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Thread: Kendo vs. Fencing

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    Default Kendo vs. Fencing

    Here's a quick clip from youtube that I thought was interesting. Apologies if it's been posted here before. It reminds me of what F.J. Norman wrote in his 1906 comparison of Western and Asian fencing - to paraphrase, the fencer wins on the strip, but the samurai wins on open ground.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ST1wRzfgmI

    Not being a fencer or kendoka I can't comment on the skill levels of the players, but I thought the vid was cool

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    I guess comparisons are natural, but it is sport, after all.

    How well would Alan Shearer have done in Gaelic Football instead of the footie he played? Both football, but quite different.

    The issue of both sports in the video being somehow called "fencing" is quite a semantic debacle. I know someone may bring up the rules of fencing and kendo being similar (more so than in my example above), but it really is a different league with those weapons and how the players are trained to “score.” Very different sports, really.

    Kevin Cantwell

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    Saying that saber fencing is a "different sport" than kendo is a bit of an understatement. Different targets, different rules, different scoring...yeah, I'd say quite different! I had seen this video before, & still wonder how they managed to get the judges together in the first place.

    In case anyone wonders, the target area for saber is anywhere above waist-level (above the hips, actually), including the arms & head. And although the saber is mainly considered as a cutting weapon, I've won many a bout with an unexpected thrust.
    Ken Goldstein
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    Judo Kodansha/MJER Iaido Kodansha/Jodo Oku-iri
    Fencing Master/NRA Instructor

    "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it'll annoy enough people to be worth the effort."

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    I've never studied either sport, so my input probably doesn't count for much. However, I think fencing is a dueling art based on dueling weapons, while kendo is a dueling art based on a battlefield weapon. Having a light, singlehanded weapon gives you much greater reach than a heavier two-handed weapon.
    Last edited by James Parsons; 21st February 2008 at 13:16.
    James Parsons

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    ... while kendo is a dueling art based on a battlefield weapon.
    Not really. Historical records indicate that swords were very seldom used on the battlefield in Japan.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Swords have often been used on battlefields, James, but Paul is correct that analyses of wounds on Japanese battlefields indicate that tachi & katana did not cause a very large percentage of deaths.

    That being said, I wonder if anyone has done a correlation of the number of deaths from "duels" between samurai/ronin who were trying to find employment with a daimyo or heading their own school?
    Ken Goldstein
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    Judo Kodansha/MJER Iaido Kodansha/Jodo Oku-iri
    Fencing Master/NRA Instructor

    "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it'll annoy enough people to be worth the effort."

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    Feel free to correct me again if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that even though longer-range weapons like the bow and naginata were the primary weapons, the sword was also an essential weapon to take onto the battlefield and therefore was designed for battlefield use.

    However, I guess I overlooked the fact that the rapier and smallsword were also backup battlefield weapons.

    P.S. Hey Ken, how's life in Kaneohe? I went to college there (HPU).
    James Parsons

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    History is a complex, messy topic.

    Of course swords are "battlefield" weapons since many carried them. But that doesn't mean that battles were comprised *solely* of guys with swords clashing in wave after Hollywood wave of action. Bow and arrows played major roles. So did polearms. So did "firearms" depending on the period. So if you look at records/studies of injuries/deaths on the old battlefields of Japan you'll find that most injuries/deaths were due to things other that sword wounds. Just like today in the military where the first strikes are most likely air strikes, bombs, etc. the majority of deaths "up front" aren't from arms fire. But once the boots on the ground go in *from then on* the majority of engagements are going to involve their hand carried weapons.

    So yeah, the majority of deaths probably weren't sword related. But the sword was still critical and used. And I really doubt many would want to go wading into a battlefield even after a strong assault without a sword in hand...

    I think it is probably best to say the sword wasn't the primary battlefield weapon in the larger scheme of things (in the sense of what "won" the battle"). Although for many individuals on the ground it was their primary weapon and *verrrry* important to them for their personal well-being...

