifically designed for), it can be a useful learning tool.
Zanshin, Mushin & Metsuke
It is possible that different traditions may vary slightly in how they define the term zanshin. The late Donn Draeger translated zanshin as:
However, there is a common usage that many styles seem to follow.
Zanshin is usually understood to be the concept of keeping a constant awareness, or alertness of possible threat. This should not be interpreted as overt paranoia, but rather an "alive", aware feeling while being in a potentially threatening atmosphere. All six senses are peaked and sensitive to all types of sensory input. In kata, it is usually emphasized that, from the time you bow in the beginning until the time you bow at the completion, that it is critical to retain full, strong zanshin. Most newer students complete the finishing technique and then tend to relax and continue with the "formality" of returning to their starting position to finish. In the dojo this is typically where Zanshin breaks down. Interestingly, this is also where zanshin sometimes breaks down in the real world as well; either before something happens (which is a whole issue in itself) or after control of the situation has been gained.
In the Tsuki Kage dojo, zanshin is taught in both its mental AND physical forms. Zanshin is understood to include the important principle of eliminating any openings for attack at any time. This applies before a given technique starts, after techniques finish, while changing partners, walking in the front door etc. These physical adaptations should not be overly noticeable or stiff to the observer, but simply a different set of movement habits borrowed largely from the principles of zanshin and traditional etiquette.
During training, students often get so mentally engrossed in the aggressions of their partner that they become oblivious to their surroundings (tunnel vision). This is an undesirable condition that a cunning opponent might use to intentionally pressure a negligent opponent into walls, other students, or obstacles, disrupting the opponent's mind and rhythm and creating sizable "suki" (opening for a decisive attack). An experienced opponent can always sense the state of the opponent's mind, and an undisciplined mind or spirit is as big of a suki as an undisciplined body. These are some of the main underlying principles implied in the name of our dojo, "Tsuki Kage".
A fairly accurate literal translation of zanshin is "lingering awareness", though this definition by itself can be a little misleading. Zanshin is a broad concept that incorporates other related principles, such as Mushin (literally "No mind"; more accurately read in this context as "empty mind", or "unfettered/uncluttered" mind), because Mushin is somewhat necessary in order to achieve strong Zanshin.
Mushin is usually understood to be the concept of "not thinking", but is rather closer to using all six senses and conditioned responses to act appropriately at the instance action is needed or a suki presents itself without allowing the mind to be cluttered with active thoughts or distractions. Some arts in fact consider the concept of mushin to be the highest level of development.
In addition to Mushin, there are other related concepts to be considered, such as "Metsuke" (gaze). This is one example of a physical element of zanshin, and is also a typical ingredient to good zanshin - while remaining a specific principle in and of itself (as Mushin is). Traditions tend to have varying theories about the "Messen" (eye placement) aspect of Metsuke; the hollow of the throat, between the eyes (third eye) - directly into the eyes being the most common. In Shinkendo for example we use the term "Enzan no Me", which means to gaze at the distant mountain, and is a method in which the focus of the gaze is relaxed so that all things within view (approximately 135 degrees) can be monitored. This has proved to be a very effective application of Metsuke.
There are many contributing factors to effective zanshin that must be considered, but on a fundamental level, zanshin can be broken down to four basic types:
The development of zanshin, mushin, metsuke and many other commonly shared principles are transmitted in Shinkendo through the guidance of "Kuyo Junikun", the proprietary philosophical structure taught by Obata Toshishiro Kaiso, Shinkendo founder.
No-dachi and Sakabato-dachi
Questions about these two types of swords are constantly being raised on various internet discussion forums because of references in popular cult manga and anime (graphic novels & cartoons). Some have historical foundation, while others are purely fantasy.
This subject seems to come up repeatedly from its inclusion in fantasy media such as the anime series "Ronin Warriors" and the game "Bushido Blade".
"No-dachi" ("field sword" - image linked) is a general name for basically an over sized katana. The tsuka was long and wrapped in katana fashion, and the blade was sometimes slung across the back because of its cumbersome size. Most koryu that incorporated no-dachi have since died, and the few known ryu-ha in Japan that have survived are currently still located only in Japan. Kage ryu No-dachi (Kyushu), Nodachi jiken ryu and Koden Enshin ryu O-dachi are three such schools. There is little written about the use of this relatively rare weapon, especially in English.
