I’m rereading my sources on Chinese martial history in preparation for Part 3 of “How Martial Arts students should be taught”.
One thing I’ve begun to notice in my own training is that the Japanese katana, 41 inches in total, seemed very very long when I first started practicing with the iaito (blunt edged sword steel). The shinken (sharp sword designed to cut targets) also felt long and cumbersome, almost like a quarterstaff. After a few months of practice, however, the two handed sword begins to feel more and more like it is shorter and shorter. Partially this is due to the fact that I can maneuver it faster due to muscle and ligament development. Partially it is a psychological effect with familiarity. But when I became familiar with projection of kinetic energy in my arms, it felt longer and longer, the opposite of the sword. My nerves were able to command muscles reaching first from my elbows, to my wrist, to my fist, then lastly all the way to the ends of my finger tips: this is the often described “snap” in a strike. This progressive chain generated more and more links going farther out on my body. Yet weapon practice reduces the length of the sword when it comes to pure feeling. That is a somewhat strange dichotomy.
I’ve also noticed that when walking in doors, I have almost zero kinesthetic awareness of where the scabbard is. Which means it often bumps into things all the time. I’ve found that if I put a hand on the hilt of the sword and maneuver it up and down, sideways as well, that I would then gain a “kinesthetic awareness” of the sword+scabbard in 3d. Simply by touching it. But it being on my hips through the belt, didn’t give that sense by itself. For those wondering why I wear a scabbard indoors, it’s because I favor realistic training. If I am training with the scabbard through my belt, then I will try to train it in circumstances where I might actually need to use the sword, even if I don’t intend to keep the scabbard attached to the belt or if I didn’t wake up with a belt on to begin with. This seeking of realism has given me a greater appreciation for historical Japanese dramas. Also the reason why they left longswords outside houses. There’s all kinds of stuff you can learn in modern life, that allows you to understand the Ancients.
Another example of modern knowledge pertaining to ancient practices is the split trousers worn by kenjutsu users and aikido users; it has two very functional purposes when it comes to sword warfare.
1. it gives your scabbard a specific angle to be equipped, and allows you to sheathe and unsheathe it faster, due to the fact that your muscles will memorize the angle and trajectory.
You could still be pretty fast with a free moving scabbard or a scabbard stuck through a belt, but it is slightly slower. And slightly slower often matters in life and death battles.
2. It hides the movements of your legs, thus preventing your enemy from seeing where you are going before you actually get there. Number 2 may actually be more important than Number 1.
I have yet to cut myself or others when practicing, even though sometimes people walk by and I talk to them about my sword hobby. Sometimes I let them hold and swing the iaito. Other times if I have the shinken equipped, I just draw it out and present it so that it catches the sunlight. I give fair warning to people who wish to practice the sword. Don’t swing around a sharp one until you can swing around a blunt sword or a wooden one without ever, ever, hitting yourself or someone you aren’t intending to. There have been more accidents than I can count with iaitos, shinken, and bokken (wooden swords) in the training halls of the world because somebody was over zealous, playing around, or plain incompetent. I know I won’t cut myself. But if someone else swings a sword, I will be 3 times its length outside their range, irregardless of what “rank” they call themselves. This is good practice for gauging range, a crucial skill in aikijutsu and kenjutsu. A skill most people never pick up… then again, that was true in the ancient days as well. A bunch of semi trained idiots going around swinging swords, but they had no idea about the finer more subtle aspects of the art.
The iaito is a strange beast. Technically a “non-lethal” training tool, but in reality a very subtle covert weapon that has its function hidden. It’s a mighty good stabbing and piercing tool, plus it has the density, hardness, and flexibility to break bone better than any bat or crow bar. I’ve cut through small tree branches the diameter of my finger with a fast blow. Although it was more like it “exploded” through the branch. Only usable if you apply body weight to it though. I could easily defend myself from any melee armed mob rioting in the streets rapine and looting, with a blunt edged high carbon steel, correctly tempered, wakizashi or katana. I wonder what the police would call it. An edged weapon? A blunt force object?
A sword, like the gun, is a labor saving tool for humans. So that humans can get “work” done faster, quicker, and easier. It is a comment on human society that so many people spend hours of hobby time maintaining, cleaning, polishing, and training with a sword, both Western and Eastern variants.
Some other, side topic material about martial arts in general.