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Thread: Samurai walking methods

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    Default Samurai walking methods

    Except for really fat people who cannot twist at the hips, I have never seen a race or culture that walked like that (but if anyone knows of one I'm all ears). I always assumed that the opposite hand swinging up was a natural function of the human body to help balance itself against the lack of support caused by the rising of the opposite leg. Do an experiment and try running like that. You'll find that with both your same hand and leg jolting forward during the run, you whole body over-pivots toward that direction, requiring even more counterforce to realign the body on when the opposite leg and arm fling up. Not a very efficient way of running or walking in my book. Thoughts anyone?
    Greg Ellis
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    Default Re: Samurai - walking methods

    Originally posted by Yobina
    Hello,

    I recently heard from a koryu teacher that, "When the Samurai walked it wasn't as we do today, it was without the arms swinging. When the right foot took a step the right arm swung up with it, when the left foot took a step the left arm swung up with it,......etc. When Europeans came to Japan, the Japanese learned how to walk in the European fashion."

    "The arms should come up with the step and the toes should point towards the opponent."

    What he descibed was kinda like the uncoordinated guy in "Sumo do, Sumo don't," where the arms follow the steps and give the impression that he can't walk properly.

    Anyone in the koryu arts taught in this fashion? Is this correct, or some kinda modern falacy?
    ..................
    Yes I am taught like that. If Sohke/Sensei thinks my co-ordination needs improving its back to walking lessons. Don't mind that. But walking along the mountain top with him holding my hand so I step in time with him raises a few glances.

    So when we finally get a Western seminar organized, you guys will know what you are in for!

    Another thought to bear in mind is has anyone tried to walk a great distance with swords? I was taught some time ago to walk with a larger step on one side so they didn't sway about so much.

    The things we do for Budo!

    Lets face it Japanese walk differently anyway. And I have been here so long I do too now.

    Hyakutake Colin

    http://www.bunbun.ne.jp/~sword/

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    Talking Left, right, left; hup, two, three, four.

    I remember watching a video in which Shimazu Kenji sensei (18th Shihan of Yagyu Shingan Ryu Jujutsu) walked like that -- and I laughed my butt off. I showed it to my MJER teacher so he'd get a belly-laugh, but he nodded in recognition and said that was indeed the old-style walk. However, it was done indoors while wearing the extra long hakama. In order not to trip, the wearer would grasp the hakama at the knees, lift the material up (like a girl walking up stairs) and walk forward -- left hand with left foot; right hand with right foot.

    I tried the walk with this in mind and found it comfortable -- especially when walking up stairs (seriously! at a kendo shinsa).

    I eventually met Shimazu sensei

    Anyway, that's the story I heard.

    If you look at old paintings, you'll see that even ancient Japanese walked "normally" -- right leg counterbalanced by the left arm; left leg counterbalanced by the right arm.

    Perhaps the arm swing wasn't as pronounced? When in the army and running long distances, I was taught to let my arms hang free and allow my shoulders to counterbalance my stride (although most people bend their elbows at a 45º angle and clench their fists close to the chest). It is sort of the same technique used when running and carrying M-60 ammunition cans in each hand.

    --Guy
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    Talking

    Guy

    I have some relatives in the mountains that don't swing their arms when they walk, but their not Japanese and most of the family tries not to emulate them. I think I'll stick with standard arm swing even in my koryu practice.

    Carl McClafferty

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    Just a thought...

    I think (I have a slight memory of reading it from somewhere too) that the minimal hand swinging could be due to clothing. It must have been easier not to get tangled with your wide motsuki sleeves and your sword if you did not swing your hands. Similarly, if one was wearing haori on the shoulders (hands not in the sleeves) it might have been easier to walk without the swing And I guees same goes with walking/running with shorter steps so that you don't trip over on your hakama.

