Sunday, June 3, 2012

Samurai swords of Japan

Senpai Patrick Scofield (1st dan) trains with naginata against Sensei Bill Borea (2nd dan)
At the Arizona Hombu Dojo (a.k.a. Arizona School of Traditional Karate) in the Phoenix East Valley, students have the opportunity to not only learn the classical Okinawan arts of Karate and Kobudo, but also the opportunity to train in the classical Japanese samurai arts.

Several swords were prominent during Feudal Japan and these are generally known as Japanese swords (日本刀) or nihontō. The kanji used to write Japanese sword(s) include ‘日’ the ideograph for sun, and ‘本’ the kanji for ‘origin’ or ‘root’ (this symbol is a pictorial graphic of a tree with a root at its base indicated by the small cross horizontal line at the bottom of the kanji). These two kanji (日本) are combined to represent Japan (origin of the sun). The third kanji (刀) represents sword: thus all together we have Japanese sword(s). The Japanese do not distinguish between plural and singular nouns.

Katana showing guard (tsuba), handle (tsuka), charm
(menuki) and the ‘handyman’s secret weapon (duct
tape) (photo by Kenrick Davis).
Most Japanese swords are not well-defined and categories for length of the weapon are general. The lengths were measured in shaku (the average distance between nodes of a mature bamboo stem ~ 1 foot). The primary shaku used to measure most objects in Japan equals 30.3 cm (11.93 inches).

A general length classification scheme used for nihontō:
  • tantō (knife or dagger) = 1 shaku or less;
  • wakizashi or kodachi (short swords known as shōtō) = 1 to 2 shaku;
  • katana or tachi (long swords known as daitō) = more than 2 shaku;
  • ōdachi (long swords) = more than 3 shaku.
In addition to the above swords, the naginata and yari were considered to be part of the nihontō family even though they were pole mounted blades.

The most common sword known to Westerners is katana (). The katana is a single edged sword, with a curve blade whose possession was restricted to the samurai lineage during Feudal Japan. It was thought that katana were the soul of samurai and was so important that the samurai actually gave names to their swords, as they were considered to be part of the living.

Long Swords
(1) ōdachi (also known as ōtachi) (大太刀)
The ō in ōdachi refers to ‘great’. The kanji for ‘great’ is written as which also means big. The ōdachi predated katana and had some unique characteristics. Not only was the sword noticeably long, the ōdachi was marked by religious inscriptions imprinted on the tang. It is thought by most researchers that ōdachi were used in ceremonies prior to battle; and because their length (5 to 6 shaku) was enormous (often longer than the samurai was tall), it is thought many were used as cavalry swords. The ōdachi would have been impractical to carry in an obi (belt) around one’s waist. Thus, it was thought the weapon was either carried on one’s back, in hand, attached to a horse, or by an assistant who followed the samurai.
Dr. Teule trains with bokken at a Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu
Clinic taught by Soke Hausel in Gillette, Wyoming.

(2) Nodachi
The nodachi is often confused with ōdachi. However, nodachi refers to any type of long battlefield or field sword (daitō) as well as a tachi and is often misapplied to any over sized Japanese sword. It has the same appearance and design as a tachi, but was significantly longer. The sword is believed to have been used primarily for dueling.

(3) Katana ().
The katana (pronounced kah-ta-nah in Japanese and popularized as ka-tan-a in the West), was one of the traditional swords worn by samurai. It had a blade larger than 2 shaku with a more moderate curve than a similar blade known as tachi (see #4 below). The katana was worn on the left side of the samurai with the cutting edge (yaiba or ha) up. The blade included a circular to square guard (tsuba) separating it from a long grip handle or pommel (tuska) made for two hands. The blade of the katana along with the portion of the blade known as the nakago that extends into the handle was all one continuous piece known as the tang. Those katana made for combat (shinken) and training (iaitō) have full tang. This simply means that the nakago and ken (blade) are made of one, uninterrupted, piece of steel. Many cheap practice (iaitō) unfortunately have two separate pieces - a blade and handle. This results in loosening of the blade with prolong use until the handle starts to separate from the blade. Thus, when searching for an iaitō it is best to pay a few extra bucks and purchase one with a full tang. If you decide to purchase one to train in any of our dojo, it must be an iaitō with dull edge. Shinken are way too dangerous for dojo use and in Arizona should be reserved for trimming cactus.

