Samurai warriors ruled during feudal Japan. Their main weapon is the Katana. This gave way to weapon-based martial arts. One of them being Kenjutsu.
What is Kenjutsu?
Kenjutsu is a term used for all Japanese swordsmanship schools. It is the method, technique or the art of the sword. It also focuses on the Katas used.
The Kenjutsu practices in a warfare-like situation. Learning how to kill or harm the opponent is the goal of the Kenjutsu. During feudal Japan, Samurai used Kenjutsu to fight their enemies.
In Kenjutsu, it doesn’t have any restrictions or point systems in its fighting form. It is more than swordplay. Kenjutsu follows rituals, has history, and taught about the precise striking techniques. Kenjutsu practitioners balance the traditional techniques from modern sporting applications.
Kendo is another weapon-based martial art. It focuses on the way of the sword. Unlike Kenjutsu, Kendo focuses more on sword fighting and sparring.
Kenjutsu doesn’t only focus on sword techniques. Though it is less focused on, Kenjutsu practices sparring. Tameshigiri or target cutting is also practiced in Kenjutsu.
Taught alongside Kenjutsu is the Iaijutsu. It is the older art of sword drawing techniques. With this, it became a more modern martial art known as the Iaido.
Brief History of Kenjutsu
Kenjutsu first appeared in the Muromachi period. Chinese swords inspired the design of the early Japanese swords. The Chinese swords crossed over the Korean peninsula going to Japan. With this, the Japanese swordsmiths tried to recreate the same sword.
The Muromachi period is inter-state warfare. Because of this, 3 schools built to teach swordsmanship. Aisukage ryū, Chūjō-ryū, and Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū taught Kenjutsu. The 3 schools shaped the traditional Japanese swordsmanship.
Kenjutsu practiced with the use of the Bokuto or the wooden swords. The Katana or the swords were also used for practice. Though practicing with wooden swords were not used until the rise of the Edo period.
Kenjutsu became a popular martial art during the Edo period. Because of this, it became the golden age of the traditional Japanese Kenjutsu. Compared to its previous years, the art of Kenjutsu became better.
The advancement of the techniques and equipment started during the Edo period. It led to the use of the Shinai or the bamboo as a practice sword. The use of Bogu or protective armor was also added.
With the Shinai and the Bogu, the Kenjutsu practice became more efficient. It allowed the Samurai warriors to practice in full speed techniques during sparring. It also lessened the risk of harming the sparring partner during practice. Although many Samurai warriors did not join this training.
During the 19th century, Kenjutsu lost its popularity. Samurai classes started to disappear as other changes started to happen in Japan. Although, in the late 19th century, the Japanese military and police practiced Kenjutsu.
The Kenjutsu Training
Kenjutsu consists of battling with swords. Samurai warriors use Katana as their main weapon. Although, during practice, they use wooden Bokken to reduce the chances of injury. They also use Bogu for their equipment.
There are schools that teach Kenjutsu with different styles and techniques. There are schools that would cover the bamboo sword with leather or Fukuro Shinai. New students use the Fukuro Shinai to learn on how to control a sword. This is also another way of preventing injuries to the sparring partner. This may be similar with the art of parrying in fencing.
Kenjutsu is either practiced alone or with a partner. Practicing with a partner is a better way of improving one’s skills and techniques. Practicing alone has its benefits. It is a way of self-improvement and physical improvement. It increases one’s body strength and flexibility.
Kenjutsuka is the term used for an expert in Kenjutsu. To become a Kenjutsuka is not easy. It takes months or even years of dedicated training. Skills gained and applied in everyday life include coordination, balance, and self- confidence.
The Basics Cuts in Kenjutsu
Hidari Ichimonji Giri
It is a cutting technique that makes a horizontal cut to the opponent. The word Hidari means left while Ichimonji means a straight line. The cut starts from the left all the way to the right of the swordsman.
