The Japanese Sword, the iconic weapon of the Samurai, razor sharp, a work of art taking months to complete with rituals required in its manufacture. There can be no other weapon so revered by so many people in the world today, they can be an investment kept in bank vaults, they can be war trophies, they can be heirlooms or they can be used for martial arts, the latter is what we will concentrate on here.
People decide to take up the art of the sword for different reasons, perhaps they’ve practiced martial arts for years and find this as the natural progression, perhaps they have an interest in the culture, they might have seen a demonstration or even just seen a film!
The art of the Japanese sword is like any other Japanese martial art, there is no end to the constant practice and training, it can be a very solitary and selfish art. The student concentrates on his/her personal practice, striving to become better and to understand the techniques.
There are many many styles of Japanese Sword, each one with its own characteristics, each one having its roots in a time of war and conflict. Our School practices Toyama Ryu Batto Do, developed in 1925 for the Japanese Army. However we also concentrate on teaching the students a more in depth understanding of the sword, looking at older styles, unarmed defences, kenjutsu and Kumitachi, the more a student understands the sword and its use, the better they will become as a swordsman/woman. As a part of our training we practice the art of Tameshigiri, actual cutting of targets with a sharp sword (Shinken) This is a potentially a very very dangerous art, and must only be attempted with an instructor who is trained in this art and is accomplished in the techniques, at this time there a probably less than a handful of these instructors in the UK. Anyone can cut a target with a razor sharp sword, but without proper instruction it can be an accident waiting to happen, please be warned. Watching YouTube videos or getting a DVD does not count as legitimising an instructor, please check before getting involved. To teach Tameshigiri properly takes years of practice and study, and without proper instruction accidents can and do happen!
Students sometimes ask how long will it take to be good with a sword, the explanation is relatively simple, 4 years to learn the basics, then you believe you have achieved something, then another 2 years realising you haven’t even scratched the surface, only then will you understand the potential length of time required to become proficient with a Japanese Sword, remember, constant practice and training, we are all still students.
If you are considering taking up the Japanese Sword, there are, as in all arts, potential pitfalls and obstacles, remember you will be spending time and money in your new art, spend it wisely! Unfortunately today it can be hard to ascertain the actual legitimacy of a style or teacher, but with the availability of the Internet it is a lot easier, potential students should take the time to check out a new School before committing to, what could become a lifetime of training. We see today many so called Schools teaching a mishmash of uncoordinated techniques and absurd katas that would be more at home on the set of Kill Bill than in a Dojo!
Hopefully this short article will have given you an interest in finding out more about the Japanese Sword, so get on the Internet and find a decent School and start your journey!
Sensei Steve Iles
The Fujiyama School of Batto Do