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my sword `s bigger than your sword

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  • my sword `s bigger than your sword

    I wanted to continue a discussion begun at the Budo Seminar last month and continued since via email.

    Our basic assumption is that sword forms continually evolved throughout medieval Japanese history based on how a fight was won or lost. We speculated that this past century or so (since Meiji) has seen the least amount of development, and in some cases, no development in technique. The oft-quoted danger here is that these systems are becoming museum pieces rather than effective combat arts. With the influx of foreign budoka of greater body size, plus the bodies of the Japanese themselves increasing with every generation (thank you Ronald McDonald), some movements seem less practical.

    So, should the practitioner change for the weapon/technique, or should the art change for the practitioner?

  • #2
    Personally I try to keep to the original techniques as much as possible, after all they work, so why change? Larger people tend to look ungainly,but so what so long as the technique works? I just work harder to get it right as I'm 6'. I have tried practising some 'modern' iaido, (ZNKR and ZNIR Kata), but always feel there's something missing, if you know what I mean...

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    • #3
      Ted-
      Not much response here so I'll have a go. As you know I have not been told to change anything in my forms because of my size. What changes do you envision? How would us big samurai use the weapons/ forms differently from our vertically challenged progenitors?

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      • #4
        This seems to be a conflict between some common ultimate goals of kendoka. You hit it when you said "The oft-quoted danger here is that these systems are becoming museum pieces rather than effective combat arts. "

        I have found some kendoka that truly believe that by studying kendo they are learning an "effective combat art." I know many others that study as a spiritual "way".

        If you were to "update" kendo, if you will (for whatever reason: to take advantage of higher tech materials in armor, weapons, etc.; to respond to changes in size, or indeed any other attribute, of the kendoka; etc.), you run a real risk of losing the intangibles that make it so good as a spiritual "way".

        On the flip side, although I have gained a lot of practical combat experience from kendo - I wouldn't call it an effective combat art in the modern sense. (As often said, it is not directly applicable because you're never going to be walking down the street wearing a katana and get jumped by another guy with a katana. And the general skills of timing, movement, observation, reaction, etc. and even weapon use, are not unique to kendo and can be learned in a number of other arts and combative sports - ones that promote hitting, and protecting, more than four locations even. Imagine that.). Furthermore, anyone specifically and primarily looking for an "effective combat art" may not be the kind of person committed practitioners want in kendo.

        For those reasons, I think changing the art to accommodate changing times and practitioners runs too great a risk of destroying what is special about it.

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        • #5
          Ted suggests that there has been little or no change in technique over the last hundred years, but that would seem to be a risky assumption. Oe Masamichi rearranged, changed, and modified Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu when he assembled the various Tosa Iai into the current form of the school. And there have been documented changes since that time. The arts are in a constant state of flux from generation to generation, teacher to student, and as body type changes so will the way the movements are done and look.

          But you really need to define "change" before talking about it. Is Ryuto from Muso Shinden-ryu Shoden(and MSR... THERE'S a major change since Meiji in itself being an entirely new school by some accounts) really a "change" from Uke Nagashi of Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu Omori? It depends on how you look at it, defined as "you're attacked from the left while sitting in seiza, draw and deflect, turn toward the opponent and cut diagonally into his body", both techniques are identical. They are performed differently, have different targets but fundamentally....

          As for westerners, I'm 6'2" and 240 pounds (that's big and fat in metric) and haven't found anything in MJER so far that's impractical for my size. I use a longer blade than some, but not as long as others, I've actually used anything from about 2.45 to 2.7 without too much trouble adjusting but prefer 2.6 shaku.


          Drifting somewhat off topic into kendo, Lewis makes two points:

          Originally posted by lewis


          If you were to "update" kendo, if you will (for whatever reason: to take advantage of higher tech materials in armor, weapons, etc.; to respond to changes in size, or indeed any other attribute, of the kendoka; etc.), you run a real risk of losing the intangibles that make it so good as a spiritual "way".

          On the flip side, although I have gained a lot of practical combat experience from kendo - I wouldn't call it an effective combat art in the modern sense. (As often said, it is not directly applicable because you're never going to be walking down the street wearing a katana and get jumped by another guy with a katana. And the general skills of timing, movement, observation, reaction, etc. and even weapon use, are not unique to kendo and can be learned in a number of other arts and combative sports - ones that promote hitting, and protecting, more than four locations even. Imagine that.).
          On the first, that if you change the trappings you change the art. That's a bit of romance and conservatism coming in there I suspect. We all like things to stay the way we first learned them but we've now seen graphite shinai, titanium men, and velcro closing hakama, the equipment is changing like it or not. Is this going to have an effect on the spiritual aspects of kendo? I doubt if green hakama would have as much effect as changes in the rules or in judging, or the massive influx of competitors and funding if kendo becomes an olympic sport.

          Finally, on kendo as a combat effective weapon art. I would invite people to wander over to EJMAS http://ejmas.com/ and look at some of the articles we have there on Western sword arts and western cane as self defence. The latest Journal of Western Martial Art article where Robert Lovett analyses Fiore Dei Liberi and points out that you have an attack, a counter and sometimes a counter to the counter but that's about it. Combat is generally rolling around on the ground after that point, or re-set and starts again. The cane articles are usually very practical and contain extremely few techniques, learn a couple well and go at it.

          Most telling though are the wartime bayonet courses which generally are "block, thrust, get back"

          My point is that during wartime when you need the most combat effective arts, they get very simple, during periods of peace, combat arts done for recreation tend to get more complex.

          I once started gathering information on western knife fighting to check this theory, manuals from WWII tend to have few techniques and an emphasis on targets, as you get to more modern texts you start to see more and more targets, more complex approach moves, and a somewhat less clear and clean theoretical underpinning as you get various "outside" influences on the author.

          I wander... kendo is a very simple art with few targets but those targets are the correct ones for unarmoured fighting with weapons. Hit the head or thrust the throat to end the fight, hit the wrist to disarm, hit the body to check.

          DON'T go for the legs unless you've got a longer weapon than your opponent (like a naginata)since you'll simply get hit on the head for your troubles.

          People often compare kendo poorly to the Filipino arts since those have lots of fancy movements and multiple targets and whatnot. I know a top Canadian kendoka who also did arnis, and asked him once if he ever used any of the arnis in his kendo. The answer was no, but that if he wanted to hit his partner when doing arnis he simply did "men".

          When facing an opponent with a stick or sword what can be more important to learn than "opening-hit" the instinct to hit a telling target the instant it becomes open.

          Kendo sensei with a walking stick vs robber with a knife... who would you pick.

          If I wanted to learn how to actually fight with sticks I'd be doing kendo I think.

          Kim Taylor
          kataylor@uoguelph.ca

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          • #6
            I think the person should change for the art and not the other way around. The art did not choose the person, the person chooses the art! That may be a little to simple minded but i think thats what Ted was asking right?

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