View Full Version : Ishizuki

paul browne
24th September 2005, 11:41
This question is directed mainly to Sensei(s) Amdur, Lowry and Skoss although any one else who can contribute is welcome to.
I have read on a website somewhere (it may have been a Bujinkan site but I'm not sure) that an archeological examination of a Japanese fuedal battlefield revealed a considerable number of bodies with fatal trauma to the temporal part of the skull. My question is are you familiar with this research (and can you point me in the direction of further details in english ), to what extent is a 'butt' strike used in naginata or so-jutsu and would this account for a significant number of fatal injuries on the battlefield. In Mr. Amdurs excellent book 'Old School' The Ishizuki is described being used to 'spear' a downed opponent, but to what extent would it be used as a 'bo-jutsu' like high level strike.
My interest was raised by similar examinations on UK battlefields of similar age (notably Towton) where similar woulnds were prevelant mainly caused by war hammers, and my interest in the use of the staff.
Thank you for your time

Ian Robertson
29th September 2005, 01:01
Here are two references that may be of interest:

Shackley, Myra
1986 Arms and the Men; 14th Century Japanese Swordsmanship Illustrated by Skeletons from Zaimokuza, near Kamakura, Japan. World Archaeology 18(2):247-254.

Karasulas, Antony
2004 Zaimokuza Reconsidered: The Forensic Evidence, and Classical Japanese Swordsmanship. World Archaeology 36(4):507-518.

I haven't read the earlier of these two articles yet, but Karl Friday has argued that a fatal flaw to both studies is that the skeletons in question have not been convincingly tied to any particular time or event--they are still sort of 'floating'. My objection to the 2004 article is that it is based in part on some really unconvincing experiments involving real swords and cow bones... Sadly, one of the swords was broken as a result of this "research".


Ian Robertson

29th September 2005, 14:27
Hey Paul,
Here is an old email exchange involving Karl Friday on iaido-L that you might find interesting. Could be the explanation on the head trauma that you are looking for.



paul browne
29th September 2005, 17:29
thanks for the link, it was very interesting. I was surprised to see the use of the sling at so late a period in history. By this time it had pretty much died as a battlefield weapon in Europe (whilst it had been very important in Celtic/Roman times). I assume it was basically the same weapon.
If anyone has any information on the use of polearms, especially as impact rather than thrust/cut weapons I'd still be interested.

Nathan Scott
29th September 2005, 23:45

...to what extent is a 'butt' strike used in naginata or so-jutsu and would this account for a significant number of fatal injuries on the battlefield. In Mr. Amdurs excellent book 'Old School' The Ishizuki is described being used to 'spear' a downed opponent, but to what extent would it be used as a 'bo-jutsu' like high level strike.

I've been studying naginata for a while, and have observed that, in standing techniques, many arts from various periods employ ishizuki thrusts, typically to the chest and/or suigetsu. The throat may have been a target in at least one ryu-ha as well. As mentioned, naginata ishizuki were used for todome a lot as well, though I've heard the side of the jaw was a common target. Ishizuki shape probably has a lot to do with targeting preferences. Also, as you may know, in addition to striking ishizuki serve the purposes of providing counter-balance to the blade side and protection for the wooden pommel end of the weapon.

I don't know much about sojutsu, but I would guess that ishizuki strikes would have been difficult for the longer field spears. Naginata length would have provided an improved opportunity for using the ishizuki.

As far as the historical analysis by Mr. Karasulas, I would take it all with a grain of salt.


paul browne
30th September 2005, 14:30
Thanks Nathan,
That was the kind of information I was looking for. Showing my woeful ignorance of correct terms what does Todome mean, is it a strike ?(ie following an arc to it's target)


Nathan Scott
1st October 2005, 04:38

Todome ( 留め / 止め ) is usually translated as a finishing movement/blow, or, coup de grace. It is a common (but not altogether known) term in classical Japanese bujutsu, the techniques of which tend to be relative to the art employed; jujutsu may use empty hand/heel stomp or short weapons, while naginata would use the ishizuki to thrust at anatomical weak points, or kenjutsu would use the sword tip to thrust or the pommel end to strike, etc. Daito-ryu Jujutsu, for example, has a finishing technique called kakikiru, in which the victor grabs the topknot of their downed opponent and uses a tanto, kodachi, or other short blade to "remove their head" and hold it up.

