I have always believed in the concept of "put up or shut up". So here is a video I did while working for a few weeks in Essen, Germany. Markus 313 was kind enough to open his gym for me and help me with the video. I apologize for the quality, but video production is something I don't have much skill with.
I hope this video answers some of the questions that have been asked on the forum lately. It is a BASIC explanation of kata holds and the fundamentals of how it was designed to be used in conjunction with human physiology. THIS IS NOT A TECHNIQUE PRIMER. Techniques are taught under the various "schools", however, they all have the fundamentals in common.
And rest assured, the other 3 hours not shown on video were spent showing some much more advanced movements. I hope you enjoy the video, and once again, big thanks to Markus for hosting me for the day!
Now, let the comment flames begin!
Hi, Rufus, sorry to be a bit late to this party, but I just had a watch of your video, and read through the comments here, and had some comments and observations to make, if you wouldn't mind. Firstly, though, as I'm relatively unknown here, perhaps it's a reasonable idea if I give some of my credentials, so you can get a bit of a sense of where my comments are coming from. I'm not sure what your JSA background is, but this is mine.
I have been involved in Japanese arts for close to 35 years, with the last 30 or so focused on traditional and classical arts, both unarmed and armed, starting with the Takamatsuden systems (which contain a couple of sword arts, albeit taught rather... uh... inconsistently). In addition to those arts, however, I have studied (and continue to practice) Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido, am a member of Tenshinsho Den Katori Shinto Ryu (as a part of the Sugino-dojo/Kawasaki Shibu), am a member (and the Australian representative) of Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu under the 12th soke, Kajiya Takanori, and I study Shindo Muso Ryu, including having covered a number of the auxiliary systems, such as (Kasumi) Shinto Ryu kenjutsu. I have also had exposure to the Iai and Kenjutsu (as well as hanbo and bo) methods taught in Hontai Yoshin Ryu, and have visited or joined in the training for groups teaching Tatsumi Ryu Hyoho (a sogo bujutsu system focused on Iai and Ken, as well as having a lot of other weapons), Toda-ha Buko Ryu, Seitei Iaido, Kendo (including a focus on Kendo no Kata), Yagyu Shingan Ryu (different lines), Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Aikido (including Aiki-ken and Aiki-jo methods), Toyama Ryu Iaido/Battodo, Nakamura-Ryu Batto-do, and more. I have friends and acquaintances who then also study various Japanese arts either focused on the sword, or integrating it to a great degree, such as Suio Ryu, Sosuishi Ryu, Araki Ryu, Kage Ryu (a choken system, not the foundation system for Shinkage Ryu), various lines of Shinkage Ryu, various Mugai Ryu (including both Meishi-ha, and Okinawan Mugai Ryu, which is very different), and probably another few that I'm forgetting right now. That's not counting the various systems I've researched and seen on video, in embu, and so forth. Point is, I have what might be called more than a passing familiarity with the Japanese sword, and am familiar with a wide cross-section of the various schools (classical, modern, invented, composite, specialist, armoured, unarmoured, duelling-focused, or battlefield), and their traits and approaches.
I get that this comes across as almost bragging, or setting myself up as an "expert", but it's more to highlight the background I'm coming from, because, well, this isn't going to be overly positive about your video... so I hope that my comments are taken in the light of giving accurate information, rather than anything personal.
To be completely frank here, with the exception of a couple of generalities in your comments, almost every single thing said, or demonstrated in the video is, simply, wrong. Not just "a variation", but flat out, plain, wrong. Bluntly, if anyone watched your video, then came into an actual dojo, they'd need to be retaught absolutely everything from grip to posture to cutting mechanics to footwork to which hand does what (and how), and so on. They'd literally be better off having not seen it and coming in with no idea than thinking they knew something about what they were doing after following your instruction there.
Okay, that was a bit harsh, but I want to point out just how off-base that entire video is. Now, though, I'm going to go through some of the issues, and give some feedback and correction to what I see there.
