Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Tantojutsu - Martial Art of Tanto (knife)

Tantōjutsu (短刀術), one of the many Japanese samurai arts taught at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Mesa Arizona along with Shorin-Ryu karate and kobudo. Tantojutsu is the art of tantō (短刀), known as a short sword of approximately one shaku long and commonly known as a knife in the west. Along with training with the tantō, a blade used is stabbing and slashing, members also train with karambit, the Filipino curved knife designed for slashing.

Historically, Japanese women often carried a variety of tantō (短刀術known as kaiken for self-defense. And warrior women (onna-bugeisha), that were part of the samurai class trained in tantojutsu and slept with a tanto under pillow.

The traditional length of tanto is one shaku (11.93 inches), which included blade, handle, and tsuba. Some tanto varied from traditional size and became known as O-tanto or Sunobi tanto. The blade was typically single-edged, many were curved, and some had a blood groove. Many were elaborately decorated.

Kyle trains with Glenn at the Arizona Hombu dojo.
Tanto (samurai knives)
The tanto was common in the Heian Period (795-1192 AD) of Japan, and according to Wikipedia, it was developed as a weapon during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333 AD). A large number of tanto were made in the last 700 to 800 years. While many were for civil use, others were used by samurai. These tanto were classified as: (1) Traditional tanto, which had a guard known as tsuba; (2) Aikuchi tanto in which the tsuka and the saya met without a tsuba, and (3) Hamadashi tanto which had a small tsuba that barely protruded beyond the saya and tsuka, and was designed for comfort when carrying the weapon in the obi (belt).

Other styles of tanto differed by shape of blade. These include: (1) Hira-zukuri - a flat, narrow and thick blade, used for slashing and piercing blows, (2) Shobu-zukuri - a blade with a ridge line and blood groove, (3) Moroha - a double edged tanto, (4) Kissaki-moroha-zukuri - a long blade with sharp point (o-kissaki), and (5) Kaikan - short tanto with small guards, usually carried by women.

When tanto was used on the battlefield it was designed to penetrate armor of other samurai. The tanto was usually carried in a wide cloth belt (obi) with the edge up and the handle turned to the right. In the home of the samurai, tanto was often placed with wakizashi (short sword).

Soke Hausel teaches both defensive and offensive tactics with tanto.
In Seiyo no Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai, this is one of many kobudo/samurai arts taught to our members. It includes many bunkai and one kata. Since it is an extension of our empty hand (kara-te) techniques, it can be applied to most bunkai. In addition to the classical tanto, we also teach members to use the Filipino karambit. Both types of knives have similar bunkai with the exception that the tanto has many bunkai for piercing armor requiring the blade to be thrust into an attacker. This may be one of the reasons why most tanto have tsuba - to basically stop the hand from sliding forward over the blade. But the weapon is also used to slice an opponent like a karambit as well as to strike an opponent with the pommel end.
Ben Corley demonstrates how to cut an attacker with his own knife at the
University of Wyoming White Crane karate clinic

Two outstanding Women Samurai (both black belts) at the Arizona Hombu dojo train with tanto and nunchaku