Thursday, December 20, 2007

Iaido, Iaijutsu, Kendo, Kenjutsu, Battojutsu and Battodo

The Japanese martial arts that employ the sword take many forms. Some emphasize formal techniques, some emphasize sparring. All have valuable aspects that help practitioners develop strength, coordination, mental acuity, and a strong character. Included among the sword arts are iaido, iaijutsu, kendo, kenjutsu, battojutsu, and battodo.

Iaido is a word composed of three parts: ee, meaning "to exist"; ai, meaning "harmony" or "unification"; and do, meaning "path" or "way." It refers to the most widely practiced formal sword styles, usually made up primarily of solo forms, or "waza." Each form is a prearranged sequence of motions designed to simulate defense against an attack by a swordsperson. The major motions in iaido are the draw, cut, whipping the blood off the blade, and resheathing, but the hallmark of legitimate iaido is the fast, effective draw that not only gets the sword out of the scabbard, but also cuts the attacker. The two most widely practiced iaido styles are Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu.

Iaijutsu refers to an older form of iaido that focuses more on the military or fighting aspect of swordplay. Like iaido, iaijutsu is taught primarily through the practice of forms, but in general the movements are closer to the historical movements of older sword styles, and not as close to the modern iaido standard motions. There are many styles of iaijutsu, including Hoki-Ryu, Tamiya-Ryu, and Mugai-Ryu. Generally, iaido and iaijutsu refer to arts that focus more on the instant of drawing than on wielding the sword after the draw.

Kendo refers to the relatively modern Japanese sport in which participants try to score points by striking one another with shinai (bamboo practice swords). The players wear padded armor, and can score with an unopposed strike to the other's head, wrist, abdomen, or throat. Kendo is very physical, but also contains deep philosophical roots.

Kenjutsu refers to many older sword styles. Many are niche arts practiced by a few teachers and students, closely guarded for centuries. Usually they consists of many different aspects, including formal techniques, practical techniques, and conditioning drills. Some include empty hand techniques or other weaponry. Shingyoto Ryu and Suio Ryu are two styles of kenjutsu, but there are many others. Unlike iaido and iaijutsu, kenjutsu usually focuses more on swordplay after the sword has been drawn.

Battojutsu and Battodo refer to arts that are very similar to iaijutsu and iaido. The word "batto" means "sword drawing" but, as a practical matter, most batto systems are more focused on swordplay after the sword is drawn than are most iai systems. Yagyu-Seigo Ryu and Kataichi Ryu are two forms of Battojutsu.

The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers classes in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, which is probably the most widely practiced form of iaido worldwide. We also offer a kendo workshop in which our iaido students can learn fundamental kendo techniques, which helps build their understanding of distancing, timing, rhythm, and angles, to deepen their iaido practice.

Karate, Karate-Do, and Karate-Jutsu

We are often asked to explain the difference between the words Karate, Karate-Do (sometimes written "Karatedo") and Karate-Jutsu (or "Karatejutsu"). All these words refer to a closely related set of martial arts that focus primarily on strikes, kicks, and blocks. These martial arts have a common history that began in Okinawa (once the Ryukyu Kingdom, now a territory of Japan). Some are still primarily Okinawan in pedigree, but others have largely become Japanese, Korean, or even Western.

Karate is the most generic of the words listed above. It means "empty hand" in Japanese, and refers to the idea that many of the fighting techniques found in these arts are done without weapons. In the 20th Century, the word has come to mean any of several fighting or self-defense systems, including Shorin-Ryu, Shotokan, Kyokushinkai, and Goju-Ryu. In the West, many people use the term to refer to any art mainly composed of striking techniques, so you will often hear references to American Karate or Korean Karate (Tae Kwon Do).

Karate-Jutsu refers as much to a philosophical approach to Karate as it does to a discrete branch of the art. "Jutsu" means "art" or "craft," and, in a martial arts context, carries with it a connotation of fighting or war-making. Many who practice Karate-Jutsu focus more on the practical applications of karate as a fighting art than on its philosophical aspects. Others concentrate on competition or sparring. This form of karate is fairly rare in North America, though one of its foremost advocates is Sensei Gary Legacy, whose dojo is located in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Karate-Do refers to a way of practicing Karate that focuses on its virtues as a lifelong path of self-improvement. "Do" (pronounced "dough") means "way" or "path." In the martial arts context, it describes a codified system of physical and mental education that is designed to affect the whole person in a variety of ways. Through long-term severe practice, Karate-Do is meant to make its practitioners more physically fit, more mentally acute, and more spiritually balanced.

