How have you learned the practical use of a katana?

Discussion in 'Japanese Swords and Sword Arts' started by Vyktal, Nov 15, 2016.

  1. Vyktal

    Vyktal White Belt

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    I'm keen to read about people's stories as to why and how they have gone about learning to use a katana, to help guide my own journey. I'd like to offer my own opinion on some martial arts I have tried and how I think I might become proficient at using a katana. Any input would be sincerely appreciated!

    I'm interested in the culture, mental and spiritual development encouraged through Japanese martial arts. Also, quite simply I find the katana utterly captivating. However, I am especially interested in the practical use of the weapon, and I'd like to focus on how people have cultivated practical skills on using the katana, after I offer my own naive opinion on the subject.

    PLEASE CAN I CLARIFY, I am not trying to start a flame war, I am simply posting my "at a glance" opinion of the below martial arts and my final view on how I might become proficient at using a katana, based on my own naive views. I wholly admit I know very very little of each of these martial arts and how it teaches the katana. I would love for experienced practitioners to step in and inform me on why my assessments are wrong and how they felt it helped them learn to use a katana! I'm literally willing to embaress myself by putting my inexperienced views on here to help develop my (and maybe others) learning. Also, obviously the katana is a dangerous weapon and will cut with all ryu styles and even if handled poorly. But I'm interested in using it well and finding "the most practical path to learning the katana"!

    I've tried Iaido, Katori Shinto Ryu and Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, and have researched around a few other martial arts. My uneducated assessment of my experiences so far is as follows:

    1) KENDO (not tried)
    PROS: I really like the duelling to help promote warrior spirit and learn distancing, the pressure of fencing etc
    CONS: I don't like that it teaches a weapon which is very different in handling to a katana and that it limits the actual sword techniques and targets you can use. A real swordfight has no such rules. Also in all kendo duels I've watched they behave almost suicidal if you imagine they are fighting with real swords. If kendo essentially taught kenjutsu and the whole body was a target, I would definitely give kendo a go.

    2) HEMA (tried 2 classes)
    PROS:
    a great way to duel in a way more realistically than kendo. Full contact duelling, whole body is a target, learn to fence against multiple weapons.
    CONS: However, doesn't teach the katana formally.

    3) IAIDO (tried 4 classes)
    PROS:
    a beautiful martial art, you handle a real katana (eventually) and learn to cut.
    CONS: it focuses on the draw and the spiritual aspect of the sword and is more meditative. No duelling. I feel this is not a terribly practical art and isn't meant to be.

    4) KATORI SHINTO RYU (tried 4 classes)
    PROS:
    a brilliant kenjutsu where you learn many weapons, including the katana. Long and choreographed katas within which is contained many techniques which can be picked apart and learned carefully.
    CONS: But they do unfortunately focus on the long (almost dance-like) katas. My issue with it is also that some of the stepping and stances seem very long in timing to execute, and in an actual fight you might be caught off-guard whilst you take your long steps into rather flashy kamae.

    5) HYOHO NITEN ICHI RYU (HNIR) (tried 8 hours worth of classes)
    PROS:
    another brilliant kenjutsu and what I've decided to make my primary. Learn multiple weapons including the katana. Also the kata are very short and focus only on executing and perfecting single swift techniques intended to kill instantly and end the duel (the way a real sword-fight would go, really). Stances are short and explode into long only when you need quick range to hit the target.
    CONS: My issue with it though is that I don't feel it teaches all possible cuts and thrusts with your classic katana (ie 2-handed) in its entirety. I feel it is simplified and focuses on 1 handed use to segway into handling 2 swords (the signature style for the school). Also all the kata teach techniques that are in response to a single simplified vertical cut from hasso no kamae (with reason, it was the most popular attack back in Miyamotos time). This means that I feel extra training/reading, perhaps of another ryu on the side, is required outside HNIR in order to achieve my goal.

    6) TAMESHIGIRI (only researched)
    PROS:
    Handle a real sword, learn to cut, practice real cutting
    CONS: No duelling, no partnered practice

    --------------------------------------------

    CONCLUSION - A scrub's opinion on how to get proficient at the katana!
    My opinion is learn HNIR for the practical combat skills, learning multiple weapons and paired kata. On the side do Tameshigiri so you can practice real cutting and have confidence your technique is sound. Optional extra includes Kendo/HEMA for the duelling aspect to promote warrior spirit.

    My main issue with my final conclusion is that I cannot find any Tameshigiri schools nearby so would need to rely on self-teaching through a book, such as the Shinkendo Tameshigiri book (https://www.amazon.com/Shinkendo-Tameshigiri-Toshishiro-Obata/dp/0966867750)


    For those of you who stuck it out till the end, thank you ever so much.

    Any opinions, advice or just personal stories would be sincerely appreciated.

