Universality within the sword arts ...

Discussion in 'Weapons' started by pgsmith, Oct 12, 2012.

  1. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    Various postings lately have made me think about something that I first noticed years ago: there seem to be quite a number of universal "truths" to the sword arts. Here's a little background on how I came to this conclusion ...

    There was a major HEMA gathering in my general area. This was a meeting of various instructors from around the world teaching a number of different historical European sword methods. It was a full couple of days of meetings, seminars, and training. A couple of friends of mine, Dave and Jim from Mugen Dachi, were going to be attending to give a seminar on cutting tatami, since not many groups were actually cutting targets at that time. Since it was in my neighborhood, they asked if I wanted to come and hang out, and help with their seminar.

    Since I'd never had much to do with the HEMA folks before, I said sure! I was very impressed with the energy and scholarship of the various instructors. I watched a number of seminars and, while I didn't fully agree with their methodology as compared to my own Japanese sword arts, I was impressed with their determination and knowledge. In talking with the various instructors at the time, and more so over the years since then, I have come to appreciate the fact that there are some basic ideas that have to do with properly using a sword, rather than any individual art. Some of these truths that I've noticed are; moving from the center, depending upon the hips rather than the upper body, maintaining a center of balance and not overextending, utilizing the proper motion of the sword to cut rather than hacking with the shoulders. While each of these things can be violated on occassion for specific situations, they are generally ideas that are striven for in pretty much every sword art that I've seen.

    What other universal truths does anyone feel are striven for in any given sword art, and why do you feel they are universal?
  2. gapjumper

    gapjumper Intentionally left blank

    Death and taxes.

    (sorry! :D)
  3. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Valued Member

    Hi Paul,

    I've been thinking about this over the last few days... and, when it comes down to it, swordsmanship is about refinement. That's it, really. That's your universality when looking at sword systems, they are refined in action, they are refined in distancing, they are refined in targeting, they are refined in angling, they are refined in timing. There is the need to always be able to act, particularly in a way that is direct and efficient, and that comes from refining your actions.

    It's this refinement, this efficiency of action, that makes it easy for practitioners from one system to watch another and appraise it. While the idiosyncrasies can (and do) change from one system to another, this underlying refinement is essential for it to be a realistic sword art.

    Then again, when I look at different systems, especially if I'm studying different systems, I don't look for similarities, I look for differences. I've been known to get into discussions/arguments with a friend on another forum over this... he says that, in the end, all sword arts are the same, and I say they're all different. Catch is, of course, we're both right. There are certain things that are essential, universal principles that are ever present. However, if you just do everything the same, then they all just become, well, the same. Speaking personally, I train in some 5 different systems with sword syllabuses to them, and have experience or exposure to another 4 or so, including some on a semi-regular basis, and if I did them all the same, I'd be doing none of them, really. The only way learning a system works, especially if learning more than one, is to understand the similarities, but search for and internalize the differences.
  4. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    Couldn't agree more. Back when I started out teaching HEMA. I spent as much time asking questions of Bill Coyle (Koyo) than I did of my Longsword instructor. My longsword instructor knew all the techniques of the system but nobody knew sword principles like Koyo. He kicked holes in many of my interpretations of the source material. Occasionally I threw him something I knew was wrong to check he was seeing the same as me. He spotted the mistakes I did every time.
    Sword principles (and I would go as far as martial principles) are universial. It's why when people say you haven't studied my art so you can't see how it should work. Well that's just rubbish. They all work the same way because unless your art can change the laws of physics you are bound by the same laws as everyone.

    The Bear.
  5. Bruce W Sims

    Bruce W Sims Banned Banned

    Since traditional Korean arts are taught from the standpoint of MUDO, there is a given inter-relationship between what is done with a weapon and what is done without a weapon. For instance the attributes from the other thread still hold true for unarmed people as they do for armed people. Which raises an interesting point as to whether swordwork specifically and weapons work in general can be broken down to parallel the same rules of engagement as one finds with unarmed combat. For instance, the well-regarded "Inside" or "Internal" techniques ought have their counterpart in the tight vying for control of the centerline. Similarly, the "Outside" or "External' Techniques such as one sees in LONG FIST Boxing ought have a parallel with the arc-ing slashes of larger weapons. FWIW.

    This is probably how I came to be enamoured of Korean sword. One of the fascinating things about Korean sword is the focus on the centerline. In fact I think one of the best things a person could do....if it were possible....would be to take about a year of European Rapier and learn how to attack the person by controlling the centerline before taking any other kind of sword. FWIW.

    BTW: Probably the single most famous example of the premise is this classic scene from the Japanese classic, Seven Samurai. The centerline is taken, and the parry and the cut are about as melded as one could hope to accomplish (see: 1:10 for sticks; 2:50 for swords). Yes...I know....its cinema. All the same.....its a great example of a universal sword tenet.

    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMWsOyOHaaA"]Kyûzô the Swordsman - Seven Samurai (1/4) Movie CLIP (1954) HD - YouTube[/ame]

    Best Wishes,

    Last edited: Oct 14, 2012
  6. Sketco

    Sketco Banned Banned

    Universal truths?

    The pointy end goes into the other man.

