Sword Art Faq Part I (LONG)

Sword Art Faq Part I (LONG)

Post by Neil_Gendzwi » Fri, 25 Mar 1994 04:09:49


In a vain effort to boost the SNR in this group, I am pleased to present:

         JAPANESE SWORD ARTS FAQ VERSION 2.0
                       Part 1
                   March 22, 1994

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.  However, corrections or additions are
welcome.  Please *mail* comments to me (Neil Gendzwill) at

the address just given).

This FAQ has all sorts of inherent copyright, but the only thing I really
care about is that you distribute it as a complete work.  If you wish to
see a change, mail me and I'll either incorporate it or explain to you
why I didn't.

This FAQ has been cross-posted to rec.martial-arts, rec.sport.fencing,
rec.org.sca and soc.culture.japan.  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.

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.  Thanks to Frank Lindquist for Section 12 (on
purchasing nihon-to), which is almost entirely Frank's work, with some
editing from me.  Thanks to all who have written, your comments have
been incorporated where possible.

Table o' Contents

Key to change index (with respect to version 1.1):

  n = new, r = minor revision, R = major rework

In Part I (this post)

  1.   What is kendo?
  1a.  OK, then what is kenjutsu?
  1b.  Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?
  1c.  What is kumdo?
  2.   What is iaido?
  2a.  OK, then what is iaijutsu?
  3.   What about batto-jutsu, tamashi-giri, shinkendo and others?
r 3a.  OK, so if they're watered down, why study kendo or iaido?
  4.   How did kendo originate?
  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 practise?
  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
  11a. World kendo championships results

In Part II (the other post):

n 12.  I want to buy a Japanese sword.  What do I do?
n 12a. How much do they cost?
n 12b. Where can I find swords to purchase?
n 12c. How can I tell if it's a good sword?
n 12d. How can I tell if the sword is right for me?
R 13.  Bibliography
  14.  Organization Contacts
r 14a. Kendo Federations
n 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 practise 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.

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
practise 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.

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.

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 practise 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 All-Japan
Kendo Federation) 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.

3. What about batto-jutsu, tamashi-giri, shinkendo and others?  

Again, *generally*, batto-jutsu is another word for iaijutsu, tamashi-giri
is the art of physically cutting with the sword and shinkendo is fencing
from a real sword perspective.

However, hundreds of years ago, the various sword teachers called their
arts by various names which all designated more or less complete
curricula of sword technique.  In other words, what one ryu called
kendo (or iaijutsu, or kenjutsu, or batto-jutsu) in the 15th century is not
the same as what we call kendo today - it would have incorporated
techniques of fencing, drawing and cutting, as no swordsman would be
sufficiently trained without all three skills.

3a. OK, so if they're watered down, why study kendo or iaido?  

Studying swordsmanship in the late 20th century is not a practical
matter.  Unlike the various empty-handed arts, there is no direct
application for self-defence.  You are unlikely to whip out a katana or
bokken when accosted in a dark alley.

People start the study of swordsmanship for a variety of reasons.  Those
who study for a long time end up staying for two reasons: they enjoy the
practise, and they feel they improve themselves through their practise.
These things can be accomplished through kendo and iaido, in fact some
might say they are more readily accomplished through the do forms, as
that is their intent.  Note that just because an art is labelled jutsu does
not mean that there is no spiritual side to the training; that is a
distinction that separates the most extreme sides to each style.

If your interest is in accurate and realistic sword technique applications,
then you may not be satisfied with kendo or iaido.  Be aware that
*qualified* instructors of kenjutsu or iaijutsu are extremely difficult to
find.  There are only a handful in the US, none that I know of in
Canada, and a whole passle of charlatans.  Even the handful that are
generally considered legitimate, including Lovret and Obata, have their
detractors.

4. How did kendo originate?

The earliest swords known to exist in Japan were of Chinese style and
origin and date to the 2nd century BC.  These ancient swords are
referred to as ken, the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ideogram
for sword or knife.  From this term comes kendo, way of the sword,
and kenjutsu, art of the sword.

Japanese sword technology began to outstrip the continental blades
around 700 AD, with the advent of the first curved swords.  Japanese
historians refer to three stages of swordsmanship in ancient times - joko-
ryu, chuko-ryu ...

read more »

 
 
 

Sword Art Faq Part I (LONG)

Post by Neil_Gendzwi » Fri, 25 Mar 1994 04:11:16

         JAPANESE SWORD ARTS FAQ VERSION 2.0
                       Part II
                   March 22, 1994

Table o' Contents

Key to change index (with respect to version 1.1):

  n = new, r = minor revision, R = major rework

In Part I (the other post)

  Introduction
  1.   What is kendo?
  1a.  OK, then what is kenjutsu?
  1b.  Isn't bokken technique taught in aikido?
  1c.  What is kumdo?
  2.   What is iaido?
  2a.  OK, then what is iaijutsu?
  3.   What about batto-jutsu, tamashi-giri, shinkendo and others?
r 3a.  OK, so if they're watered down, why study kendo or iaido?
  4.   How did kendo originate?
  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 practise?
  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
  11a. World kendo championships results

In Part II (this post):

n 12.  I want to buy a Japanese sword.  What do I do?
n 12a. How much do they cost?
n 12b. Where can I find swords to purchase?
n 12c. How can I tell if it's a good sword?
n 12d. How can I tell if the sword is right for me?
R 13.  Bibliography
  14.  Organization Contacts
r 14a. Kendo Federations
n 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.

If you intend to use the sword for Iaido, consider the following:

1.  Please don't use a high quality old blade - accidents may happen,
and damage to ha (cutting edge) is not repairable - only more material
can removed to smooth out the chip contour.

2.  A wide-groove (bo-hi) in the flat sides of blade (shinogi-ji) is not a
*** groove.  It serves to lighten the blade, providing a more lively
feel.  It also has the side effect of making a loud "hiss" when the sword
is swung straight (back of blade (mune) in line with the ha).  If the
sword is swung tilted, it will not "hiss".  A blade with bo-hi is often
desireable for this reason - you and everyone else will know if the sword
was swung true.

3.  Swords for iaido (iai-to) are modern day replica swords, the blade is
made of soft metal that cannot be sharpened.  These are recommended
for beginning iaidoka.

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 ...

read more »