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Thread: Blocking with katana

  1. #1
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    Question Blocking with katana

    Hi all,
    This question has been on my mind for a time whenever I train using Shinken/Bokuto, I was wondering...
    The Japanese sword was designed to have a harder Shinogi section and a softer Ha to facilitate cutting easily. But in training we seem to use the Ha to stop an opponents cut rather more than the (Harder) Shinogi area, I am unsure exactly what way to block these cuts, having researched all the various styles that I can find out about it seems as though the pattern is the same in many of the Bujutsu.
    Are there specialized kata that use the Shinogi or was it considered a special knowledge that was passed on later. I ask because I cannot find these things out otherwise and it does seem strange to see so many Ryu using the Ha when the Shinogi area was designed for the type of heavy blocks associated with any 'meeting of blades'
    Thanks for any help.
    Ben Sharples.
    智は知恵、仁は思いやり、勇は勇気と説いています。

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    Hi Ben,

    Actually the ha (edge) is harder than the body of the blade due to the manufacturing process (differential tempering/cooling and all that). The Japanese sword is desined for specific use which requires a hard sharp edge and a flexible but strong blade.

    Most swords will not take a lot of pressure or impact on the shinogi or flat of the blade, swords have been known to snap or bend when struck on the side or when incorrect hasuji (blade angle) and/or kiri-sen (cutting angle) are used in tameshigiri.

    Thus all blocks IMHO should be recieved on the edge. The kenjutsu/battojutsu kata of most of the koryu I have seen or experienced teach this method.

    Cheers,

    Paul Steadman

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    I am not sure if I misunderstand, but the ha (cutting edge) should be the hardest part of the blade..harder than the skin steel of the shinogi, or ridge line area, except in blades having a maru-gitae type construction.

    I often see the ha used to block in different ryu, and have wondered why, as it is so susceptable to chipping and cracking in edge to edge contact. I can only conclude that it is because it is the most convenient and quickest part of the blade to use.

    In MJER Iaijutsu, the shinogi area is used in ukenagashi type blocks quite extensively, although I would term ukenagashi as more of a parry that a true block.

    It seems to me that the mune would be the best part of the blade to block with. Are there any styles out there that utilize this?
    David F. Craik

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    Talking Whoops!

    Yeah, sorry about the confusion on the Ha being the harder area area of the blade, my mistake. However the question is still why do so many styles use the Ha to defend?
    I have never seen a technique that uses the rear of the blade (and thinking about it that is probably the best way as the Sori would allow room for 'accidents' I think) But the Ha of a blade is the easiest to damage and so maybe there are techniques out there that do use the Mune. If so does anyone know any of the Ryu or techniques, or have any info on where they could be found?
    Thanks.
    Ben Sharples.
    智は知恵、仁は思いやり、勇は勇気と説いています。

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    Ben,

    In our style blocking is done mostly with the side if the blade and sometimes with the back. Shinogi and mune respectively. The back is used intechniques to control the opponent's sword by using the curve to direct or apply pressure to the opponent through the blade. We very seldom use the edge directly to block, seldom but not never.

    It is best when useing the side of the blade to block, that you close in and use the lower third of the blade to recieve the blow. This area in often thicker and has better support, whereas further down the blade you may have less control and the blade may bend under the force of the opponent's cut. We also press the handle (tsuka) into the middle of the chest with the body turned sideways and the blade covering the side of the head/temple and neck areas.

    Not to sound like a salesman but if you are interested in the actual form of the block we use, and several others, we have a couple of videos out that have them on it. They are available from Bugei Trading company at www.bugei.com. The one that has the blocks on it is called "Yanagi ryu kenjitsu Vol. 2".
    Richard Elias
    Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin ryu
    Yanagi Ryu

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    Richard,

    Funny you mentioned Vol 1 of the sword video series. I was just watching it again yesterday. I need to get vol 2 in the near future. If John was nice, he would send me a copy to review and plug here on e-budo .


