Aikido, Kenjutsu without a sword

A Japanese sword is often used to explain the skills of Aikido. Most Aikido practitioners cannot manage the sword properly and are lacking in depth.
However, if practitioners can find access to a qualified instructor, the swordsmanship skills will improve and the impact on some skills of Aikido can be huge.

You need some basic skills to understand the relationship between Kenjutsu and Aikido. Without these skills, training with a sword or a stick serves no purpose.

How to hold the handle of a sword

Holding the sword can be done with 1 hand or 2 hands.

If you don’t have a proper grip, the power generated by the body cannot be transmitted in the sword.
In a another post of this blog, the art of grabbing the wrist, some explanations were given about holding the handle of a sword.

The use of the middle finger and thumb is a fundamental skill for holding the handle, but also for grasping the wrist or dogi.

  1. When grasping start with tegatana
  2. Use middle finger
  3. Close the grip with the thumb

In a book for Taichiquan practitioners, there is reference to the use of the middle finger. The treatise known as the Yang Family Forty Chapters (translated into English by Douglas Wile in his acclaimed book, Lost T’ai-Chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty) is titled “An Explanation of Fingers, Palm, Fist, and Whole Hand in T’ai Chi.”
Each individual finger is assigned a name as well. For example….., the middle finger is referred to as the “heart finger” or “hooking finger.”

The use of kyokotsu

The power comes from the legs and is started with the koshi. To transport the power to the arms, kyokotsu is the distributor for the upper body how the power is used. Therefore, you need to move the kyokotsu in sync with the movement or technique.

Here, the front leg is used to push. The groin of the front leg should be open to allow pushing from the koshi into the front leg. The strength of the front leg goes up to the koshi and upper body. Kyokotsu serves to transfer power in the arms.
You can find many more examples on the Internet about using the internal power of the legs, most of the time using the back leg.
It should be clear, getting out of the box can be very refreshing in how you think and move.

As we saw in the previous example, the synchronization of the leg power, initiated by the koshi and transmitted to the arms, requires a lot of training. Do not expect to become skillful after a couple of workouts. It takes several months or more of regular training.

Exercises for arm-sternum linkage

The manipulation of the kyokotsu (sternum) increases the flexibility of the upper body and spine, and becomes the key to the coordination of the entire body.
When it comes to martial arts, it is a key factor in the use of weapons such as swords and sticks.
Arm movements are driven by the strength of the legs and the connection to the upper body. If the upper body and spine are flexible enough, the opening and closing of the scapulas (shoulder blades) will connect the upper body and spine to the arms.

Fundamentally, we will use 2 kinds of sternum movements

  • Up and down
  • Forward and backward

Both movements control the push and pull motions. The use of kyokotsu is dependent on the flexibility of the torso and we can improve the kyokotsu movements during exercise.
Moving upward/downward and forwards/backwards can be carried out as an exercise. Do not use your shoulders actively in exercises.
One more difficult exercise is the movement of the body diagonally. During this exercise, kyokotsu is at the core of the movement.

Diagonal Movement and Kyokotsu

Open and close

  • When the kyokotsu is directed towards the spine, the scapulas open the back. The power will have a pushing effect.
  • As the kyokotsu moves away from the spine, the scapulae close the back. The power will have a pulling effect.
  • Pushing and pulling does not result from muscle contraction of your arms. The strength comes from the legs and goes up. Koshi and kyokotsu work as distributors.

Cutting with a sword can be one example of using kyokotsu. This makes clear the functioning of the kyokotsu movement.
Moving the kyokotsu is not power, it opens the door to the use of power with the arms.

Cutting with a sword

Vertical cut

When kyokotsu is pulled in, power is a pushing action into the arms. A forward cut utilizes the downward motion of the kyokotsu.
Lifting the sword above the head uses the upward movement of the kyokotsu.
The point is to stretch the upper body and connect the lower body.

During lifting and cutting with the sword, the rotational action of koshi cannot be ignored. Koshi mawari is integral to the movement of the body.

Horizontal cut

When kyokotsu is pushed out, power has a pulling action. A horizontal cut is based upon a pulling action. Naturally, when koshi turns, there is a forward movement as well.

Diagonal cut

The diagonal line used to cut can be improved through the use of kyokotsu. Watch this diagonal exercise when using kyokotsu.
Before the sword cuts downward, the arm and hand holding the sword rotate by using the arm length axis.

Pushing and pulling

The concept of pushing is easily understood by most of the practitioners. And after some sessions, most practitioners understand the absence of arm and shoulder muscles contraction during the push.

Thinking outside the box may be refreshing for the mind and body.
Pulling has to be seen as a “reverse” of pushing. Don’t pull towards your own centre. Pull away from you centre. Using koshi mawari is certainly a part of this action.
Pulling seen as a “reverse” pushing doesn’t use arm muscle contraction.
Some instructors use the following definitions:
Judo Push when pulled – Pull when pushed
Aikido Enter when pulled – Turn when pushed
Of course, these definitions are “defensive” in their nature. When we are in attacking mode and the opponent is in a defensive mode, we still can use “pushing and pulling”. It is important in these actions to hide your intentions.

The question arises, which kyokotsu actions when pushing and pulling. The examples of cutting with a sword give some answers.

Some examples

  • When the arm is lifting up (jodan), kyokotsu is up and moves slightly forward.
  • When the arm is going down in a rather vertical direction (shomen uchi), kyokotsu went down and moved inward.
  • When the arm turns outside (soto gaeshi), kyokotsu moves slightly forward
  • When the arm turns inward (uchi gaeshi), kyokotsu moves inward

More examples can be given, but we have to understand the logic behind the use of the kyokotsu. Manipulation of the sternum opens the door to efficient power management.

Don’t focus too much on kyokotsu, we need to understand that body and mind are “one” system and should act as “one” system.

The objective of practice is not to use movement simply to reach a destination, but awareness of the full experience of a journey. Many things may be missed while being fixed on reaching the goal or price. The quality of the movement measured at the end of a movement is a product of everything that has come before.

Published by

Eddy Wolput

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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