Sensei taught a lot of things related to the Chinese sword during the last day of the Taikai.
This sword that we call Jian or Ken is in fact Tsurugi.
This is the weapon of the high level warriors.
Even though the Chinese jian / ken does not carry any “social meaning” the Japanese when referring to Tsurugi include their myth of creation in it. As you all know this is Kusanagi no Tsurugi * given by Susanô to his sister, the sun goddess Amateratsu. She later gave it to Ninigi no Mikoto** the grandfather of the famous emperor Jimmu as a proof of his divine origin.
Kusanagi no Tsurugi is one of the three regalia of the Japanese Emperors.***
So where “ken” is a simple sword, Tsurugi is linked to the divine.
Sensei introduced the day by insisting on the fact that it is impossible to understand Japanese warfare if one doesn’t study the three types of sword that created Japanese warfare expertise: Tsurugi, Tachi, Katana. Each refers to a specific period of development of Japan.
The use of the Tsurugi is so old that no written techniques have survived. They were recorded on animal skin or bamboo slivers (thin blades) and didn’t resist the passage of time. These times were chaotic times and Japan was not one country but a group of multiple little clans run by warlords.
The Tachi was the weapon of choice of the Bushi cast he said when permanent fighting was happening. The Katana became popular with the forced peace time set by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1603) and therefore was the weapon of the Samurai.
To make it clear only the Tsurugi and the Tachi were used in fight and Japanese martial arts are the result of using these weapons.
Sensei opened the morning session by asking a few Jûgodan to demonstrate their vision of Chi no Kata; and from there we moved to the Tsurugi. I must say that the Tsurugi is really a fantastic weapon that renders alive our taijutsu. Nagato sensei said in his class that if you don’t have a good taijutsu the Tsurugi cannot be used properly.
To begin sensei explained that the Tsurugi is stuck at the hip level ad that the footwork puts it naturally into the opponent attack. There is no thinking process. The sword pivots from this contact point right into uke’s attack. Deflecting the attack the tip of the blade is immediately pointing to uke’s body. The Sanshin motion of Chi no Kata becomes a natural reaction and no intention can be deciphered by the opponent.
Once again sensei said that this was mutô dori. We all know that mutô dori is a technique where you are unarmed facing an armed attacker. So it took me some point to figure out exactly what sensei was trying to say. I understood that the weapon was simply an added extension of the body. As you don’t think the word and as the sword moves with the body movements, you are moving naturally as if you had no weapon. And that is exactly what I meant earlier when saying that the Tsurugi was making your taijutsu alive. I honestly don’t know what people who didn’t attend the class can understand from what I’m writing here. But if you simply stick the Tsurugi to your hip and use your taijutsu, I’m sure that the majority will get what I’m trying to say here.
During the morning break, my friend Elias who like me had been used by sôke as uke came to me to share what he experienced. The situation we had to face were the same. Sensei asked us to attack and we stopped immediately because the tsurugi was aiming (on its own) towards our face. What Elias said to me was that the way sensei moved the tsurugi from the pivoting point at the hip made it impossible foe him to see it coming. And the reason was that sensei was keeping his elbow low so that no shoulder movement was being perceived. And when you did, it was too late. When hee asked me to attack him sensei modified his movement slightly. Instead og being completely invisible, he did some kind of seigan no kamae and got my attention on the tip of the blade a few centimeters away from y face. Then in both cases, sensei moved his forward foot a little more and stabbed us in the throat.
These two examples are quite interesting because they summarize the essence of fighting with the tsurugi. Elias didn’t see the second step forward because he couldn’t see the blade. I couldn’t perceive it either because my focus being on the blade the foot was hidden by it. Both examples demonstrate a high level of 見えない 技 mienai waza, techniques you cannot possibly see. But in both cases the end was the same, death.
To summarize this sensei said that tsurugi waza followed a specific sanshin: foot, spine, fingers. We already explained in various posts here the importance of the fingers. The fingers are the extension of your leg movement relayed by the spine. You must be able to change your fingers positioning while moving the body so that the blade is arriving straight to the 隙 suki (gap, space, weakness) in uke’s defense.
Another point that was important is distance. Sensei said that the difference between life and death in a fight often resumes itself to the thickness of a sheet of paper. When you master taijutsu the body moves at the exact distance of uke, not too far, not too close. And when you add the tsurugi your body must find the new perfect distance to be far and close enough of uke. A wrong distance will create new opportunities for uke. A correct distancee will stop uke in between two movements.
After thinking a lot about the tsurugi and thanks to this fantastic day I want to share here now two things that make it easier for me to use this sword:
1. You only have to do taijutsu, the blade moves by itself. Forget the blade. For example if you do a basic uke nagashi, do it with the tsurugi in your hand and see what is happening. Do not try to do anything with the sword, let it react on its own (mutô dori principle).
2. I spoke with sensei last Tuesday during training and he confirmed that I was right to think “hanbô jutsu” when training with the tsurugi. So next time you train use a hanbô. When you have the movement correct, replacce the hanbô by the tsurugi and see how similar they move. The tsurugi is not sharp on the major part of the blade so there is no risk for you.
Next week, I will record the basics of tsurugi for Budomart and koimartialart, and I will use all the knowledge I got this time to make it easy for all of us to learn this fantastic weapon.