kenjutsu

A martial arts expert offers invaluable tips for navigating the complex — and potentially very expensive — world of the Japanese sword collector.

When I moved from Japan to San Francisco in 1971, I brought along a few Japanese swords and bladed weapons. Back then, most Japanese swords in the United States could be purchased for $5 or $10. Sometimes an expensive item such as a daimyo-tachi (feudal warlord's long sword) would sell for $50. A complete set of yoroi (armor) would go for about $200.

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Grip is one of the most important components of Japanese swordsmanship. Black Belt Hall of Famer Dana Abbott, who trained in Japan for 14 years, explains why it matters in kendo, kenjutsu and iaido.

Grip is an important facet of Japanese sword arts like kendo, kenjutsu and iaido. Simply said, if you don't hold the kodachi (short sword) or choken (long sword) correctly, everything else leading up to the execution and follow-through of your cut will be substandard and ultimately cause you to perform below your potential. Furthermore, poor hand placement when using a sword promotes inadequate hand-eye coordination and telegraphs your technique. The latter is very important if you're engaging in kendo. Conversely, holding the sword correctly allows for smooth execution and seamless transitions between stances and movements. You'll be able to perform offensive and defensive techniques in such a fluid manner that the sword will become part of you. Before beginning a discussion of sword-gripping methods, it's important to note that the handle (tsuka) of some practice weapons, including padded swords and the shinai (bamboo sword), is round, whereas wooded and steel sword handles have an oval cross section. The oval pattern is better for gripping and is a more efficient design. Round handles are associated mostly with training in the Japanese sport of kendo and its Korean counterpart, kumdo, because exact cutting isn't required.

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Black Belt Hall of Famer Dana Abbott outlines the moral code that guided the samurai and explains how it applies to modern martial artists who train with the sword.

Excellence in Japanese swordsmanship demands that a martial arts practitioner — whether that person trains in kendo, kenjutsu, iaido or another style — make a conscious effort to learn and execute correct sword techniques, practical cuts and the samurai way of life.

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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.

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