They are not for sale as a production line (at least not currently), and would surely be very expensive to have commissioned by a smith if one could be convinced to make one.
The "Sakabato" * (reverse-edge sword - replica aluminum alloy iaito image linked) is a purely fantasy influenced sword that has been widely popularized by the Japanese Manga "Rurouni Kenshin".
A weapon or tool must be designed *relative to the task it will be required to perform* in order to be effective and efficient.
A reverse edged blade following the same blade geometry as a typical katana would be difficult and unstable to swing, even if it were possible to get it to withstand such impact along it's concave surface through some kind of process (which it's not). As an example of this, consider the design of a car windshield. It is surprisingly effective in resisting pressure from the outside inwards (force opposing the direction of the convex shape), but is surprisingly weak resisting pressure from the inside outwards (force opposing the direction of the concave shape). The strengths of concave (inward curving) vs. convex (outward curving) relates to the basic shape of a circle, which is acknowledged as the most structurally sound of all shapes, the triangle being second, and square being third. This is because of the ability of the circle shape to distribute encountered force evenly and widely across the outer convex surface. The concave surface, however, actually does the opposite, and focuses the force into a single point causing structural failure unless properly compensated for through geometric design.
A good example of a properly compensated concave cutting edge would be that of the Gurkha Kuhkri knife. But consider how much the geometry was adapted in order to support cutting from an inverse angle (along the concave side)! It is very thick and wide, with additional metal supporting the areas of the blade in which the most force is focused when cutting. However, this type of modification is proportionately unrealistic for longer blades such as the katana for reasons of weight alone.
For those still unconvinced, or considering approaching swordsmiths to commission a "Sakabato", please read the following excerpt from noted bladesmith Randal Graham (reprinted with his permission):
In addition to the serious geometrical, structural and design problems, a well thought out and tested system of fencing/combat would have to be developed as well to categorize it as a functional weapon (in addition to a new method of re-sheathing the blade). While this may not sound that difficult on the surface, keep in mind that there would be major obstacles to work around, such as the shifting of the "monouchi" area (part of the blade that is optimum for cutting), and as such your combative range from your opponent would be reduced as well by about 12 to 16 inches! In a type of warfare where a half an inch can make the difference between living and dying, 12 to 16 inches is a huge liability to try to work around.
*The "Sakabato" linked here was borrowed from the NPS Cutlery Firm web page (Japanese). The sword advertised is NOT, however, a forged, heat treated and tempered live blade. It IS a standard alluminum alloy iaito (listed as "Kendo kata special alloy"), is not sharp, and cannot cut. These types of swords are mass produced through a stock removal process (cut out of a metal block), ground down to shape, and machine-etched with a fake temper line. NPS lists at the top of their page that the sword was inspired by the Rurouni Kenshin anime series. Please do not confuse this as an example of a "real" Sakabato.
Where can I find a dojo in my area?
International Shinkendo Federation - [Branch Locations]
All United States Kendo Federation (AUSKF) - [Branch Locations]
International Kendo Federation (IKF)
Though this is not an exhaustive listing by any means, these groups will either have links to other Federation's or groups, or should be able to point you in the correct direction if asked politely.
Is it possible to teach myself Japanese Swordsmanship?
Please read through the following discussions on e-budo.com regarding this issue at the following links (the quick answer is "no"):
What exactly did Ueshiba Morihei sensei study?
There has been much confusion over what Ueshiba Morihei Sensei (founder of aikido) *formally* studied. Either few records or certificates have survived, or what has survived has been misplaced or simply not been made available to the public.
Around 1902, Ueshiba s. was in Tokyo for less than a year (19 years old) and may have dabbled in some Tenjin shin'yo ryu jujutsu. Stanley Pranin's online Encyclopedia of Aikido includes the following notes about Morihei's training credentials:
TENJIN SHIN'YO-RYU JUJUTSU under Tokusaburo TOZAWA for a brief period in 1901 in Tokyo; GOTO-HA YAGYU SHINGAN-RYU under Masakatsu NAKAI from c. 1903 to c. 1908 in Sakai City near Osaka; judo under Kiyoichi TAKAGI c. 1911 in Tanabe; DAITO-RYU JUJUTSU under Sokaku TAKEDA beginning in 1915 in Hokkaido.