    Comments anyone?
    Regards,

    Marko Laitinen

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    Talking

    I thought the samurai strode down the road with their arm inside the kimono scratching themselves or rubbing their chin stubble.
    Doug Walker
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    In Daito-ryu it is also still taught in some schools how to walk in this manner, as the samurai did. While in other schools (like the one I studied) it is not really emphasized too much anymore, probably because there is less emphasis (in regular classes anyway) on weapons training, and more emphasis on practical application of principles to modern situations. While it may not be religiously emphasized, or taught as crucial to learning the art in contemporary times, it is certainly acknowledged that it was at one time the norm. And as I think someone else mentioned, it still often comes out in abreviated form in the course of applying techniques even if it's not adhered to in one's everyday movement while walking around.

    For example, a large number of techniques in the Roppokai adhere to a "same hand, same foot" principle and methodology. There are of course exceptions and variations, but those are more modern exceptions and variations to the rule (imo). There are actually numerous principles, and various applications from the very basic to deeper levels of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu's methodology that are closely related to this rule.

    Personally, because of my interest in weapons and the relationship between modern (mostly empty-hand) Daito-ryu practice and the original applications of such techniques in an armed context, I practiced such walking a lot, even though it wasn't emphasized strongly in my branch. I also observed some of my seniors practicing walking like that from time to time - say when walking from the dojo to the train station. For me, it took some getting used to, but I eventually became able to do so fairly naturally for even long distances.

    The reason for such walking as I understand it has more to do with the carrying/wearing of weapons than with clothing per se. Although the restrictive nature of various clothing, like kimono, hakama etc... may have some bearing as well, like Guy mentioned. I do think that the primary reason for the odd way of walking has more to do with the practical concerns of carrying/wearing daisho around in everyday life, as well as the strategic concerns of being able to use them in iai or batto fashion for self-defense or the carrying out of one's duties, not to mention general ettiquette.

    FWIW I've also read several accounts of early European visits to Japan, and there were a number of mentions about the peculiar way that the samurai walked, with a distinctive sort of "swagger". This sort of walking is definitely not a modern myth, and really does have solid, practical reasons for why it was done that way during the time that the bushi carried and used their swords on a regular basis. Unless you're also carrying and using your swords regularly today though, the practice is of lesser applicability or importance, and that explains why it's not emphasized in much modern practice of the art. It will however (imo), give some insight into how and why some techniques and movements in koryu bujutsu were (and in many cases still are) executed the way they were, and for those who seek them out, there are also many practical applications for today to be discovered by using such insight.

    Brently Keen

    PS: Apart from all that, I think Doug is probably right about a good number of samurai - even would be modern day ones.
    Last edited by Brently Keen; 13th September 2002 at 23:05.

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    Andrew, Greg, and Carl,

    Just to play the devils advocate, who's to say that perhaps we westerners are the ones that walk against nature?

    Is it possible that what is natural in one context is actually unnatural in another?

    Furthermore, isn't one of the purposes of martial training to overcome, as well as take advantage of what are natural behaviors and tendencies?

    I would suggest that what comes naturally is not always what is most appropriate, beneficial or efficient.

    I also think that there were some very good reasons why the samurai developed this sort of method of walking. I'm not saying they are necessarily good reasons for you or anyone else to start doing so today - I certainly haven't adopted it as my "normal" method of walking around everyday (that would be silly), but for me, it's practice and the subsequent insights into those reasons, have positively influenced the way that I think and move in various contexts.

    Something to chew on if it suits your fancy.

    Brently Keen

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    Originally posted by Brently Keen


    For example, a large number of techniques in the Roppokai adhere to a "same hand, same foot" principle and methodology. There are of course exceptions and variations, but those are more modern exceptions and variations to the rule (imo). There are actually numerous principles, and various applications from the very basic to deeper levels of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu's methodology that are closely related to this rule.

    Personally, because of my interest in weapons and the relationship between modern (mostly empty-hand) Daito-ryu practice and the original applications of such techniques in an armed context, I practiced such walking a lot, even though it wasn't emphasized strongly in my branch. I also observed some of my seniors practicing walking like that from time to time - say when walking from the dojo to the train station. For me, it took some getting used to, but I eventually became able to do so fairly naturally for even long distances.
    I've seen very old sword techniques based around that kind of movement. I was told at the time that the reason was to compensate for the weight of the armor and conserve energy on the battlefield.

