Our last keiko of the year turned out to be a pretty good one. With the winter solstice being the “shortest” day of the year, I decided to focus on some techniques and strategies for the wakizashi (shotō), the short sword.
We started with a basic form: Shitachi (defender) steps in and blocks the arms of an incoming sword stroke with his left hand and then counters, thrusting with the shotō. The focus was on an aggressive entry when blocking, making sure the attacker’s balance was completely broken down.
The next step was to hold the blocking posture from the basic form, as an attack comes from the right. With minimal movement of the body, the incoming sword is deflected (chūsen-dori) using a left-to-right cut with the shotō, diverting it to the right.
This took some time to refine due to the differences in length and mass of the two weapons. In such an exchange, the shotō is easily overpowered by the longer sword. Finding the “sweet-spot” of where and when to intercept the incoming cut, without making a major adjustment of your own body, is a somewhat complicated physics lesson.
Next, we added this to the first form to create a tateki (multiple attackers) situation. As soon as shitachi steps in to block the first attack, the second attacker cuts from the right. Shitachi must maintain the block and deflect the incoming stroke. Shitachi immediately cuts back right-to-left with dō-giri (a cut to the torso) to uchitachi #1, and then left-to-right to uchitachi #2. (Targeting for the second cut was optional: “Take what is available.”) This must be a gyakutai movement coming from strong hip rotation in order optimize the cutting power of the wakizashi, and create the best body alignment for the engagement.
From there we moved into some aiki.
We started with ippon-dori against a swordsman. The left-hand makes the standard suriage, and the shotō does the work in the right-hand. A live blade will cut through the muscles and bite into the bone, allowing the wak to guide the arm down and around to the right. Finish by kneeling across uke’s shoulder, with the wak securing the pin at his forearm.
The next waza was against aihanmi katate-dori. Nage reaches to draw his shotō and uke steps in seizing nage’s right wrist with his right hand. Using a simple “hitchhiker” movement, nage rotates his thumb from inside to outside of uke’s wrist, bringing uke’s head down and to the right. (If done correctly, this move is effortless.) Nage then steps in and places the kashira of the shotō directly on uke’s “funny-bone” and takes him to the mat. (I saw Messrs. Schmitt and Freeman do an even unkinder version, where nage places the kashira, and then drops like a stone into seiza. “Face, meet tatami.”)
The last waza was a rather slick oku-sōden, and I won’t share the details here. From a te-dori, uke is left with his back arched to the rear, and his feet glued to the mat—essentially unable to move. Nage then draws his wak and thrusts at his leisure.
These end-of-year classes seem to come faster and faster. Lovret Sensei’s saying, “You only have the rest of your life to master these things, and that’s never long enough,” echoes in the afterglow of this keiko.
And so, another year goes into the books. I learned a few new things this year—about some old things that I thought I knew. That’s why I do this; that’s why it never gets old. And that’s why it’s always, “one—year—more.”
My very best wishes to all on the holidays; happy families, health, and safe travels.
The view as you exit Shoshin Dōjō