Ken Tai Ichi Jô


In the Bujinkan there is the concept of  劒体一条 ken tai ichijô (body and weapon are one).


This concept makes a lot of sense when wielding a heavy sword in 片手 katate (one hand) because the free arm is often in the way. And this is even more difficult to manage as the blade is double edged.

We discovered this same problem when we studied the Tachi. But with the Ken this is even more accurate.

In the Kukishin ryû one of the kotsu is to “keep the elbows/arms close to the body”, this is for the same reason. If you train with the 万力鎖 manriki gusari this is also mandatory.

When I was stationed in Lebanon for the UN, I attended a very interesting Kukri* demonstration by the Nepalese Army. It was impressive and I noticed that the 200 soldiers moving in unisson always kept their free arm off the weapon for themselves and also for their neighbours. I took a video that I might post here one day.

So, as we are discovering the Ken, please keep your free arm as close as possible to the body at all time. Whatever you do with a new weapon has to begin slow. The first achievement is to avoid getting injured by it.

  • A weapon has no conscience and no intention. It moves naturally following the laws of 重力 jû ryoku (gravity).
  • A weapon is not impressed by your rank, it will do what your body movements make it do.
  • Therefore a weapon has to become truly a “natural extension” of your body/mind in order to avoid accidents.**

Confidence and ease are the natural results of heavy and long rehearsal. So please train slowly your katate movements, they are very powerful and devastating with such a heavy sword. Your security (and the one of your neighbours) should always be your first concern in training. Don’t be too presomptuous about your own abilities, learn step by step, and keep your free arm to your body.

If you don’t pay attention and don’t learn these movements correctly in slow motion then, instead of   劒体一条 ken tai ichijô, we will do  献体一冗 kentai ichijô, and “give your useless body to a hospital for medical research”. Interested?


*The khukuri (Nepali: खुकुरी) (alternatively spelled khukri or kukri) is a Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved edge, used as both a tool and as a weapon.For more information check THIS Wikipedia page.

**This is also valid for any object or weapon.

NB: In a previous post I wrote about the weakness of the wooden Taichi sword that can break easily when stopping an attack in the dôjô. Those of you using one, add a layer or two of duct tape and it will increase the security and lower the risks of injury during training. Also it will add a little more weight which is even better.


Ken no Sui no Kata


The Ken is heavy and needs a lot of circular momentum to cut into the opponent.

To apply an “omote shutô-like” cut to the side of the neck and to be sure to slide the blade in between the helmet and the yoroi (shoulder level) you must use your taijutsu and the kosshi of the Gyokko ryû.

3 Key points:

  • the sword is in line with the body above the head.
  • the wrist is reverse and broken
  • the blade is as flat as possible


Start from an Ichimonji like kamae with the blade lying flat on the arm. From the kamae lift the sword above the head and support it with your extended fingers. Then “lasso” the blade still as flat as as possible above the head with a full body movement using the tenchi (body axis) as a pivoting point. The pivoting action to throw the body is done at the left toe (forward leg). The body weight is transferred gradually from the back leg to the front one (hips still leveled), this slides the body axis forward inducing an acceleration of the blade.

The speed of rotation of the blade added to the body movements creates a devastating power to cut/crush the opponent.

Shiken no Ken

ImageThe 四賢の劒 shiken no ken (four virtues of Ken) are the 4 basic rules that I found so far in my research and training with the Chinese Ken.

After giving two seminars on the Chinese Ken I have made a 私見 shiken (personal opinion), about the way to train and to enrich our budô practice with the help of this fantastic new weapon. 

Through thorough 試験 shiken (study and experiment), and exchange with my fellow jûgodan, I came up with the “shiken no ken”, or 4 rules/virtues of the Chinese Ken:

This is G.A.M.A.N:*

1. GRAVITY: Like for the Tachi, I think that a metallic sword is necessary to really understand the major differences in the balance of the blade. The momentum is what creates the 重力 jû ryoku (gravity) feeling. Throw the body by the blade. If you only have a wooden Ken, put some weight at the tip to get this drowning feeling of the head of the blade when moving.

