SWORD ETIQUETTE

 

In Japan they have hundred of years of experience in handling sharp objects like swords, knifes, spears and arrows. All kinds of accidents with sharp object have happend many times. The learning point from those accidents has lead to some easy guide lines.

A. Safety - B. Respect of culture heritage and craftmanship - C. Preservation

A. Safety

Japanese swords and knives are, if the have been polished right, so sharp as a razor. A sword glides easy from its scabbard (saya) and is sometimes long and therefor not so easy to handle. A accident happens easily.

By holding the sword, you need always to keep in mind that the sword can come out the scabbard when running/walking or jumping. Therefor always hold the sword at the scabbard with the handle (tsuka) in a upright or slightly upright position.

Playing, swaying and running with the sword will always be a call for accidents. Therefor its important the know the person before handing over a sword to another person. Do not give children any kind of sword. They don't know what to do with them and they only think its for playing with it, wich is not.

The prevered way of unseathing a swords from its scabbard (saya) is in a kneeled position.

Never take a sword up without permission of its owner and also never unseath the sword without the permission of its owner. In the time of the samurai this would be a act of aggression.

When unseathing the sword hold the scabbard with you left hand on the place where the scabbard is wrapped with nylon, hold the handle (tsuka) with your right hand and the edge from you away and pull the sword out in one stroke.

When giving the sword to another person that is not in the scabbard anymore, than the giver holds the sword straight up with the point facing upwards and holds the handle (tsuka) as fas as possible at the bottom of the handle. So can the reciever of the sword take it easily over. The reciever when it holds the sword it immediatly turns the sword around facing the sharp edge towards him/her. Use eye contact to ensure that the other party keeps a eye on it.

When the owner has taken out the sword from the scabbard than he also will put the sword back into the scabbard.

When traveling with the sword like in a car, than keep in mind to put the sword in the trunk of the car because when a sudden stop is needed you will not get harmed by the sword. Also keep in mind to wrap the sword good in a box or other thing. This is because of the law in some countries that prohibited to have a sword with you in easy access.

When a sword is lying on the ground, never step over it, always go around it or ask somebody to pick it up. Especially in war this was a very strict rule. Stepping on a sword could cut trough your foot, damaging the sword and it was not available for the owner, this could lead possible to the dead of the owner. Also leaning on a sword is not very good. Samurais where always trying to avoid that the saya came in contact with another saya, when this happend not intentionally than there where lots of apologies. It could be taken as a bad insult and would be a beginning of a fight. Resulting that only 1 samurai will be alive at the end of the fight.

A Samurai who is ready to attack, will carry his sword on the left side. A sword in the left hand in the neighbourhood of people is a sign of agression. So carry a sword in the right hand, with the sharp edge faced down.

B. Respect of culture heritage and craftmanship.

Somebody that picks up or takes a sword that is still in the scabbard, turns the sharp edge end up, and holds the sword in two hands, slightly straight in front of him and makes a light bow. That's a little strange for the western culture but very normal for these kind of things and it also gives off some signals to the giver. First of all that you will respect the sword and the owner, also that you will handle the sword carefully. Also the light bow is the time to concentrate on what you are getting and what it probably means for the owner.

The realisation of value goes deeper than the economic value of a sword. The knowledge that you may have a sword in your hands that was made very carefully by a very good craftsman, the many generations of family that have owned the sword and so on will give another dimension to this respect.

Another sign of respect is that when giving a sword in a saya, you don't take the sword immediatly out of the scabbard but first take a good how it looks from the outside. You look at how it is dressed (koshirae) and give compliments to the owner. Don't give critic about things that is something bad to do. After unseathing you look at the whole sword and than to the details.

C. Preservation

The sword mostly is kept in a safe when it is a very expensive one. This is because of insurance policies. The safe also functions against moisture and direct sunlight. In the past they just to keep the sword in a special case. A sword is made of iron and must be protected against acid and moisture.

A sword is mostly kept in a shirasaya. This is a wooden scabbard with a wooden handle. The shirasay is like sleeping clothes for a sleeping sword. The wood is light or a little dark and keeps out the acids and moisture.

If the sword is kept in a shirasaya or in the normal koshirae, all this will be kept also in a cloth of silk or cotton the fukuro. Traditionally a fukuro is made of old silk band (obi) from a kimono. Opening a fukuro is mostly done in a kneeled down position. The sword is put upright without touching the ground. Let the fukuro drop down and put the sword on the right side with the curve facing you on the ground also without bumbing or putting it hard on the ground. The fukuro is than smoothen out and nicely folded together in 4 equal parts and the cords on top off it. Put down the fukuro with respect and than lift the sword.