Hidari Kessa Giri
This cutting technique creates a downward diagonal cut to the opponent. The technique starts at the left shoulder of the opponent. Afterward, make a diagonal downward cut until the right hip of the enemy.
Hidari Joho Giri
This cutting technique is an upward diagonal cut for the opponent. It starts at the left hip or waist of the opponent. Making an upward diagonal cut, it reaches the right shoulder of the opponent.
It is also known as Shomen Giri or Kiri Oshi. The word Shomen means the front or top of the head while Uchi means to strike. This cutting technique is a vertical downward head or face cut.
Migi Ichimonji Giri
The word Migi means right. It is another horizontal cutting technique. The difference is that the cut starts from the right going to the left.
Migi Kessa Giri
This is another downward diagonal cutting technique. It starts at the right shoulder of the opponent. The swordsman will make a downward diagonal cut to the opponent all the way to the left hip or waist.
Migi Joho Giri
This cutting technique is another upward diagonal cut to the opponent. The technique starts at the right hip or waist of the opponent. Making an upward diagonal cut, the swordsman will cut until it reaches the left shoulder.
This cutting technique pierces through the enemy. Tsuke is to thrust the opponent. This technique is fatal as it causes serious injuries to the enemy.
Blocking in Kenjutsu
Uke Tomi is a blocking method. It blocks direct attacks from the opponent. It is also known as the direct blocking method.
This is another blocking method. Though it doesn’t only block the attacks but deflect them. It is also known as the block and defect method.
Uke Kiri is a blocking technique. Not only does it block the opponent’s attack but also cut them. This is also known as the blocking and cutting method.
The Basic Attitudes and Positions of Kenjutsu
Hasso no Kamae
Hasso no Kamae means all eight directions. This is the ready stance of the Kenjutsu. It is also called as Hasso or Hasso Gamae.
This type of stance is an offensive stance for the opponent. It shows the ability to respond in any direction. Thus, the meaning of all eight directions.
The stance starts with the left foot forward. With the sword in hand, holding it pointing upright. The hilt of the sword is in front of the right shoulder. The blade is in a diagonal position to the rear. Raised above the head is the sword when cutting.
Jodan no Kamae
It is also called as the Hi-no-Kamae. It means that it is the stance of fire. This is the upper attitude of the Kenjutsu.
The Jodan stance intimidates the opponent. This type of stance doesn’t allow retreating from the enemy. The usual results are a one-hit-kill.
The stance starts by holding the Shinai above the head. The Shinai has a short trajectory to wound the opponent. The first strike of the swordsman will depend on the true one-hit-kill fashion.
Chudan no Kamae
It is the most basic Kamae. It is also the most standard Kamae used in Kenjutsu. When facing an opponent, the swordsman places the sword in front of him.
There is a specific angle to where to point the tip of the Shinai. When faced with an enemy, the tip of the Shinai points at the enemy’s throat. When fighting alone, the Shinai is at the level of the swordsman’s throat.
Gedan no Kamae
Gedan no Kamae is the lower level posture. The position starts when the sword is in front of the body. The sword is either pointing at the knee or at the ankle of the opponent.
The stance appears as a defensive posture from Chudan no Kamae. Instead, it deflects blows and creates striking opportunities for the swordsman. From a Chudan no Kamae it changes to a Tsuki.
Waki no Kamae
It is also shortened to Waki. The stance is a lower ready attitude. The stance starts when the swordsman hides the length of the sword’s blade. Visible to the opponent is the hilt of the sword.
At that time, there was no standard length of the sword. Because of this, it serves as a trick to the opponent. This stance hides the interest of the opponent to the blade. It doesn’t give the opponent a hint about the next attack.
The old traditional classic Kenjutsu is a secret art of war training method in Japan. People interested in the traditional style Japanese martial arts learn the modern Kenjutsu. Most of the time they practice using a Bokken. Other free hand martial arts include weapon-type training. Each martial art uses different sparring swords.