Changeless Sword Schools?
copyright © 2008 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved
Changeless Sword Schools?
Many people assume that for the old sword schools there has been little
or no change in technique over
the last hundred years, but that would seem to be a risky assumption.
Oe Masamichi rearranged, changed, and modified Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu
when he assembled the various Tosa Iai into the current form of the
school and there have been documented changes since that time. The
arts are in a constant state of flux from generation to generation,
teacher to student, and as body type changes so will the way the
movements are done and look.
The arts do change.
But you really need to define "change" before talking about it. Is
Ryuto from Muso Shinden-ryu Shoden (and MSR... THERE'S a major change
since Meiji in itself, being an entirely new school by some accounts)
really a "change" from Uke Nagashi of Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu Omori? It
depends on how you look at it, defined as "you're attacked from the
left while sitting in seiza, draw and deflect, turn toward the opponent
and cut diagonally into his body", both techniques are identical. They
are performed differently, have different targets but fundamentally....
Changes to the art or the student?
As for changes to the school due to the student's body type, I'm 6'2"
and 240 pounds (that's big and fat in
metric) and haven't found anything in MJER so far that's impractical
for my size. I use a longer blade than some, but not as long as others,
I've actually used anything from about 2.45 to 2.7 without too much
trouble adjusting, but prefer 2.6 shaku. So changes to me but not many
changes in the art to accomodate to me. For others the art does change
without too much fuss and bother. If you can't kneel down, you do the
techniques standing, no big deal.
What about equipment changes?
If you change the trappings do you change the
art? That's a bit of romance and conservatism coming in there I
suspect. We all like things to stay the way we first learned them but
in something like Kendo
we've now seen graphite shinai, titanium men, and velcro closing
hakama, the equipment is changing, like it or not. Is this going to
an effect on the spiritual aspects of kendo? I doubt if green hakama
would have as much effect as changes in the rules or in judging, or the
massive influx of competitors and funding if kendo becomes an olympic
Any proof that the old arts are changeless battlefield arts?
I don't have any direct evidence, but I will argue from example.
Many people express doubts that kendo is a combat effective weapon art
and claim that the old sword schools are, usually by stating that the
old schools have a lot more techniques and a lot more, or different
targets. I would invite people to wander over to EJMAS http://ejmas.com/
and look at some of the articles we have there on Western sword arts
and the walking stick as self defence. A good example is a Journal of
Art article where Robert Lovett analyses Fiore Dei Liberi and points
out that you have an attack, a counter and sometimes a counter to the
counter but that's about it. Combat is generally rolling around on the
ground after that point, or re-set and starts again. The cane articles
are usually very practical and contain extremely few techniques, learn
a couple well and go at it.
Most telling though are the wartime bayonet courses which generally are
"block, thrust, get back"
My point is that during wartime when you need the most combat effective
arts, they get very simple, during periods of peace, combat arts done
for recreation tend to get more complex.
I once started gathering information on western knife fighting to check
this theory, manuals from WWII tend to have few techniques and an
emphasis on targets, as you get to more modern texts you start to see
more and more targets, more complex approach moves, and a somewhat less
clear and clean theoretical underpinning as you get various "outside"
influences on the author.
I wander... kendo is a very simple art with few targets but those
targets are the correct ones for unarmoured fighting with weapons. Hit
the head or thrust the throat to end the fight, hit the wrist to
disarm, hit the body to check.
DON'T go for the legs unless you've got a longer weapon than your
opponent (like a naginata) since you'll simply get hit on the head for
People often unfavourably compare kendo to the Filipino arts since
lots of fancy movements and multiple targets and whatnot. I know a top
Canadian kendoka who also did arnis, and asked him once if he ever used
any of the arnis in his kendo. The answer was no, but that if he wanted
to hit his partner when doing arnis he simply did "men".
When facing an opponent with a stick or sword what can be more
important to learn than "opening-hit" the instinct to hit a target the
instant it becomes open.
Kendo sensei with a walking stick vs robber with a knife... who would
you pick. If I wanted to learn how to actually fight with sticks I'd be
doing kendo I think.
So a competitive art like kendo has pared down the multitude of
techniques over the years to, admittedly, those that fit the rules.
Wartime weapon training also tends to be very concentrated with few
techniques and few targets. The further away from competition or war,
the more complex the art seems to become, so by using this reasoning, I
would suggest that the old sword schools have indeed changed, and that
they have got more complex over the years with more techniques covering
more theoretical situations.