Samuraido.org. The full post may be read here.
For being one of the main battlefield weapons of choice for Samurai and ashigaru throughout the sengoku jidai, there are surprisingly few schools of spearsmanship left today. In fact, there are only two that I know of: Owari Kan-ryu and Hozoin-ryu, . There are other schools that have tangential syllabus points related to the use of the spear, such as Teshinshoden Katori Shinto-ryu, but these two are the only ones that I know of which contain dedicated spear syllabus. With the knowledge of this weapon thus spread thin, here are a few points which might help us to better understand so-jutsu, the art of the spear.
- The weapon:
-ryu meanwhile, often use mobile, tubular grips on the hafts of their spears, allowing greater power on the thrust by eliminating the friction between the warriors hand and the shaft of the spear.
- The techniques for the warrior on foot:
On the battlefield, soldiers could find themselves up against two types of opposition: infantry and cavalry. Yari were often used by samurai and ashigaru alike in formation whilst on foot and thus what an opponent would normally be facing were a wall of spears. As a result the aim of the individual soldier was to knock the opponent’s spear out of the way either up or down (knocking sideways earned you no favours from your comrades), making the kill, and then attempting to exploit the gap in the enemy formation, perhaps ganging up with an ally on the next man along. The main techniques in battlefield so-jutsu therefore are knocking away the opponent’s spear, thrusting, and circling movements to trap the opponent’s weapon.
Against cavalry the spearman faces a rather different problem, namely a very large and heavy horse and rider bearing down on you at some speed. If one were to try and meet the target head on in a standing position, you would simply be knocked over by the sheer force of the charge. The technique against horses was, therefore, for the front rank of the spear formation to wait until the opposing cavalry was utterly committed to the charge, then all take one pace to the side and kneel down with their spears leveled at the horse’s chest height. The back end of the spear was braced against the ground meaning that the warrior would not take the full force of the impact. This move would certainly have caused some spears to break, but with the momentum of the charge destroyed, the downed riders and now disorganised attacking force could be much more easily dealt with by the spear wielding warriors.
Anyone who has ever done any work with polearms will know that the secret to performing these techniques effectively and quickly lies in the physics of moments. When I gave a student of mine a real yari to try the other day, he immediately remarked that it was difficult to keep the spear head up and facing his opponent. Admittedly my particular spear has quite a substantial blade on it and it is also a modern reproduction and therefore the tang is only about fifty centimeters long, but even so, what was he expecting? It is after all a lump of metal on the end of a stick. Moment = force x distance from the pivot so of course, the weight of the spear head is going to be a little difficult to manage. This is why it is so important in all spear techniques that the rear hand is the one doing all of the work moving the spear head, while the front hand acts like a guide and support. Try it any other way, and you’re either going to have a very hard time controlling the weapon, or you’re going to get tired incredibly quickly just holding the thing.