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Thread: How did an actual shiai go during samurai times

  1. #1
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    Default How did an actual shiai go during samurai times

    Hello everyone,
    I am a newbie and have just recently signed up here. I wanted to ask a question which has been on my mind for quite some time:
    When to swordsmen met for a shiai (duel), how did this go in terms of technique? To be more precise I would like to know: Were there rules, ethics or customs that had to be observed which would already shape the form of the duel? What was the speed in which they attacked one another with? Did they only hit once and then pull back to plan the next attack or was it perhaps more of a chaotic flailing?

    The reason for this question is that I have been both training in martial arts for many, many years as well as in a few street fights myself. Further, I have been watching countless videos of fights, in various disciplines, under controlled situations (such as in a ring) and not, such as on the street. So far all the real fights I was able to witness, where your opponent is actually trying to hurt you, have always been chaotic, uncontrolled and very messy. Obviously those fights also didn’t have skilled fighters in them but just average people or thugs.

    As a student of the sword I would like to know how a duel, between two master swordsmen, in ancient Japan, would have been like?
    Thank you very much!

    Sebastian S.
    Los Angeles, CA

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    Hey Sebastian,
    Welcome to e-budo.
    The only eye witness account of a sword duel that I am familiar with (I'm sure there must be others out there) is by Sakujiro Yokoyama. Sword polisher David Hofhine has the account up on his site here ... www.ipolishswords.com/Samurai.html
    He describes exactly how it went in pretty good detail, and should answer pretty much all the questions you asked.

    Cheers,
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Wow! Thanks for that great reading Paul. Been a while since I been on here. Hope you're doing well mate.
    Cheers
    Jeremy
    Last edited by jezah81; 5th May 2020 at 04:20. Reason: Typo

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    I can relate to this article to a certain extent. In the attitudes one fosters in any fight although the element of death is removed. After many years of fighting, some like you on the street and only managing to get arrested once. Then reaching Dan grade levels in Budo even before I took it up full time in Japan. I still found I had some thing missing when I started to practice ten times a week. I could fight but there was still tension. To fight in a relaxed manner takes a lot of hard work. To get rid of the tension that come with aggression. All in all the best fighters are born with natural ability.

    In the Hagakure we read of shinu beki mitsuketari: Bushido is realised in the presence of death. In the case of having to choose between life and death you should choose death. There is no other reasoning. Move on with determination. To say dying without attaining ones aim is a foolish sacrifice of life is the flippant attitude of the sophisticates in the Kamigata area. In such a case it is difficult to make the right judgment. No one longs for death. We can speculate on whatever we like. But if we live without having attaining that aim, we are cowards. This is an important point and the correct path of the Samurai. When we calmly think of death morning and evening and are in despair, We are able to gain freedom in the way of the Samurai. Only then can we fulfill our duty without making mistakes in life.
    Dying was constantly before: In Hagakure they were eloquently told how to confront this daunting prospect. One should expect death daily so that, when the time comes, one can die in peace, calamity, when it occurs is not so dreadful as was feared. It is foolish to torment oneself beforehand with vain imaginings...

    Tranquillize the mind every morning and imagine the moment when you may be torn and mangled by arrows, guns, lances and swords, swept down with thunderbolts, shaken by earthquakes, dying of disease or killed by an unexpected accident: Die every morning in your mind, and then you will not fear death.

    I know this all sound rather romantic but in a real duel the thought of death clouded the mind and would for sure decrease you chances of living through to another day.

    What also differs was the fact that in older times one would not actually move around much but deal with opponents that came within your maai.
    Last edited by hyaku; 13th May 2020 at 12:33.
    Hyakutake Colin

    All the best techniques are taught by survivors.


    http://www.hyoho.com

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    Thank you for the link Paul! I had already seen before and was hoping there would be more info out there but it is a great read nonetheless!

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    Thank you fro your very insightful input Hyaku! It's funny that you should reply because in my mind I was already formulating another question to the board, this one concerning Miyamoto Musashi, and so I had thought of you, but for now let's stay on topic here The ease and relaxation in the face of a serious combative encounter is exactly what I have been trying to achieve in my fighting life and yet it eludes me. For one, simply for a lack of practice, as no amount in the dojo, no matter how hard you train, can ever prepare you for all the elements in a real confrontation. I can only assume that when Munisai trained Musashi, to use him as an example here, it must have been absolutely brutal. To make another analogy: I have some friends who were tier 1 commandos in the US military and when I would spar with one of them it was vicious! Before I had only been exposed to training in a dojo where, even when the going gets tough, you never really go into fear and you feel safe that your training partner or sensei won't actually damage you. Quite the opposite I can report when I was training with my friends who had actually taken lives on the battlefield; every move was so much more intense and frightening. I did not get injured but I truly felt fear during these training bouts, I suddenly realized the grave chasm between me, a civilian martial arts enthusiast, and a real life combat veteran. I believe that in Musashi's times, where for ages people had been living under constant wars and violence was all around you, the level of intensity in training must have been like this and more even! I can only speculate of course but I am assuming that it was this pushing beyond the pain and fear threshold, from an early age, which enabled master swordsmen to be able to face mortal duels and maintain a calm composure.

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    But in actual fact the word Shiai ( 試合) usually means a match, bout, game, contest etc. It's not a duel.
    Hyakutake Colin

    All the best techniques are taught by survivors.


    http://www.hyoho.com

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