July Theme: Tsuka

3. Tsuka

The Tsuka quite simply is the handle of the sword, made from layers of wood laminated together which the ‘Tang’ of the sword slides in to.

Tsuka’s were traditionally, and still are for the expensive swords, wrapped in Ray skin or Shark skin, with a silk or cotton band called an Ito wrapped tightly bound over the skin in an elaborate plat, this combination of the Ray skin and Ito gives a superb grip to the sword and also absorbs the perspiration from the hands.

Obviously the sword is as only as good as the swordsman that holds it, and that begins with how we hold the Tsuka!

So often in the excitement of beginning sword, in learning about the cuts and resheaths the beginner neglects the importance of how they hold this ‘mere handle’. For if it is too tight a grip the muscles tire and blisters soon come, the sword is tense and unwieldy, if too loose a grip then we have no control over the Kissaki, and the Tsuba will chaff against our thumb causing soreness, he may even in sword play or boken fighting loose his sword to an opponent!

Our grip upon the Tsuka should be tightest lowest down in the grip with the small fingers, and relaxing as it extents up toward the index finger and thumb, the hands spread as far apart as the handle allows, this allows you to balance power with lightness for control and speed.

So as you take hold of your sword understand the relationship between the grip you are holding the Tsuka with, and the sword it moves, for all are connected through a cut that can give joy and life to the user and student, or take a life when held by hands of darkness.

Events and karma crowd upon us,

Some never understand the parts they play in good or bad,

And in right or wrong,

But we all hold this sword of our actions and consequences.

So begin with the grip!

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June Theme: Tsuba

Parts of the sword.

2. Tsuba

The Tsuba is the name for the hand guard upon the sword. While fencing or in battle this guard, often made of Iron or a similar hard metal, would protect the hands of the swordsman wielding the weapon.

An opponent’s blade while being blocked or parried might glance of your blade and cut your own hands, so the Tsuba gave some small protection.

In keeping with the Japanese culture of simplicity and purity, their swords and fencing skills had this same ethos, for their Tsuba designs were simple and pure, unlike the many western sword guards that were often made with elaborate cages around the holder’s hand for his protection. These western swords in fact may also have had hooks or spikes designed to entangle an opponents sword and then disable him at close range with blows from the spikes!

These simple Japanese swords depended purely only upon the speed and skill of the swordsman, there were even obscure sword schools that refused Tsuba’s, believing that to have a sword guard was to encourage a defensive mind set and so create doubt in your own ability to win!

These simple Tsuba though were often extremely beautiful and were created by artisans with great skills, they always had designs of great meaning to the swordsman upon them, like  ‘Mon’s’ (similar to the western coat of arms.) or an emblem of great importance to the user or the name he represented.

For in ancient Japanese culture the Samurai believed that the sword had a soul, a magical power imbued within the sacred forging of the blade, for then this Tsuba would represent what your name and personal spirit brought to this amazing object, what it added to this swords special power.

It represented the personal honour and pride of the swordsman, and in the savage heat of battle, sometimes when all seemed lost, this pride and courage, this refusal to let your name die, was all that stood between you and your death.

 

Chosen with pride and given with love

A name forged in fire.

Holdfast behind this guard, and enter the fray.

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May Theme: Kissaki

Parts of the Japanese standard fighting sword (Katana)

We often get asked for the Japanese terminology for the parts of a Katana which we use in our sword classes, so we thought it would be a nice exercise to list the important ones over the next few months and to use them as a spring board for insights in to the mind and world of a swordsman.
Student’s thoughts and experiences are of course always welcome!

1.Kissaki…the sword tip.

The tip of the blade can be found in various lengths and styles upon Katana’s from short through to long.

I start here with the Kissaki because as instructors we refer so often to ‘tip control’ within a sword class, requiring the student to become aware of their Kissaki.

The shape with which this part of the sword moves through the air, the steadiness with which it becomes still after a dynamic cut will all truly show the level and understanding of a sword student, the more technically proficient and skillful a student becomes with their cuts, through posture, stance, and grip upon the handle etc. the more steadier their Kissaki becomes, it will not tremor after each movement and will become as fluid as the mind that holds it.
So in fact the Kissaki like a mirror reveals the truth about our connection we have between our sword and the mind that holds it!
For all is about connection within sword, to become one with cut and blade is the aspiration of all students of sword, and ‘tip control’ is where this must begin.

