originally posted October 12, 2002
Last evening, many students mentioned to me how difficult bokken training is. We did not do many suburi nor practice any particular techniques very hard, but the sutblety of the techniques and movements seem to be very difficult to catch on to. Many people do not realize how sophisticated Japanese sword techniques are and coming into practice thinking that it is very easy to “swing” a wooden sword, they are always surprised. Many come in with bad habits from self-practice or are too inspired by watching old chambara, Samurai movies. Why do people think that you can find the correct technique and methods of training in a popular movie? Why do people think that they can simply make-up the art of Japanese swordsmanship? This is too simplistic and unrealistic thinking. This is why swordsmanship “appears” to be so difficult. The difficulty is not in the technqiues themselves but it is in trying to undo the damage of all of the incorrect notions and distortions people bring to practice.
There is no wasted motion or effort in swordsmanship. Timing and spacing are of the essence. Imitating a pirate movie or old Samurai chambara will not do you any good at all. Please try to follow the instruction more closely so we can advance further.
One of my main concerns is that many students lower the point of the sword as it goes above the head just before the kiri-oroshi cut. This is a very bad point but many people do it this way in Aikido. I do not know why. By lowering the point, as the sword reaches above the head, you are exposing yourself to a thrust from tsuki to the throat. When the tip of the sword is lowered, not only are you open at the throat but you have no way to deflect such an attack.
Also, as you lower the tip of the sword too much, you break the grip of the left hand on the hand. This is your power grip on the sword and if you lose this, it is very easy to lose the sword completely from your hands. Finally, by lowering the tip over your head, you create too wide of an arch to cut the opponent. This is all incorrect from the standpoint of the most basic viewpoint of Japanese swordsmanship, we Aikidoists break too many rules of common sense and realism.
From many, many points, it is not correct to do this, yet so many practice this way. I think we are not paying close enough attention to our training. Or, we look at sword training as a mere exercise or sport and not concerned with timing and spacing and proper technique. It is in this manner that we take a wonderful and ancient art such as Japanese swordsmanship and reduce it to a mere exercise. Is the inevitable end of a martial art?