How did the sword get to be so important in koryu?

Discussion in 'Koryu Bujutsu' started by hendry, Feb 12, 2008.

  1. hendry

    hendry Valued Member

    Howcome the katana has received so much attention and veneration in the Japanese martial arts?

    What was the big deal about that weapon in particular ....... and why do so many koryu schools seem to feature it so prominently?

    I just read a pretty interesting essay by Kosta Dervenis here:

    This part stuck out:

    So if the sword was a minor weapon on the battlefield ..... with little influence over the outcome of a battle ...... how did it get to be so worshipped nowdays?

    And was it really a prominent weapon in koryu styles prior to the Edo era?
  2. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    Umm spearmen/archers made up the bulk of most armies in the east. Mainly because they were cheap to manufacture in mass quantities and effective weapons. So it goes without saying that most died from spear/arrow/knife. Essentially it is about cost effectiveness.
    You have to think in context Hendry, the sword is the Ferrari of the medieval period. They were expensive and to own one made you a member of an elite. It's significance was far greater off the battlefield than on.

    The Bear.
  3. february

    february Valued Member

    My understanding is that the sword was elevated to a near mythical status and venerated as such. This isn't only common in Japanese swordsmanship, many styles including those of south and southeast Asia did the same. e.g. viewing the sword as a reflection of the bearer, that it harboured the spirit or soul of the bearer etc.

    I would guess that part of this was down to the fact that only those of a certain status or caste were allowed to either employ the sword in battle, or carry one. Viewing the sword as a sacred object would thus elevate the bearers standing accordingly amongst "common folk", i.e. a status symbol.

    Battlefield-wise I guess it's only correct to assume that most of the kills were made by spear or lance as a) the majority of the front line of these armies I would assume were militia of drafted, and wouldn't be trained in the use of the sword or be allowed to carry one and b) spears and lances would be cheaper and easier to mass produce for militia. Also, for front line soldiers, the spear or lance would be a more effective wepon on the charge, and whilst defending the charge (especially when facing cavalry). I can also believe this being true with archers and the use of bows (in terms of it being more a militia skill than an elite one)

    I would venture to say that this kind of thinking was pretty much applicable the world over (even in Europe?) at that time.

    EDIT: And what Bear said.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2008
  4. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter

    If you look at most pre-Edo Jidai koryu, they all contain similar curricula, give or take a discipline or two.

    Araki-ryu: Sword, staff, spear, halberd, chain weapons, unarmed combat, etc.

    Takenouchi-ryu: Sword, staff, spear, halberd, chain weapons, unarmed combat, etc.

    Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu: Sword, staff, spear, halberd, unarmed combat, etc.

    Kashima Shinto-ryu: Sword, spear, halberd.

    Kiraku-ryu, : Sword, staff, spear, halberd, chain weapons, unarmed combat, etc.

    Maniwa Nen-ryu: Sword, spear, staff, halberd.

    Tatsumi-ryu: Sword, Spear, Halberd, staff, unarmed combat, etc

    Toda-Ha Buko-ryu: Halberd, spear, staff, sword, chain weapons.

    There's kind of an underlying trend being shown, isn't there? Most of the ryuha specialize in not just one martial discipline, but several.
  5. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    The katana has received so much attention and veneration in movies and American Kurotty studios, not really so much in the Japanese martial arts.
    Many koryu schools feature it quite prominently for several reasons in my opinion. First is the fact that there was over 200 years without any real wars in Japan after the Sengoku Jidai. This means that the vast majority of any real fighting would be by individuals, not armies. Therefore, most of the "battlefield" arts were only handed down out of the desire for completeness, not actual need. This is not true of the sword portion of the curriculums, which was still prone to being used on irritants.
    As I said earlier, it is not generally worshipped by those of us that actually train in the Japanese arts. There are a whole lot of wannabe samurai out there though that probably bow down and knock their heads on the floor in front of their "sacred swords" every night. :)
    Actually, this is not true of the Japanese. The samurai were first and foremost horse archers. The bujutsu used to be referred to as "The way of the horse and bow". The militia of Japan were the ashigaru, and they usually were spearmen, slingers, or in the later wars, riflemen. Because both horses and bows were very expensive, and required a large amount of space to train, they pretty much faded in favor of the more common koryu arts which could all be trained within a single small dojo.