2. AWARENESS: Be careful, train slowly as the momentum of the blade is different from the Japanese sword. This is very true when doing the large (and necessary) horizontal cuts are taking a lot of space. Please check the space around you and avoid hitting the walls or your dôjô friends before doing them. Also, for those training with a wooden sword, be aware that these wooden “taichi” ken on the market are very fragile, they don’t block an attack like a real bokken would; they can break easily and become dangerous for yourself, your partner and your neighbours. 

3. MOVEMENT & ARUKI: a straight blade can only create a cutting motion when the movement is circular. Therefore move in a circular manner with your legs and body when doing a technique. Body movement has to recreate the missing curve (反り, sori) of the Chinese blade. Chinese Ken jutsu seems to be at the origin of our particular Aruki of the Bujinkan Taijutsu. Use your legs and get lower even more. Footwork, footwork, footwork!

4. NATURE: Train your regular Taijutsu techniques with the Ken: Ken is in scabbard (held in left hand), Ken is of the scabbard in the right hand: a) scabbard is in left hand and is used as a shield; b) without scabbard, the left hand is free and you can change hand easily.

Be patient, train properly, persevere and if you apply them, I am confident that you will reach the high level of 知見 Chiken: expertise and experience.*



*我慢 GAMAN means: patience, perseverance, self-control, endurance

**please note this is “Chiken” and NOT “Chicken”… 🙂



Ken: Sayû Changing hands

左右 sayû means left/right (this is the Chinese for hidari/migi in Japanese)

When it comes to changing hand with the ken (from right hand to left hand) one is facing a difficulty as the Chinese blade is heavier than the Japanese regular Katana. It also has a different balance, the weight being more in the head of the blade.

Changing hands is not very common in traditional swordmanship in Japan but it is in the bujinkan and in China too.

The positioning of the fingers on the Tsuba of the Ken allows to orient the blade properly in the movements and this is what we need in order to change our grip from one hand to another. Below is a pictured example on how to proceed.

1. Start from a sort of Shizen/Hira no Kamae.


The sword is held reverse (kashira to the ground).

The blade is hidden behind the back.

Knees and arms are relaxed.

Gravity is holding the sword in place.



2. Do Jûji Aruki

Gyokko ryû type (i.e. toes are perpendicular)

The left leg passes in front of the right leg. The body is going backwards. Keep your balance.

The hands are on both sides of the Tsuka. Watch the positioning of the fingers on the Tsuka. Legs and arms move simultaneously.



3. Uncross the legs while pivoting towards the attacker.

The left hand releases the grip,

While the right hand is rotating the blade.

Sword is flat, palm is up.



4. Thrust the blade forward with a full body movement. The left arm is helping the thrust and pulls backward extending the body.  This is some kind of  Hira Ichimonji no kamae.


Be strong and balanced on your legs. Push on your back leg. You can pivot on the rear toes to add more distance to your thrust. The blade is horizontal and facing the opponent at all time from the beginning of the change of hand.

左右 sayû means left/right but written 矢優, sayû becomes a “skilled arrow” piercing the defense of the attacker.

Ken is Mû Kamae


Hatsumi sensei is developing the Ken techniques saying there are no fixed kamae for the Ken.

It was the same when we began the study of Tachi waza.

But we always start from a situational body posture.

When you attend classes these days you can observe some kind of kamae or better said, body attitudes looking like some of the kamae we have ben studied.

I have trained on my own with these “no kamae” and I found them interesting to begin our study of this new weapon.


The Ken moves often like a heavy Hanbô but because of the double edge blade, the Hanbô no Kamae are often not applicable.

For example if we can use the tate no kamae or the munen nusô no kamae, or the kage no kamae; it is obvious that the hira ichimonji no kamae and the otonashi no kamae are to be avoided!

Here are a few “no kamae” that you can study in relation with the Ken.

