The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Japanese Sword

It's clearly time for a post about Japanese swords.


Let's begin with an excerpt from a post by Chris Hellman (author of the book, The Samurai Mind) at Ichijoji. The whole article may be read here. The article is about Say no Uchi: "the sword within the scabbard."


One of the attractions of the Japanese martial arts are the esoteric sounding concepts it contains. One such is saya no uchi, which literally means 'within the saya' and is a shortening of a phrase which can be translated as 'victory is obtained while the sword is in the saya'.

It is an interesting concept, but like many others, it is open to a variety of interpretations. The principle differences in this case lie on either side of the line separating the classical martial arts and the more modern disciplines. Whatever we call them, we can see quite a large difference between the older disciplines which claim their primary focus is combat, and the more modern ones, especially those that have positioned themselves as modern budo. Their aims and philosophies also colour their interpretations of concepts such as saya no uchi. The differences are sometimes slight, but they are telling.

The next piece of from a newspaper article a friend sent me about Japanese swordsmanship in samurai movies. Again, an excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here.

Slashing Samurai: A Culture Savored

OUTSIDE, the streets of Greenwich Village were drowsy and dull with summer. But inside, in the darkness, blades slashed, top knots bobbed, screaming swordsmen crashed through rice-paper screens, and blood sprayed everywhere.

Ah, the summer of 1979. I was 13, and if it was Tuesday, I was at the Bleecker Street Cinema. Japanese movie day. More than likely my friends Ben and Dan were on either side of me. The screen was small, and the floor sticky, but we didn’t care. We were enthralled.

I’d like to say we were there to peer deeply into another culture’s cinema, for intricate tales of loyalty and honor, for the subtle and nuanced acting. But we weren’t.

We were there for the sword fights.

I’d like to say that as we emerged after a double feature onto the humid and yellowing streets in late afternoon, we engaged in thoughtful ruminations on character development, hidden messages and underlying themes. But we didn’t.

We acted out the sword fights.

Ben, demonstrating: “No — he slashed this way, downward, left to right.”

Dan: “No, no, no. You don’t know what you are talking about. Are you blind?”

They were brothers, two years apart. I was in the middle. I usually let them ague a bit before adding my two cents; invariably it was that they were both wrong.

We saw all the great ones: “Seven Samurai,” “Samurai Assassin,” “Samurai Rebellion,” “Yojimbo,” “Sanjuro,” “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Lady Snowblood,” “Sleepy Eyes of Death,” Zatoichi this and Zatoichi that.

But my favorite, watched in stunned silence the first time and then, whenever it returned to that screen or that of any other revival house in Manhattan, was “The Sword of Doom,” Kihachi Okamoto’s black-and-white widescreen epic about an evil but monstrously skilled swordsman played by the great actor Tatsuya Nakadai.

It has a rare showing on Friday at Japan Society in a theater far more beautiful than those where I used to watch it. I doubt Ben or Dan or I will make it — we have six children among us, and I own the Criterion Collection’s fine DVD of the film — but I’ll certainly be there in spirit.

Our obsession with Japanese sword fighting led Ben and me to take up kendo, Japanese fencing, to which I returned several years ago. (I learned that actual sword fighting is not quite as easy as Tatsuya Nakadai makes it look.) I recently asked my sensei, then and now, Noboru Kataoka — himself an actor who goes as Ken Kensai — to name the greatest sword fight film of them all, and he answered, “The Sword of Doom” without missing a beat. He knows of what he speaks.

And finally, I would like to direct your attention to a simply beautiful posting at A Plainly Hidden View entitled "Slice of Life." An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here. Please pay a visit.

The Master spoke:
"Technique is to be practiced, confusing things resolved, mastery in actions attained, and one's essence and Principle comprehended. In this way deep inner awareness is attained. The master first teaches form without wasting a word about is significance; he simply waits for the student to discover this himself. This is called drawing but not shooting. Not because he is wicked does he withhold explanation. He does it simply because he wants the student to attain mastery through practice and the involvement of his Heart.

2 comments:

Samurai Swords said...

Samurai swords, Very cool concept and reviews
The work is very versatile, with so many concentrations intermingling
Samurai Swords

Japaneseswords4samurai said...

Hello All,
The Japanese sword combines unbreakability, rigidity, and lethal cutting power, and it is in the resolution of these conflicting practical requirements that it emerges as a triumph of the forger's art. Which is blades often forged with different profiles, different blade thicknesses, and varying amounts of grind. This is a really informative post. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Japanese Samurai Swords