“Some Thoughts on Sword,” by Charles Warren

Maybe 30 years or so ago Harvey Moskowitz taught a class at the Aikido Summer Retreat (Dominican College, San Rafael). His topic was “two swords”. At the time there was an edition of Musashi in print with a subtitle “Japan’s Answer To The Harvard MBA”. It wasn’t that Harvey had “mastered” two sword waza, but he had class time and permission to share his explorations. In that spirit and starting from about there let me share a couple ideas I’ve had in the interim.

Just a preface – in the nature of my training I’ve had a lot of time to think. It’s a long story but I do a lot of “hitorigeiko” (training by observation) and weapons. (A stick will never deliberately thwart you or complain about “your energy”.) I started aikido because I thought I needed to refresh and improve my fighting skills. A belief in the reality of violent conflict at any time conforms to my life experience from childhood and has provided motivation for daily training. On the rare occasions that the potential of conflict has become reality, aikido has stood me in good stead. So perhaps my musings might have some interest to others.

Starting with Harvey, I recommend you try moving with a bokken in each hand. You can try cuts, thrusts, two-step, tai-no-henko, maybe even invent an eight direction move or three. If you’re like me, you won’t be satisfied and will wonder how to proceed.

I think the more conventional line of exploration starts with simply doing Iwama style suburi on the opposite side, right hand at the base and left foot forward for ken kamae. After all, we do tai-jutsu on both sides. We do ukemi on both sides. Why not? There is even something I read in one of the old books recommending that if you try a sword technique twice without success in a fight, you might try changing hands. So, what’s the harm? If you’re like me you’ll find it takes some time to feel equally comfortable “right” and “left” handed.

Suburi can be expanded to happo-giri (eight direction cut) on both sides, then kumi-tachi and ki musubi no tachi. If you don’t have a partner, just treat them as forms, like jo kata. That’s also a safe way to introduce (relative) beginners to kumitachi.

At that point, if you are still curious, I suggest going back to two-swords. I found the kumitachi most accessible. Ki musubi no tachi can be a little confusing and happo giri… Well I guess my two-sword happo giri bears some resemblance to the two Iwama versions I know for one-sword.

Of course there’s always something to work on. Within the last year I feel I’ve smoothed out my transitions between right and left handed suburi. Consider making the hand change when the sword is raised between cuts.

Is this trip really necessary? Probably not. In Hagakure a writer asks “Why study martial arts for thirty years? You’ll just be an artist. You can be a samurai right now. When given a choice between life and death, choose death.” O Sensei is more subtle and recommends to be attached neither to life nor death. That subtlety might take a bit longer to achieve.

The less conventional path, which might interest you includes European styles. I recommend the 2nd disc in Reclaiming the Blade for a number of the practice videos. There is also, though it may be getting rare, The Blow By Blow Guide to Swordfighting in the Renaissance Style

Why bother with European fencing? Same reason as practicing kicks. There aren’t any kicking techniques in aikido (to my knowledge) but other folks do ’em. So kick for exercise and understanding. Consider European sword styles in the same vein.



  1. …so, why was it that for a time the Europeans, like the Japanese, carried two swords..? http://www.economist.com/node/21556204

  2. Thanks for this information…. Nice Blog!!!

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