The term ‘battô-jutsu’ (抜刀術), or ‘nukutô no jutsu’, literally translated as ‘the art to extract the blade’, indicates the practice which consists of drawing the sword and to cross, avoid, or strike, all within in a single movement, without the enemy being able to see or feel one’s initial intention. Relations between the various traditions of battô-jutsu and the first three sword traditions of Japan (Nen-ryû, Kage-ryû, & Kashima-ryû), postulate that this art existed already within these three founding sword schools. Many chronicles describe such sword luminaries as Bizen No kami, Bokuden, Hidetsuna, & Muneyoshi, as well as their disciples, as excelling in the art of iaijutsu. However, the techniques were a collection of various and often vague principles for using the body that led to a freedom of interpretation. The first tradition which did specialize and codify this art into a precise methodology was founded by Hayashizaki Jinsuke (1542 -?) at the beginning of the Edo period. Hayashizaki transmitted his method to only three disciples. One would go on to become his successor and the other two would eventually found their own traditions. During second half of the Edo period, the schools resulting from Hayashizaki-ryû used the term of ‘iai’ (居合), rather than the term of ‘battô-jutsu’. There exists a score of terms which all are read as ‘Iai’, but are translated broadly as the action of ‘engaging and fighting an approaching enemy’. ‘Iai’ means ‘to link’ and ‘to be’, which can therefore be translated as ‘linking the intention and the movement in a moment when the technique must be carried out’. The large majority of the techniques of iai-jutsu, found in traditions born during the second half of the Edo period, were practiced starting from sitting positions, where the movements were extremely restricted.
✧ DR. KACEM ZOUGHARI
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Yasuji Kuroda, (1897 – 1976), was the 13th Sōke of Shishin Takuma-ryū jujutsu, Komagawa Kaishin-ryū kenjutsu, Tamiya-ryū, Tsubaki Kotengu-ryū bōjutsu, Seigyoku Oguri-ryū, and Otengu (Daitengu)-ryū. Renowned and respected greatly for his rare skill by his peers and other swordsmen of the day, a number of anecdotes about the man have survived that paint a unique portrait of a rare warrior and master, the type that only seemed to exist in the civil war annals of Old Japan.
* As a child, Yasuji often went to a liquor store to buy alcohol. There was a large dog that would always bark fiercely at him and would give chase when he passed. One day, he opened the wooden door of the shop to hail the owner, the dog suddenly rushed upon him. He leapt face first into the danger, drawing his sword, and decapitated the animal.
* Once, he was attacked at gunpoint by a couple of violent thieves, as he made his way along a quiet road in town. With almost imperceptible speed, he drew his sword and cut the gun wielding attacker’s revolver in half.
* On one occasion, he cut two thick ‘makiwara’ cleanly in
half with one stroke of a blunt saber.
* Yasuji was also said to be capable of drawing and cutting
a ‘shinai’ (bamboo practice sword) that was sent into the
* Once, a sword-weilding ronin attacked he and his friend in the country. When the ronin swung his sword, the blade broke away from the ‘tsuka’ (handle) and was sailing towards the head of Yasuji’s friend. Yasuji instantly, and with seemingly impossible speed, stepped in front of his friend and let the blade pierce his own shoulder to save his life. The entire incident took place in a tenth of a second.
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Komagawa Tarōzaemon first learned Shinkage-ryū from Kamiizumi Ise no kami Nobutsuna. But even though he soon felt confident in his skills, Kamiizumi would refuse to give him the Shinkage-ryū menkyo, only saying that Komagawa had a “bad habit” in his movements. Komagawa felt wronged by his teacher’s constant rebuttals and decided to take the high road and impress Kamiizumi by getting a menkyo in many other kenjutsu ryū. Returning some years later with over a dozen menkyo, he tried to get Kamiizumi to give him his hard-earned Shinkage-ryū menkyo at last by showing him what he had learned. But Kamiizumi didn’t flinch a bit and stuck to his previous statement about Komagawa having something not quite right in his movements. Then something happened that made Komagawa change his outlook on his whole practice up to then. One evening, while Komagawa was deeply engaged in training, a pack of wolf sneaked up on him. He only had a wakizashi on himself at the time, but he still managed to drive off the pack by repeatedly using a single technique, technique which would later become the first tachi kata and the basis of Komagawa Kaishin-ryū’s whole curriculum. During the tense fight, Komagawa realized that he was left-handed and that this was what Kamiizumi referred to by saying he had a “bad habit”. Komagawa then rebased his whole attitude towards his teacher and changed his name to “Kaishin” or “renewed heart” to show that fact. After correcting his movements, he was finally given a Shinkage-ryū menkyo by Kamiizumi. Komagawa then taught under the banner of Shinkage-ryū. The name of the ryū was changed to its present name by one of Komagawa’s student, Sakurada Jirōzaemon Sadakuni (桜田次郎左衛門貞国). Sakurada also added the jutte kata to the curriculum.