    Best,

    Chris

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    Talking wild wild west

    know what this reminds me of . . .

    watch an old western (or a new one if there are any) movie - check out the gun-slingers walk towards eachother before they 'slap leather.'

    I think it just has to do with the weapons.
    I have seen older japanese men (especially budoka) walk that way though, a sort of waddle with very little arm swing. I don't think it's natural though, just a form of ashi-sabaki.
    Marc McDermand

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    I agree Chris. Conserving energy via economy of motion is just the beginning of it though.

    Beats me why some people still speculate that Daito-ryu is a new martial art/tradition, that simply began with Sokaku Takeda. These kinds of movements however, are just some examples that weigh heavily against, if not completely refute such notions (imo).

    Incidentally, one of the many meanings of the term "roppo" in Roppokai refers to the noted swagger of certain "bad ass" sort of samurai not too unlike their 'old western' counterparts in the movies.

    Brently Keen

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    I have marched (and sometimes run to catch up to the procession) wearing both hakama with sword as well as in armor with tachi, and I can say with experience that unless you keep your left hand on the sword when running or walking quickly (not as important when walking slowly), it will flop around. While I have yet to try this unique walking style you speak of, I can't imagine that it would allow running or walking with any less flopping of the sword, being as the waist or torso will still have to rotate to accomodate the minimal movements in the legs and torso necessary for locomotion. While I can't remember clearly off-hand, I believe Seven Samurai displayed this well when the group ran back into the village when they discovered that bandits had snuck in another way. Left hand on sword-full out dash (Although it has been a while since I saw it). I don't disregard that method or anything, especially as it was as much customary probably as it was utilitarian. In fact, I wonder if it wasn't influenced by Ogasawara-Ryu Reiho, being as they practice a similar form of walking manner as you speak, and the school of etiquette is quite old. But whether or not I would use it to lead my battalion in a charge up a hill to take a tower while arrows are showering down on me, hmmm.
    Greg Ellis
    I like autumn best of all, because its tone is mellower, its colors are richer and it is tinged with a little sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and it is content.

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    "I don't disregard that method or anything, especially as it was as much customary probably as it was utilitarian."

    That's fair enough Greg.

    I do believe there is an ettiquette influence/factor, and that's why I mentioned it. Daito-ryu is heavily based on and influenced by reiho.

    OTOH if I may expand a bit on all this, whatever is considered customary (imo) probably became so because it originally (at least) must've served some utilitarian or practical purpose. With no real reason for doing something seemingly unnatural, why would it ever become a customary practice?

    Clearly Ogasawara-ryu (and other schools of ettiquette) no doubt originally devised their methods for strategic and practical reasons as much (or more than) they did for customary and aesthetic purposes. I personally think that aesthetic value and customary value were probably added later for such strategic and practical considerations. After that, the original considerations may have been forgotten, de-emphasized, or lost in many cases, and unfortunately much of what remains tends to be more or less customary and/or aesthetic appropriateness, or exterior forms.

    As for charging up a hill with arrows bearing down on ya, if I were you, I'd wait til dark, utilize some sort of cover, or diversion before I led my battallion in a foolish charge against some heavily armed tower!

    Sokaku Takeda said, "even an expert can be defeated by a layman if the expert is negligent." Doh! Is that a basic truth to keep in mind or what?

    A bushi charged with leading his troops up a hill to take a tower has to act and lead appropriately, because the guys in the tower have the advantageous position, you can't just expect to proceed up the hill in any manner that feels natural to ya and reasonably expect to be successful in taking the tower. If you're gonna try and take the tower, then you'll have to go about it appropriately, lest the guys in the tower rebuff your every effort. As a side note, btw, I think that arrows shooting down would tend to hurt a lot more than any arrows shooting up.

