Japanese Sword Arts FAQ Part 1/2 (LONG)

Japanese Sword Arts FAQ Part 1/2 (LONG)

Post by Neil_Gendzwi » Thu, 26 May 1994 06:05:24


         JAPANESE SWORD ARTS FAQ VERSION 2.1 (Part 1 of 2)
                    May 24, 1994

This document is copyright 1994 by Neil Gendzwill, all rights reserved.
Permission is granted for free distribution in electronic or hard copy,
provided that the document is maintained as a complete work.  Copying
or distribution for profit is expressly denied.

This FAQ is intended to cover all aspects of Japanese swordsmanship.
However, my particular bent is towards kendo, so any flames about
other arts are probably deserved.  Corrections or additions are welcome.

incorporate your changes or explain to you why I didn't.

This FAQ has been cross-posted to rec.martial-arts, rec.sport.fencing,
rec.org.sca, soc.culture.japan and the iaido mailing list.  It is also
available by anonymous FTP from cs.huji.ac.il (132.65.16.10) in the
directory /pub/doc/faq/rec/martial-arts, file name sword-art-faq.gz.  The
file is g-zipped ASCII text.  The FTP availability usually lags the
posting date by a few days for new versions, so if you find an older
version there, wait a while.

If you are interested in more information on sword arts, subscribe to the
iaido mailing list.  Covering mostly iaido, but also kendo and the ko-
ryu, this excellent service comes to us courtesy of Kim Taylor.  Send e-
mail to:


with the only contents being:


Wouldn't hurt to have it in the subject either.  Once you're on, send

Thanks to Jens Nilsson for the WKC results and European federation
addresses and Don Seto for most of the rest of the organization
addresses.  If your organization has been overlooked or has inaccuracies
in its entry, let me know.  Sorry, due to space considerations individual
dojos can't be listed.  However, I maintain the Canadian dojo list and
Robert Stroud maintains the U.S. dojo list - our e-mail addresses are in
the contacts section if you would like a copy.  I also have a U.S. list, if
you have trouble obtaining Robert's more up-to-date version (his e-mail
can be balky).

Thanks to Frank Lindquist and Richard Stein for Section 12 (on
purchasing nihon-to).  Thanks to Kim Taylor for the information on the
ko-ryu.  Thanks to all who have written, your comments have been
incorporated where possible.

Table o' Contents

Key to change index (with respect to version 2.0):

  N = new, r = minor revision, R = major revision

In Part 1 (this post):

R      Introduction
  1.   What is kendo?
R 1a.  OK, then what is kenjutsu?
r 1b.  Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?
  1c.  What is kumdo?
N 1d.  Are there different styles of kendo/kenjutsu?
  2.   What is iaido?
  2a.  OK, then what is iaijutsu?
N 2b.  Are there different styles of iaido/iaijutsu?
  3.   What about batto-jutsu, tamashi-giri, shinkendo and others?
  3a.  OK, so if they're watered down, why study kendo or iaido?
r 4.   How did kendo originate?
r 5.   How did iaido originate?
  6.   What are those funny clothes kendo and iaido players wear?
  6a.  Why do they wear hakama?
  7.   How is a Japanese sword constructed?
  7a.  How many layers in a Japanese sword?
  7b.  What are the different types of Japanese swords?
  8.   What sort of weapons are used for practice?
  9.   What is the armour for kendo?
  9a.  How much does kendo armour cost?
  10.  How does the ranking work in kendo and iaido?
  11.  Kendo competition
R 11a. World kendo championships results

In Part 2 (the other post):

R 12.  I want to buy a Japanese sword.  What do I do?
  12a. How much do they cost?
  12b. Where can I find swords to purchase?
  12c. How can I tell if it's a good sword?
  12d. How can I tell if the sword is right for me?
N 12e. Are there special concerns for iaido?
R 13.  Bibliography
  14.  Organization Contacts
R 14a. Kendo Federations
  14b. Sword Clubs
r 15.  Equipment Suppliers

1. What is kendo?

Kendo is the way of the sword, Japanese fencing.  About 8 million
people worldwide participate, 7 million of them in Japan.  It is taught as
part of the school physical education curriculum.  College kendo teams
in Japan are high-profile; major competitions are televised complete with
colour commentary.

Kendoka wear armour protecting the head, throat, wrists and abdomen;
these are the only legal targets.  The split-bamboo practice sword, called
a shinai, is wielded two-handed; the kendoka faces his opponent
squarely.  A small number of high-level practitioners utilize a shinai in
each hand.  Kendoka move using a peculiar gliding step refined for use
on the smooth floors of the dojo.

1a. OK, then what is kenjutsu?

*Generally* (but not always) in Japanese martial arts, the "do" forms
are those used to improve the self, while the "jutsu" forms concentrate
on teaching the techniques of war.

