There are lots of mis­takes to be made when learn­ing the sword — be­gin­ning with pick­ing one up with­out hav­ing had proper in­struc­tion. Here, though, I’ll talk about the mis­takes we see in the han­dling of the katana on the sil­ver screen. I’m sure you’ve seen

Black Belt - - CONTENTS - by Dave Lowry ABOUT THE AU­THOR: aave iowry has writ­ten harate tay since 1986. cor more in­for­ma­tion about his ar­ti­cles and books, visit black­belt­mag.com and type his name in the search box.

THE METAL­LIC ZIINNGG: You hear this when a char­ac­ter draws or sheathes a sword. In fact, it’s a sound that’s added in post­pro­duc­tion.

The saya, or scab­bard of a Ja­panese sword, is made of wood. Prop­erly con­structed, the blade “�loats” in the scab­bard, touch­ing the wood only at the col­lar at the top of the hilt. If you hear a lot of noise when some­one draws a sword, it in­di­cates that the per­son is scrap­ing the blade on the saya. It’s ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble for such a swords­man to cut through the soft wood of the scab­bard and into the hand that’s hold­ing it.

When you draw or sheathe a katana, there’s usu­ally just a faint rus­tle. It may not be as dra­matic as a ziinngg, but it is the ac­cu­rate sound. BRIEF­CASE GRIP: Ac­tors and mod­els al­most al­ways hold a katana im­prop­erly. They clutch the hilt so it runs directly across their palms — much like you’d hold a brief­case han­dle. The cor­rect temoto, or grip, has the hilt laid

at an an­gle across the palm with the hand look­ing much as it would if it was hold­ing a pen­cil.

ou can see how inef�icient the brief­case grip (called gyakute) is by hold­ing a wooden sword in front of you with the tip point­ing straight out. Al­low the sword to swing down ver­ti­cally in front of your body, and you’ll �ind that even be­fore the tip reaches knee level, your wrist must bend to keep the weapon mov­ing down­ward. A bent wrist means loss of power.

Hold the sword in a di­ag­o­nal grip across your palm (honte), and your swing will go lower eas­ily — with­out “break­ing” the wrist. GET­TING IT BACK­WARD: Moviemak­ers seem to have a fas­ci­na­tion with char­ac­ters hold­ing the katana back­ward, so the blade pro­trudes from the bot­tom of the �ist. ato­ichi, the fa­mous “blind swords­man,” used this, and it sure looks cool. To see how use­ful it would be, though, you should try pound­ing a nail with a ham­mer held the same way.

words, like ham­mers and other tools, are de­signed for speci�ic pur­poses and meant to be used in speci�ic ways. In blade bat­tles, life and death could be de­ter­mined by frac­tional ad­van­tages in length. Hold­ing a sword back­ward re­duces the weapon’s ef­fec­tive length.

If, per­chance, your life ever de­pends on cut­ting with a sword, un­less you’re a blind 18th-cen­tury masseur, don’t use a re­verse grip. CHOK­ING UP: An­other com­mon mis­take in cin­e­matic swords­man­ship is chok­ing up too far on the hilt. Ac­tors like to grip the katana so the top of their right hand touches the hand guard. The metal tsuba, or guard, that they’re touch­ing usu­ally has dec­o­ra­tive carv­ing. In real life, it quickly would scrape the skin off the user’s hand.

A cor­rect grip en­tails keep­ing at least a �in­ger’s width be­tween the guard and the top of the hand. DRA­MATIC POS­ING: Ac­tors — and many poorly trained mar­tial artists — seem to think Ja­panese swords­man­ship con­sists largely of strik­ing dra­matic poses. The most com­mon is clutch­ing the katana ver­ti­cally by one’s head so the right el­bow sticks out par­al­lel to the ground. I call it “The Arnold” be­cause it’s con­stantly used in sword-and-sor­cery movies like Co­nan the Bar­bar­ian.

In real swords­man­ship, this looks some­thing like the pos­ture of hasso. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the real and the the­atri­cal, how­ever, is that in the for­mer, the el­bow hangs down nat­u­rally. Hasso ka­mae is just an adap­ta­tion of the way the sword would have been car­ried on a long march over one’s shoul­der. It’s re­laxed, easy to main­tain. In con­trast, the dra­matic pos­ture you see in movies would, if you had to main­tain it for any length of time, have your shoul­der aching mis­er­ably. CUT­TING SWORDS: Blade chore­og­ra­phers of­ten make the same mis­take we see in empty-hand ac­tion se­quencesǣ strike-block-strike-block. The swords­men seem in­tent on cut­ting each other’s weapon in half.

A maxim in dojo where real sword skills are taught is “teel doesn’t bleed.” An­other is “If you can block, you can strike.” It’s a los­ing strat­egy to re­spond to an at­tack by block­ing it. In­stead, make a counter that si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­flects your op­po­nent’s blade.

In clas­si­cal kata train­ing, wooden weapons do con­stantly clash. These, how­ever, are train­ing sce­nar­ios. The adept learns to leave a space in his at­tacks, one that would be closed in real com­bat. In­stead of clack­ing against his op­po­nent’s sword, he would be strik­ing the body. This is only one of many mis­con­cep­tions about kata-based train­ing that lead to in­ac­cu­rate con­clu­sions based on a lack of knowl­edge as to what’s re­ally go­ing on. REAL EX­PERT: Of course, movie swords­man­ship has only one goal — and it isn’t com­bat­ive ef­fec­tive­ness. The pur­pose of sword work in �ilms is to en­ter­tain. Real swords­man­ship is not ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing. Many years ago, Donn F. Draeger served as an ad­viser for a mar­tial arts–re­lated movie in Ja­pan. The di­rec­tor ex­cit­edly ex­plained that he’d found a “master” whose swords­man­ship was in­cred­i­ble, �illed with all sorts of the­atri­cal, ex­ag­ger­ated moves.

Draeger, who was among the most re­spected mar­tial artists in the world at the time, agreed to re­view the master’s tech­nique. They faced off. Draeger saw an im­me­di­ate weak­ness. He took ad­van­tage of it, mov­ing his wooden sword frac­tion­ally. It was sub­tle, but in a real �ight, he would have se­verely wounded the man. “Did you see thatǫ” he asked. The guy replied, “ee whatǫ”

uess who was even­tu­ally hired to be the �ight chore­og­ra­pher for the movieǫ 

Masayuki Shimabukuro demon­strates the right way to use a sword.

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