View Full Version : TEXT: Tools and the Sword by Lafcadio Hearn (1904)

John Lindsey
3rd June 2000, 22:06
The following was taken from the book: Japan, An Interpretation by Lafcadio Hearn, printed in 1904. Mr. Hearn was a member of the Japan Society of London and a former lecturer in the Imperial University of Tokyo from 1896 to 1903. He lived in Japan for 14 years. What I found interesting, is his description of sword cutting:

Further acquaintance with this fantastic world will in nowise diminish the sense of strangeness evoked by the first vision of it. You will soon observe that even the physical actions of the people are unfamiliar, that their work is done in ways the opposite of Western ways. Tools are of surprising shapes, and are handled after surprising methods: the blacksmith squats at his anvil, wielding a hammer such as no Western smith could use without long practice; the carpenter pulls, instead of pushing, his extraordinary plane and saw. Always the left is the right side, and the right side the wrong; and keys must be turned, to open or close a lock, in what we
are accustomed to think the wrong direction. Mr. Percival Lowell has truthfully observed that the Japanese speak backwards, read backwards, write backwards, and that this is only the abc of their contrariety. For the habit of writing backwards there are obvious evolutional reasons; and the requirements of Japanese calligraphy sufficiently explain why the artist pushes his brush or pencil instead of pulling it. But why, instead of putting the thread through the eye of the needle, should the Japanese maiden slip the eye of the needle over the point of the thread?

Perhaps the most remarkable, out of a hundred possible examples of antipodal action, is furnished by the Japanese art of fencing. The swordsman, delivering his blow with both hands, does not pull the blade towards him in the moment of striking, but pushes it from him. He uses it, indeed, as other Asiatics do, not on the principle of the wedge, but of the saw; yet there is a pushing motion where we should expect a pulling motion in the stroke. These and other forms of unfamiliar action are strange enough to suggest the notion of a humanity even physically as little related to us as might be the population of another planet,—the notion of some anatomical unlikeness. No such
unlikeness, however, appears to exist; and all this oppositeness probably implies, not so much the outcome of a human experience entirely Independent of Aryan experience, as the outcome of an experience
evolutionally younger than our own. Yet that experience has been one of no mean order. Its manifestations do not merely startle: they also delight. The delicate perfection of workmanship, the light strength and grace of objects, the power manifest to obtain the best results with the least material, the achieving of mechanical ends by the simplest possible means, the comprehension of irregularity as aesthetic value, the shapeliness and
perfect taste of everything, the sense displayed of harmony in tints or colors,—all this must convince you at once that our Occident has much to
learn from this remote civilization, not only in matters of art and taste, but in matters likewise of economy and utility.

Brently Keen
3rd June 2000, 23:02
Very interesting John. With regards to tameshigiri, it seems that Hearn's observation follows the basic principle/rule of "hands push, feet pull".

His other observation that, "our Occident has much to learn from this remote civilization, not only in matters of art and taste, but in matters likewise of economy and utility", is likewise a very good practical reason for us to study koryu bujutsu today and insure it's preservation for tomorrow.

Brently Keen

6th June 2000, 09:46
Good day,

Quick question:

Does Hearn indicate what kind of "Japanese fencing" it was that he witnessed?


6th June 2000, 13:29
In kendo, I learned the forward push for men and kote strikes, but a pulling stroke for do attacks. I've always wondered if iaido cuts are done in the same manner. Can anyone elaborate on this?

Don Cunningham

9th June 2000, 16:35
Mr. Hearn was probably describing kendo.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>I've always wondered if iaido cuts are done in the same manner. Can anyone elaborate on this?<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

No, "pulling" cuts are employed. However, you will probably get answers to the contrary. Some MJER practitioners execute the initial cut as a straight line "swat" or flick, others will insist the initial cut be delivered in a sweeping, mowing, forceful fashion -- the "better to cleave you with, my dear."

While a push-cut can inflict an injury and even kill (think eyes and jugular), it will not sever or "cleave." One of the primary lessons of Toyama Ryu iaido is to "kill with a single blow" (ichi-geki hissatsu); therefore all of our cuts are powerful.


Guy H. Power

Earl Hartman
13th June 2000, 23:12
Re: Draw Cuts in Iai

In my iai training I was never taught to intentionally draw the blade back towards me when cutting, if by that is meant the action of purposely drawing one's hands closer to one's body while cutting. I was taught simply to strike forcefully while stretching the elbows so that the tip of the sword would describe a large circle. Because of anatomy (the hands will come closer to the body naturally toward the end of the strike, since if the strike is properly done the hands are rotating in a circle around the point of the shoulder) and physics (the sword blade is curved), the draw cut will happen naturally as a result of using the sword correctly.

Modern kendo (which I have also practiced), on the other hand, is concerned with quick, repetitive hitting, not cutting. The mechanics and footwork are thus quite different.

However, it should be borne in mind that if it is assumed that the blade is sharp and the opponent unarmored, a person can be incapacitated and/or fatally wounded by a relatively light cut to the right point (neck, armpit, inside of the wrist, back of the knee, thumb, etc.).



John Lindsey
31st January 2003, 22:22
Another message bump from the past.