In Part 3 of our "Samurai Facts vs. Samurai Myths and Legends" series, Samurai Swordsmanship authors Masayuki Shimabukuro and Carl E. Long answer the age-old question: Who would win during a samurai staring contest?


Samurai Myth No. 1

On the battlefield, two samurai would often face each other for hours before the first attack was executed.

Fact: Hours? Perhaps a few minutes felt like hours when lives were hanging in the balance. However, it’s doubtful that warriors spent hours posturing and assessing each other’s abilities—at least not in a dueling situation. Armies may have spent hours facing each other in preparation, but duels were generally fought quickly.

Samurai Myth No. 2

Samurai would occasionally test the quality of their blades by cutting down peasants who happened to be walking by.

Fact: Throughout history, civilized societies have been plagued with individuals who engaged in aberrant behavior. It certainly has happened, but it wasn’t done by the majority of samurai. The samurai’s position was to protect the people and see to their welfare.

Samurai Myth No. 3

A cut executed with poor technique will bend a sword’s blade.

Fact: Absolutely. If the hasuji is off by even a slight angle, a sword can bend. If the left hand is improperly aligned during a nukitsuke (drawing cut), it can cause the blade to twist, as well. All techniques must be learned under the guidance of a qualified instructor who corrects the swordsman’s technique.

Samurai Myth No. 4

It’s impossible to break a sword’s blade during normal cutting practice.

Fact: Every sword is different. A well-made carbon-steel blade is certainly less likely to break because of poor technique or target resistance than a stainless-steel sword is. But every sword has the potential to bend or break if the technique isn’t exact.

Samurai Myth No. 5

Owning a katana is illegal for the ordinary Japanese citizen.

Fact: Ordinary citizens in Japan have the right to own Japanese-made blades that are registered with the Nihon Token Kai (Japanese Sword Association). These swords must exhibit historical or cultural significance. A certificate of authenticity and ownership permit are necessary. In Japan, sword smiths are allowed to produce only two swords a month as cultural artifacts. Each sword smith’s work is evaluated and rated by the token kai, and the prices are then adjusted. Unlicensed swords or those made by unlicensed smiths are confiscated, and the owner may be charged with possession of an illegal weapon.

Samurai Myth No. 6

Jujitsu techniques were designed to battle the samurai’s sword.

Fact: Actually, jujutsu techniques were employed as a complement a samurai’s arsenal. As any soldier knows, combat takes place at many ranges—first at long range, then at close quarters when all else has failed. It’s at this close range that jujitsu techniques were used to arrest or control one’s opponent or to defend against an opponent if a long sword couldn’t be used. Most jujitsu techniques can be better understood if examined as a complement to short-bladed weapons techniques. Jujitsu techniques were designed to overcome an opponent at close range, not necessarily his sword at close range.

Samurai Myth No. 7

The karate concept of “one strike, one kill” originally came from the Japanese sword arts.

Fact: The aim of any martial arts technique is to achieve maximum effectiveness. This wasn’t a foreign concept to the Okinawan people, who had their own weapon arts. This misconception came from the adaptation of kendo rules to karate competition during the introduction of karate to Japan.

The Ministry of Education insisted that karate authorities develop a set of competition rules before the art could be recognized as an official “Japanese budo” or form of physical education on the mainland. The karate authorities adopted the ippon shobu rules that had been established for kendo. They were based on the presumption that to be considered a full point, a strike had to be technically sufficient to kill an opponent.

Samurai Myth No. 8 

The hakama (baggy trousers) is designed to hide the footwork of the swordsman.

Fact: This is a fallacy. The hakama comes in many forms: field hakama, riding hakama, undivided hakama, hakama with leggings and so on. Each style was worn by the samurai on different occasions. Some formal hakama were designed to prevent any fast movement of the feet at all. Most samurai would tie up the bottom of their hakama so as not to restrict their leg movements during battle. This misconception probably comes from modern budo teachers who allow only the senior members of their dojo to wear a hakama, thus supposedly “hiding” their advanced footwork.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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