The controlling/saving/arresting pinning techniques found in many post-Meiji versions of taijutsu (aikido, judo, jujutsu) can be thought of as modern alternatives to such traditional todome techniques that were once standard practice back - when it wasn't politically incorrect to "finish" you're opponent! ;)


Nathan Scott
1st October 2005, 04:45
BTW, re-reading your first post, I wanted to mention that with naginata (and probably sojutsu as well), there is a monouchi (striking area) on the nagaye (haft) end just above the ishizuki in addition to the monouchi area on the blade. As such, the nagaye monouchi can be used for striking, but I would be surprised if the ishizuki would have been used for striking, based on the strength points of the weapon. Ishizuki are ideal for thrusting (and sometimes digging, crossing rivers, etc.).


paul browne
2nd October 2005, 14:44
I wasn't familiar with the term but Todome is used a lot in the art I practice (Shorinji Kempo) especially on completion of a pinning/locking technique. It is usually a kick, stomp or strike and makes a very effective finish to the technique (and a fast way to gaol in the UK if you do it for real without a VERY good excuse :)).
Actually it is my interest in self studying the shakujo (priests staff) from my art that inspired this line of questions, so I was interested in the idea of the ishizuki being used to dig, ford rivers etc as I had completly ignored the idea that the warrior might use it for such things (definately applying 20th C. thinking to a practical weapon....thinking of them as art like items rather than 'keys to the gates of hell' as Dreager put it.
Thankyou for taking the time to answer my questions

Nathan Scott
4th October 2005, 04:52

My pleasure. I don't know if the term todome is used in Shorinji Kempo, but I am familiar with the arts finishing techniques (good stuff). I would guess this particular aspect of the art comes from jujutsu.

The shakujo were commonly used (by yamabushi at least) for walking around the mountains, as well as to provide some noise to scare off dangerous animals who might be surprised by sudden human presense and attack in defense. As such it would make sense for a "walking stick" of sorts to have a butt-end. Combatively, I'd be surprised to learn that the shakujo ishizuki WASN'T used for thrusting and todome-type techniques. It would just make sense.

"Ishizuki" ( 石突き ) literally translates as "thrust/striking rocks", or perhaps more loosly as "rock breaker". The name probably was chosen based on the amount of destructive power that can be generated by a thrust with the ishizuki, though I doubt they were really used to break rocks. Just above the ishizuki of most Japanese polearms is a metal collar called a "mizugaeshi", which seals the ishizuki from water getting inside and rotting the haft.

Good luck with your training,

Ellis Amdur
4th October 2005, 15:17
I am intrigued by the possibility that the alleged fractures from rocks could have been thrusts from ishizuki. I have never read about slings used in combat in Japan. In addition, would the sling have had that much power against an armoured enemy? Thus, is it possible that researchers, unaware of the use of the ishizuki interpolated fractured bones as being caused by rock impact? Many ishizuki were of conical shape - others like little chisels. What is notable is that, although the ishizuki is definitely highlighted in almost every ryu I've seen using long weapons, the list of battlefield injuries does not include one example of someone so killed. Yet, it is far better to use the ishizuki against a downed/wounded opponent, because it is quite easy to damage your blade trying to cut or stab them on the ground.

Ellis Amdur

4th October 2005, 15:36
I am intrigued by the possibility that the alleged fractures from rocks could have been thrusts from ishizuki.
That is something that I was wondering about myself. We need to scare up Karl Friday and get his take on this one. Could be an interesting line of research for him! :)

4th October 2005, 21:47
I am intrigued by the possibility that the alleged fractures from rocks could have been thrusts from ishizuki. Ellis Amdur

Once, many years ago, a friend who had just completed his undergrad in psychology and was looking to get some internship time prior to going to grad school in the same area took a job at a psychiatric intake center on the Cass Corridor in Detroit.

