Tachi vs Yoroi (2004)

Tachi vs Yoroi


Nowadays the theme of Bujinkan is Tachi waza. The first time I have had some teaching in the subject was on Arnaud-shihan‘s seminar during last weekend. Here is some thoughts after assimilating the seminar’s lessons into my past (theoretical) knowledge. Any misunderstandings and wrong conclusions are naturally mine alone – but that is a part of learning!

As far as I have come to understand, tachi is basically a long sword carried mainly on the battlefield horizontally edge downwards hanging the obi (belt); while the later katana was carried all the time edge upwards in a slick saya (scabbard) pushed through the obi, also more or less horizontally. I have read somewhere that the same blade might have been carried as a katana during peace, and when came a time for war, the blade was put in a tachi kôshirae (mountings) and carried lower to facilitate easier draw while in yoroi (armor). This must naturally have happened after the katana came to “fashion” around the 15th century. Then again when wearing a kimono, it is easier to push the saya through the obi than carry it hanging below.

A tachi is generally longer and more curved than katana. I believe the cause for this to be mainly the development of the use of weapons through time than the classification of the sword. In the battlefields of past there was understandable need for longer weapons, but since then, the blades have been made shorter and more handier. The long and short of the matter is to compare the old two-meter-long nodachi to the Edo period katana with a tsuka (handle) that has been shortened to make the sword easier to carry in everyday life. Also when it came to fashion to carry the sword as katana, the swords came to be made with a less of curve to make the new method of drawing easier.

Then what is Tachi waza? As a way of oversimplifying it, compared with “regular” Kenjutsu, Tachi waza is using the sword primarily for stabbing with one or two hands instead for cutting, and being more attentive of where to hit. The main reason for this is the use of yoroi: After all, it wasn’t the movies – one wouldn’t wear the yoroi for looks – it was made to stop cuts. One had to stab through the openings in the joints of the armor. The best openings would be found around the neck, in the face and armpits. Also using the yoroi would restrict having both hands in the tsuka. Then again with katana and lighter outfit one can make strong two hand cuts without having to be too precise of where to cut exactly.

Basically, what we trained during the seminar was how to control the opponent before and during the attack with the sword, and how to close to the kill. The framework for the teachings was the nine kata of Bikenjutsu. Before the attack defender controls the opponent with kamae and distance. To control the attack, defender creates an opening for the opponent to hit. During the attack, defender enters to control the opponent’s body, balance, weapon, everything with Taijutsu using the tachi as his “spearhead”. When the opponent is under control, the defender is able to “proceed as he sees necessary”: When killing is the only option, stabbing or cutting with the tip into an opening in the opponent’s defense – of course in the battlefields it would be a very necessary option.

What can we learn from Tachi waza nowadays? I think the most important thing is to take it as yet one another way to perfect – to polish – your Taijutsu. One thing to understand is how the clothing and equipment the combatants wear influences the techniques. For example, no cutting with a knife through a leather jacket – one must go to the openings. We can also apply this to the use of present-day body armor. However, as far as I see it, the strongest and most adaptable lesson is the understanding of protecting yourself and controlling your opponent first, then – if absolutely necessary – administering the coup de grace. This is – of course – the same in Taijutsu.

Jukka Nummenranta

Yondan, shidôshi-ho


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