The art of winning real fights with real swords is kenjutsu.  The goal of
kenjutsu is victory over opponents; the goal of kendo is to improve
oneself through the study of the sword.  Kendo also has a strong
sporting aspect with big tournaments avidly followed by the Japanese
public.  Thus kendo could be considered the philosophical/sporting
aspect of Japanese swordsmanship.

In terms of learning to fight with a sword, kenjutsu has a more complete
curriculum.  Kendo of necessity limits the range of techniques and
targets.  Kendoka generally use shinai, which allow techniques which do
not work with real swords.  Kenjutsu practitioners do not usually use
shinai in training, preferring to use bokken (wooden swords) or katana
(steel swords) in order to preserve the cutting techniques of real sword
fighting.  Kenjutsu training is largely consists of practicing cutting
technique and performing partner kata.

In some ryu, there is contact, which usually happens in a controlled
manner within a partner kata.  Some of the ryu use protective
equipment, such as the gloves and head padding of the Maniwa Nen
Ryu.  Others, Shinkage Ryu in particular, use a fukuro shinai which is
made of bamboo split into many pieces at the end and completely
covered with leather.

1b.  Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?

Yes, with qualifications.  Not every aikido dojo offers qualified
instruction in actual sword techniques.  Many of them use bokken
practice only as a way of better understanding the empty-handed
techniques, as these techniques are grounded in kenjutsu.

Ueshiba-sensei was trained in many styles of bujutsu, including kenjutsu,
jojutsu and aikijutsu.  He distilled and modified the myriad of techniques
he knew into modern aikido.  Most modern students do not have the
time or inclination to learn the empty handed curriculum as well as
bokken and jo, so the concentration tends to be on the aiki techniques.
Even among those dojos which emphasize bokken, the techniques are
somewhat different from kenjutsu.  Ueshiba-sensei's swordsmanship was
excellent, incidentally.  Should you ever get an opportunity to watch
film of him with a bokken, take it.

1c.  What is kumdo?

Kumdo is the korean word for kendo.  They wear different clothing and
dispense with the Japanese terminology for reasons based on racial
enmity, but the techniques are sufficiently similar for Korea to compete
successfully in international tournaments.

1d.  Are there different styles of kendo/kenjutsu?

Kendo is pretty much the same world-wide.  Most dojos are governed
by the International Kendo Federation (IKF), which grew from the Zen-
Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR, the All-Japan Kendo Federation).
There is a second federation in Japan, not as popular, but the differences
are more political than technical.

There used to be many kenjutsu ryu; only a handful have survived.  One
of the oldest is Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu.  There is also Itto
Ryu, from which much of modern kendo is derived.  Bokuden Ryu,
Kashima Ryu and Maniwa Nen Ryu still survive.  Two branches of
Musashi's Niten Ichi Ryu are still going: Hyo Ho Niten Ichi (also called
Noda Ha) and Santo Ha.  Yagyu family kenjutsu survives as Shinkage
Ryu, probably the most popular of the modern kenjutsu traditions.

2.  What is iaido?

Iaido is the art of drawing and attacking with a sword, although a more
indepth reading of the Japanese characters for iaido results in (very
roughly) "the way of harmonizing oneself in action".  Iaidoka (and
kendoka) wield a sword not to control their opponent, but to control
themselves.

Iaido is performed solo as a series of kata, executing varied techniques
against single or multiple imaginary opponents.  In addition to sword
technique, it requires imagination and concentration in order to maintain
the feeling of a real fight and to keep the kata fresh.  Iaidoka are often
recommended to practice kendo to preserve that fighting feel; it is
common for high ranking kendoka to hold high rank in iaido and vice
versa.

2a. OK, then what is iaijutsu?

Iaijutsu is the art of killing on the draw.  Iaijutsu teaches how to draw
quickly and in such a fashion as to negate an opponents attack with
finality.

Seitei-gata iaido (that set of techniques recommended by the ZNKR) is
like a moving meditation - the draw and cut are very deliberate,
formalized and beautiful.  It is as far removed from iai-jutsu as kendo is
from kenjutsu.  Iaijutsu is more direct and forceful, less concerned with
the state of the practitioner's mind and more with dispatching the
opponent.

Having said that, iaido schools are generally affiliated with a particular
ryu of iaido.  In addition to the seitei-gata, students also learn their own
ryu's techniques, which may be close to the seitei-gata in feeling or
close to what is described here as iaijutsu.  It's not completely black and
white.

2b. Are there different styles of iaido/iaijutsu?

Iai is like karate, it is a broad "method of combat" which involves
drawing and cutting like karate involves kicking and punching. The
various styles are just ...

