Seeing shapes. The above chart is how I integrate Kenjutsu into Tai Jutsu training. In Aikido everything comes from the sword. Teaching sword work to improve modern close quarters combative skills may seem a contradiction. Until you start seeing the shapes. Kenjutsu (all Budo) can be broken into four basic motions:
Irimi – Entering (Diamond or Square)
Tenkan – Circular (Circle)
Hiraki – Opening (Triangle)
Yoko Sabaki – Lateral (Line)
Teaching Kenjutsu is kind of like Danielsan painting the fence. It might seem silly at first but it ingrains quality techniques. Kenjutsu helps students recognize the shape patterns. Instead of having to learn 1000’s of moves (Aikido is said to have 3000 + Judo + Karate + Taiho Jutsu) from which to choose (causing a freeze under pressure) you need only learn four motions. Of those four motions you pick the one that best fits your:
- Body Type
- Capacity for violence
- Unique traits
That one motion that suits you is your counter ambush. Take that motion and train it to reflex. So teaching Kenjustu trains students to delineate 1000s of techniques into one basic motion that handles the majority of what happens in the world (outside the dojo HARDER,FASTER,CLOSER,BY SURPRISE/RANDOM). High speed low drag perfect for modern close quarter combatives.
Another major reason for Kenjutsu (all Buki waza) training is to understand the concept of fence. If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball. If you can avoid getting your skull cracked by a bokken (wooden training sword) you can avoid most any attack. I can’t do justice to fence in one post and most of it would be plagiarism anyways so for in-depth information of fence read Marc MacYoung's “Ending Violence Quickly”. Basically the way I teach fence is “Get someplace safe”. Homma Sensei says open your umbrella under a roof, before you walk into the rain. You are not fast enough to block a sword (rain), and Japanese swords aren’t really designed to block other swords anyway. Better to move (under a roof) then open your umbrella (block, counter attack). Kenjutsu is much more akin to cowboys quick draw first shot to hit wins then say what you see on Highlander re-runs.
Training only in Tai Jutsu (empty hand techniques) it is easy (especially for strong / fit men) to develop habits of taking damage (strike or two) then over powering their opponent (usually smaller / weaker). Now put a 3’ hard oak bokken in those smaller / weaker opponents hand and see how many shots (how much damage) tough guy wants to take before they move in such a way that more shots / damage is impossible. Pain is an excellent educator. High speed low drag perfect for modern close quarter combatives
Yet another reason to train Kenjutsu in 21 century America is that it’s fun as hell. Buy a couple of pairs of action flex swords (do I really need to explain why you don’t spar with hard oak bokkens) or if you suffer from too much money some kendo gear. Kumi Tachi (sword sparring) is an excellent force on force training drill that increases good habits:
- Improving your position
- Worsening their position
- Protecting from damage
- Delivering damage to the opponent
It is also fun cardiovascular training. Competition helps induce hormonal stress allowing students to learn how to deal with stress (stress inoculation)
Okuden (secret teaching) practice your counter ambush with a sword in your hands and see what happens J
For detailed information on Kumi Tachi check out the International Shindudo Association website.