    Okay Zorro aside I can think of a few basics which I don't think have been mentioned:
    Blade design is important to the most favorable use of a sword
    Not breaking momentum is your friend
    If your weapon is longer distance is your friend, if their weapon is longer distance is not your friend.

    Other than that a lot of the shell bits like power generation, footwork specifics, and the like are different but withing swords with generally similar designs the method of flow, blocking, striking, and all the things which are less specific to the art than the sword will be the same. Even between sword it will be similar, just altered a bit for range and sword design.

    Then you get into big differences when you have significantly different designs Like the Chinese twin hook swords.
  7. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Valued Member

    Sorry, Bruce, I'm not quite following what you're saying here in a few places...

    By "mudo", you mean 武道, yeah? Isn't that just saying that the traditional Korean arts are taught as martial arts? Uh, what else would they be taught from the standpoint of? But I gotta say, congruency between unarmed and armed methods is kinda the standard for all arts that have both aspects... so, uh, okay.

    Hardly surprising.. they were fairly general, really.

    I have no idea what you're talking about here.

    How so? Nothing so far has had anything to do with Korean methods specifically at all...

    Really? It didn't look like that on any of the clips in any of the other threads... can you elaborate on that?

    So, the best thing to do if you want to understand Korean sword is to train in a European sporting sword method? What's the connection there?

    Hmm. So you know, although this is a movie, the swordwork and choreography was done for Kurosawa by Sugino Yoshio of the Tenshinsho Den Katori Shinto Ryu. Oh, and there's no parry there, nor is the "centerline taken", unless you're talking about something different to the usage of that term that I've come across in all systems that use it. But the point is that, while it is a very good example, I'm not sure you're seeing what it is there...

    On topic, though, can you talk at all about aspects of Korean sword that are applicable across the board for all sword systems? Keeping it to sword systems specifically.
  8. ap Oweyn

    ap Oweyn Ret. Supporter

    Guys, I've recommended that the moment this turns into yet another merry-go-round about Korean swordsmanship, it gets split from the original thread so that people might actually get a chance to enjoy that one for a bit.

    Be advised.
  9. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

  10. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    Actually I don't like much European rapier with the exception of DiGrassi. If you want to learn centre line control fast, British broadsword is the best I've found. You can learn the system in a matter of weeks and then spar the hell out of it until you can see centrelines in your sleep.

    The Bear.
  11. Mangosteen

    Mangosteen Hold strong not

    may i signature this?
  12. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    Ha! As long as you fix my bad spelling and grammar :D

    The Bear.
  13. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    I disagree that power generation and footwork are different for different sword arts. Every art that I'm familiar with (except for those predicated on thrust instead of cut) uses the hips and center to generate power. Utilizing the hips and center dictates a particular use of footwork due to how the body is built. For example, it's impossible to engage the hips in a cut when they are pointed away from the target, so this means that your feet will of necessity be set in such a way as to be able to engage the hips.

    I understand what you mean, but I only think in terms of differences if I'm actually studying an art. Two different arts have to be compartmentalized else they will bleed into each other, ruining both. If I am not personally practicing an art though, I tend to look for the similarities rather than the differences. It allows me to put together what I think they are attempting to accomplish easier if I look at it that way. That's just me of course. :)

    Very well put!
  14. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    There is one notable exception that I know of and that's British baskethilted broadsword (the Scottish Regimental system) the sword is powered from the wrist and arm. This is due to the very rapier-like footwork though.

    The Bear.
  15. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    Those crazy Scots always have to be different! :)
  16. Sketco

    Sketco Banned Banned

    The baat jaam do in wing chun is also quite different. The turning and shifting motion in part are made from the hip and part from the wrist but the cutting is from the wrist and rely on the blade to cut rather than trying to cleave through.

    The motions of the hook swords are also very different owing to the fact that you can hook your opponent's blade or link them together forming an almost flexible weapon which can be swung.

    Then there's a flexible bladed sword from India which bend just like a belt which is whipped around.

    Or you can take the different between the dao and the katana where the dao is much more swing from the arm to use the inertia of the single handed fore-heavy blade to chop where the katana uses the leverage of both ands and much more power from the hips and torso.

    As I said.. I see a lot of similarities between some blades but also a lot of differences with others.
  17. ludde

    ludde Valued Member

    I think that if you include knifes and whips and other weapon under category blades you will get a wide variety of usage. But if we stick to swords as the thread was meant too I agree with the others that you will see a tendency to universal principle.
  18. Sketco

    Sketco Banned Banned

    Technically the baat jaam do are swords. The way the 刀 translates is as blade, knife, or sabre/cutlass. It's a pair of short swords. The hook swords are technically swords, the dao which also falls under 刀 is a sword. The flexible blade from India is in fact a sword and not a whip when you look at the mechanics.
  19. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    I think I would class Baat Jaam Do as a knife. Flexible sword again though technically a sword it's a pretty wide definition of a sword. I think we can agree for the principles we are discussing a sword is a rigid long bladed edged weapon.

    The Bear.
  20. Sketco

    Sketco Banned Banned

    Well if a wakizashi is a sword (which it is) the baat jaam do certainly are.
    Flexible blade aside there are still the points I've raised about the mechanics of using the hook sword and the differences between two swords like the dao and katana. Or even something Like a large bolo which is equivalent in size and design. The mechanics are still very different.

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