Ueshiba also regularly observed instruction of KASHIMA SHINTO-RYU from three senior teachers of this school who taught for two or three years beginning in 1937 on his invitation at the KOBUKAN DOJO in Tokyo. He may also have been influenced by the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu sword as Kosaburo GEJO was one of his students for a number of years in 1920s and 1930s.
Question: When did you begin the study of martial arts?
Ueshiba Morihei: At about the age of 14 or 15. First I learned Tenshin shin'yo ryu jujutsu from Tokusaburo Tozawa sensei, then Kito ryu, Yagyu ryu, Aioi ryu and Shinkage ryu, all of them jujutsu forms. However, I thought there might be a true budo form elsewhere. I tried Hozoin ryu sojutsu and kendo. But all of these arts are concerned with one-to-one combat forms and they could not satisfy me. So I visited many parts of the country seeking the Way and training, but all in vain.
Morihei most likely picked up what he could from observing training at certain dojo, or from interacting with students of other traditions more than actually training formally himself. Any formal study of Kito ryu has been seriously debated as unlikely. Considering the nature of these "facts", it would be somewhat futile to discuss what Morihei may or may not have picked up outside of formal instruction. Especially since koryu are known for not demonstrating the core principles of their art to outsiders and the uninitiated.
What is clear to researchers of aikido and Daito ryu is that the vast majority of technical curriculum and principles of aikido were in fact borrowed from the art of Daito ryu. Page 52 of the interview with Takeda Tokimune s. in the book "Daito ryu Aikijujutsu - conversations with Daito ryu masters" (AikiNews) discusses these similarities specifically, discussing how some techniques in aikido retained the original name and others were changed. Unfortunately, the Aikikai - and Ueshiba Kisshomaru specifically - seem to have greatly downplayed the role Daito ryu played in the technical formation of aikido, as well as the fact that Ueshiba s. had trained in Daito ryu seriously for some twenty years, receiving the highest certifications possible at that time. Only in recent years has this information become common knowledge among aikido-ka.
Kashima Shinto-ryu and Aikido
It is Kashima shinto ryu that is credited as being the primary influence over the "aikiken" work that is present in some aikido branches, as far as aikido sword work goes. Morihei's name is not recorded, however, in the books of any Yagyu Shinkage ryu enrollment books (to anyone's knowledge).
Meik Skoss wrote an interesting online article on the koryu.com site called Kashima Shinto-ryu. It basically says that Ueshiba M. sensei and a few of his students are recorded in the record books of Kashima shinto ryu, and that they studied for a few years:
It has not been substantiated that Ueshiba Morihei sensei studied Yagyu Shinkage ryu kenjutsu. He studied some amount of Goto-ha Yagyu Shingan ryu jujutsu (receiving a middle level license that was not stamped by the ryu-ha headmaster), which is quite different.
"Aioi ryu" is said to have been a family style passed down within the Ueshiba family (unverified). Misinformation and confusion about Morihei s. having studied "Yagyu ryu kenjutsu", "Hozoin ryu sojutsu", "Kito ryu jujutsu" and "Shinkage ryu jujutsu" has been spread for many years now, and has only recently been refuted by authorities and documented in publications. The absence of an official ryu-hanko (ink stamp) on Morihei's Goto-ha Yagyu Shingan ryu certificate could very well indicate that it was issued (either willingly or reluctantly) as an honorary rank, but it would seem that we will never know for sure what significance this missing stamp holds.
Stanley Pranin, Editor of Aikido Journal and Aikido Researcher, states on his audio tape lecture series "The Two Pillars of Aikido: Daito-ryu & Omoto-kyo" that, aside from watching a bit of Kashima shinto-ryu, Ueshiba was trained in swordsmanship, and was NOT a swordsman. Pranin also noted that his research clearly indicates that Ueshiba's primary source of martial art experience was that of Daito-ryu.
Further information is available in the selected chronologies.
Why study an art with no modern application?
Besides the continuation of "intangible cultural assets", the deeper understanding of human psychology and biophysics, developing the self etc, etc, there are also very important practical elements in the study of obsolete martial sciences.