THE MEIWA INCIDENT
In 1767 (Meiwa 4), a samurai by the name of Fujii Umon Sadayuki (藤井右門定之), real name Fujii Naoaki Yoshitarō (藤井直明吉太郎), was sentenced and executed for ‘lèse majesté’ towards the Tokugawa Shogunate along with his teacher, a renowned scholar of Confucianism and military strategy named Yamagata Daini. They were denounced by troublemakers on the public place thus forcing the shogunate into investigating the allegations, which were that they conspired to mount a revolt against the shogunate in an attempt to reestablish the Emperor as de facto ruler of Japan. Since the trials and subsequent verdicts were kept secret even though the accusations were first made publicly, both were in the meantime unjustly vilified by the public as traitors to the shōgun and disturbers of the peace. The vilification intensified after their executions, which were made in public, while the specific offenses under which they were condemned still remained secret. The reason to this secrecy may be that the shogunate wanted the rumours about their association with the restoration movement to continue, although the two men were ultimately not found guilty of advocating the restoration of power to the Emperor. It was true, however, that Yamagata criticized the Tokugawa regime in a published book, and so the shogunate felt they had to act rapidly. The students of Yamagata were thus almost immediately released, except for Umon who was directly implicated in the original allegations as he was the one who spurred the troublemakers. The student and the teacher were later executed, in all probability as a deterrent to the proponents of restoration, while the troublemakers were exiled.
At the time of this incident, Umon was the chief proponent of Komagawa Kaishin-ryū, going so far as to add a complete series of kodachi kata in the curriculum, a series that has been handed down to this day. As a consequence of the bad influence brought on the ryū’s name by Umon’s involvement in what was then seen by the public at large as an attempted revolt, many if not all fiefs closed down their Komagawa Kaishin-ryū school branches. Even in Toyama, the birthplace of the ryū, it has since then been publicly referred to by the name of its parent art, the Shinkage-ryū. The secrecy was so complete that even the grandfather of the current sōke, the 13th sōke Kuroda Yasuji, thought when he was young that he was practicing Shinkage-ryū. Only by comparing his techniques with practitioners of other ryū did the thought cross his mind that he did not actually practice Shinkage-ryū at all. He then asked his own father, the 11th sōke Kuroda Hiroshi Masakuni, who passed down this story about the concealment of the ryū’s real name and origins. Yasuji was thus the first to use the name “Komagawa Kaishin-ryū” outside of Toyama since the incident when he relocated to Tokyo at the start of the Taishō period.
For warriors on the battlefields of the civil war era of Old Japan, the weight of armor and the constraints imposed by the various moving parts were not easily controlled. Loss of balance during combat was frequent. Here intervenes the art to fall or roll on the ground without being wounded. Most masters and founders of combat methods had lost balance more once during battle. However, how does one fall while wearing armor of which certain parts and the reinforcements of the helmet can be used against one by the enemy? It is not a question here to carry out a beautiful fall, as most people practice ‘ukemi’ (受身) these days, striking the hand to the ground as they tumble.
Arts such as Jûdô and Aikidô, which are practiced almost entirely on tatami, employ this modern method of ‘ukemi’. Yet, this is a far cry from the original methods used in life and death combat situations by warriors on the battlefield, who had to devise a way of using the body to fall without being wounded. It was necessary to be able to be able to counter a technique, to escape a technique, to even place an attack or a defense while falling on the ground. On the battlefield, it was impossible to use the hands to contact the ground and break a fall, because warriors were always carrying weapons. In the first traditions of jûjutsu like Takeuchi-ryû and the Shoshô-ryû of which the documents of the oldest transmission were compiled in 1585, there is mention of a type of fall or tumble developed where the head and hands did not touch the ground. It was named ‘kaiten’ (回転), meaning“to turn and reverse” one’s direction. In order to remain alive, warriors had to develop a razor-sharp and constant awareness to the quickly changing terrain surrounding them, while amid the fierceness of battle, along with an acute sense of body control and precision. This is the reason, unlike today, that ‘ukemi’ was not taught until the ‘okuden’ levels in many true combat traditions. It took a seasoned veteran of war or a master with decades of practice to hone such a refined control of the body. Only then, could one perform and demonstrate true ‘ukemi’.
– DR. KACEM ZOUGHARI