Sensei Borea demonstrates naginata at Seiyo Kai Hombu in Arizona. Sensei is of
true Japanese samurai lineage and is the Staff Samurai at our dojo in Mesa, Arizona.
The grip handle of katana is typically covered with ray skin leather (same’) and wrapped with cord known as ito. To hold the handle (tsuka) in place on the nakago, a hole was punched into the steel nakago and a small bamboo peg (mekugi) forced through the handle into the nakago. When the handle is removed from a well-made katana by forcing the mekugi out, the swordsmith’s signature should be seen carved into the nakago. The katana was developed from an earlier sword referred to as uchigatana (打刀). The katana was carried in a scabbard known as the saya.

(4) Tachi (太刀). The katana and tachi look very similar but can be distinguished by locating the mei (signature) on the sword’s nakago under the handle. When worn, the mei would be carved on that side of the tang that would face outward when placed in one’s obi. Because the tachi is worn with the cutting edge down opposite of the katana, the mei will be on the opposite side of the tang for this sword. The tachi was often considered as a spare blade used in battle.

There were tachi with variations from the classical weapon that included a larger tachi (see #1 above) known as ōtachi (ōdachi) and a shorter sword known as kōtachi (kōdachi). The kōdachi was similar in length to wakizashi (see #5 below).

Shōtō (short swords)
(5) Wakizashi ()
The wakizashi, also referred to as wakizashi no kataka, translates as ‘sword inserted at one’s side’. The wakizashi typically had a blade of 1 to 2 shaku. Those closer to the length of a katana, were referred to as ō-wakazashi, while a shorter blade wakizashi was closer to the length of a tanto and known as ko-wakizashi. The wakizashi was worn with a katana only by samurai. Together, the pair were referred to as daisho which translates as dai’ (big) and sho’ (little), terms some of us are already familiar with because some of our advanced karate kata use these terms, such as Passai Dai and Passai Sho.

Suzette Denvir practices Iaido at the Arizona Hombu Dojo, Mesa
The wakizashi was a back-up sword, also used for close quarters fighting and for seppuku (ritual suicide). The size of wakizashi was not regulated until the Edo Period when in 1638 AD, only samurai were allowed to wear katana of a regulated length. At this time wakizashi were also regulated. Samurai were allowed to wear both swords while those of the chonin class (merchants) were only allowed to wear a shorter ko-wakizashi to protect themselves from bandits. It was customary for samurai to leave katana at a door of a castle, but they always carried wakizashi. The wakizashi was the samurai’s honor blade and would never leave his/hers side, so much so, that it is reported samurai even slept with them under their pillows.

Tanto (knife)
(6) Tanto
The tanto was a knife worn by samurai of feudal Japan. One variety was that of the yoroi tōshi or dagger (about 8 inches long) that had a greater thickness and used for piercing armor. Another tanto was the aikuchi (). The aikuchi had the distinctive characteristic of no tsuba, similar to another dagger known as a kaiken. See also ken tanto below (#8). Even so, many tanto had tsuba, such as the tanto given to me by the Utah Shorin Kai at the last Gassuku (see photo to right of tanto with shaku measuring tape).

(7) Chokutō.
The chokutō had a straight blade and was introduced to Japan from Korea.

(8) Kusanagi no Tsurugi
This was a double-edged sword used in the 5th century in Japan and similar to the ken tanto (double-edged knife).

(9) Shirasaya ()
Shirasaya translates as ‘white scabbard’. This was a sword that had a plain wooded blade mount consisting of a saya (scabbard) with a tsuka (hilt) and traditionally used for storage when a sword blade was not needed for some time. In this form, it was not used on a battlefield.