    Cheers
     
  2. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    so what direction do you suggest you should take?
     
  3. Transk53

    Transk53 The Dark Often Prevails

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  4. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    If you say his name three times...;)
     
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  5. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple Senior Master

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    Why are we saying @Chris Parker 's name 3 times?
    And does that count as the third?
     
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  6. Steve

    Steve Mostly Harmless

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    It was a bad joke. :)
     
  7. jks9199

    jks9199 Administrator Staff Member

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    What do you mean "practical use of the katana?" There's very simply not much call for sword fighting today... The traditional (koryu) sword arts have faithfully preserved the lessons of people who really used the sword in combat. They're about the best way to learn "practical use of the katana."

    With that said, you're basing an opinion of several complex arts on what amounts to a bare taste, barely dilettante experience -- and some misunderstandings. Tameshigiri is not an art in and of itself; it's a form of practice/test cutting with the sword. Many Japanese sword arts introduce it at some point in the training -- often only after you've developed sufficient skill not to be likely to hurt yourself...
     
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  8. oaktree

    oaktree Master of Arts

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    I can only speak about Katori Shinto ryu,
    The kata with two people is only one aspect, also there is a lot more hidden in the kata, the other thing is each kata has a particular teaching to it. I think if you had say 4 classes you were doing itsutsu. I don't think they are flashy they are crude looking compared to other iaido styles that came about without armor. I think Katori Shinto Ryu is very practical.
     
  9. Vyktal

    Vyktal White Belt

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    Thanks sincerely for responses. Very much appreciated.

    1) Absolutely, sword-fighting is completely archaic. Doesn't mean people can't be fascinated and still want to learn the art and the mental and spiritual lessons as a hobby. Also helps the art to live on and pass to future generations

    2) I agree that all koryu teach practical katana use. For someone new to japanese kenjutsu though, the options available are overwhelming and confusing. One simple weapon, and so so many different styles for how you use it... and so many ways to get it wrong. That's why I've been seriously researching and trying schools to see what is available, and see what works for me. I'd love to hear what works for other people too!

    3) Thanks for clarifying what Tameshigiri is, and don't worry I am woefully aware of my poor knowledge and experience. I personally want to have confidence that my cutting technique is good, and I feel that can only be achieved with test cutting. I don't want to foray into this until I have a good grounding in a kenjutsu style, and obviously I'd rather be taught tameshigiri than be self taught.

    Thanks for the response! I found the KSR stance quite unnatural for me. It was tough always keeping my back heel in line with my front foot and sometimes felt off balance. Do you get used to this even when quickly stepping off line?

    Also, if you dont mind me asking, how do you feel the cutting style in KSR compares to others (ie Modern Iaido)? I found that kendo, iaido and parts of HNIR (and youtube demonstration of tameshigiei kata) involve cutting whilst facing square on to your opponent. However, KSR has you cutting whilst your shoulders are at more of an angle, almost side-on (I personally regard it as being a stance somewhere between sport fencing and kendo). Do you still find your cuts effective?

    Can I highlight, above are respectful questions.I agree I have very very little knowledge in KSR


    Thanks again all
     
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  10. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    Is anyone even going to remember beetlejuice?

    Or to a lesser extent candy man.
     
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  11. oaktree

    oaktree Master of Arts

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    I don't see anything odd about the stances or walking, and sensei has mentioned about why certain walking done is more advantage, I think it all has to do with the mindset and the perceived intention during the kata.
    I think the cutting you are referring to is Maki uchi it is a very fast cut has a lot of power, there is a reason for using it and it truly shows a battlefield art in full armor vs more duelists sword schools that came later.
    I guess best way for me anyway is thinking of Katori Shinto Ryu as a battlefield early art which explains a lot of its postures and methods. I think getting deity and the sword series are great reference to the art though the book is hard to follow if you try to learn swordsmanship from it but if I forget a sequence it helps
     
  12. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    Greetings Vyktal,
    It is my personal opinion that you are enthusiastically trying to hitch your cart in front of your horse. :)

    You know almost nothing of Japanese swordsmanship, yet you put forth your opinions. That's fine and all, but the koryu arts demand that you approach them with an empty cup. What you've done here is to show everyone what your cup is full of, and ask us to try and put the proper things in it. Whether anyone tries to correct your thinking or just leaves you to it, you will still be approaching things with pre-conceived notions ... a full cup. Having preconceptions will hinder your learning no matter what school you go to.

    The goal of any koryu sword art is to teach the person learning how to properly, and practically, use a Japanese sword. They will have differing philosophies and ways to get to the goal, but they all have the same goal.