    About mune... I have been shown a technique called mune uchi in which you strike the head of an opponent with the back of the blade (mune), hopefully sparing his life..maybe .
    John Lindsey

    Oderint, dum metuant-Let them hate, so long as they fear.

  7. #7
    yuushi Guest

    Unhappy Re: Mr. Lindsey

    I too have seen that technique.
    In fact I was hit on the head by it when I was a kid. (by a bokken)
    I've never seen so many stars in my life outside of NASA.


    Umihara Yu

  8. #8
    hg Guest

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    [QUOTE]Originally posted by John Lindsey
    Richard,

    About mune... I have been shown a technique called mune uchi in which you strike the head of an opponent with the back of the blade (mune), hopefully sparing his life..maybe .
    [/QUOTE


    The contrary, I think. You spare the cutting edge of your blade, and will almost certainly crush your oponents skull. Miyamoto Musashi crushed ganryus scull using only a bokutou, a narrower mune of a steel sword yould be more effective. But if you hit bones with the cutting edge, you risk damaging the blade, so you avoid that.

  9. #9
    hg Guest

    Default Re: Whoops!

    Originally posted by fifthchamber
    However the question is still why do so many styles use the Ha to defend?
    I have never seen a technique that uses the rear of the blade (and thinking about it that is probably the best way as the Sori would allow room for 'accidents' I think) But the Ha of a blade is the easiest to damage and so maybe there are techniques out there that do use the Mune. If so does anyone know any of the Ryu or techniques, or have any info on where they could be found?
    Thanks.
    When I was in the international Budo Seminar this year in the Katsuura Budokan, the soke of the Katori shintoryu (Otake-sensei) claimed that a sword hit on the mune could break. He also stated that in Katori, in practice you do a lot of blocking, but in a real combat situtaion you would not block at all, but cut the oponent (in the hand etc), so you only pretend blocking during training to confuse uninitiated deshi. Actually, I have seen a 300 year old sword with two deep ridges on the mune which seem to have come from using the mune for blocking, and it did not break, and somebody actually used the mune. In general, the ha is the hardest part and there is a general consensus (I also asked a conservator of a museum who gave a talk in Katsuura), and he said: use the ha. The mune is supposed to have softer, more ducticle steal, and getting damages in the soft backside probably seriously undermines the overall stability of the blade.

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    Hans

    Otake Sensei knows quite a bit about sword technique we might listen to his comments. Most the Koryu sword styles, including the ones I practice i.e. TSKSR/SGR, use the opponents boken to strike instead of his hand/arm, hitting the hand and arm at full strength makes practice a once a year occassion if ever again.

    I would also caution that just because a three hundred year old sword has cut marks on the mune you should not conclude that its owner was actually a competent swordsman or survived the encounter nor that the cuts were obtained in actual combat. But it is refreshing that the blade survives so it can be examined.

    Thanks
    Carl McClafferty
    PS I hoped you enjoyed Otake Sensei and his Son's enbu.

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    John,

    "If John was nice, he would send me a copy to review and plug here on e-budo"

    John who?

    As far as striking with the back of the blade is concerned, it was often considered a sign of contempt. To break someone up (striking limbs, clavicle, knees etc.) using the back of the blade rather than killing them outright was cruel and showed that you wanted that person to suffer. Back "in the day" they didn't have the ability to set shattered bones, so the person was left a cripple. A warrior who is unable to fight is no warrior at all. He was left without a means of making a living and would probably end up commiting seppuku.

    As to blocking with the back. The fact that the back side of the blade is of softer steel would make it less likely to break when recieving a blow than the harder, and therefore more brittle, edge. I personally have seen several blades that have nicks and the like on the back of the blade, presumably from blocking. The back protion of the blade is specifically designed to be able to withstand the shock of blocking. Were the whole sword of harder steel it would snap from the blow. That's why they used that method of tempering the blades in the first place. So that you could have a sword that could withstand heavy blows and yet retain a sharp edge.

