Left-Handed Swordsmanship?

Discussion in 'Japanese Swords and Sword Arts' started by Shinobi Teikiatsu, Apr 14, 2008.

  1. Shinobi Teikiatsu

    Shinobi Teikiatsu Green Belt

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    I'm a left-handed person and naturally the sword falls into my left hand, and my swings are more focused and powerful in that hand, yet I have a question.

    In my art, my sempai says that NEVER is left-handedness allowed, while my sensei says that it isn't taught, as one can simply teach themselves by mirroring the moves of a right-handed person.

    My question is this, is it REALLY that bad to be left-handed with a sword? I would think, considering that most of the world is right-handed, bearing a sword in your left would give you an advantage, yet I also realize that the odds of finding a left-handed teacher are pretty slim.

    So, is it bad to be left-handed? Is it bad because not many people can teach it? And are there any techniques or such that specialize FOR the left hand?

    To clarify, I'm not referring to two-handed swordsmanship, as I normally use one katana (to specify, a chisa katana for my height), but a single sword art that specializes in the left hand?
     
  2. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    It will depend on whether you're learning a koryu sword art or not.

    If you are training in one of the recognised schools of Japanese swordsmanship then, unfortunately, tradition dictates that you will learn to use your right hand or not learn at all.

    This is basically down to the strictured roots of the arts wherein 'marching to the beat of your own drum' was simply not done.

    It may be that if you 'get lucky' you will find a sensei who will allow it but I'd've thought that you'd still run into trouble later on when you're reaching the middle-to-high Dan grades.

    Matters of tradition aside, using the sword in the 'wrong' hand will also destroy the form of a lot of the kata, as they are designed with a right-hand bias.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings :(.
     
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  3. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Sukerkin as always in on the money with this one.
     
  4. JadecloudAlchemist

    JadecloudAlchemist Master of Arts

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    Being left handed myself I was taught right handed.
    Eventually you get use to it and adjust yourself.
    When I first used Chop sticks I was taught right handed and I could not use them with my left hand until later. I do feel a stronger stroke if left handed however I feel more comfortable right handed and have a better technique.
     
  5. Charles Mahan

    Charles Mahan Purple Belt

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    This is a question that comes up periodically. The most important thing to grasp is that there isn't really any left handed swordsmanship in the JSA, but my experience in MJER tells me that there isn't really any right handed swordsmanship either. JSA is an intrinisically two handed endeavor. It requires both hands. So as a southpaw you will find things the righties find difficult much easier, and vice versa.

    We have several left handed people in our extended dojo. All of them expressed concerns early on, but after awhile you can't tell the difference between them and everyone else.
     
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  6. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    In JSA handedness certainly is a matter of tradition (and to a degree superstition in Japanese culture in general). I think it's also just easier to learn with a training partner who's the same handedness as you. From a practical standpoint, learning to fight left-hand lead "for real" is an advantage, provided you train against right-handed people regularly. In areas with a lot of hand-to-hand violence, left-handers have a higher survival rate, so the data, while not conclusive, bears this out.

    Being a lefty coming from a German longsword background (another two-handed blade), which is analogous to the katana in basic principles, I can say some of the techniques certainly do work out nicer if the opponent is the same handedness as you. That being said, in practice it doesn't matter much once you're actually fighting. You just see the openings and take what's there. The medieval German longsword masters just said that if you're a lefty, try to strike from your left side whenever possible (especially against a right-hander), and vice-versa for the right-handers, simply because your best strikes will come from that side, and that's all the attention they give the issue.

    You could think of JSA as learning to drive a standard in either in N. America or in the U.K. Regardless of handedness, you don't change which hand is on the stick, even though it's different in either region.