    Just my understanding of things based upon my own reading and research. Others opinions may differ. :)
  6. Nii

    Nii Valued Member

    But if you look at the structure of the kata, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu for example, you see that the sword has much more focus in the curriculum. Basically, you learn swordv s sword, naginata vs sword, bo vs sword, ryoto vs sword, yari vs sword. So the sword also has higher importance in TSKSR, even if it is a pre-edo koryu. Why would this be?
  7. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    I will assume that you were posting at the same time as I was, and so didn't see my previous post. :)
  8. Nii

    Nii Valued Member

    You assume correctly, kind sir. But it doesn't really make it clearer for me. TSKSR was founded during a time of war, so I'd assume the kata would have focus on the most effective weapons of war! But this is not the case.

    But upon reading your post again, it appears you said that the other parts of the ryu was handed down for completeness, rather than relevance. This may be the case, but I still think the kata back then was taught with one of the weapons always vsing the sword. Then again, perhaps this was not the case and somewhere down the line (during the period of sword focused fighting... duels etc) the kata were changed.
  9. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    I would bet that it most likely was. You have to remember what the koryu, most especially the older ones such as TSKSR, originally were. They were the fighting method of a particular clan. Since they were samurai, the primary focus would be on horsemanship and archery, since those were the mainstay of the samurai. Next would probably have been swordsmanship and/or empty hand arts. This is because, being samurai they always wore their swords as a badge of office and so needed to know how to use them properly, and empty hand or close quarters fighting was what they were actually most likely to need. Outside of that, there were many different weapons which individual families tended to specialize in such as kusarigama, tetsubo, jutte, naginata, etc ... They would also round out the clan arts in the upper echelons with strategy, munitions, castle siege methods, troop deployment, espionage, and other more esoteric concerns.

    So, how much of all of that has remained since the wars ended in Japan in 1600? With the sword actually being the primary weapon for the last 400 years, it's only reasonable to think that the sword kata are the most prominent today. It's entirely possible that there were many, many more kata for other weapons that were discarded, or are no longer used, or were forgotten and not transmitted forward. It would be an interesting discussion to have with Otake sensei given the chance.
  10. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Molon Labe

    Hi guys,

    One nice things about the sword from a pedagogical standpoint is that the principles of swordsmanship are easily applicable to other weapons, as well as unarmed combat. If you are an excellent swordsman, you can quite easily learn other weapons. In Germany, the longsword was the exemplar of combat in general, even though on the battlefield is was basically a sidearm.

    If you look at Joachim Meyer's manual, it starts out with the longsword as the basis for all combat. Even back in Liechtenauer's day, his principles were expounded using the longsword, even though the primary weapon of the knight was the lance.

    So here we have two widely separated cultures that venerated the sword even when it had ceased to be used as a primary battlefield weapon for the military elite. I don't think that's a coincidence.

    So why swords? To put it succinctly (a rarity for me!): because it's a great teaching tool. And the snob appeal doesn't hurt, either. :)

    Very best regards,

  11. Banpen Fugyo

    Banpen Fugyo 10000 Changes No Surprise

    Pretty much nail on the head here...

    If you owned a sword, you were teh shiznit. Swords were even believed to contain a soul.