(10) Shikomi-zue (仕込み)
The shikomi-zue is a sword-stick. These typically contained a blade inside a cane (tsue) mounting for concealment. Some of these also concealed other weapons such as pepper powder (metsubuski), chains, hooks, etc.

Schools (dojo) and Styles (ryu)
Most Japanese swords are traced to one of five provinces in Japan that included Shoshu, Yamato, Bizen, Yamashiro and Mino. There were different styles and systems of Japanese swordsmanship and training.

Kenjutsu, Kendo
Kenjutsu (sword techniques) is the martial art combat sword training. Similar to kenjutsu is kendo (way of the sword). Both tend focus on techniques of the sword after it has been drawn from the saya (scabbard). Kendo-ka practice with bamboo swords known as shinai, while wearing padded clothing known as bōgu and head gear known as men. Most kenjutsu use sword.

Kyoshi Rob Watson, 8th dan, explains to members of the Utah Shorin Kai about kenjutsu and kendo while wearing bōgu and men of kendo and showing katana of kenjutsu. To the right, Renshi Todd Stoneking hands shinai to Kyoshi Watson as Soke Hausel, 10th dan, looks on.

Iaijutsu (iaidō 居合) and Battōjutsu (抜刀)
Iaijutsu, iaidō and battōjutsu are fast draw arts designed to develop fast draw with follow-up attacks with the sword. These arts are similar and generally only differ in training methods. For instance, battōjutsu incorporates multiple cuts following the draw of the sword; while iaidō emphasizes reaction to unknown scenarios, or a reaction to a sudden and swift attacks. In iaidō, the student begins training with a bokken (wooden practice sword) and later switches to a iaitō (dull-edged practice sword). Only very experienced practitioners use shinken (live blade) because of the extreme danger to oneself. Because iaidō is practiced with a weapon, whether it is a dull or live, nearly all training is by kata that includes drawing the weapon followed by cuts and finishing with ceremonial de-blooding of the blade and replacing the weapon back into the saya. Sparring is not part of iaidō, but is instead restricted to kendo. Another art that is similar to iaidō, is that of jōjutsu (training with a 4-foot staff).

According to Wikipedia, some styles of iaidō include Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu, Muso Shinden Ryu, Mugai-Ryu, Jikyo-Ryu, Suio-Ryu, Motobu Udundi (Okinawan), Shindō Munen-ryu, Shinkage-ryū, Hōki-ryū, Tatsumi-ryū, Tamiya-ryū, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Takenouchi-ryū,Eishin-ryū

Sword testing, known as tameshigiri was designed to test the blade’s sharpness and the practitioner’s abilities to cut a variety of materials. Today, we often see cuts on matting or straw on a vertical pole. In the past, it was not uncommon for some Japanese to test on cadavers of executed criminals. Few iaidō schools practice tameshigiri.

Samurai arts are also part of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo. In addition to iaido, our members train in jujutsu, hojojutsu, hanbojutsu, naginatajutsu and yarijutsu.

Some Books On Nihonto
Craig, Darrell, 1981, Iai – the art of Drawing the Sword: Lotus Press, Tokyo, Japan, 257 p
Yumoto, J, M., 1958, The Samurai Sword – A Handbook: Charles E. Tuttle Co, Tokyo, Japan, 191 p
Warner, G. and Draeger, D.F., 1982, Japanese Swordsmanship – Technique and Practice: Weatherhill, Boston, 296 p
Zier, Don, J., 2000, Japanese Sword Drawing: Unique Publications, Burbank, CA, 317 p

Arizona Hombu dojo. Members train in iaido (sword drawing).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hanbo - weapon of self defense

The principal focus is Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa and for members of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai worldwide, is karate & kobudo (Okinawan Weapons). But in addition to these traditional Okinawan martial arts, students train in self-defense and learn to defend against a variety of attacks including assailants with guns, knives, clubs, rifles etc. Many of the students also train in Samurai Arts including iaido (samurai sword), kenjutsu (samurai sword techniques), naginata (halberd), yari (spear), bo (staff), hanbo (half-staff), jo (4-foot staff), hojo (rope), kobuton (short stick), and jujutsu.

