Some thoughts on sword length and weight
By Myoken Dojo, Aug 12 2017 06:51AM
It's not often I write a blog these days. My thoughts are often in such a state of flux that by the time I've finished writing I've reconsidered the whole thing and no longer agree with myself. There is so much to consider, so much to learn, and rather than setlling into a comfortable old(er) age, it's becoming increasingly intangible and fluid, and, not to put too fine a point on it... frustrating!.
At the summer seminar this year, yet again I was being pushed to be more soft, more smooth, use less power. I know, there is no perfect goal in any of these things, so there is no ultimate point at which to stop thinking about them and working on them, but as we sat for the end of seminar photo a though occurred to me: are we using swords that are too heavy and too long?
As I sat next to Oshita Sensei, who as a fairly standard sized Japanese is considerably shorter than me as a slightly (!) overweight European we became the same height. This is not new to me, but it took on a significance that I had not appreciated before. The height difference is due to the legs, not the torso, and consequently their arms are also shorter. There are techniques in iaido where we all feel like gibbons, because we cannot make the same shape with our arms, (Soe te Tsuku for example) or where we have to compromise because a knee gets in the way (Sonkyo Yoko Chiburi for example), where for them it fits naturally (as you'd expect, as it was devised and designed in Japan by Japanese).
What is the significance of this? Well, quite simply that if their torso is fairly much identical in size and strength, then the ability of shoulders (which we shouldn't be using anyway), abdomen and lower back are about the same, but because of the arm length they use shorter - consequently lighter - swords and swing them closer to their body. The mechanics of that is quite simple, they don't need anything like as much body muscle control when they make their cuts. Given the same sword, we swing it in a circle farther from our body, and additionally we use a longer, heavier sword with the centre of mass further away, and having longer arms and trying to follow their timing, the sword is moving faster, we have a 3 or 4-fold disadvantage.
As a gift for Elena for passing Godan (a big assumption on my part as I ordered it 3 months before the grading) I purchased an Okuden range iaito made deliberately lighter. It's 2.4 shaku weighing 770 grams. I tried it the other day, and I can do all the thing's I've been truggling to do with an 890gram 2.5 shinken. Oshita Sensei's iaito is 2.35 shaku and weighs about 800grams.
How can we compete with that? A lighter sword one can buy, shorter will take some getting used to, and if it's too short will look odd and be difficult to control at saya banare and noto.
Now, where can I get my arms shortened?
(The comments above are my personal opinion, and represent my current thoughts. They are not to be considered as advice in any way, and certainly do not originate from sources higher than myself)