    I don't really think that you risk damaging the blade too much from cutting through bone. That's partly what they were designed to do. Sword testing included cuts through various parts of the body, very many of which were through bony areas. A good sword could cut through the hips (which has the most amount and greatest density of bone) in one stroke. I once read a report of a sword test where the tester cut through seven bodies at the hips with one stroke. I am sure that sword fetched a very high price.

    Incidently, the direct blocks we use are kind of an "Oh my god" defence. When you get struck at unexpectedly or for whatever reason were not able to use a proper avoidence or deflection. We do not clash blades if we don't have to. But sometimes things don't always go the way you'd like them to and you should be prepared to deal with what you get. Circumstances prevail.
    Richard Elias
    Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin ryu
    Yanagi Ryu

  12. #12
    Dan Harden Guest

    Default

    Sensei , Shihans, Soke's and whatnot aside, their considerable skills do not make them all knowing.

    Many men have considerable skills in some areas, and simply "opinion" in others. Very often we draw unfair corollaries from one area of experties to another, which is why "endorsements" by top athletes works so well in producing greater sales.
    While I greatly admire the skills of Tiger Woods, I would not be counted among those held in rapt attention whilst he expounded on the physcal properties of titanium and graphite.
    Just cause he knows how to use it, doesn't mean he knows how to make it or even the "why" of; why it works so well for him.

    How many swordsman expert or other, have ever done testing to determine if a sword can take that kind of abuse? I have, as well as others.

    I also know of a few other gentlemen who test their blades by cutting steel cable or brass rod. Do you know how hard it is to cut through tiny unhardened 3/8 sections of this stuff? I am a 6' 210 lb. male with more than a few years of test cutting many objects. I consider mild steel cable and brass rods a formidable test.

    Ever considered how little force it takes to cut flesh and bone (or grass) while moving in and out of Maai?
    Now try to cut steel, or a helmut. You will plant your feet , wind WAAAyyyy back.. then cut while lowering your center and legs.
    Try that in a sword fight and you wont have to worry about finishing your technique.

    Does anyone really believe you are going to get a *full on* power strike to someones mune when they are moving against/with you (Not! Kata). Even if you did, do you think you can "cut through" a Katana when it doesn't have a stationary base. The hands holding it will absorb much of your direct impact, the open end will move with the force, depressing the blade.
    Properly made, a katana can absorb tremendous impact stresses for its cross section size.
    Lastly I wanted to mention that a softer back responds differently than a harder edge when cut "into," which is another interesting topic.

    *************
    Knicks

    Over the years, I have seen many old Katana with cuts and nicks on the Mune and shinogi at the Boston Museum of Fine arts. They have the largest collection of Japanese swords and weaponry outside of Japan. They rotate them quarterly.


    ***************
    Blocking

    The notion of "blocking" is a rather complicated concept to say the least.
    Very rarely, if ever, should you be in the sort of position where you have to "block."
    Sliding parry's to cut the hands, arms or inner legs would seem more in keeping with that altered state we call reality.

    The type of blocks that Richard mentions are a sort of "Oh S#$%!" kind of block that uses the lower (and stronger) portion of the blade to protect your side or head.
    Most of the time one would be using the monouchi area to do the work. "IF" we are going to discuss the use of various areas, (and think we can connect there everytime) then consider:
    the mune as soft and thin
    The shinogi as thicker, a little harder
    the ha as hard and thin

    I prefer to receive in the area between the Shinogi and the ha (hira niku). It has more cross sectional strength then the ha alone and has both soft and hard areas combined. It also makes use of the curve of a katana to reverse and control a vectored linear attack without much use of force by the defender.

    Dan
    Last edited by Dan Harden; 29th May 2001 at 12:39.