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    Found it!
    This was a conversation that stuck in my mind regarding Japanese battlefields. The original conversation was on the iaido-L a number of years ago, so the entire thread could probably be found in their archives. I just saved the bit that really caught my fancy, so to speak. The originator of this bit is Dr. Karl Friday (hope he doesn't mind me repeating it here!). The original conversation was about the impact of firearms if I recall. Please read the piece, and then see if it makes sense that the Japanese sword, and its subsequent teachings and schools, could ever be considered a "battlefield art". Here is the relevant passage ...
    ... An analysis that I was just looking at this morning, of documents reporting battlewounds, for example, shows that between 1500 and 1560, out of some 620 casualties described, 368 were arrow wounds, 124 were spear wounds, 96 were injuries from rocks (thrown by slings or by hand), 18 were sword wounds, 7 were combined arrow and spear wounds, 3 were combined arrow and sword wounds, 2 were combined rock and spear wounds, and 2 were combined rock and arrow wounds. Between 1563 and 1600 (after the adoption of the gun) some 584 reported casualties break down as follows: there were 263 gunshot victims, 126 arrow victims, 99 spear victims, 40 sword victims, 30 injured by rocks, and 26 injured by combinations of the above (including one poor SOB who was shot by both guns and arrows and stabbed by spears, and one who was speared, naginata-ed, and cut with a sword). In other words, long distance weapons (arrows and rocks) accounted for about 75% of the wounds received in the pre-gun era, and about 72 % (arrows + guns + rocks) during the gunpowder era. Which is to say that "traditional fighting" does not appear to have been heavily centered on close-quarters clashes of swords or even of spears, except in literary sources.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Can't think of too many sword-centred battle groups anywhere in history myself, the Roman army comes to mind, throw the bendy spear thingies and then close in to chop. Much later I think the Spanish had a group based on the sword but I can't think of much else.

    As Keith points out that doesn't mean that edged weapons are of no use in a battle, I seem to recall German soldiers from the first world war talking about sharpened shovels being quite handy in the trenches.

    I love those stats from Karl, especially the idea of sticking arrows into someone and then running up and smacking them with a rock. That would have to be one of the oldest battlefield techniques in human history.

    The great use and romance of the Japanese sword was in the duel, which is, I suspect, where most swords had their glory days. After all what's useful in a line of men with shields would be a pretty short sword used mostly to chop overhand or thrust, while longer swords, esp. of the two handed variety would require a bit more room to swing around. Broken field fighting, back alley dueling, maybe the two-handers on the corners to protect pike formations, that sort of thing.

    I was in Ottawa on the weekend and visited my favourite exhibit at the Museum of Civilization, a display of NW coast indian armour and weapons. The helmet was full-headed with a horizontal slit for vision, Wood with leather held on by metal studs. Leather under-and over-shirt, leather pants and boots. A bone or antler hammer and a four foot spear that actually looked like the end of an oar with a spear point attached. In its leather sheath (beadwork... maybe trade goods from inland) was a metal short sword with a leaf-bladed sharp pommel. The whole thing could have been on any warrior for a 5000 year period, accounting for available materials and necessary tactics (war canoe and foot).

    Kim Taylor

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    Hey Paul, thanks for posting Dr. Karl Friday's analysis of battle wounds. It really helps to get a sense of how real battles were actually fought. I assume those rocks were thrown. In most battles, range is going to be a priority. As in boxing, the guy with the longer reach has an advantage.

    Let's not get too distracted from the original point of this thread: kendo vs. fencing.
    James Parsons

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    Quote Originally Posted by pgsmith View Post
    SNIP.

    Please read the piece, and then see if it makes sense that the Japanese sword, and its subsequent teachings and schools, could ever be considered a "battlefield art".
    Well, I think the point here is to say we have to be sure to keep the notion of whether swords were used on the battlefield (they certainly were, Dr. Friday's research clearly established that they were) separate from whether there are martial arts today teaching "battlefield" usage of the Japanese sword in the same sense as the battles of that same time period.

    As an aside, if you're into the history of the nihonto you'll find that there were phases of incredible rates of production of swords that correlated quite well with the tumultuous battles of the time. There were for all intents and purposes "mass produced" swords in most of those periods of intense battles (the so-called "kazuchimono" swords). So swords were being used and were in great demand. So great in fact that entire areas became devoted to virtually assembly line like production. And a whole lot of the great tachi were shortened into katana lengths at this time as well so they could be used. So there is little doubt they were "battlefield" weapons. Just like weapons like the M16 and semi-automatic handgun are are virtually every soldier in the field today. They are not the weapons responsible to the vast majority of the "effectiveness", but they are most certainly ubiquitous. So on a higher level of abstraction, the generals see the arrows being the big factor in "winning". However, for the guys on the ground going in to "mop up" later (or trying to stay alive as someone else is trying to "mop them up") then their swords became pretty darned important to them!