Many students also train with weapons of the Japanese Samurai including hanbo (or short staff). Similar weapons to the hanbo include kioga (or kebo) better known as the expandable baton (Asp), tsune (cane), kobuton (short stick) and manrikigusari (chain or rope). 
Hanbo training at the Arizona School of Traditional Martial Arts, Mesa -
Gilbert, Arizona

Members of Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, learn how to use the hanbo in dozens of different situations for the street. But they also practice against an uke (partner) with a samurai sword as is tradition (as well as against an attacker with other weapons such as tanto [knife]). As they progress, they work up to juji-kumite to develop spontaneity and accuracy of action - in other words, to learn how to react without thinking. Restraints are important so that the hanbo can be used as a pragmatic instrument for law enforcement.

The Hanbo and Kioga are common weapons used by police departments around the world. As a Kyoju of Budo (professor of martial arts) at the University of Wyoming, Soke Hausel taught many law enforcement officials in these arts. But, you don't need to law enforcement officer to learn to use these valuable weapons. 

At the Arizona Hombu Dojo we focus on training 3 nights a week (with additional clinics). The evenings begin at 6:45 pm at 60 W. Baseline Road in Mesa. We have an interactive map on our website.

The hanbo (半棒) is considered to be a ‘half-bo’ and is taught in several traditional jujutsu and ninjutsu styles in addition to Seiyo Shorin-Ryu karate. This weapon was added to the kobudo curriculum of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu because it is such a practical weapon and is an extension of many of our empty hand self-defense techniques. Hanbo also goes well with kioga and cane and many techniques are similar between these weapons - so when you learn one, you are essentially learning all three.
In Seiyo Shorin-Ryu, to progress in hanbojutsu, students demonstrate basic strikes, blocks and stances and several self-defense ippon kumite against unarmed and armed assailants. They also learn very restrictive juji-kumite or sparring with the weapon. The kumite must be controlled and done with safety in mind. 

The origin of the hanbo is uncertain. Some researchers suggest it originated quite by accident. According to a summary on Kukishin Ryu, legend suggests that during battle between Kuriyama Ukon and General Suzuki Tangonokami Katsuhisa in 1575, Kuriyama was armed with yari (spear) and Suzuki with katana (sword). During the battle, Suzuki sliced through Kuriyama’s spear cutting it in half, but Kuriyama was still able to overwhelm Suzuki with the remaining spear handle.

Kuriyama realized the importance of the short staff for self-defense and developed hanbo-jutsu. Our members also train in katana and yari and learn these weapons along with many traditional Okinawan kobudo weapons such as nunchaku, sai, tonfa, kama, bo, and others.

Hanbo has been incorporated into several martial arts including taijutsu (体術). Taijutsu is a term used interchangeably with jujutsu. Most koryu (old style) jujutsu styles use arresting techniques for law enforcement. In particular, munadori waza (lapel grab techniques) are the focus of many of these arts. 

Hanbo is a half bo and is traditionally three shaku (35.8 inches) long, or essentially half the length of a traditional bo. A bo can be referred to as roku-shakubo, or a stick of 6 shaku
Shaku is the archaic unit of measure used until the Japanese adopted the metric system in 1961. Prior to 1961, shaku was a common unit of measure equal to 11.93 inches, or nearly one-foot. The shaku was derived from nature and is the average length between mature bamboo nodes.

But the Japanese also had a second shaku - to make things confusing. This latter shaku was equal to 14.9 inches or the length of an average whale’s whisker which was adopted in 1881 to measuring cloth. To distinguish between these two, the cloth shaku was referred to as kujirajaka (kujira meaning whale); and the bamboo shaku was referred to as kanejaku. For me, I was surprised to find out that whale's had whiskers.

The hanbo is still used in training by many Japanese law enforcement agents. And it became very promintent during the late 19th Century during the Edo Period, when some law enforcement officers were armed with wooden staffs and were responsible for disarming samurai. These people worked in teams and attacked criminals simultaneously to disarm and restrain them with a rope - another art taught at our dojo - hojojutsu.