    Ideally, you should be able to fight equally well with either hand no matter what anyone says. IIRC knights were advised to be able to fight equally well with either hand... I just can't remember where I read that. Learning off-hand lead really helps ingrain the fundamentals of what you're doing. Of course, none of us can train swordsmanship eight hours a day to gain this ambidexterity. Here's the solution I use: I do longsword and rapier left-handed. I do messer (the German long knife... think of it like a falchion) and sword & buckler right-handed, and I box ambidextrously. That way I get a good amount of cross-side training in. I also play bass right-handed, FWIW. ;)

    Now, since you're entering JSA, remember the proverb: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." They want right-hand lead, no biggie. It really isn't that hard. If I can do messer right-handed, then you can do katana right-handed. :) Both hands are on the weapon, so it's not as big a hurdle as learning a one-handed weapon like the messer. Once you've got the hang of it, learn it at home on the other side in your spare time. Your brain will thank you in the long run, and the techniques (and more importantly, principles) will become ingrained with a depth that those who train on only one side won't get so easily. The nice thing is, you won't have to devote much time to practicing southpaw at all to even things up. I find that to keep things about even, I only need to do about a third of the work to learn messer left-handed after the fact. So you can do it right-handed as the tradition demands, while gaining the significant benefit of your left-side dominant physiology with very little effort.

    I think you'll have a blast. Just don't get discouraged in the short term. Think of the long goal, which is the only way to progress in sword arts if you haven't been trained in them from birth. ;)

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
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  7. ArmorOfGod

    ArmorOfGod Senior Master

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    Not to redirect the conversation, but Darth Vader switched to a left handed hold in Return of the Jedi and there was some similar discussion in the fanboy community.
    Granted, it was discussion from basement dwellers who have never exercised, much less done any proper sword training, but nonetheless.

    AoG
     
  8. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    That's an interesting way of expressing it, Charles. I'm not sure I entirely agree as I feel that there is 'handedness' implicit within some of the fundamental techniques i.e. there are certain aspects of movement and sword-angle that suggest, to me at least, that two right-handed swordsmen are involved.

    Of course, the nukitsuke and noto are going to work equally well left handed or right but again I suggest that the draw-cuts and reactions to them have a preconceived 'handedness' to them. What especially springs to mind are the 'blocking/cutting' draws in something like Yuke Zuri or Oroshi.

    Still, I'm just confusing the issue I think (especially for someone just starting out). Best to leave it simply as "Lefties report that learning to wield with the right hand is not too bad" :D.
     
  9. punisher73

    punisher73 Senior Master

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    Really odd question. I know in some parts of the world along time ago the left hand was considered "unclean" (think before toilet paper) so everything was done right handed. Did the japanese have a similiar ettiquitte (sp?) concerning right/left hand usage or just because everyone did everything the same?
     
  10. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    The bias against left-handedness was very strong indeed in Japanese culture.

    I shall have to research it to be more informative but I recall off the top of my head that it was tied to such 'bad' things as homosexuality, alcoholism and mental illness as well as some practical things like not being able to write kanji properly.

    The bias was so strong that if it turned out that your wife was a secret 'left-hander' you could dissolve the marriage without penalty.
     
  11. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Off-Topic, but related:

    Interestingly enough, there was an anime movie called "Vampire Wars" in which the protagonist was clearly left-handed. Could this be a "statement" by the artists?

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  12. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    I can't answer directly, Mark but it is certainly the case that, as in Western fiction, the left hand was seen as sinister (yeah, medieval-latin pun attack :D!).

    You have to be careful with anime tho' as quite often the images are reversed when delivered to a Western audience (to remove such things as cars driving on the 'wrong' side of the road etc). It thus appears to the viewer, if this is not known, that the majority of anime characters are left handed.
     
  13. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    This is not my particular field but being left-handed I have an interest in such subjects as this and I have a question. One of the reasons that Musashi gave for developing his Nito style was that he found his left hand was frequently not involved in combat. This suggests that a lot of his swordsmanship, at least, was one handed. Has this gone out of the JSAs? I know it has been almost 400 years, have the JSAs change that much, or has a limited set of schools come to dominate?
     
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  14. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    Altho' the honoured Musashi is indeed probably without a doubt the most famous of Japanese swordsmen, he is by no means the whole of the art.