    Now... There is a completely different issue when you get into discussing sword styles then vs. today. There were a lot of (relatively) peaceful years with the Tokugawa's and of course as Kim has already mentioned the focus changed quite considerably in many of those arts. And I'm certainly not one qualified to talk about what art may or may not be a "battlefield" art in the sense of an art where the techniques, mindset, etc. extend back to those times of massive warfare. I'll leave that to you guys to grumble about, I'm just a history geek with a strong interest in the Japanese sword and its evolution in terms of shape, usage, and construction...

    So for me, bottom line is to say that Dr. Friday's post certainly shows that swords were used on the battlefield but they weren't the primary weapon for those battles studied. So they were "battlefield" weapons, however, they were also one of many. That said, what we might want to call a "battlefield" style of usage of the sword is a completely different issue. And that's something I have no opinion on because I frankly don't know enough to even open my mouth...

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    Well Keith, to go with the idea of battlefield vs. dueling for sword schools, I think we can consider a few things.

    1. Technique requirements for battlefield vs dueling.
    2. How/what battlefield techniques are taught today. (Thinking complexity of technique, targeting etc. here)
    3. When the sword schools around today were established.
    4. What times they mostly lived through (and therefore what conditions they developed to meet over the years).
    5. How sword schools maintained themselves (ie got students) and what that requires over the years. (ie techniques required for surviving in a competitive market as vs. what you need for a duel vs. what you need for the battlefield.


    I'll let that one bounce around a bit before adding my thoughts.

    James asks us not to forget fencing vs kendo but really, it's going to be "the best man" without much of a concern for which weapon isn't it? Competition fencing and competition kendo are going to be pretty much alike in their general approach to the fight. Get in first and on target and don't get hit on the way in. (Duelists might add don't get hit on the way out either I suppose). I had a student who was pretty good at both sabre and fencing and he never saw much difference between the two, likely had horrible form in both but grasped the essential, hit him first.

    Kim Taylor

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    Okay, James - you want to discuss battlefield versus dueling, huh? So let's forget the kendo & substitute iaido/kenjutsu/battojutsu with the shinken instead. And instead of foil/saber/epee, let's substitute the rapier. At least this way we have some level of parity: the winner could actually kill the loser. Getting hit with a shinai or a saber is unlikely to do any real damage (tsuki notwithstanding).

    I've been a fencer since the 1950s & an iaidoka for a decade or two, so I think I'm at least vaguely qualified to discuss the pros & cons of these two weapons & basic attack & defense styles.

    The rapier is a point weapon, & the shinken is a blade AND point weapon. I give first blood to the shinken. But the rapier attack is based on a much longer lunge (i.e., greater attack range) than is normally done with a shinken, so second blood goes to the rapier. Then we have differences in the technique known as "parrying" in fencing, where the dueler is very used to blocking attacks in any of eight primary zones, while the iaidoka has only a few real blocking techniques (i.e., ukenagashi, etc.), which I think gives a distinct advantage to the fencer. We now come to a factor that only goes to show how silly it is to compare fencing & iaido: what they would be wearing in the battle. The Samurai would likely be wearing yoroi, while the fencer would likely be wearing either street clothes or, at best, the standard set of fencing apparel (i.e., something damn hard to pierce versus not much protection at all). So far, we look like we're in a dead heat.

    But I think the REAL telling factor is that unless you hit a vital organ with the rapier, it will likely slow down your opponent, but won't "defeat" him (or her - can't be sexist here...). But with the shinken, if you connect at all, you're going to leave a much larger wound channel that will be bleeding your opponent out fairly quickly. I'm extremely accurate with my foil/saber/epee, but I wouldn't want to bet on just what I could hit with my rapier against an equally-skilled iaidoka with a shinken.... And the shinken is made to cut through the opponent, while the rapier is more likely to get "stuck" with a hard hit, even in a non-vital area.

    Based on all these silly factors, I would have to give the edge to the shinken (no pun intended, really!). Further deponent sayeth not (nought?).
    Ken Goldstein
    --------------------------------
    Judo Kodansha/MJER Iaido Kodansha/Jodo Oku-iri
    Fencing Master/NRA Instructor

    "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it'll annoy enough people to be worth the effort."

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    There was a substantial debate, including some actual duels in England when the italians first arrived with their long pointy things and started to replace the backswords of the old masters of defence. This was written about at length by George Silver, and there were several accounts of duels in the Hammerterz Forum over the years.

    Been several years since I've read much about the western sword arts but I'm sure there are still plenty of folks involved in the revival who could comment on the point vs edge discussion.

    Kim Taylor

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