I'll start with the point of contention I've seen in the thread, which is when you should start with a live blade. Look, to be honest, the answer is "it depends"... and it depends largely on what you're doing, and who your teacher is. Kenjutsu systems will tend to dominantly use bokuto, with many schools never even requiring you to hold a real sword (Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu actually teaches that, for training, you should never use a live blade, as it's just too dangerous with a training partner... an attitude that also reflects Musashi's success in life-and-death duels using wooden swords and the like), whereas if you're studying something like Toyama Ryu Battodo, where there is a very strong emphasis on tameshigiri, you might be using a live blade within a few weeks (if not sooner... some groups bring people in to do cutting as events, and have people who have never done martial arts cutting with a live blade within 30 minutes). Historically, Iaito didn't exist (the first were created in the late 19th Century), so Iai was done with real, live swords... which is why most Iai is done solo... it's just safer that way. The attitude, really, is "well, if you're going to cut yourself, fine... just make sure you don't cut the other students, or sensei!". So training with a live blade immediately isn't really an unheard of thing. Today, in Seitei Iai, it's kinda expected that you use a shinken from Sandan onwards... and, really there's two schools of thought here... one says that you develop the skill in handling a sword in a safe way (with an iaito) before moving onto a shinken later... alternatively, you start with a live blade, and get a good respect (and fear) of the weapon immediately. The biggest caveat to this is that they all rely on there being a teacher/student set up.. this is not for anyone who just wants to cut things up without any clue what they're doing.
Next, let's look at grip, because... no. Look, the left hand is okay (not great, but at least okay), but the right hand is completely wrong. The grip is NOT with the middle fingers... the strength of the grip is in the bottom two fingers (on each hand, with the left being slightly stronger in many examples... Sekiguchi Ryu, I'm looking at you as the outsider...). In fact, although the grip does vary from school to school, that's more in the contact point, separation between the hands, angle of the wrist/palm, and so forth... universally, the grip is dominantly with the little finger and ring finger, with the middle a bit looser, and the thumb and index quite relaxed and barely contacting (for the record, there are some major differences in the grip used in each of my schools... Katori Shinto Ryu uses a grip slightly off the base of the tsuka/kashira, with the hands almost perpendicular to the tsuka itself, and doesn't change it, Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu is more angled, and changes the exact rotation of the sword in the palm depending on the kamae, Muso Shinden Ryu has the hands very close together, with a "tighter" grip than the other schools due to the prevalence of single-hand actions, and so on)... there is no school that I've ever seen that would utilise a grip employing the middle two fingers to the exclusion of the little finger.
Oh, and the comment that "If you're left handed, just reverse this" (ie have your right hand on the bottom, and the left on top)... no. Just no. That is not done. If you're left handed in Japanese sword arts, then you're not left handed in Japanese sword arts. The right hand is (almost) always on top (I say "almost" as there are a very few rare exceptions, which are not exceptions of entire systems, but rare exceptions within a rare few systems... most commonly, there might be a release of one hand [Kukamishin Ryu employs a left-handed single hand cut in their first kata, Hidari Katatenagi], but there are one or two examples I'm aware of where there is a left-high grip, which are Yagyu Shingan Ryu as a "recovery" position in some kata, and Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, who have two kamae that have a "left-high" grip, and are used in highly specialised situations as variations to their standard right-high grip... making it one of the most unusual things in Japanese sword), and while I've heard of teachers allowing a student to do the opposite, there are any number of reasons that that is a bad idea, including aspects of how the sword is worn, the clothing involved, social considerations, and even the way a sword is used... in fact, the left hand (in a standard right-high grip) does the lion's share of the work, so left-handers (with a "regular" grip) are often at an advantage in the majority of sword work.