The Kissaki is not just the point of the sword, it is you might say; the very centre of the mind!

Point still, hands held still,
My heart beats ever calmly,
I enter in to life.

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April Theme: Breathe

Its so simple, just breathe! There it is, right under our very noses. Breathe in, breathe out.

The key to life – obvious really, isn’t it! In and out, every day, as often as you need to.

Breathing is done in the now. You may remember a breath taken yesterday or even plan a breath for tomorrow but actual breathing is done right now. Focusing upon the breath centres us, bringing both body and mind closer to the moment. A breath connects us with all living things.

Breathe with your movements, with the cut and especially with the re-sheath.

Watch your opponents breathing, see the chest rise and fall. He wont attack whilst breathing in.

Watch the breathing of people you meet, see if you can breathe in sync with them. You will be surprised as to what this will reveal.

Pay attention to that point in the cycle of your breath as it smoothly changes from breathing in to breathing out. That is the point of maximum potential, while breathing out is when you are strongest. Breathe in and notice how revitalising this can be.

 

When facing an opponent try not to cloud the mind with thoughts of attack and defence, just listen and watch for the breath – both yours and his. Feel that rhythm, enter it and move with the opponent rather than against him.

You are sat there, reading and breathing. I am sat here, writing and breathing. Someone in the next room sits busying themselves with this and that and breathing. Tomorrow you will be at work, breathing. In the evening we will meet for training and to breathe together.

It is with us all the time. Don’t ignore it. Feel it. Use it. But above all – keep doing it!!

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March Theme: Re’sheath

In traditional sword practice called; ‘Iado’, students practice with a live blade the art of the ‘draw’, the ‘cut’ and the ‘re’sheath’. Each separate movement and action is learnt and repeated constantly so that it may become a perfect whole, the mind not dwelling upon any separate part of each action.

Students of sword must first master these basic technical principles of the art of Iado before they can explore the deeper truths of sword, often at first the beginners mind enjoys the dynamic actions of drawing and cutting with a sword, for all the excitement seems to lie within the releasing of the blade and the performance of the cuts that take lives, while the re’sheath, the returning of the blade to its home, is often a technical chore that is often just a worry!

But the longer we explore this magical art, the more one feels that the great truths lie deeper within this last act of Iado, indeed great truths about the martial arts and hence of all life may lie here.

The re’sheath is a completion of a circle, begun when first deciding to cut, for to complete any circle is a cause of joy and celebration, within training the end and the completion is all, the advanced swordsman will produce a re’sheath that is not just functional but is so perfectly balanced with the movements just carried out, that the act becomes a thing of beauty. For true beauty lies always within the bitter sweet of endings and of completions

Yet more so the importance of the re’sheath if it were of another age, and the act of sword was of life and death not just the training hall, then the man re-sheathing would have lived! The man unable to replace his sword lies wounded upon the ground, how much sweeter your re’sheath and your day then!

So what of a man who drawing his sword in front of another for-sees the events unfolding, and yet who re’sheaths without fear and walks away from the arena of death?  And lastly  what of a man who has truly mastered the martial arts of sword and of life, a man who lives without fear, who understands his skills, yet who will never knowingly enters an arena of death, for his sword is never touched with anger, with bravado, with fear or stupidity, a man who may never need to re’sheath, for he will never need to draw a blade of steel, or of unconscious action.

To be that man, try to be that swordsman.

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February Theme: Stance

This February we are inviting contributions on the theme of ‘Stance’.
Stance is of course a fundamental building block of your lessons and skill as martial artists. For if you cannot stand balanced, focused and strong you will be unable to perform the technique and fall over!
But in this blog you might like to discuss any of the deeper natures of stance that you feel enters all our lives.

STANCE
Feet well placed, weight centered, focus on the now, mind on the technique that will achieve the objective.
Feel the ground, feel its power flowing back up through you, feel the connection to the mind, all held strong by focus.
Anything is possible, all is achievable, fear is banished.
A stance held for a second, an hour or a lifetime.
Stance, its just about where you place your feet….
Isn’t it?

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