    If you think about it, early in American history, the generals and other high ranking officers always had swords as well... like a status symbol. Do you think they were used as often as muskets?
  12. RAbid Hamster

    RAbid Hamster Herr Trubelmacher

    speaking personally .... I 'love' my longsword.
    If I had to fight a nutter in plate armour, I would use a polearm but still love my sword.
    If I had to fight some mounted knights, I'd want 50 mates with pikes but would still love my sword.

    a sword is a thing of beauty where as you cant get excited about a stick with a metal spike on the end...... and everything Langenschwert said is true as well! ;)
  13. SWEHurricane

    SWEHurricane Valued Ninjer

    Dosen't this depend on the period?

    As I have understood it, things changed alot after the mongol invasions. Samurai started to fight in an infantry role. That's why the shape of the swords changed, since they were no longer used to cut down enemies from horseback.
  14. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    I don't know anything about asia/japan, but I see some similarities in european longsword.

    The european longsword was far form the main weapon, but it still holds a very central position in most medieaval fighting-manuals.


    Because the longsword seems to be very relevant for most other weapons. I have noticed that it's easier to grasp the consept of deflecting with a 1h-sword or a spear for someone that have trained with longsword, than the other way around. Perhaps this is the same for katana (+ the fact that it was the symbol of the ruling warrior-classes?)
  15. max Chouinard

    max Chouinard Valued Member

    This was true in some later periods, not so true in the Sengoku era, where horses became rarer and infantry combat became prevalent. And even then it depended on regional factors, as Japan was not a uniform country with homogeneous forms of warfare. The example can be made of Uesugi Kenshin who preferred infantry, fighting Takeda Shingen who relied more on cavalry.

    It is my understanding that the sword was associated with warriors across the globe because of it's polyvalence. It could be used on the battlefield when fighting at close quarters, on horse or foot, by specialised units, for self defense "in the streets" (actually the first mention in a historical document we have of a style of swordsmanship in Japan comes from a self defense use against multiple opponents in the 990's (see Karl Friday's legacies of the sword)). So be it in times of war or peace you would see warriors carrying it around, contrarily to a spear or halberd. So it could have been why it stuck in the common consciousness. Associate it with it's high cost, so that few people outside nobles could afford it and that it was also much harder to learn, and was also the base of other weapon systems.

    Now, the sword became a symbol in the Edo period (even then it is not quite true, I'll explain further). Before this, any one who could carry a sword could own one. Then there is the famed sword hunt, after the civil war. Now sword possession was restricted. But not necessarily to the samurai. Japanese social system was not as clear as it would seem. Some peasants called Goshin could wear the katana (20 000 of them in the Satsuma province alone), and village elders could also wear the daisho, even if not of noble lineage. And then you could wear a wakisashi, if you had the means for it. And instruction in the use of the sword was not limited to the samurai. Some ryuha were open to members of the community, like Maniwa nen ryu or Katori shinto ryu.

    Why it is associated so much with the samurai today is more a case of study for folklore, war propaganda and modern mythology.
  16. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter


    I tried to PM this to you, but you have chosen to not accept PM's.

    Goshi (郷士), not goshin were of low ranked bushi status and were allowed to own land and farm. The best English approximation would be yeoman. One of the noted koryu bujutsu ryuha founded by a goshi was Asayama Ichiden-ryu, noted for their very deep stances as if planting rice and their kamajutsu.

    Also it's wakizashi, rather than wakisashi.

    Please pardon my pedantry, it's just that we should try to make this particular part of the forum as correct as possible in all aspects, be they lingual, historical or martial. :)
  17. max Chouinard

    max Chouinard Valued Member

    No offence taken, I should have double checked my writing. Thanks.
  18. max Chouinard

    max Chouinard Valued Member

    By the way, how am I supposed to accept PMs again (no idea how I chose not to)? I can't find the option.
  19. Kogusoku

    Kogusoku 髭また伸びた! Supporter


    It should be in your user control panel. The left hand side column after you click on "User CP" shows settings & options, private messages, subscribed threads and miscellaneous in that order.

  20. february

    february Valued Member

    I didn't think you could you could send/receive PM's until youve cleared the 50 post mark? I could be wrong.

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