Following the Edo period, the Meiji Restoration began in 1868, known as the beginning of the modern era of Japan. During the Edo period, samurai were still important and privileged individuals. But a chain of events led major changes in the political and social system in Japan resulting in opening their door to gaijin of the Western World. During the Meiji, members of the samurai class were eliminated and the honor of wearing swords was prohibited. This was followed by all Japanese males being required to serve in the military for 4 years. 

These events caused considerable unrest with samurai, who prior to this event, were allowed to bear arms – unlike peasants. A samurai rebellion resulted and many hanbo waza were developed at this time to evade strikes by katana followed with follow-up strikes to head or sword hand, or thrusts to the attacker's body. Included in this were many take downs followed by restraints.

Our classes at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, Arizona at 60 W. baseline Road, across the street from SunDevil Auto and learn this and other weapons.

Bill Borea applies yubi uchi (toe strike).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jujutsu - Fighting Art of the Samurai

Soke Hausel teaches pressure point defense followed by nage waza (throw) to stop
 a grabbing attacker. Soke is assisted by Laramie Police officer and University of Wyoming alumni.
Jujutsu is a combat art developed by samurai centuries ago (both armed and unarmed). Karate, which focuses on kicks and punches is indigenous to Okinawa and became a combat form and later an art for peasants and Okinawan royalty. Jujutsu, was indigenous to the Japanese empire separate from Okinawa and had a different purpose. It was designed primarily as hand to hand combat to defend against heavily armed samurai with armor. Punching an enemy wearing armor with bare hands and feet does not seem like a bright idea, thus samurai developed throwing techniques (nage waza), foot sweeps and trips to defend against other armored and armed samurai.

Arm bar (ude garuma)
Along with throws, the jujutsuka (practitioner of jujutsu) learned unique strikes (atemi) to disturb the balance of the samurai. These atemi were designed to unbalance an opponent and generate a shock wave that propagated through armor.

Today we recognized two general categories of jujutsu: (1) Koryu (ancient) traditional jujutsu which was designed to defend against armed samurai with or without armor, and (2) modern Gendai jujutsu that favors self-defense applications used in sport and modern self-defense. Most Gendai schools lack lineage and traditions (i.e., Brazilian jujutsu).

In both old style and modern jujutsu, atemi is important. Before one can effectively throw an attacker, the aggressor’s balance should be disturbed. In Arizona we find people sweat more than in any other state (now did we need Federal Grants from the Obama Adminstration to discover this?). To grab and throw someone in Arizona is more difficult than in Wyoming (where it is dry and cold), simply because sweaty people are slippery and difficult to grasp. In Wyoming, throwing someone while standing on ice or snow may not be a very good idea either.

According to the Overlook Martial Arts Dictionary, atemi translates as "body strikes". It refers to "…a method of attacking the opponents pressure points". In A Dictionary of the Martial Arts there is a more detailed description. It states that an atemi is... "…aimed at the vital or weak points of an opponent's body in order to paralyze by means of intense pain. Such blows can produce loss of consciousness, severe trauma and even death…the smaller the striking surface used in atemi, the greater the power of penetration and thus the greater the effectiveness of the blow". This may be true in modern jujutsu, but in the ancient styles of jujutsu, pressure points for armored samurai were not important on a battlefield. A samurai covered with armor, had few if any exposed pressure points.
Kris applies wrist lock (te kubi) to Logan at Arizona Hombu clinic
Today, atemi is used to provide a distraction leading to a throw, joint lock, or choke. This is done by redirecting an opponent into a throw through attacking vital points to cause pain or loss of consciousness. In other words, it is easier to throw an unconscious or disoriented aggressor and one who is moving in the direction of the throw. One common atemi is a palm strike along the jaw line, ear (mimi) or neck (kubi). This also was likely used against armored samurai. Even with a helmet, a powerful open hand "teisho uchi" strike to the side of a helmet would ring one’s bell.
The term jūjutsu’ was coined in the 17th century, after it became a blanket term for a wide variety of grappling combat forms. Jujutsu (柔術) translates as the "art of softness" or "way of yielding".