    It has to be borne in mind that, unlike the West, the Japanese military made use almost exclusively of two handed weapons and very little use of the shield. Yari, naginata, katana and yumi were the dominant non-gunpowder weapons in use. The wakizashi, tanto and shruiken did not feature prominently on the battlefield, being somewhat akin to the hold-out pistol of modern times.

    Speaking from the perspective of the JSA, one of the core reasons for koryu being so well respected is that the techniques, whilst they may have mutated in small details, are the same as those initially learned in the school centuries ago. A great many styles have fallen away over the years (thanks Mejii and America :p) but those that remain are deemed to be representative of the scope of the art of swordsmanship.

    Not all schools are Iaido and some, like Katori, cover weapons other than the katana but the common thread through all that I can think of, other than Nito, is that the sword is wielded with two hands, as it was designed to be.

    I can see that I shall have to read more deeply of Musashi to delve into what he meant if he stated outright that he was not using his left hand in combat {because that means, more or less, that he wasn't cutting properly after drawing (nukitsuke) :lol:}.
     
  15. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    Indeed, and I did not mean to imply such a thing. Its just that his book is the only one I have read that was written by a Japanese swordmaster, and he is the only Japanese swordsman I know of (outside of a character from Lone Wolf and Cub) that used a sword in his left hand.


    I thought it might be the case that styles had disappeared but I was not sure if what remained was indicative of the whole. Now I know.


    Well you might be exactly right in this. As far as I know Musashi's formal training was pretty haphazard so it would not surprise me if this were the case. But then he also says,

    and
    Now I'm no student of Kenjustu or Iaido, and I'm definitely not a Kensei, so I don't know, just curious.
     
  16. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    :D

    You put me on the spot now, ST :lol:. How can I possibly say anything against what the legendary Musashi said from my lowly rank :).

    If he had trouble wielding freely to right and left then his footwork was no good ... thank the gods he's dead so he can't come and get me for that ROFL!

    "Wielding the sword quickly" is more or less a raison d'etre of iai but along with it is the drive to cut correctly i.e. a proper 'fish-hook' draw cut rather than a woodsmans chop (something I was 'guided' on again and again in the first few years).

    I think what we need here is someone knowledgeable of Niten Ichi Ryu because I'm not qualified to speak of it (both me and Charles are MJER as far as i know).
     
  17. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    :lfao:

    You might want to come up with some good excuses, according to some legends he is immortal after all.
    So Beware!!!
     
  18. matt.m

    matt.m Senior Master

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    Interestingly enough having a background in Yudo, hapkido,tae kwond do, wrestling, and having too much time in the Marines than I really care to go into. I don't know much about historic culture of the mannerisms. However, every technique I have ever learned from the arts, the 6 high and 6 low escrima, as well as the 6 count high low high I have learned both sides.

    This also includes all sword: Katana, Broad, Long, Shanai, Bokken, and Rifle with bayonet both sides as well. Just to keep within my own reasoning I adapted and learned how to shoot rifle and pistol from both sides and well as the k-bar fighting system.

    You never know how much space you have or which side you are going to be attacked during combat.

    Just my .02
     
  19. MahaKaal

    MahaKaal Orange Belt

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    Even amongst Indian warriors, a pureley left handed swordsman is mocked, however the highest skill is to have ambidextrous swordsmanship, where both arms are independant of one another, being able to make simultaneous strikes in two different directions, one thrusting one cutting, one baiting one covering, different tempos and angles etc. In recent months ive started to train my "dead" left hand and suprisingly it isnt that hard to bring up the skill of your other arm. Just has right handed swordsmen have to learn to use their left hand, left handed swordsmen like yourself will have to learn right hand.

    In the end, when you get both working at high skills, there will be no left handed or right handed, you'll be able to switch between both. Training your right hand is easier then finding someone who will teach you a dedicated left handed sword art.
     
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  20. Zero

    Zero Master Black Belt

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    What I'm more concerned about from some of the random comments above is, was Darth Vadar, in shifting to a left-hand grip, indicating he was not so much a Jedi gone wrong but more so a mentally unstable homosexual alcoholic? And if so, does that explain why Luke cut off Vadar's hand? Or am I reading too much into this?
    :jediduel:123
     

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