Why is this finger usage important? Well, that takes us onto the next major issue, which is brought up with your "finger-gun" method. By utilising the lower fingers for the primary grip, as well as them providing the most secure and strongest grip of all your fingers, it also allows you to position your palm and wrist in the correct position, which is behind the tsuka itself. In many sword schools, there are terms such as Tatsu-guchi (the "Dragons' Mouth"), a name given to the shape of your hand when gripping properly once the sword is removed. This position has the wrist cocked back a bit, so that the thumb extends forward in line with the forearm, and the back of your hand is angled 30-45-degrees to the outside, providing support behind the weapon to handle impact as the sword contacts. If you focused your grip on the middle fingers, that doesn't allow for this bend in the wrist and support of the blade, all of which is seen in your demonstration of the "Spider-Man" hand position. This means that you have less strength in your grip, less control over it, no support of the weapon, and no ability to actually cut correctly or safely.
Next, you give an exercise for a basic cut, which you describe as being like a punch (using this "finger-gun" set up as a training device). No. Absolutely not. A Japanese sword cuts in an arc, not a straight line... this is quite simply the worst way to use a katana-style blade that I can think of, short of holding the blade and trying to "cut" with the tsuka. There are also issues with your idea of stepping, but that's getting a bit more into interpretation than anything else... basically, the drive is via the rear leg, not the lead, and the power is generated through the hara/koshi (hips and middle of your body, basically from the diaphragm to the mid-thighs), not a matter of "connect your (punching) arm with the foot on the same side"... that leads to a lack of proper mechanics and support, as well as limited power and structure behind the action. Somewhat ironically, the action you say not to do (allowing the tip to come down) is closer to what would actually be done, although notably not in that fashion, as there is a lot going on that is just completely off-base.
When you then bring the left hand into it, you contradict your own gripping method by having the grip with the last two fingers (correct), then having the left hand "pull back" (incorrect), and using the index or middle finger to do that (thereby removing the two fingers that are actually gripping... majorly incorrect). The left hand does not "pull back" in the manner you're showing... rather, it drives the power of the cut by pulling inwards (in most cases... again, there are exceptions... Sekiguchi Ryu, I'm looking at you again...) while the right hand extends (in an arc, not forwards), and manages the direction. The action you're showing does not result in a cut, it results in a press forwards, and over-rotation of the wrist, resulting in a weakened action and structure. You're basically sawing with the blade, and doing it in a way that is both weak and difficult to safely control.
Now, in your description of how a sword "cuts", you're kinda correct in that the edge has to move along the target surface, but your interpretation is way off. Most commonly, you'll hear a Japanese sword action described more as "slicing" than anything else... and, while the edge needs to travel along the target, it's not a matter of placing and pushing forwards (again, thats's "sawing"), it's a matter of using the arc of the blade so that the contact point is at one position along the edge, and, as the sword continues in the arc, the contact point moves across that edge, typically towards the kissaki (tip), not away from it as you show. This is achieved through a number of factors, most notably the fact that a Japanese blade is curved, which means that different sections of the blade contact as it moves, and secondly through the arcing action that is wholly missing from your demonstrations and instructions. When it comes to your demonstration "at speed", again, that is not anything close to the way a Japanese sword is used... as mentioned by someone previously, it looks more like (bad) kendo, where the aim is to strike, not cut... but, with that small action and poor form, it wouldn't score a point, so not even there. Even when you get to how to stop the sword, it looks like you've gotten a small part of the idea, but missed the salient details... yes, you tighten your grip, but the grip needs to be correct in the first place... and the action is more often described like wringing a towel, not just tightening your grip. Do that, especially with the poor grip shown (with no support or structure behind the tsuka), and you'll risk losing the sword, or even breaking the tsuka itself (something that was not overly uncommon in early-mid 20th Century Japanese officers who were given swords, but didn't know how to actually use them... to the point where it was the most common repair needed).