After a run of difficult intakes who had required substantial pharmaceutical intervention to render them sufficiently docile to handle, my friend asked the senior nurse what her preferred drug for such situations might be.

She just looked at him like he himself was crazy and replied: "Honey, I just use a whole lot of whatever's handy."

Some things don't change so very much, methinks.

Fred Little

5th October 2005, 00:53
This is in reply to Ellis' post. I can't remember the exact source, but somewhere in some book about Takeda Shingen, a Sengoku Jidai daimyo, I read that he employed some strikingly primitive weapons and tactics in his battles. While Shingen did use rifles and whatever other advanced technologies he could get his hands on, there are records of him using onna musha (women warriors) at a time when their appearance on the battlefield was already considered archaic. He used them more as a kind of battlefield propaganda tactic (have them scoot around on a horse in lacquered armor before the battle to encourage his own troops), huge taiko drums and conch horns for sound effects and directing his army, and, intriguingly, descriptions of conscripted farmers and other unfortunates who had to take with them whatever they had available at hand as weapons, including poles, picks, shovels, etc., and who were probably pushed unwillingly into the fray. And there is mention of groups of stone-throwers. I couldn't believe it myself when I read the entry and I reread it several times to make sure, but there it was. They were probably more like groups of organized rabble. They would stone stragglers to death. Or, as depicted in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, poke the poor unfortunates to death with shovels, picks and sharpened bamboo poles. Not a pretty picture. I don't recall the entry describing HOW they threw the stones, whether by hand or using a sling. Anyhooos...

Wayne Muromoto

Joseph Svinth
5th October 2005, 04:41
Rocks still have a place in warfare. Take a look at street riots in the Middle East, where young men are often very effective with paving stones at ranges of about 30-40 yards. And with good reason -- in built-up areas, 30-40 yards is all the range you need. Also, plausible deniability is easy -- muskets can bruise the shoulder, and bows cause calluses, but drop the rock, and there you are, just another passerby caught in the crossfire.


Regarding shovels and such, note that the Germans of WWI and WWII were never much for hand-to-hand fighting (they preferred sniping and artillery), but when they did go for it, the preferred hand-held weapon was generally a sharpened entrenching tool (e.g., shovel).


As for the advent of military slings, that dates to about the 7th century BCE. The development was owed in part to the development of aerodynamically efficient missiles made of cast lead (e.g., bullets). The weight of these projectiles was typically a couple of ounces, or 20 to 50 grams. Effective range was around 200 yards, while maximum range was around 400. Rhodians and Balearic Islanders were particularly famous for their skill with slings.

Trebuchets are essentially really big slings attached to pivoting wooden beams. In China, trebuchets date to around 400 BCE. The Iraqis, Syrians, and Iranians introduced trebuchets into India and Outremer during the twelfth century, and the French started building them soon after. While small trebuchets threw 30-pound rocks about 200 yards, thirteenth century trebuchets hurled 300-pound rocks nearly 400 yards, and much heavier weights (to include dead horses) about half that. Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that hurled stones might represent the debris of medieval artillery fire.

BTW, to build a virtual trebuchet, try http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/trebuchet/destroy.html . The show included a feature about building and shooting one. For more on building your own, see http://www.trebuchet.com . As for what it's like to shoot the thing, go to http://www.eskimo.com/~verne/treb.htm , where it is said of the trebuchet built for the TV show "Northern Exposure," "In one episode we flung a 450 pound upright piano 100 yards. In the other episode we flung coffins into the middle of a lake. To get all the camera angles and shots for the piano episode, we flung 9 full size upright pianos. All nine pianos consistently landed in the same spot. We put a crash camera in the impact crater of one piano to get a shot of the piano coming straight down from about 250 feet in the air."

5th October 2005, 12:24
Mr. Amdur,

Thus, is it possible that researchers, unaware of the use of the ishizuki interpolated fractured bones as being caused by rock impact?

