Breath control, footwork, stance and posture are the key points that seventh-degree black belt Russell McCartney, founder of ishi yama ryu battojutsu, discusses in this tutorial on the Japanese sword.
When it comes to the Japanese way of the sword, it’s fair to say there’s more to it than meets the eye. Obviously, external movements play a major role in drawing a blade and effecting a cut, but the internal skeletal and muscular mechanisms are every bit as important. Often called the “inner principles” of movement, they have four main components. 1 Breathe The primary element of action is breathing. The flow of air into and out of your body is directly connected to how smoothly you flow from movement to movement and how polished you look. Your inhalations and exhalations should be calm, smooth and full. It’s essential to observe the transition from moving air in to moving air out. If you lack proper muscle control, it will be noticeable to an opponent who’s looking for an opening to attack or to a judge who’s grading you as you cut. Beginners tend to gasp for or gulp in air because of nervousness or overextended action. It takes time and effort to cultivate the ability to stay well oxygenated. Try repetition drills that raise your aerobic levels and stationary meditation that calms and centers you. 2 Footwork Places Stance Don’t stand flatfooted with your feet relaxed. The bones of your feet can move a considerable distance within the skin that encases them. Their musculature must exert firmness to take up that slack. Use your muscles to anchor yourself to the surface you’re standing on. Grip it with your toes and brace yourself as if you’re resisting a strong wind. You should allow your heels to settle onto the surface so they provide a direct connection from the bones in your legs and hips to the ground. Then, when you drive from your heels, you can move with minimal delay. Imagine a wild animal, coiled and ready to spring into action. It’s poised, with its breath flowing in and out, muscles ready to strike. Use your breathing to relax and energize your muscles and to keep them fresh. Release the tension in your body to avoid stiffness and cramps. 3 Stance Supports Posture Your posture should provide balance for your intended direction. Feed it too much, and you telegraph your intentions. Give it too much angle, and you lose your balance point. Give it too little, and you stress your structure and fatigue your muscles more quickly.
samurai dueled, a stiff or cumbersome action was all that was needed to telegraph a man’s intention and allow his foe to end his life. Russell McCartney is a seventh-degree black belt and the founder of ishi yama ryu battojutsu. (Photos by Rick Hustead)