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Carrying, Drawing and Sheathing Your Sword (Mar 1987)

Mahoutsukai DOJO

By Hatsumi Sensei

Translated by Mr Masaru Hirai

While the ninja did not regard their shinobigatana short sword with the same reverence the  samurai gave their exquisitely forged katana, they nonetheless knew and greatly appreciated its incomparable value. It was an extremely versatile weapon/tool that often made the difference between escape and capture, life and death. Because they could not afford the services of expert sword smiths, the ninja were forced to forge their swords crudely at “home’ ’, usually in secrecy. To most this would appear to be a distinct disadvantage; but to the ninja who thrived on opportunities to turn adversity into advantage, it was yet another occasion for designing and crafting a supremely utilitarian device. The shinobigatana was little more than a straight slab of heavy steel with a single ground edge; the tsuba handguard was a hammered, thick steel square barren of ornamentation, but it could also be used as a prying device or, by leaning the sword against a wall or tree,as a booster step for climbing; the saya scabbard was usually longer than the short blade, the extra space used to hide messages, blinding powders or explosives; the extra-long sageo scabbard cord could be used for any number of extracurricular activities, including tying up a captured enemy or as a trip wire across a doorway or forest path. And because it was short, the shinobigatana could be easily carried, especially in areas where the cunning ninja were most often to be found: in narrow corridors and alleyways, in tight crawl spaces, up among the tangle of branches of trees or down in a trough or a hollowed-out log. Also, because the blade was not honed as precisely as the super sharp katana, the ninja could not wield it in the same manner as the samurai; instead, he relied more on body weight in motion in order to execute effective cuts. The ninja made better use of his weapon with slamming stabs and thrusts and sawing dragged-edge cuts. In Part One I demonstrated for you the way of loosening the sword and then drawing it. If I am correct, most of you concentrated your attention entirely on the sword; perhaps some of you observed the body motion; I think very few of you noticed the feet. And so, in the following specially prepared photographs I have demonstrated the feet of the ninja in the iai sword drawing technique. After that I have instructed on different ways of carrying and drawing the sword from various positions. And then, in conclusion, I have demonstrated the proper way to sheathe the shinobigatana. After all, once a weapon has been drawn and served you well, it should be put away properly.
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GIVING AN INCH Without being pure-minded, you will make your iai sword drawing poor. Without being rightminded, you will point the tip of your sword in the wrong direction. It is necessary, then, for the ninja to be sure of his motives. When he is secure in his conviction, confident of his rightmindedness, the ninja can even give his enemy "an inch’’, an opportunity to desist from further aggression (1). Showing the generosity of yielding a step to the attacker, you take a step backward with your left foot, assuming the posture of "Let’s stop fighting and talk together.” (2) in case the attacker continues the offensive, you take another step backward with your right foot, trying to make peace with him. However, his further violent charging forces you to loosen the sword (remember to inch it forward from the koiguchi scabbard opening with the forefinger of your left hand) in order to defend yourself (3). This is the definitive pose from which you draw the sword (4). In order to fight for justice with determined spirit, you draw the sword off, taking a step forward with your right foot (5). Then you take the desperate stance of "the ninja Togakure ryu ichimonji no kamae’ by thrusting the sword straight out forward (6).
Please note that I am holding the sword guard tightly with the thumb of my left hand while keeping my right foot diagonally to the right, backward. This shows my determination not to draw the sword at random.
However, I am obliged to draw the sword as I shift my body weight and my left foot diagonally backward in order to cripple the attacker's fighting power.
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SHEATHING THE SWORD The safest way to return the sword to its scabbard is by gripping the mouth of the scabbard between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and tilting it upward(1).Place the back or dull edge of the blade between your thumb and forefinger (BE SURE THE SHARP EDGE IS UP, AWAY FROM YOU!) so that it rests on the mouth of the scabbard (2). Pull the sword forward, applying the tip of the blade to the scabbard opening (3). BE SURE THE AREA BETWEEN THUMB AND FOREFINGER IS CLEAR OF THE OPENING, then slowly return the sword to its sheath (4).
THE EIGHT WAYS OF FOOTWORK  The iai sword drawing techniques require free movement of the feet. Now let me show you the shinobi iai happou sabaki (eight ways of footwork of the ninja iai) (1). Please watch the cross carefully. First you move your feet sideways. Take a step to the right by moving your left foot before your right one (2). Moving to the left you move your right foot before your left one (3). Moving your left foot diagonally to the left backward (4). Moving your right foot diagonally to the right backward (5). Moving straight forward (with the right foot because the ninja is right handed)(6). Moving diagonally to the right forward (7). Moving diagonally to the left forward (8).
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Macha iai translates literally to “the waiting iai’’. In essence, I approach the “danger’’ area with stealth and caution (1). Situating myself patiently near the entrance, I wait for a sign of the enemy approaching. I listen alertly for any sound, perhaps a smell or movement of his shadow (2). Sensing the enemy’s approach (3), I bring my left foot back, close to the wall, as I begin drawing my sword (4). In one swift motion I can thrust or slash at the unsuspecting enemy (5). The shizumi tsuki (thrusting from the lower position) or shizumi giri (slashing from the lower position) can also be performed (6).
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Carrying, Drawing and

Sheathing Your Sword

(Mar 1987)

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