While I'm not qualified to answer the question itself, I'd like to note that the comment by prof. Friday later in that same discussion (http://listserv.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9911&L=iaido-l&D=0&P=9167) seems to imply that the results were not a result of forensic studies of battlefield remains, but analysis of contemporary battle records (there still might be a small chance of mistaking "ishizuki" for thrown rocks by someone not familiar with classical weaponry, but I doubt this):

One of the most surprising things to come out of the analysis of battlefield reports is how few deaths there actually were--at least among the samurai. The analysis I cited yesterday (based on 85 documents ranging from 1500-1600) notes a total of 1428 casualties, out of which only 216 died.


Nathan Scott
6th October 2005, 03:05
Hi Ellis,

In case my comment was misunderstood, I don't know the reason why the butt-ferrule of polearm hafts were generally named "ishizuki". The common kanji translates as "rock-thrust", which - to me at least - implis something about the usage of the fitting, even if figuratively. Since we can probably guess that it wasn't used specifically for breaking rocks, my guess was that the name was a reference to the strength that can be generated by a correctly applied nagaye thrust (ex: "strong enough to break rocks"). "Tsuki/zuki" typically translates as thrust, but is also sometimes functionally translated as strike, such as when in the straight punch/strike "mune-zuki" (chest punch/strike).

I suppose it is possible that ishizuki (made of iron, bronze or brass), combined with the backing weight of the polearm blade - which is usually substantial - might have enough strength to crack certain rocks though. Perhaps this was a type of strength test? I know spear tips were thrust into the sides of human skulls to test their strength. And the different shapes of the ishizuki imply, to me at least, the primary intended usage of the ishizuki - kind of like the different shapes of Japanese arrow heads. I haven't come across much on this subject yet though, and can't find half of what I do have right now!

FWIW, less well-known alternate names for the butt-ferrule include: "Sontai" - possibly meaning/kanji of ( 損体 damage-body) and "Hirumaki" ( 翻巻き reverse-wrap, probably referring to a wrapped butt-ferrule rather than a capped one). One reference I have also shows three different kanji as options for the second kanji in "ishi-zuki". One means "attach, affix, fasten" (tsu[keru] 付 ) and the other - if I'm reading it correctly - means to collide (sho 衝 ).

Nice to see some old faces posting to this thread... ;)


Ellis Amdur
6th October 2005, 04:45
Nathan -

I'm surprised re "hirumaki." That is usually a reference to the wrapping of cord (usually then laquered) on the shaft.

The most common alternative name that I'm aware of is: kojiri ("little butt").

sven beulke
6th October 2005, 11:51
Is there a ryu that incorporates face or forehead thrusts with the ishizuki in there kata?
I could imagine(from my very limited point of view) that this would be a very potent technique! Not a finishing move but a good preparation for one. Would a mempo ( iron facemask) makes such a technique useless?


Nathan Scott
7th October 2005, 02:55
Hi Ellis,

Don't know more about the hirumaki thing, but I think it came up in two different references. This is already taken far more time than I've ever spent looking for references to any single piece of weapon furniture! ;)

As far as Kojiri, I've seen this in references too, but was wondering if it might be an error, since kojiri is a common name for the end caps of sword saya, and serve somewhat of a different purpose. Could be a legit alternate term though. Ishizuki seems to be by far the most common.

Don't know about face thrusts. For the relatively small amount of bushi that would actually have been wearing menpo, I would guess it would not make much difference. A menpo might help displace the focused power of a strike, but I would think there would still be quite a bit of damage done, and the recipient would more than likely be knocked on their butt.


sven beulke
10th October 2005, 09:07
Anyone got this book?
Knudsen, Japanese Spears (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1901903567/002-3156887-9347223?v=glance&n=283155&n=507846&s=books&v=glance) . There is an older book from the 1963( as far as i remember) by the same writer. The older one is cited very often. But how good is the new one ?

Nathan Scott
11th October 2005, 03:02

There are still a number of errors in that book - at least, in regards to the sections on usage (ryu-ha). But in spite of that, it is still one of the very few books in English that even touches on Japanese polearms. Definitely worth picking up if you are interested in them. As with most things though, try to cross reference material you read before buying into it.


sven beulke
12th October 2005, 09:47
Hello Nathan,
thank for your replie! I will be carefully with the information about usage in different ryuha. I jus ordred my copy. What ryuha does the book cover?