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    Mr. Harden:

    As an old Americal bush-beater and 10 point vet, I know how easy the human body comes apart. Thanks for reminding me I might have forgotten after 30 years. Hope everyone had a happy memorial day.

    It is obvious from your "Sensei, Shihan, Soke and Whatnot" comment and the way you expounded on the properties of a blade; that someone who heads a 600 year tradition that kept extensive records of clashes between men whether they were involved or not, in no way reaches the level of knowledge obtained by a modern smith cutting steel cables and brass rods. We bow to your superior knowledge.

    Carl McClafferty

  14. #14
    Dan Harden Guest

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    Hey Carl

    I offered no Sarcasm nor pointed to anyone in particular. Now reading back I see who you are refering to- or more correctly Hans.
    The one reffered to in your post has serious credentials and I bow to his "skill."
    Beyond that "He" is citing written records to verify theories or as basis for theories in a ryu-is he not?

    I have heard too many tales of swords and steel- from the improbable to the fantastic- from known sensei.
    However, "records of old" and "tales of the blade" I look at with a jaundiced eye, since some are practical and others are not. I weigh them against my own and others research. And that seems practical and reasonable to me.

    If I disagree with written age old records as to what may or may not be practical limits of steel....shoot me. I wasn't disparaging any man, just the notion of cutting blades in half as they are held in a human beings hands. Thats sounds far fetched to me by everything I know steel to do. And I didn't dismiss it off hand either, I asked for consideration in realizing how difficult it would be.....and that is reasonable as well.
    Steel is steel in any culture, and at any time, and its properties are known.

    You may disagree with that, and that's fine.
    I may disagree with trusting unproven or non-verifyable battle accounts from hundreds of years ago. Thats not to say they may be wrong. You just can't verify them as 100% accurate.
    If that puts a fly under your bonnet.....well , sorry

    By the way the research that has been done by American, German, and Austrialian smiths (that I know of) in the last twenty years support what I wrote, it is not mine alone.
    It is one thing for us (as smiths) to have been told for years how the Katana was so perfect, how the forging was so sublime, How it would part silk, cut rocks and divide petals in water, and jump out and kill enemies for you..... and quite another to know the hows, why's and wherefores of the fallacy of such statements.
    I wish more people would spend time trying to prove out this nonsense.
    Next to hear what they can or cannot do because a scroll tells me so.... I don't buy either. Technique is one thing, but the physical properties of steel are another.
    Steel is steel


    As an aside I would add that Agreeing or disagreeing can be "on point" and not sarcastic. As an example Several people here had some lengthy exchanges on steel and swords; and we agreed and disagreed on points regarding steel, edge type and sword types and did so in an informative and intelligent exchange...as gentlemen. Many people enjoyed the exchanges.

    Cite your disagreements by point. I would love to hear them-and discuss them. We all may learn something.
    If you are defending the voracity of old scrolls-do so. That does seem to be the very heart of the disagreement.


    Dan
    Last edited by Dan Harden; 29th May 2001 at 23:19.

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    Ben Sharples wrote:
    Are there specialized kata that use the Shinogi or was it considered a special knowledge that was passed on later. I ask because I cannot find these things out otherwise and it does seem strange to see so many Ryu using the Ha when the Shinogi area was designed for the type of heavy blocks associated with any 'meeting of blades'
    Good kata do not reveal their secrects to casual outside observers. Moreover, many sword kata can provide an effective means of teaching multiple levels of skill simultaneously. For example, a single kata can be used to teach control, timing, and distance to beginners, to teach an infinite variety of edge/mune/shinogi combinations of deflections, paries, blocks and stops to intermediate students, and to teach non-contact counters and reverses to more advanced practitioners. Full mastery of the kata is special knowledge that is acquired over time. It can only be learned from a good teacher.

    Good luck,
    William Bodiford
    Professor
    Dept. of Asian Languages & Cultures
    UCLA

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