Classical Japanese Sword Arts and Free-Sparring
For a long time I have been curious as to whether or not Feudal samurai engaged in any sort of free-play, as a part of their training.
Considering that weapon free-sparring formats have existed at least since Roman times (it was part of the training curriculum for legionaries), I would venture that the answer would be "yes".
But most classical JSA (Koryu) folks insist that training was purely through kata. They claim that what they do is exactly the same as what the bushi did 400-odd years ago. If you question this assertion, these people tend to get pissed, so I've rarely had constructive discussions regarding this.
My own theory is that, while kata was used to preserve a given set of techniques & instill proper form, etc., in the student, it was not the only training method resorted to. I feel that some sort of free-play, even before the introduction of the shinai in kendo, must have been used as well, though I admittedly have no proof of this. I was wondering what other people may think about this matter.
What the Samurai did would probably resemble a Kendo class more than whoever you are talking about. Sure, they did a technique a thousand times in the air, but they definately sparred. Actually, you should find a kendo guy and let him spar one of those guys with a bokken. I'd bet good money on the Kendo guy, even though kendo doesn't teach proper cutting mechanics (or even claim to teach you how to use a sword properly).
Originally Posted by Angry_Historian
If, I may add my opinion. In the movie the last Samurai. Did we not watch samurais training with a wooden sword in the movie? I suppose that even in feudal Japan. They must have realise that in would not be good form to kill one's fellow student.
A funny story: A friend of mine is AZN 2 the MAX and hated that movie because "the japanese would never open up to tom cruise's character like that" . . . then the movie did good in japan, and I mocked my friend. Sorry, pretty much a complete digression.
Originally Posted by Canuckyokushin
I don't know that there wasn't some form of sparring in ancient times - it seems to me there should have been, but I don't know for certain. Wasn't there a large gulf when the samuari class was mostly aristrocratic and didn't fight so often? I always assumed that was the period when japanese martial arts became so formal and cerimonial - maybe that was a wrong assumption on my part.
Yes. Samurai had nothing to do during the Edo period and most weren't being particularly useful, so they wrote books and drew pictures and had sex instead. It's not a rule, but generally it's before 1600 where you get the badass stories about generals riding at the head of their armies, plowing through the opposing force and attacking the enemy leaders personally, and after that where you get things like Hagakure.
Originally Posted by JohnnyCache
I didn't know there are kenjutsu schools that only did kata. Sounds boring.
I definitely think that JMA became watered-down to at least some extent, after Japan closed off trade with the outside world during the 17th century. The Japanese nation had been engulfed in literally 500 years of warfare, and now it was suddenly at peace. I suspect that weapon arts in particular must have suffered, and surely enough, at least one JSA Historian/Hoplologist (Dr. William Bodiford) has commented on the fact that, during the 18th and 19th centuries, there were tough "rural-trained fencers" (folks who logically still saw kenjutsu as a useful means of civilian self-defense, and thus maintained the art's functionality) who engaged in free-play of some sort, and soft samurai from the metropolitan areas, who relied on kata. When the two groups came into conflict, the "rural-trained fencers" repeatedly came out on top.
Originally Posted by JohnnyCache
So yeah, there appear to have been significant changes. That is why I find Koryu folks hard to figure out sometimes. I don't know why they feel so convinced that their arts closely resemble what was done in, say, the time of Oda Nobunaga. How can we really know that?
From a post by Dr. William Bodiford on the now defunct E-budo site, regarding the scholarly evidence for the superiority of Japanese swordsmen trained in a "live" or competitive fencing manner vs. those trained in a traditional, kata and theory based practice:
" I wrote the following in my essay, "Religion and Spiritual Development: Japan" (in Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia, 2001):
Adherence both to religious practices and to abstract metaphysics declined throughout the late eighteenth and, especially, nineteenth centuries due to the widespread adoption of competitive forms of martial training and to foreign threats (Emoto 1988). Significantly, competition developed first in rural areas outside of the urban mainstream. The spread of martial art training among peasants and other commoners has not been well-studied, partially from lack of scholarly interest but mainly because peasants did not write scholastic martial art treatises. Nonetheless it is clear that many rural households maintained or developed family traditions of martial art training and that as rural society became more stratified they began to practice them openly as a means of acquiring status. Lacking scholarly pretensions, rural martial artists emphasized mastery of technique and physical prowess, which they tested in competitive matches. In the early 1800s when rural-trained fencers finally appeared in Edo (modern Tokyo), they easily defeated men of samurai status who had been trained in Confucian theory (or Zen), ceremonial decorum, and prearranged pattern exercises (kata ). Thereafter established martial art lineages that had emphasized theory or mental training became subjects of ridicule, while new lineages that taught competition (uchikomi keiko) flourished.[emphasis added] =========
The basic data on which this assertion rests, was first published by Prof. Watanabe Ichiro, in his book: Bakumatsu Kanto Kenjutsu Eimeiroku no Kenkyu (Investigations of Kenjutsu Rosters in Eastern Japan at the End of the Tokugawa Period, 1967). This book contains detailed lists of competitions: dates, names, schools, styles, who won, who lost, etc.
Watanabe's research was expanded by one of his students named Emoto Shoji. Emoto described the results of his research in the following essay: "Bakumatsu kendo ni okeru nijuteki seikaku no keisei katei" (The Formation of a Split Personality in Fencing at the End of the Tokugawa Period), in the volume titled: Nihon budogaku kenkyu: Watanabe Ichiro kyoju taikan kinen ronshu (Studies in Japanese Martial Arts: Research Commemorating the Retirement of Professor Watanabe Ichiro), edited by Irie Kohei and Sugie Masatoshi (1988). In his notes, Emoto cites the kenjutsu rosters that have come to light since Watanabe completed his groundbreaking research.
These rosters list too many competitions and too many names to list here. If you are interested in researching this topic, then the best advice I can give you is to read the above-mentioned works published by Watanabe and by Emoto.
William Bodiford Associate Professor Department of East Asian Languages UCLA "
Now Bodiford only mentions "competitive matches", but his comment regarding the "men of samurai status" who relied on "prearranged pattern exercises (kata)" infers that what the "rural-trained fencers" did was not "prearranged". This sounds like a re-introduction of free-sparring into the kenjutsu of the metropolitan areas. FWIW.
I'd always been under the impression that kenjutsu included free sparring. Why would it not? But I've never trained at a school, so . . . where's Mega-jesus san? He'd actually be in his element in this thread...
I posted just above you with a passing comment.
Originally Posted by JohnnyCache
I haven't been around to see the state of kenjutsu in America, but here we do it like men. We suit up in partial kendo gear and go at it.
I HAVE seen some obviously shitty schools that offer some form of nihontou art, but I've never shown up for humor's sake. For example, my friend's little sister trains at a karate school that makes her do weapon forms, including nihontou (I can only imagine what crap students bring in). I haven't seen her sword, but I'm sure it would be good for a laugh.
Sometimes I must sit for far too long without a re-fresh. Nihontou = live blade?
Originally Posted by MEGA JESUS-SAN
Japanese sword (literally). Some people demand that it can only be applied to swords produced in Japan, but it's easier to type and no less correct than "Japanese sword", and covers ALL types of Japanese swords.
Because I'm sure someone out there still works with tsurugi.