    To get your horse properly out in front of your cart where it belongs, I would advise you to NOT think about what the various schools do, and instead think about what is near you. If you are one of the lucky few with actual choices in Japanese sword arts available to you (most people aren't) then you should go and talk to the instructors, and visit the dojo to see the people involved. As I was told years ago, the hardest thing about learning any martial art is to go to the dojo regularly for an extended period of time. If you can master that single thing, then everything else will take care of itself. The majority of people that start training in martial arts fail this part. Therefore, having a dojo that you enjoy going to and an instructor that you enjoy learning from is more important than the particular art.

    Just my thoughts on it.

    P.S. Read more. Read everything you can get your hands on in order to increase your knowledge level. Remember that it all won't likely be correct or true, but that's the best way to learn about what you're interested in.
     
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  13. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    Don't do it!!! You never know what will be unleashed. Pages and pages of quotes and a paragraph after each one.
     
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  14. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    Paul has a good point.
    You have sampled a few that are available to you. Focus on that and don't worry about anything but learning that art. Part of the issue is that the Japanese learn in a different manner and koryu will be more difficult to learn if you are trying to modify the process to fit your own expectations.
     
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  15. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    By the way. What is practical use of a katana?

    Winning sword fights?

    Winning mock sword fights?

    Cutting?

    Katana almost by definition isn't a practical skill sort of.
     
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  16. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master of Arts

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    Very much this.

    I have made good use of my skills, but never with an actual sword as we generally don't engage in sword fights in this country. The most practical aspect of the entire sword arts thing is general situational and body awareness, and that can be learned much more easily through other arts. The sword arts are very difficult to learn (there's a reason the samurai placed a lot of emphasis on swords) and are definitely not for the practical minded! :)
     
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  17. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    Where are you from?

    I'm getting old.....I want to say somethings, but I really cant be bothered.

    Okay, it sounds like you're at a buffet and are only sampling the closest items to you, without reaching deep into the back or even going around the table and finding hundreds of more tables to sample from. And the wait staff know you are not a regular who tips well, so they aren't going to tell you about the cool stuff in behind.

    Niten by itself has so very much to offer, so many kata, you can make a career just in this one art alone.

    Same holds true for iai, different schools, ZNKR, Koryu, partner practice, decades will barely let you scratch the surface of iai.

    Look, where do you live? What is around you? Who are the teachers? Find someone with a good reputation, and go and practice faithfully and hard for 6 months, and then read your question once again.
     
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  18. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    To be fair, there are really only eight basic cuts and two thrusts in any sword art, no more, and maybe less.

    What HNIR teaches (not including its philosophy, which is important but beyond the scope of your question) is excellent body mechanics and what would be called "high percentage" techniques in today's terminology. Not all the attacks are a vertical cut from Hasso, but as a tournament HEMA fighter, I can say under pressure, cuts tend towards the vertical a lot of the time. Nagashi Uchi is about as useful a sword technique as you can learn, period. I can't tell you how many times I've used the HEMA equivalent in sparring and tournaments to great effect. Learning the defences in Moji Gamae is also a very important skill. All the waza are useful really. I've used a number of their German longsword equivalents in tournaments and sparring and they work just fine.

    Don't worry about what you're missing. HNIR will do you just fine. I admit that I may be biased. :)
     
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  19. Vyktal

    Vyktal White Belt

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    Sorry for coming back to thread late, life etc

    All are great responses and are exactly what I needed to read, quite frankly.

    Thanks for the response. To be honest it was a silly question:
    "Excuse me, this art you learn which is the oldest martial way of using a katana in Japan... this style which was used by practitioners to kill other samurai centuries ago... is it effective?"
    Dear me...

    Absolutely spot on. My pre-conceived notions have definitely been skewing my appreciation for what is in front of me, and hampering my progress. Thanks for putting it plainly.

    For me, this would be being able to cut and thrust successfully, and to feel confident handling the sword in a mock-fight scenario (i.e. in a HEMA scenario).

    Again though I'm also interested in the philosophy and culture around the martial art and I am fascinated in the katana (a passion to help keep me motivated to keep attending the dojo). Of course I never expect nor intend to use these skills in the real world. In my opinion the most practical real world self-defence techniques are a keen awareness of surroundings (taught well in these arts), avoiding bad scenarios, de-escalation and in the worst case, running and calling for help. If even running can't help you in a nightmare situation, then you'd likely be hard-pushed to put any martial art techniques into practice and it'll boil down to instincts.

    I intend to do just this with Niten. Thank you too for the frank and great advice.

    Glad to hear words from a HEMA practitioner! I would be very keen on HEMA if not for my personal affinity for the katana.

    ---------------------

    In conclusion, I intend to stick with HNIR as my primary and not confuse with other martial arts until I have a firm grounding (i.e. several years).

    Thanks again!
     
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  20. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    I'm curious which part of the world do you live in? And who do you intend to practice Niten with?
     

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