Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Monday, November 27, 2023

Sound and Awareness in Classical Japanese Swordsmanship

Over at Chris Hellman's Ichijoji blog, was an excellent post on how classical Japanese swordmanship trains all of the senses, including hearing. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


The days shorten, the leaves turn red, the scent of kinmokusei fills the air and in the evening the crickets chirp mournfully. As the autumn kicks in, it is not only the sights, but the scents and sounds that make up our experience of the season. The same is true of my training in traditional martial arts.

Anyone who has spent time training in a traditional dojo, especially in Japan, will have been struck by the sound of bare feet on wooden boards, the resounding thud as a body hits the mats, or the clash of wooden weapons, part and parcel of the environment in which the training takes place and the equipment used. There are other sounds that have more specific and deeper resonances and uses, in training.

Unsurprisingly, much of the training in traditional martial arts involves training the body – not just making it stronger or more flexible, but learning to use it differently. Indeed, training is largely a process of embodying skills to the extent that the body takes on a new identity as it moves. To do this needs powers of observation and sensitivity to a whole variety of physical and mental processes, some of which may not have been noticed previously or were not thought to be important. Becoming aware of and then using these is not an easy task - they are open to misinterpretation and difficult to nail down. Developing them so that they may support functional skills requires sensory input on multiple levels.

The role of sight and touch goes without saying, but sensitivity to the quality of certain sounds can also play a role. Below are just two examples from my experience of learning to use a sword.

The sword puts particular demands on the trainee – you cannot always look to see where your sword is, and even when it is within your field of vision, it may be moving too fast to be able to adjust its movement based on visual feedback. This is especially true of a live blade, when mistakes can have immediate and dramatic consequences. Dave Lowry makes a comment in his book Autumn Lightning about his worried demeanor as a teenager – it wasn’t girlfriend troubles but worrying about how many stitches it might take to sew him up if he made a mistake sheathing his sword that occupied his mind.

An awareness of your blade is vital when wielding a sword. This includes not only the path it takes, but the angle of the blade, too. This may be obvious, but it is sometimes more easily said than done. You can’t look to see where it is or gauge its angle, and so you become more alert to other clues. Sound is part of this.


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