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Japanese Sword Arts FAQ Part 1/2 (LONG)

Post by Neil_Gendzwi » Thu, 26 May 1994 06:06:27

         JAPANESE SWORD ARTS FAQ VERSION 2.1 (Part 2 of 2)
                    May 24, 1994

This document is copyright 1994 by Neil Gendzwill, all rights reserved.
Permission is granted for free distribution in electronic or hard copy,
provided that the document is maintained as a complete work.  Copying
or distribution for profit is expressly denied.

Table o' Contents

Key to change index (with respect to version 2.0):

  N = new, r = minor revision, R = major revision

In Part 1 (the other post):

R      Introduction
  1.   What is kendo?
R 1a.  OK, then what is kenjutsu?
r 1b.  Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?
  1c.  What is kumdo?
N 1d.  Are there different styles of kendo/kenjutsu?
  2.   What is iaido?
  2a.  OK, then what is iaijutsu?
N 2b.  Are there different styles of iaido/iaijutsu?
  3.   What about batto-jutsu, tamashi-giri, shinkendo and others?
  3a.  OK, so if they're watered down, why study kendo or iaido?
r 4.   How did kendo originate?
r 5.   How did iaido originate?
  6.   What are those funny clothes kendo and iaido players wear?
  6a.  Why do they wear hakama?
  7.   How is a Japanese sword constructed?
  7a.  How many layers in a Japanese sword?
  7b.  What are the different types of Japanese swords?
  8.   What sort of weapons are used for practice?
  9.   What is the armour for kendo?
  9a.  How much does kendo armour cost?
  10.  How does the ranking work in kendo and iaido?
  11.  Kendo competition
R 11a. World kendo championships results

In Part 2 (this post):

R 12.  I want to buy a Japanese sword.  What do I do?
  12a. How much do they cost?
  12b. Where can I find swords to purchase?
  12c. How can I tell if it's a good sword?
  12d. How can I tell if the sword is right for me?
N 12e. Are there special concerns for iaido?
R 13.  Bibliography
  14.  Organization Contacts
R 14a. Kendo Federations
  14b. Sword Clubs
r 15.  Equipment Suppliers

12.  I want to buy a Japanese sword.  What do I do?

This section only briefly touches on the main issues involved in
purchasing a nihon-To (Japanese-Sword).  The topics of swordsmith,
dating, value and type are too complex for inclusion here - books only
give a generalization in 100+ pages.

Your best weapon is information.  Join the Japanese Sword Society of
the United States (JSS/US).  Take your time to find out who the
reputable dealers are and deal with them only - the JSS/US can help you
out here.  Study and look at a lot of blades first, before buying.  Find a
trusted advisor/collector to assist you.  Buy and read John Yumoto's
Book: The Samurai Sword - A Handbook.  You will find it invaluable.
Read other Japanese sword books.

Note the following definitions:

  Blade: the steel blade only - no fittings (handle/guard/scabbard/etc).
  Sword: includes the blade & all fittings.

12a.  How much do they cost?

Note that all prices given are in US dollars, and are approximate.  Your
mileage may definitely vary.

If you are looking for an antique sword, the starting point is about $500
for a relatively new (20th century) blade, rising up to $5-50k for good
swords by well-known smiths, and $100k+ for famous swords by
famous smiths.  For a decent working sword, expect to part with at least
$1,000.

If you buy an antique, it may need polishing.  A reasonable minor
touch-up polish may cost about $10 to $20 per inch of blade length from
a US polisher.  A major polish by a US polisher may run $30 to $50 per
inch.  Your prices may vary.  Blade length is measured from the tip
(kissaki) to the back notch (mune-machi) where the blade collar (habaki)
stops against the blade.

If you want to buy a newly made Japanese sword, the starting point is
about $2,000 for an OK blade only, through about $10,000 for a good
blade to $50k+ for a blade by one of the top smiths.  Note that these
prices are just for the blade.  If you are buying a new blade, you will
need to buy fittings - the tsuka and all its pieces, the tsuba and a saya.
Expect to pay about $700 minimum for everything, more if you want
real artwork.

If you want a iaito, you can get a complete sword including fittings and
saya for anywhere from $300 to $2000.  Cheaper ones are available but
are considered dangerous as the handle may break.

If you are buying an antique sword, you may get only the blade or you
may need to repair/replace some of the fittings.  Both Antique and
replica parts are available.  Antique tsuba cost $75 to $300+; replica
brass $30 to $50, and replica iron/silver tsuba $90 to $120+.

Antique grip aids (menuki) cost $50 to $150+; replicas $20 to $30 for
brass, $50 for silver/gold plated silver.  Antique handle front and ***
piece (fuchi/kashira) cost $75 to $200+; replicas $50 to $100.

