Katana training

Practice swords for katana usage

A Japanese sword is a prominent and sacred icon to the Japanese culture. One of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan (Imperial Regalia) is a sword which has been handed down through many generations. An ancient legend tells that the islands of Japan come from the water that drops off from the tip of a wet bladed weapon.

Because of the significance of a sword to Japan’s past, most Japanese martial arts (budo) include learning in drawing, correct handling, and positioning of a sword. There are also sword arts that concentrate on katana training.

What is a katana?

Martial arts and the Katana sword

The katana is a long, curve, and single-edged sword that represents the soul of a Samurai. It has been renowned for its distinct sharpness, cutting ability, and beauty. Historically, only the best swordsmiths were allowed to forge a katana. Learn more about what is a katana sword.

Through the years, Japanese sword arts have been practiced around the world. Some of these arts still uphold to the traditional philosophies and morals in sword fighting and katana techniques while some have adapted to the modern times and developed into competitive sports. To ensure safety while practicing and studying the Japanese martial arts, different kinds of training swords and weapons are used.

The Practice weapons for Japanese martial arts and katana training:

1. Bokken

The term bokken comes from the Japanese words bok(u) meaning “wood” and ken which means “sword”. It is the most commonly used wooden practice sword for many Japanese martial arts. It is usually made of Asian red oak for better quality but there are also foam sparring bokkens for novice practitioners.

Four basic styles:

a) Daito or tachi – wooden long sword
b) Kodachi or wakizashi bo – short sword
c) Tanto bo – has a size of a knife
d) Suburito – a larger type of bokken for practicing sword swinging and solo drills (not for sword fighting). It is used to perfect sword positioning and to master the ability of stopping the sword (tomei).

2. Shinai

Shinai is a fencing stick used to represent a sword in katana training and in sword fighting martial art kendo. Its name is derived from the word shinau that means “to bend” or “to flex”.

The shinai is made of bamboo slats held together by cloth or leather. This type of practice weapon is divided into five intersecting sections or nodes with the following meaning – hidden aspect, person (jin), earth (chi), and heaven (ten).

3. Iaito Training Swords

Iaito has been traditionally used in many sword drawing martial arts (e.g. Iaido). It is very similar to a real katana in terms of weight, shape, fittings, and furnishing which makes it very suitable for practicing katana usage.

This training sword is usually made of aluminum-zinc alloy and does not a have sharp cutting edge. Iaito is not intended for contact and sword combat techniques because of its low quality material. It can only be used for solo drills.

4. Tanren bo

Tanren bo is a large lump of rectangular bat with square cross section. It is used for strength training usually in aikido exercises because of its size and weight. This big piece of wood weighs from four to seven lbs and is three feet high.

Japanese Martial arts

1. Kenjutsu

Kenjutsu means “the art of the sword” and is often used as a general term for all Japanese sword arts. It teaches combative swordsmanship. Choreographed patterns of defensive and offensive movements (kata) in kenjutsu are said to be the expression of the hidden techniques and attributes of the katana sword.

Basic things to learn:

a. Developing reflexes or quick responses to attacks
b. Becoming aware of the movements of the opponent to develop an intuitive understanding of his next attack
c. Learning the proper way of cutting with a katana sword
d. Making the best use of the practitioner’s personal skills in katana handling

The kenjutsu primarily uses a wooden sword (bokken) in training while some schools make use of bamboo sword (shinai).

2. Iaido

Iaido is the art of smooth, controlled movement of drawing a katana from its sheath, cutting an opponent, removing the blood off the blade, and placing the sword back to the sheath. It teaches the use of real or actual weapons and includes training in Japanese prearranged exercises called kata.

The word iaido means “the way of mental presence and immediate action”. This martial art trains a practitioner (iaidoka) to quickly respond to attacks. It does not perform sparring of any kind but only involves practicing against imaginary opponents.

Practice weapons in iaido include bokken, unsharpened katanas, and the katana replica iaito. More advanced iaido practitioners would also use a real Japanese sword (shinken).

3. Aikido

Aikido is the art that aims to “control aggression without inflicting injury” as declared by its founder Morihei Ueshiba. To synthesize his philosophy of extending peace, love, and compassion, he intended Aikido to be an art to defend one’s self without harming the opponent.

This martial art is performed by redirecting the attacker’s force rather than opposing it with your own strength. This technique, thus, requires less physical energy. Some martial art schools include firearm disarming techniques in their aikido training.

Weapons used in aikido are short wooden staff, bokken, and tanto knife while the big rectangular bat (tanren bo) is used to develop strength.

4. Kendo

Kendo is a sword fighting martial art which means “Way of the Sword”.

This sword art aims to discipline the human character by following the principles of the katana including proper stance, distance (from the opponent), and proper cutting. Kendo first developed a strong influence in Zen Buddhism wherein the kendo practitioners (kendoka) observe deep meditation to attain awakening or enlightenment.

Modern kendo techniques would include sparring, strikes, and thrusts targeting the wrist, head, and body which are all protected by the armor bogu. Practitioners use a shout every time they make a strike to express their fighting spirit. The bamboo sword (shinai) is the primary training weapon for this martial art.

Kendo is widely practiced around the world today and is considered a popular sport. Proofs to this are the establishment of International Kendo Federation (started in 1970) and the World Kendo Championship which is held every three years since 1970.

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