Dan Harden
12th October 2005, 23:55
I think it is light reading at best.
Things that could have been covered- weren't
References that should have been made and weren't
There are some strikingly (pun intended) and glaringly wrong assumptions made abut the use of these weapons as well.
And you have to sort of jump around to put things together if you don't already know them. Pictures are pretty though.
All in all it is just like the many books you see on Japanese swords; erroneous information interspersed with accurate information, many of which have a bibliography siting....more erroneous information interspersed with accurate information. Whats a boy to do?

There are any number of arts that use the spear and naginata -differently. This would include several, and widely different, methods of holding, stabbing, distancing, and methods for using the ishizuki for various things both covered and more importantly -not- covered here.


14th October 2005, 04:20
Let's keep in mind that the feudal samurai were not exactly known so much for their group tactics, and more on individualized training, and one on one combat, as their battles often ended up that way. So, imagine you are a warrior standing in the middle of a battle with enemy all around you. I know that if I were holding a spear, I'd definitely be using both sides of that thing.

Ishizuki strikes can be aimed at the nose, mandibular angle, throat, temple, wrist, sternum and groin. It can even be aimed at the shin and ankle, but I would much rather do so with the blade. That's about as far as my knowledge on the subject goes.

Imagine hitting yourself across the head with the ishizuki and tell me it wouldn't be an effective weapon.>:-)
If there is anything to say about the warriors of feudal japan, effective is a great way to start.

sven beulke
14th October 2005, 15:07
thanks for your replie and welcome at e-budo.com. Dont forget to sign your post with your full name!

paul manogue
14th October 2005, 17:27

In regards to your butt to face strike question, in Edo Yagyu shin kage ryu we do have a technique called zan te settetsu (hammering nails) where we use the kashira to strike just below the nose, it is not a finishing strike, but used to create the opening. In another called Hisshoo (absolute victory) the kashira is used at close quaters (closer than drawn sword length) to strike the temple again as an opening for a cut. There are a few more that use the kashira but I wont bother with them all. I expect many ryu ha have these types of techniques, there only so many ways to swing a stick after all.

14th October 2005, 17:48
Would using the kashira to hit an opponent to get maai for a draw qualify as ishizuki or is there another general name for that technique? Our style has some of this, and I know others do too. Haven't learned it yet myself, hence my question. Mr. Manogue's terms seem specialized for YSR, though the description of the technique is familiar.


15th October 2005, 17:00
Sweet! I've stumped the experts. :p Well, I'll just wait for someone in my ryu to tell me, which is obviously what I should have done. I was just curious because there are some words that are applicable across-ryu and some that are ryu-specific and I alway get confused about which is which.

Interesting discussion anyways, sorry to have derailed it.

Nathan Scott
17th October 2005, 02:18
It would seem that kashira is a term sometimes used to refer to the ishizuki of a polearm, but I've never heard of a sword kashira referred to as an ishizuki! Furthermore, even calling an ishizuki a kashira may be correct, I would hesitate to use it since it would easily be confused with the more well known end cap on swords with the same name.

Yeah, sword kashira can and have been used for "butt strikes" and trapping movements, similar to an ishizuki I guess, but generally I've observed/read of naginata ishizuki being used in a more diverse manner as I noted previously. Swords - aside from tachi - also aren't rested on their pommel end or used to walk with as polearms were.

Also, you really can't swing out and strike with an ishizuki. The optimum percussion point (monouchi) of the polearms is considerably further up the haft from the ishizuki. Striking just the ishizuki would be more likely to cause the haft to split. Ishizuki are ideal for thrusting, and combatively, that is typically how I've seen and learned to use them. Yeah, you could use the ishizuki to generate distance from your opponent, or as a feint/distraction, but as an impact device it is designed to thrust.

