Bushido #1 : On Japanese Sword Fighting

If you read my review on Iron Fist, you probably noticed that I pointed out several times that there are many differences between a real Japanese way of wielding swords and that of western fighters or Chinese sword fighters. There are some western movies like Kill Bill, Last Samurai and so on which portrayed the real Japanese sword fighting more accurately than many other Japanese movies.

 Before I begin, I want to make one thing clear. I do not intend to taunt or belittle any movies or TV dramas for failing to describe a real Japanese sword fight. Actually, most Japanese movies fail to do that, too. But actually using the word “fail” itself is somewhat wrong. Once I read an article on this matter somewhere. It went something like this. “Sword fighting in movies (Japanese) is not meant to be real. Movies are entertainment and real sword fighting is not acrobatic enough. You stare at each other sometimes for hours and then with one swing, it’s over. It is not fun. So Japanese movies take in the fighting scenes from Kabuki.”

 Kabuki is now considered as a sophisticated traditional form of theaters but Kabuki is, just like Shakespeare’s plays, entertainment for ordinary people in Edo period. So people want action scenes where actors fight using swords in acrobatic fashions just like I want great action scenes in action movies. Japanese movies inherited the sword fighting from Kabuki and did not intend to showcase real sword fighting. Yes, there are many types of movies and when people want flamboyant acrobatic sword fighting scenes, movie makers give people one. They are not making movies to educate people. People do it somewhere else. People want to be entertained and I get it. I mean I also want those and watch many movies whose fighting scenes are not for real. I’m looking for entertainment, not reality.

 At the same time, people should not be left ignorant. I mean, people can enjoy surreal fighting scenes all they want. I do, too (actually I’m thinking of writing a novel in English where many of those fighting take place but I might use Kabuki styles). But if they know how the real fighting will be done, maybe they might be able to enjoy those scenes even more. I also want people to know about Japanese sword fighting styles and maybe people out there are intrigued by how real Japanese fighters fought.

I might be wrong, though. But though I gave up because of the lack of time to continue but about 5 years ago, I learned to wield real Japanese swords, or Katana, for about five years. In the system of my school, if you pass the fifth stage (5 dan), you can be an assistant teacher (Shihandai) and above the sixth stage, you can be “sensei.” I passed the fourth stage, one stage away from becoming an assistant instructor and I also learned most of the katas of the school of Iai studio I belonged to, which is the special fighting ways that allow you to fight when you are attacked without warning especially while your sword rests in your scabbard (that’s a big deal). I also cut many rolls of wet tatami mat that are considered to be just as hard as human necks. From my experience, if you don’t use sword right, not only you will fail to cut the rolls of mat in half (or into four pieces for that matter) but also even hurt yourself or break your precious swords in half because if you do not thrust with the right angle and speed with keeping the swords angle steady, it will stop inside the mat (or human body or whatever you try to cut) and its blade will break because it is thin. Conversely, if you use it right, it can cut anything because it is thin and extremely strong for thin blade. That’s Katana.

So that’s why every time fighters start to use the sword like rapiers or Chinese swords, holding with one hand and swing left to right, I feel something is wrong. Real swords are heavier and longer. Even if you have extra-strength and wield swords with one hand and move them quickly, they are no better than other types of swords. Or maybe worse because they are not cut out for those ways of fighting,

There are many cases where people swing their swords like 100 times and make 100 small cuts on each other but when masters fight, the fights sometimes end with one swing. The way I see it, Japanese swords are highly aggrieved weapons. You don’t carry any shields. You hold them with both hands and just attack. In many cases, the first attack will decide the dual. One of the most famous sword fighters in Japan 150 years ago, Shuusaku Chiba, out it as follows :”Sword is about a fraction-of-a-second speed (Sore, ken-wa shunsoku).” Everything is decided in a split second. The one who moves one fraction of one fraction of a second wins and survives the fight. But of course it doesn’t mean that you can swing swords hundreds of times blindly. You stay out as long as it takes, seek the opportunity (usually happens when your adversary loses concentration for a split second) and when the moment arrives, strike with a lightning speed and give a mortal blow.

Maybe I want a character who wields swords that way. The hero who carries a Japanese sword, stands still, becoming one with nature. When multiple assassins attack the hero, I want him/her to slightly moves and dodges the enemies’ attacks and then with flawless slices, cut down all the enemies down with one slice each. Actually, that’s a kind of hero I want to write about. There are many ideas like that but I’ll keep mum about them. 🙂

Once again, I am not writing these to undermine movies or dramas that have fake Japanese fighting styles. And as I said, it is not “fake news” at all. They are rightful heirs of Japanese traditional,entertainment, Kabuki. I just, first off, would like people (not just non-Japanese people but Japanese people, too, because many of them have no idea about sword fighting) to know about these things. I might be wrong, too. But I wrote these because if I speak up, other people will do, too, and we can move forward and will get to know the truth. That’s how humans store knowledge.

And it is also good to have options. This is the age of reality (the politics of the United States is pretty much like a reality show at this time. The president is the reality show runner, anyway) so maybe it is good to have a real Japanese sword fighter on screen. I love action movies!


About dw64 (or Masa(aki) or Mark)

I am 52-year-old Japanese male. Ever since I watched Sesame Street when I was VERY young (5 years old?). I fell in love with American English and culture. I learned English hard and now I am teaching it. Then when I was 18, I had an opportunity to stay with an American family in Shell Knob, Missouri and I asked them to educate me as an American kid. So they taught me the American way and even my taste for food has changed completely so I call this rebirth! Then when I was 30 (I visited the U.S. several times but they were short stays), I joined the MA course in teaching English of graduate school in Vermont. I stayed about 10 months there (it was an intensive course). I stayed in a dorm and learned a lot inside and outside of classrooms. I got all the credits but I failed because of the difference in the context between the U.S. and JAPAN cuz it is so hard to teach English in The way I learned in the course because in Japan, teaching is about understanding grammar and structure in Japanese. But my journey does not end here. Last year I was admitted the CELTA course in NYC where I worked hard and got this certificate that certifies that I had finished the course and qualified to teach English to people who want learn English as a second language by Cambridge University standard. So if you are one of those people, send me a message and I can help you learn American English (I got this at Cambridge but basically they teach different English depending on location). Why did I pick NYC? Well, I am a huge fan of American everything! I live the country even when that demagogue guy is the President so I am an authentic fan of it. I mean, I love the U.S. more than anything in this world. There was a guy who loved Japan so much so after he retired he came to Japan and became a citizen. I want to do the same, actually. So now I am so into it, I listen to NYC CBS radio 880 all the time except when I watch dramas on Netflix, HBO or HULLU or read paperbacks on Kindle (read 70 books in the last two years). And then I am writing in English. I hope to be able to write something publishable in the future but I have to learn some more. As for my learning, I have almost done usual stuff so now I decide to do things that native speakers who wish to be writers will do. At least I learned 8000 words and phrases in the last couple years and I confirmed that I know more than 22000 words, which is tantamount to the number of words American graduate school students have. Well I might talk about these things, too, but I will talk about my favorite things in this blog. I love American dramas. I love the ones with some sci-fi portion in it. Like, from HULU, Gotham, Lucifer, Fringe, etc. I love good comedies so I love Seinfeld, SNL and night shows. Netflix? Luke Cage, Daredevil, and other defenders. I love legends of tomorrow, too. HBO, Game of Thrones!! And I also loved Night of and West World. I also might talk about cycling (road biking) and all other stuff! Please feel free to comment!
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