They “look like” Kamae but they are Mû Kamae 無有構え, inexistant attitudes giving freedom to your taijutsu.

ken_ichimonjiken_totoku_seigan ken_uke_nagashiKen_SanshinKen_hira ichimonji

Jyanen Or Jian Nen?

kusanagiThe asian astrological sign for the year 2013 is the snake (black snake or water snake). It is called Jyanen (snake year) in Japanese and the new year just began a few days ago. A few weeks before that sensei uncovered the theme for the year which is the Chinese sword, 劍. The Chinese sword (“jian” in Chinese, 劍) is called Ken (剣) in Japan.

Having followed sensei’s teachings for many years I am used to his interesting way of interchanging kanji and his ability to create deep meanings in an apparent shallow sentence or aphorism. The beauty of Japanese language is that one (often him) can play endlessly with the sounds and say different things while using the same sounds. As you know, Hatsumi Sensei is very fond of puns and interchanging kanji.

If we follow his reasoning or at least his “wicked mind” (another邪念 janen)-  we can say that as Ken is called Jian in China, maybe we should understand the year of the snake 蛇年 (jyanen) as being also the year of the Chinese sword 劒年 (Jian nen).

Until last summer sensei used to say that in 2013 we would be studying yari but then we are studying Chinese sword! So what happened?  Here we can only guess. During the dkms sensei purchased a rare painting of Amateratsu in her cave (see post concerning that on this blog) that he exposed during training. Maybe this is what triggered him for changing the yearly theme and move to the study of the Chinese Ken.

Jyanen (year of the snake) sounds like jiannen (year of the Jian). But do you know that there is a connection between the Jian/Ken and Amateratsu no Kami the sun goddess of the Kojiki (Japanese mythology)?

Kojiki reminder: Because of Amateratsu’s brother, Susanô,  the sun goddess decided not to get out anymore of her cave. Consequence: there was no more sun on earth. All the gods gathered and decided to organise dances and music to please the goddess. They finally succed and Amateratsu came out again, this is why every morning the sun rises and gives light to mankind.

So, shortly after the cave incident Susanô went to fight a hydra with eight heads. Like our Hercules of the Greek Mythology he had a hard time but he finally killed the monster. After his victory Susanô found a sword (the famous “Kusanagi no Tsurugi”) inside the tail of the hydra.  Susanô decided to give it to Amateratsu to settle their dispute over the cave incident. This is why these two events are linked historically or at least in Japanese mythology. But this is not all.

Amateratsu was the grandmother of Ninigi no Mikoto, the first emperor of Japan and gave him this Ken, the mirror and the jewel (the three regalia of the Japanese Emperor) to show everyone that he was supported by the gods. This is the origin of the imperial power, and the proof of the link of the Emperor to the gods.

As a side note, Wikipedia explains that “the Imperial Regalia of Japan (三種の神器 Sanshu no Jingi / Mikusa no Kandakara), also known as the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, consist of the sword Kusanagi  (草薙劍 Kusanagi no Tsurugi), the mirror Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡), and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊曲玉). The regalia represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).”

When Amateratsu gave the sword Kusanagi to the Emperor she said it was to chase the demons, establish peace and restore unity. This transmission of power from the sun goddess to the first emperor is quite similar to the transmission given to Hatsumi sensei by the late Takamatsu sensei. On the makimono this year at the side of the Shinden is written a sentence of Takamatsu sensei: “Kami Ori Tatara no Hôken Tamarite Tôyô Ashi ara Rokuni Arabaru no Takamatsu Sensei Tamawari”. Or “The divine protecting sword, is transmitted from Takamatsu to Hatsumi sensei to destroy evil and create peace and unity”.

Myths always carry symbols and we can easily understand here that, symbolically, the gods, by giving Kusanagi to the first emperor were in fact “transmitting their power” to mankind. From this day on, humans were to take responsibility for their own destiny. That was the beginning of our civilization.

When Takamatsu sensei gave the nine schools to Hatsumi sensei he did the same: he transmitted this power to Hatsumi sensei. And we can imagine that this is what sensei is doing now, he is giving us back our freedom of action. And the reason why he is doing that is, once again, hidden inside the kanji. The year of the Ken which is 劒年 (jiannen) can also be written as 自案年  (ji-an-nen – self thought year) or the year where we have to think on our own, i.e. to be the master of our destiny, to decide for ourselves and be responsible for our actions.