The oldest forms of jujutsu are referred to as Sengoku jujutsu or Nihon Koryu Jujutsu. These were developed during the Muromachi period (1333–1573 AD) and focused on techniques that assisted samurai in defeating unarmed, lightly armed, and heavily armed and armored samurai – thus a greater emphasis was placed on joint locks and throws.

Daughter and father train in jujutsu at the Arizona Hombu
dojo in Mesa.
Later in history, other koryu developed that are similar to many modern styles. Many of these are classified as Edo jūjutsu and were founded in the Edo Period (1625-1868 AD) of Japan. Most are designed to deal with opponents without armor. Edo jujutsu commonly emphasized use of atemi waza. Inconspicuous weapons such as a tantō (knife) and tessen (iron fans) were included in Edo jūjutsu curriculum.

Another interesting art taught in Sengoku and Edo jujutsu systems is known as hojojutsu. This discplined involve using a cord to restrain or strangle an attacker. Such techniques have faded from most modern jujutsu styles, although Tokyo police units still train in hojojutsu and carry hojo in addition to handcuffs.

Weapons training were extremely important to Samurai. Koryu schools included the bo (six-foot staff), hanbo (three-foot staff), jo (4-foot staff), tachi (sword), wakizashi (short sword), tanto (knife), jitte (short one hook truncheon), yari (spear), naginata (halberd), ryofundo kusari (weighted chain) and bankokuchoki (knuckle-duster).

Edo jujutsu was followed by development of Gendai Jujutsu at the end of the Edo Period. Gendai, or modern Japanese jujutsu shows influence of traditional jujutsu. Goshin Jujutsu styles developed at about the same time, but the Goshin styles are only partially influenced by traditional jujutsu and have mostly been developed outside of Japan.

Today, many Gendai jujutsu styles have been embraced by law enforcement officials and continue to provide foundations for specialized systems by police officials. The best known of these is Keisatsujutsu (police art) or Taihojutsu (arresting art) formulated by the Tokyo Police.
Jujutsu is the basis for many military unarmed combat training programs for many years and there are many forms of sport (non-traditional) jujutsu, the most popular being judo, now an Olympic sport.

Some examples of martial arts that have been influenced by jujutsu include Aikido, Hapkido, Judo, Sambo, Kajukenbo, Kudo, Kapap, Kempo and Ninjutsu as well as some styles of Japanese Karate, such as Wado-ryu Karate, which is considered a branch of Shindō Yōshin-ryū Jujutsu.
Special training in kiogajutsu. This is an example of modern jujutsu using an expandable police baton for 
self-defense training. The kioga can be used very effectively similar to a hanbo and kobuton all rolled
 into one weapon. Many police departments carry this weapon but unfortunately, few officers are properly
 trained in its use. Sensei Brett Philbrick of the Laramie Police department applies joint lock on Shihan-Dai 
Kyle Gewecke from the Gillette, Wyoming dojo.

The training uniform (keikogi) provides an excellent indicator of traditions in a jujutsu dojo. Traditional schools wear plain white gi often with a dark hakama (the most colorful uniform might be plain black

or the traditional blue of quilted keikogi. Lack of ostentatious display, with an attempt to achieve or express the sense of rustic simplicity is common in traditional arts. The use of the traditional (Shoden, Chuden, Okuden, Kirigami and Menkyo Kaiden) ranking system is also a good indicator of traditional jujutsu. These are parallel to the common dan-i (kyu/dan) ranking used in traditional karate.

Ryan Harden applies yubi waza on Neal Adam
    Melinda applies choke on Dr. Neal Adam
    Even though our address lists us at 60 W. Baseline Road, we are actually on the NE Corner of MacDonald!

    Soke Hausel restrains Todd Stoneking (8th dan) after dropping him to the
    Soke Hausel demonstrates wrist throw on Josh at a Wyoming clinic held in Casper, Wyoming