    At any rate, in Daito-ryu ideally we're not supposed to provide any openings in our techniques and movements, so that's an objective of our training method. While I'm certainly no master of strategy, or expert in feudal era samurai warfare I do think the principle of appropriateness still applies.

    So, if there are or were good reasons for walking (or running?) that way, then it might be useful to know what those reasons would be, and under which circumstances they might be more appropriately applied.

    In your example, I might surmise that as long as the enemy is holed up in his tower, then I would want to run as fast and efficiently as possible from one place of cover to the next, avoiding the downpour of arrows as best as I can as I lead my cohorts up the hill. The "same hand, same foot" samurai swagger might just impede such an effort, and be much less appropriate or practical (I won't presume to say for certain though).

    But let's visualize another situation in which you might be sent by your lord to carry and deliver an important message, and if certain adversaries did not want you to deliver the message, and they were sure to be following you waiting for an unguarded moment, or lying in wait somewhere along your route to ambush you. Then you would have to exercise great awareness and leave no openings as you proceeded on your way to carry out your task and deliver the imporatant message. If you fail, great calamity might fall upon your clan, or your lord, and certainly your family, and the particular martial traditions you practiced would all be shamed. If you survived you might be obligated or expected to to commit seppuku.

    So as you make your way towards your destination if you walk (or run) in your normal manner, and with every other step your right leg (and left hand) are out front and your right hand (and left leg) are back, then 50% of the time you would be more vulnerable to attack because the relative position of your right hand to your left hand, your sword, and your feet would all require extra movement in order to draw your weapon in smooth response to a surprise attack. And such might be just the opening your lord's adversaries would need to stop you from reaching your destination.

    The successful completion of your mission might fully depend on your abilities as an expert swordsman to deliver the message without giving any openings or opportunities to adversaries who would prevent you from doing so. Walking in the samurai manner described, may look and feel strange, but it is consistent in that your right hand is never further away or removed from quickly and smoothly reaching your sword at any point in your stride.

    This is just one example of a reason and a situation where such a manner of walking with hands and feet coordinated might be more appropriate because it actually makes you less vulnerable to attack, or at least more able to respond freely at any moment.

    In your example, as long as the enemy is waiting up in their tower, then they're not going to be within range to take advantage of any slight opening created by every other step as you walk or run. Likewise you may already have your sword out, as you charge up the hill, or you might be carrying another weapon such as a bow or spear, or a shield to protect from arrows, and so it would be irrelevant if you could reach and draw your sword in mid-stride as you charged up the hill, because you either already had it out or you were holding on to something else.

    But if you were walking across town on official business, or making your way home at the end of the day, or otherwise going about your daily life as a samurai escorting and protecting your lord or whatever, and anyone had reason to want to take you or him out, then you might (if you were truly a professional) conduct yourself in such a way as not to offend, but always be prepared and ready to defend yourself and your lord. IOW you'd behave appropriately (such is so much of reiho anyway), and then you would naturally take care to exercise your awareness skills and abilities throughout all your activities (including walking) in order to minimize any openings. Your own survival and certainly the protection of your lord, family, village, or whatever would depend upon on your diligence, discipline, and attention to slight details, because a careless moment of negligence just might cause your defeat, by providing an opportunity or opening for your opponent(s) to sieze and take advantage of.

    Does that make any sense?

    Respectfully,

    Brently Keen
    Last edited by Brently Keen; 14th September 2002 at 05:19.

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    Unhappy

    I’m sorry Brently, but as I was reading your post I stared thinking of all the good aikidoists walking down the street with looks of great determination on their faces mumbling, “right hamni... left hamni... right hamni...” Then I started thinking, “what if they were all in the Yoshinkan....” and I just had to stop. Thinking that is.
    Doug Walker
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    Open the door, get on your knees, everyone walk like Japanese?

    Oh, wait, sorry, I'm confusing things here, that's "Everyone walk the dinosaur." My bad.

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