I think most experienced people would agree that the important part of correctly transmitted legitimate bujutsu is not the techniques themselves, or for that matter, even the weapons. They are:
1) The development of "seishin tanren" (spiritual forging). This is not related to "spiritualism", but rather refers to conditioning the mind and spirit to the stress of fighting. All the theory and technique in the world won't work if your "ki" is crushed by the atmosphere (death), aggression and intent of your opponent. Conditioned responses must eventually be developed under the threat of significant injury, with the uchidachi using as much genuine intent as possible within the limits of shidachi's experience.
On a functional level, this can more or less be compared to boot camp in the military. Neither, however, are SUBSTITUTES to actual combat, but are intended to greatly increase the discipline and focus of the exponent, thereby greatly increasing their odds of survival until practical experience (combat) has been gained.
By the way, yadome no jutsu would be one of the most effective ways of developing seishin tanren that I can think of, though I would not recommend for others to try it.
2) Physical conditioning and stamina. Classical arts believed that technique and even seishin tanren were not enough if the student did not have the stamina and physical conditioning to sustain an extended combative exchange (i.e.: battle, wearing armor). Mr. Hunter Armstrong is a big proponent of this, judging from his various writings.
3) Mental conditioning and education, and the enhancement of the six senses. This is perhaps the thing that most people typically miss when considering this subject for some reason.
Why study swordsmanship? Why did swordsmanship become the core of a warrior's training during the Tokugawa period? Swordsmanship involves a number of unique characteristics that make the training very beneficial.
Generally speaking, unarmed arts are useful for learning about the human body and close quarter tactics. Naginata is a dangerous study, but does not move as fast as a katana. Sojutsu is very quick and effective, but is not as diverse in scope as kenjutsu.
Kenjutsu, at least in some traditions, is fast, refined in movement, strong and deceiving. Kenshi would learn how to react correctly without forethought very quickly. Since the sword moves so fast, there is not time to watch for physical queues, or to react to telegraphed movements (there shouldn't be any to begin with). Kenshi have no choice but to develop good tactics and strategy, and most importantly, to develop intuition/premonition of attack. Anything short of this will cause you to lose against an advanced swordsman.
Some sword arts have sustained tachiuchi/kumitachi kata (not the type usually seen in iaido, or in the kendo seitei kata). I don't know how "common knowledge" this is, but these long bouts are/were not created to replicate the length of an actual encounter, but rather to develop and maintain correct distancing and reactions while challenging the strength and stamina of the student.
An experienced kenshi will eventually learn that speed alone will not beat superior mental/spiritual control and TIMING. Slower arts can sometimes allow a person to win "incorrectly", so to speak, from a student that might rely on superior speed only instead of developing better timing and instincts.
Mental conditioning comes from the speed and danger of tachiuchi/kumitachi. At more advanced levels, the teacher will often times not hold back on their attacks. Eventually, it is expected that you will no longer get "stuck", or "frozen" when surprised. If you don't move instinctively, you WILL be hit VERY hard in the head. Usually, this would be with a bokuto of some kind, which will put you in the hospital, and could even be fatal. Some arts also use live blades on occasion as well, which brings the stress level and intensity up very high. Correct training in tachiuchi/kumitachi is where the seishin tanren comes from.
Bujutsu is not just techniques and weapons, they are principles of combat, tactics and strategy, combined with physical, mental and spiritual conditioning.
These elements universally apply to pre-modern and modern combatives, and can be found most closely in the correct study of comprehensive kenjutsu, in my humble opinion.
Advanced swordsmanship becomes a battle of mind and spirit, not a battle of techniques. "Techniques" are no longer necessary; everything is correct (based on your supposed high level of training experience and conditioning) as long as it is appropriate to the situation and is effective. In other words, you might still use sword techniques, but the movements will become "free", much like a musician that improvises in a free jam.
So, perhaps the short answer could be that the study of swordsmanship develops the mind, senses, spirit and body. Other endeavors become more efficient and effective as a result of this study.
Obviously, your results will vary depending on the seriousness of the student and that of the art and instructor.
See also the thread of the same name posted on e-budo.com: "Why study an art with no modern application?"
(c)1997 Tsuki Kage dojo