You will find the same emphasis on personal development in all the arts taught at the Japanese Martial Arts Center, including Judo (the way of adaptibility), Iaido (the way of the sword), and Jujutsu (the art of self-defense).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Aikido, Jujitsu, Judo, and Aiki-Jujutsu

Many students wonder what the difference is between aikido, jujitsu (jujutsu), judo, and aiki-jujutsu. The short answer is that all of them are "grappling" martial arts, i.e., they all deal with grabs, locks, and throws, but each emphasizes a slight different aspect of grappling. The long answer is much more complicated.

Jujutsu (also written jujitsu or jiu-jitsu) refers to Japanese hand to hand methods that existed hundreds of years ago. In samurai times, the techniques of jujutsu were used to grapple with an opponent (either with armor or without) after the warriors got too close together to use their weapons. There were many ancient family systems of jujutsu that included strikes, joint locks, throws, pins, and various armed techniques. Some systems have become extinct, but others are still practiced today, such as Hozoin Ryu, Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage Ryu, Kyoshin Meishi Ryu, and Ono Ha Itto Ryu. A well known modern descendant of Japanese jujutsu is Gracie Jujitsu, made famous in mixed martial arts fighting.

Aiki-Jujutsu refers to a form of jujutsu that emphasizes timing and strategic use of angles and circles to neutralize an attack, and control the attacker. Its movements are somewhat more circular than many of those found in the older jujutsu systems, but still include strikes, joint locks, throws, and pins. The man credited with establishing aiki-jujutsu was Takeda Sokaku, who lived from 1849 until 1943. He had a reputation as a fierce fighter, but continues to be one of the most important figures in early 20th Century martial arts development.

Aikido is a more modern offspring of jujutsu, created by a student of Takeda Sokaku named Ueshiba Morihei. Aikido emphasizes harmonizing with an opponent's attacking energy, using circular stepping and timing to apply the attacker's momentum in such a way as to overcome him or her. Aikido practitioners work hard to maintain a calm spirit and to cultivate a loving mindset. Current major schools of aikido include Aikikai, Hombu Aikido, and Yoshinkan Aikido.

Judo is a subset of jujutsu techniques selected and refined by Kano Jigoro. Originally developed as a form of physical education, judo has become one of the most popular sports in the world. In Judo, players grasp each other's uniforms and attempt to apply throws and takedowns. A full point throw wins a match. Judo concentrates on full body throws (in which the training partner falls on his back), and pins. It is one of the most physically demanding martial arts, and is very popular with children.

The Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offers instruction in Nihon Jujutsu (Japanese jujutsu) founded by Sato Shizuya, and Judo. Both are taught in a safe, systematic manner. Judo classes are available for children, as well.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Zen in the Martial Arts

Zen refers to Zen Buddhism, a system of thought that is widely misunderstood to be a religion. Instead, Zen, in its purest form is a systematic method for improving one's ability to perceive reality. The primary tool used by Zen practitioners is zazen, sitting. One attempts in zazen to quiet the mind - to decrease or stop the constant internal chatter most of us experience - in order to more directly experience ourselves and the universe.

Martial arts training can sometimes be useful for cultivating a zen-like mindset. By focusing fully on a martial arts technique or a sparring match, martial artists are often able to eliminate or reduce the constant mental chatter that most of us experience. Under very unique circumstances, this can lead to a clearer perception of reality. One commonly used example is that a still mind doesn't anticipate an attack (thereby risking an ineffective counter-technique), but simply reacts to the actual attack as it occurs.

Just as martial arts can promote the Zen mind, Zen can help martial artists. One who has successfully cultivated the Zen qualities of stillness and detachment can become a better warrior. As we stated above, a mind that directly perceives the intentions of an opponent and that doesn't pre-conceive a defense is more likely to prevail. At a higher level, Zen can help people clarify who is and is not an enemy, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for conflict. Martial arts and Zen practice share the goals of making their practitioners more positive, clearer thinking people.