Basic Kenjutsu Guidelines
Two key points to start off with:
The Katana is not a baseball bat the right hand should be positioned a few centimetres down from the Tsuba in a wide grip to provide maximum leverage over the Tsuka (handle). The knuckles of the right hand should not be touching the underside of the Tsuba, any abrasions or scratching on the knuckle of the forefinger is an indication that the Katana is being held wrong when training, The Katana is not used in one hand either as is seen in Chinese martial arts, Leverage over the sword must be maintained at all times, with the right hand positioned under the Fuchi and the left covering the Kashira. The double V guideline is useful to ensure the Katana is being held correctly and involves aligning the V shape formed between the thumb and forefinger on both of the hands when gripping the Tsuka with the knuckle and forefinger of the right hand positioned just off to the right of the Tsuka’s centreline.
The Katana should always be on the left side of the body, whether held in the left hand when sheathed or positioned in the Obi (Belt), with the curvature of the blade facing upwards and Kashira (pommel) pointing forward. The thumb or the forefinger covers the Tsuba securing it in position to avoid accidental unsheathing of the sword or it being taken by an opponent. It should also be mentioned that the Katana was always kept lying across the front of the body with the curvature of the blade facing up and the Tsuka on the right, this was done for two primary reasons, firstly as previously mentioned it was for safety and security, the weapon could be better controlled from the body’s centre of gravity.
Secondly the body’s positioning for drawing the sword whilst keeping your intentions hidden, by having the sword lying across the body in the Obi, the Tsuba can be covered with the left hand and the forefinger of the left hand used to secretly push the Tsuba forward ready to draw with the opponent unaware. Also the curvature of the blade always faces up to avoid cutting the Kogoichi and loosening the fitting on the Habaki making the sword fall out of the Saya. It also enables smoother drawing of the sword following the path of least resistance.
Nuki Uchi – Drawing The Sword To Cut With Do Kiri
When drawing the sword, slightly push out the Habaki (Blade collar) from the Saya (Sheath). Do this with either the thumb (on top) or forefinger (below) pressing discretely on the Tsuba (guard). Make sure that the thumb if it is used is not directly over the edge of the blade, otherwise there is a chance that the thumb will be cut. When drawing pull the Saya back a little past the Habaki, then draw the blade two thirds of the way out of the Saya and turn Saya horizontally for the last third, pull the Saya right back out of the way and around the body whilst cutting horizontally to the right. This will make drawing the sword considerably faster. At the same time as drawing, step forward with the right foot (or back with the left foot depending on the intended direction of travel) to lengthen the stance making it easier to ensure the blade is clear of the Kogoichi (Karps mouth – opening at the top of the Saya). It should also be mentioned that the Kissaki (point of the blade) should not travel past Tori’s shoulder when the Do Giri is performed from the draw as this is over extension and opens up the guard.
Another method of drawing the blade is to hold the Habaki (blade collar) between the thumb and index finger (the Tsuba is between the index and middle fingers). The main reason for this is to enable the Tori to draw the sword in the event that a mistake is made while drawing, or if Tori goes to draw the sword and for some reason it is already partially out of the Saya. This can sometimes happen from merely moving the body sharply if the Habaki is not properly fitted in the Kogoichi of the Saya, which can naturally occur when practicing Battojutsu for an extensive period of time with the same sword.
If the sword is to be drawn to form a Men Uchi style cut, aim for the Ukes Tsuba with the Kashira as if you were going to poke at the Tsuba. Then flip out the blade cutting down whilst still aiming at the Tsuba. This will enable Tori to cut Ukes Kote, and provides an excellent target to aim for when drawing. In a confined situation, when Tori attempts to draw he can strike Ukes hand with the Kashira prior to drawing the sword. This can assist with creating distance between Tori and Uke and can also damage Ukes hand slowing his draw or prevent him from drawing altogether.
When the blade is out make sure the right knee is bent. Then you may drop back into Kamae. Having the right knee bent is the same position as when you cut normally. It also allows you to be able to move freely in any direction or back into a Kamae. Moving straight back into a Kamae only gives you the option of being in a Kamae, nothing else.
Shomen Uchi from Daijodan No Kamae – Drawing To Cut To The Top Of Ukes Head
When you cut down do so by dropping the blade straight down with the cut. However, it is important to lift the left wrist a little, which in turn lifts the Kashira, this is done to increase the leverage over the Katana when cutting. Tori then steps forward cutting with a Shomen Uchi finishing the cut keeping the blade level with the Kissaki pointing forwards. It is important to mention that when you have cut down do not finish at this point but continue the movement of thrusting forwards with the Katana performing a Tsuki (Gikan Ryu).
Noto – Returning the sword to the Saya
Hold the mouth of the Saya (Kogoichi) in the left hand and perform Chiburi with the right bringing the sword back to the centre of the body. Step forwards with the left foot, bringing the Kogoichi of the Saya to the Mune (back of blade) just above the Habaki (blade collar). Then as you pull the blade through the thumb and forefingers step back with the left foot, this helps with the movement of the sword passing between the fingers. Once the Kissaki of the blade reaches the Kogoichi it should be placed horizontally into the Saya and then two thirds of the blade sheathed. The Saya then turns vertically so that the curvature of the Saya is facing upwards and the blade continues to be sheathed until just under the Habaki where the Saya is then pushed forwards with the thumb and all of the fingers on the left hand raising up grabbing the Tsuba. The Katana is then brought back to its original position in the Obi (belt).
Note: Grip the Kogoichi of the Saya in the left hand. The middle finger runs along the underside of the Kogoichi and the folded index finger and thumb sticks up pointing out from the Saya. Run the Katana’s Mune along the piece of skin between the thumb and forefinger. Running it between these two fingers enables you to remove any debris that may still remain on the sword once Chiburi has been performed.