17th October 2005, 04:21
Ah, I see now. Got the noun/verb thingie mixed up. Thanks.

paul browne
17th October 2005, 10:16
[QUOTE=Nathan Scott]Hi Ellis,

Don't know more about the hirumaki thing, but I think it came up in two different references. This is already taken far more time than I've ever spent looking for references to any single piece of weapon furniture! ;)

Hi Nathan,
Didn't realise my little question would lead to so much debate!
Still could be worse, it could be kitchen furniture, bathroom furniture, garden furniture. This is much cheaper and less labour intensive:)

Dan Harden
18th October 2005, 11:48

I believe the general description applying to weaponry furniture -swords, spears, naginata, nagimaki-applies here. It is worth noting that there are types of butt caps for sword saya that were also called Ishi-zuki as well -what I am talking about here is different than a kojiri.
While the name remains, the types are different for hafts as opposed to saya in that some ishi-zuki often have trailing extenders going up the shaft of a spear. with swords these were called "ama-oi." Some reinforcing collars on spear furniture are the same, while others are a full collar. The ama-oi were reinforced as well with "shiba-biki" (collars or bands) of steel or nonferrous metals. There are similar to the ones you see on tachi and on gunto mounts.
In general I think you had trouble finding names because you were looking for a specific name relating to spear furniture where one may not exist.

Note, that these reinforcing collars are a necessity at the other end for holding and strengthening the nakago in the haft. There is allot of stress there in a cut.
Anyhoo, that's my take on it.
An aside for those who may not use them-Naginata cut VERY different than a sword. Regardless of the way it is held-yes thare are distinct differences in use- they are a different mechanic than a sword cut.
Butt strikes are extremely effective both in single use and as a deflection to a sword cut, followed by your own naginata cut. Their use is specific to various ryu. I doubt very much you will get any info here as to those specific uses.

Dan Harden
18th October 2005, 12:11
Forgot to mention that the use of reinforcing collars and bands while serving to strengthen the haft also served to protect from sword cuts into the wood while using the haft for deflection. The collars at the end would also prevent damage to the seat or "seating" of the ishi-zuki in the haft. Thus making a strong(er) weapon overall.
What is even more interesting is where these bands wer NOT!!!
It tells you something about the flexibility of the use of these weapons just by observing where the hands could go to.

It is always interestig to observe REAL weapons from fantasy trash. What is smooth, what is not.......and why?
Most people don't look at weapons this way, but it is weapon making 101.


Dan Harden
18th October 2005, 12:42
I shouldn't be writing about this stuff on the fly. If the terminology is the same or similar, then the first reinforcing band closest to the ishi-zuki would be the shiba-biki The use of several bands would mean we should be calling the others sei".


Nathan Scott
24th October 2005, 21:44

In general I think you had trouble finding names because you were looking for a specific name relating to spear furniture where one may not exist.

Partially I was having trouble because some of my references are in storage, and the other reason is because not much is published on polearms - in Japanese or English. The terms and references I do have are primarily referring to Edo-period pieces though, so if there are some discrepencies, that may be why. So far I've found names for all the parts of the furniture though. Some are general, and some are specific to certain variations. As can be guessed, like swords, all the fittings have a purpose. No mysteries there. In most cases, the names reflect something of the purpose (or are descriptive).

I've not heard the term "shiba-biki" used with polearms. I have several refences in Japanese to the "lower haft reinforcement ring" just above the ishizuki, and all of them use the same kanji for "mizugaeshi". There are ishizuki which have collars slightly extending up the haft, but if I'm reading it correctly, the assembly is still called a mizugaeshi.

The other rings and metal collars found up in the tachiuchi section also have specific or general names along with functional purposes.

As long as we're talking about it, one other thing worth mentioning (possibly obvious to some here, but less so to others) is that - especially in regards to Edo-period polearms - some were built as heriloom gifts (wall hangers) and others as functional weapons. Aside from how artisic the fittings and finish are, the other thing to watch for is the finish on the haft. Painted/lacquered hafts were decorational, while practical polearms usually had natural wood finishes with a few layers of "urushi" (poison ivy based lacquer), also used on various saya.