A beat up saya can be fixed.  Horn pieces are about $15 each, metal
parts are also available.  A simple black water-based lacquer paint job is
about $100.  A new saya in simple black laquer made for your blade
costs about $150 to $300.  Antique blades may need new silk or leather
handle cord (tsuka-ito), costs about $120 for materials and labour for a
good job.

12b.  Where can I find swords to purchase?

The availability of Japanese Swords in the US is due primarily to large
numbers of swords brought back by GIs after WWII.  As such, the
quality varies all over the place - from excellent old Koto blades to late
WWII machine made pieces of steel.

Japanese swords can be found at major gun shows.  There are also
annual Japanese Sword Shows in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and
Florida, among other places.  Major auction houses often have auctions
featuring Japanese blades.

At auctions, sometime good buys can be found on the last day, or in
"off/odd" lots - not featured in the catalog.  Inspect every blade at the
preview.  Learn what is good, and also the actual "hammer price" the
blade sold for.

Sword clubs, especially the Japanese Sword Society of the US (JSS/US)
can help put you in touch with sellers.  The JSS/US newsletter has
advertisments from various dealers and polishers.  Addresses for sword
clubs are found elsewhere in this FAQ.

12c.  How can I tell if it's a good sword?

Learn, learn, learn.  Join the JSS/US.  Read Yumoto.  Read him again.
Read him a third time.  Read other sources of information.  As in any
other consumer exchange, it's possible/likely for you to get burned.
Find a knowledgable mentor you can trust to help you.

Curved Japanese blades were made from the 900s to today.  Age of
blade by itself is not indicative of quality - there are many periods in
Japan when swords were cranked out in high volume to meet war-time
conditions.  Don't buy a crummy blade because the polish job looks
good or the fittings/wrap looks good.  Focus on the blade itself first.
Know the age of the blade - a lot of recent (19th/20th century) blades
are passed off as old blades.  Learn the terminology of eras of
swordmaking (Koto, Shinto, Shin-Shinto, Showa-to, Gendai-to, Gunto,
etc. ).

The order of consideration is #1 blade, #2 polish, #3 fittings, #4
scabbard and #5 handle.  In addition to all this, if the blade is to be a
working blade for iaido, tamashigiri or whatever, it must fit you and be
suited to the purpose.

When examining blades, ask first!  Don't touch the blade with your
fingers, the salts & moisture on your hands can cause fingerprint rust
marks on the blade - major faux pas!  Don't touch the edge to see if it's
sharp.  Again, you may rust the blade and you may also severly cut
yourself (much less important than damaging a valuable blade).  Don't
breath on blade either! Treat every blade with respect - for the maker,
the present owner and the blade itself.  The Japanese sword was often
called "the Soul of a Samurai".

Inspecting the sword - always hold the sword by both the tsuka and saya
when picking it up for the first time.  Hold it horizontally, as the
saya/habaki fit may be very loose or the wood/bamboo handle pin
(mekugi) may be loose or missing; check first.  Inspect all exterior
fittings first, do they match in design/ age? To remove the blade from
the saya, hold the sword by the tsuka with one hand, cutting edge up,
either horizontally or vertically, and separate the blade and saya - sliding
on the mune only.  This minimizes/eliminates putting scratches on the
sides of the blade.  Examine the blade (length, curve, style, hamon,
defects, feel, etc).  If you are still interested in the blade, have the
owner remove the tsuka - handles can often be ill-fitting, or in the case
of Gunto (WWII) mounts, have a lot of spacers (seppa) and
miscellaneous  hardware.

Many of the WWII blades are machine made single bars of steel.  Some
Navy blades are stainless steel with faked (via polishing) temper lines.
A few blades will have engraving (horimono) - it was often done by
machine to primarily WWII blades after the war for GIs, a dragon
chasing a flaming pearl being a popular example.  Engraving can also be
used to hide flaws in the blade.  Many of the WWII blades were crudely
made, using machines and non-swordsmith workers.  Are the lines
straight on the blade?  Does the main line (shinogi) waver about?

For terminology of age and features, be sure and read Yumoto.  Look
for defects, chips, fissures, etc.  Check the temper/hardening line
(hamon) on both sides and in the tip area carefully.  The hamon tells a
lot about the blade, study Yumoto and others to understand what it is
saying.  The steels used in the 20th century for mass production of
Japanese blades are such that flashy looking hamons can be made on
poor quality blades.  Check the grain of the blade - again, some very
flashy, large grain (contrasting layers) blades are sometimes of poor
quality.  Hamon questionable or no grain visible? Hold your breath and
your wallet!

Does the line in the tip area (ko-shinogi) match the tip cutting edge
(fukura) in shape? If not, this is a clue that the point was reshaped after
a chip or break.  Look down the mune from the tsuba.  Bent blades may
have been straightened, ...

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