At just around the 9 minute mark, you state that you're not teaching any particular style, but that all styles, even with their variations, will start from the basics as you have shown them. This is completely incorrect. No sword art at all has anything like the basics you've shown. They are all deeply flawed and incorrect, to the point that anyone bringing them into a dojo will have to have them all trained out before they can even begin to start to develop anything like proper swordsmanship.
Even when dealing with a more proper cut (the shomen-giri from around 9:10-9:45), it's rather flawed as well (in your instruction, I'm not necessarily commenting on execution due to the "excuses" you've presented already, so I'm taking those into account). No, you do not "punch" forwards and down... the more common way of cutting with a katana-style blade would be to extend the right hand up and forwards as you drive with the hips, then allow the blade to come down in front (in an arcing motion) by bringing the left hand down, and slightly in. You should not be moving the tsuka in front of the kissaki at all, as the kissaki is the "active" part of the cut, and absolutely you should not end up with your right hand below your left, and the wrist bent as you do... that's a dropped sword at best.
The kesa-giri (angled cut). You comment that you should move your left hand across to one side or the other, and keep your right hand centred... you have now completely missed your target, because you've just cut to the side of them. Instead, angle the right hand out... that means that, when lowering the sword along that angle, you're traversing the centre-line, which is where your target would be. Besides this fundamental point on targeting, almost all systems do "swing from the hips"... or, at least, rotate the hips around when performing something like kesa-giri, in order to align the body with the cut. Keeping your body front-on when doing this cut simply results in less power, less reach, stiff shoulders and upper arms, and more.
11:13 "You have to unlearn what you think you already know." How true.
Moving onto the blocking section, you begin with a description of the tsuba (guard). While, yes, a part of it is to stop your hand sliding past the tsuka, it's primary purpose is actually balancing the sword itself. By adding extra weight near your hands, you off-set some of the imbalance issues with the blade's length and weight in contrast to the handle, bringing the balance point back or forwards a bit as required. From there, you cover a HEMA blocking method, showing a high interception of the incoming blade, then comment that "a katana is not designed to be used that way". Not exactly that way, but, well, yeah... the action is called tsuba-zerai, and the contact is much lower on the sword, but the basic idea is the same... the name is essentially "pushing the guards against each other", and is very common in kendo, and is found in any number of classical kenjutsu arts as well (such as Kukamishin Ryu, the various Eishin Ryu lineages in their kumitachi work, Tamiya Ryu, Araki Ryu, Kukishin Ryu, even with a kodachi in schools such as Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu).
When it comes to the actual "block" you show, it's basically a nagasu (flowing) method of receiving... however, due to all the other issues found in the fundamental ideas here, again, there are some real problems. One is that the sword is, simply, not in an engaged position... it's overly angled down, with minimalist control over the grip, and, with the weight of a real sword, would have been knocked out of your hands. Next is the fact that, by being so steeply angled, you haven't actually interrupted Christian's sword anywhere near enough for you to actually be safe. We could also get into the position of your body and your footwork, but that is getting into the "execution" side that I wasn't getting into here. For the recored, while nagasu actions are far more common than meeting force-on-force in JSA, most of the time, you meet the incoming blade with your own being almost horizontal, then allow for the impact to shift your blade (and body). Meeting it as you did here, against a competent (JSA) swordsman would have them just turn and cut straight back up... and you're not in a position to defend or avoid it easily. Additionally, the counter you feel is easy and simple is pretty easy to avoid... all Christian has to do is pivot his right leg away if he's paying attention to you (and he should be), and he's safe.
You end all of this with the admonition to not try anything without having competent instruction... sad to say, this video is far from that. So, while your admonition is seconded, it has to be with the caveat of "and please, please, don't do anything at all like you've seen here."
I applaud the effort to try to educate people, unfortunately, videos like this actually make it harder, as there is literally nothing in the entire nearly 14 minutes that is correct, and doesn't require major correction. I'm grateful that it's an "unlisted" video, so it's viewership will be limited to people on this forum, as, hopefully, they'll also read this post before trying to copy your instructions.