All over these years, Hatsumi sensei has created a dôjô to bring us to this level: this is the Bujinden, the place (palace?) for the transmission.

Thank you sensei for your trust. I sincerely hope that many of us will seize this chance to become a Bujin, a true being.

Hôken Is Kenpô

ajc_ken2 After this first seminar dedicated to the Chinese sword I thought I could share with you some of my findings. I’m just beginning to understand the power of this fantastic weapon and I still have to train a lot to unveil the richness of it. Since the seminar I train every day for half hour on the particular moves of this new blade. I also tried to understand what some of my friends shared with me from what they learned in Japan since the beginning of this year’s theme.

Some keypoints and discoveries to help your practice:

  • 1. Do NOT train with a Japanese sword (wood or metal) it would not allow you to get the correct feeling on how to move with this weapon. The length is also different, and there is no curve (sori).
  • 2. Even though Sensei said there were no kamae nor techniques in Ken, he keeps using a few typical Kamae such as: shizen, hira ichimonji, tôtoku yôshi, ichimonji. Try them they will help your understanding.
  • 3. Body movements similar to the jûji aruki of the Gyokko ryû  can be extensively used in order to free the straight blade and create a curved motion.
  • 4. The direction is not important as the blade can hit forward, backward, reverse, even from behind. Stop thinking like a Samurai! this blade was created at least 20 centuries before the katana!
  • 5. The heavy weight of the blade changes totally the way to move the body. It is time to get a flexible body, and to really lower the hips. This is of paramount importance.
  • 6. The blade is “driving” the body, but the body motions free the blade and allows it to “pull” the body. Think of it as a yinyang, magnetic or quantum action: both are nurturing each other.
  • 7. The Ken is the original technique of tachi movements, using these Tachi moves helps you to get close to the proper Ken feeling.
  • 8. Unlike Japanese swords, the Ken is straight and double edged: don’t cut yourself when you put the blade back into the scabbard!
  • 9. The Ken is heavy (more than a regular Japanese sword) so be careful not to hit yourself when doing the furi (it happened to me during training*).
  • 10. The Ken changes easily from one hand to the other like you would a hanbô. Don’t think “sword”, don’t think, move!
  • 11. The Ken like the Tachi is mainly used for stabbing, cutting is not the best choice (straight blade). The stabbing is done with the whole body, often in a kind of Sanshin motion.
  • 12. If you have to cut with the Ken you have to do it with the whole body, like in regular taijutsu. Move your legs!
  • 13. Do NOT think a movement, let the body do it and the blade will get alive.
  • 14. Use the scabbard (it is solid) to dodge the attacks or to help the counter attacks.
  • 15. Train the Sanshin with the Ken. Sensei apparently said that our “Sanshin no Kata” had been designed for this type of Chinese Ken.
  • 16. The Sanshin motion is important when using the Ken. Train the five elements with the Ken. When you do that you will find amazing how those movements get logical with this type of sword. At least I was.
  • 17. Use your forearms to move the heavy blade. Remember this is mainly Katate like the Tachi movements.
  • 18. Use your forearms to support the blade (flat). And keep it close to the body.
  • 19. Keep the sword close to the body whenever possible, for hitting, turning, cutting.
  • 20. Don’t think, just do it! and it will bring victory.**

I have been training nearly 30 years in the Bujinkan and this new unexpected weapon is like a gift from Sensei. My advice to you is: get a Chinese sword and train hard you will discover a new direction, 方(hô); a new world of possibilities.

The Hôken 宝剣 (divine sword) of 2013 IS the real Kenpô 剣法 (fencing), in fact I begin to think that is the true principle of sword fighting, hô no kenpô  法の剣法.

Each year Sensei comes with a new theme and each year I feel like a kid at Christmas, but this year with this new sword it is like having a full christmas store (kurimasu ho) クリスマス舗.

So? Ho Ho Ho or Hô Hô Hô?

*this is a secret if you repeat it I will deny as it is only between you and me. Okay?
**NIKE is the goddess of victory in Greece…
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