It is a rare opportunity to be able to use a real katana in Tokyo without several months of prior training. The workshop held at Hisui allows to learn more about battō in an entertaining way, a rather disregarded art compared to kendo. Since I moved to Japan, I always wanted to try Japanese martial arts, in particular those linked to Japanese swordsmanship. However, mainly due to a lack of time but also to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to commit to a weekly practice, I always pushed back any opportunity. The trial at Hisui therefore came as a real chance.
Harder than it Looks
Battō has the particularity that it is clearly designed as a means of combat for samurai. Here, efficiency in a dangerous situation is the key element. Most people have a preconceived idea of what the art of wielding the katana may look like.
Although tameshigiri, or target test cutting, may seem relatively simple when you attend it as an observer for the first time, it clearly isn’t. The art of cutting requires extreme concentration, either for the positioning of legs, the back, in the way the katana is held, or when focusing on a specific spot.
While there are plenty of videos available online, in my opinion they don’t really do justice to the skills that are required to achieve a clear cut. It is therefore not surprising that, upon entering the dōjō, a sense of excitement and apprehension came over me.
First Step: Greeting the Teacher
Today’s sensei, Suiju Kaito, naturally commands respect. He speaks little English, but if needed, Hisui's staff is ready to help and translate. The first part of the training requires the use of an unsharpened metal training sword, he explains to me. Obviously, this is a precaution.
Learning the Basics
Before beginning the practice, we start with a quick warm-up. Then comes the first step, foot positioning. Right foot forward, knees bent 90 degrees, with the left leg behind and slightly outwards toward the left side. Meanwhile, the back should remain straight.
It is only when I manage to keep a fairly stable position that I can move on to the next step, following the instructions of my teacher: drawing the katana and getting in the seigan no kamae, a posture of middle guard that keeps the point of the blade to the throat of the opponent.
How to hold the weapon? Here, learning the right-handed way is required. The right hand near the tsuba (guard), the left just below.
First Moves with the Sword
The practice is then followed by jōdan, a basic posture in which the sword is raised above the head. From here, Kazutomo Kaito instruct me to follow his move: striking the sword downward. We repeat the move several times.
As I am naturally left-handed, the sword feels strange in my hand at first. However, this feeling tends to slowly disappear as I continue to perform to follow the teacher’s instructions. After several repetitions, we move on to a little more complex move: migi kesagiri, a cut that strikes down diagonally from right to left.
A Unique Opportunity to Try Bamboo Cutting
Then, after a final revision, comes my turn. My teacher clearly instructs me to focus on a specific point and to absolutely never look away from it, especially after the cut.
The first cut is, undoubtedly, a failure. The angle, poorly adjusted, failed to obtain a clean and precise cut. The sensei comes back to explain the point I should be aiming for but also the angle that I must try to achieve. The second time is the good one, with a much clearer cut. The difference between the two is actually quite obvious.
It is only after trying the tameshigiri for myself that I realized how hard it can be. This experience has further strengthened the respect I had for those who train literal decades to achieve a perfect cut. Undoubtedly, I will be back for more.
How to experience
HiSUi TOKYO is located in the heart of Tokyo, only a few minutes away from Ginza Station. For short-term visitors, an “Experience Plan” is available in which you can try between one and four art forms. This includes battō, sadō (tea ceremony), shodō (calligraphy) and wasō (kimono). Price start from 10,000 yen per person. Maximum of 20 people per booking. Reservation by email or phone.
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