By pulling the sword out of the scabbard, you push the tsuba first with your thumb out a little than in one smooth motion you pull out the sword on its handle. Be sure that the sharp edge is on the top side and that the sword is not touching the scabbard to much. Especially the sharp edge must not touch the scabbard.

Displaying a sword or set of swords.

In principal you always display a sword with the front side towards you. The front side is the side were the wrapped nylon cord is knotted. The handle (tsuka) of a Katana or Wakizashi is always towards the left side. This means that your have no attention to kill or hurt somebody or visitors, because a samurai always unseath a sword with the right hand.

So when you want to have a sword ready for action than you put the handle (tsuka) to the right.

Most people use a traditional holder where you can put 2 or 3 swords on to display. The Wakizashi is officially put on the top and the Katana on the bottom. Why is this, this is because a Samurai always takes his Wakizashi first and put it in his Obi, than he takes the Katana and walks to the door were he puts on his sandals. Than he hangs his Katana on his side.

A nice plus point of this situation of display that is stands firm. But you can also put the katana on top or in any other order, this is not a strict point.

How to carry a japanese sword.

A samurai carriers a big cloth called a obi, that is wrapped around his waist 3 times and is joint together in a knot at his back on a writen manner. Because the obi goes 3 times around the waist, there can be made 2 openings in it. In the outside opening goes the Wakizashi and in the inner opening goes the katana. The wakizashi is carriered approximate in a 45 degrees angle in the front of the belly, the katana is more on the left and on the side of the body. In this way they have a angle of about 90 degrees.

There are two ways of carriering a katana. Horizontal, the samurai way, kannuki-zashi or at a slooping angle the ronin way, otoshi-zashi.

A samurai on horseback has his obi so that the katana was always horizontal, because else the saya with the kojiri would have come against the horse, making it restless. This way of carriering a sword is called, tenjin-zashi.

A tachi, often in combination with a yoroi (total weapon outfit) was worn at the hip.

The cords (himo) would be put 3 times around the waist and fastened on the front side.

Sword Etiquette when training

Training in Iwama Style Aikido follows the traditional Japanese way, the way Martial Arts have been taught for centuries, and for that reason, we must also follow the etiquette and manner associated with the tradition.

When carrying a sword, it is held in the left hand at the side, with the hilt pointing forward, and the blade turned "edge-up". This is how swords were traditionally worn, they were carried safely and were drawn from this position. To draw the sword, reach across your waist with the right hand, your thumb pointing down, and grip at the top of the hilt. Let go with your left hand, and bring your right, with the sword, out in front of your body, so the tip points at chest height away and in front of you, with the blade now turned to the floor. Then grip the base of the hilt with the left hand, and step to kamae, or sword stance. To return the sword to your side, let go of the hilt with the left hand, and bring it back to the hip. At the same time, rotate the wrist so that the blade rolls to the left, and the tip raises and returns past you elbow, down to hip level. Bring your right hand back across your waist so that the hilt is pointing forward, then grip the centre of the sword with the left hand. When not training or using the sword, it must returned to the side, and be subsequently treated as though kept in its scabbard. From here the sword can be handled freely and be regarded as safe. When the sword is drawn, it should be treated as a live blade until returned to the side.

When picking up a sword for the first time in a dojo, or in the presence of an important peson, the sword should be presented and a bow made. Pick up and hold the sword at its centre with the left hand. Present the sword by holding your left hand out in front of your, knuckles down, with the sword, hilt to the left and blade turned up. The right hand comes forward, as though shaking hands, but goes under the sword until the thumb contacts the blade. At this point bow the head, and bend at the hip, with a slight pause to show respect. Return the sword to the left side, and continue whatever your were doing. This process also happens in reverse to bow out of a situation, or you place a sword down for the last time in a dojo.

If the class starts with a bow in, and finishes  with a bow out including the swords, no further presentation of the sword is necessary, unless it is used again outside the training session. 

For the formal bow in with a sword, it is held in the left hand as above. To sit, drop backwards onto the right knee first, using the right hand to sweep the hakama under your folding legs. Then sit back onto the left knee, sitting in seiza, while still holding the sword in the left hand. Bring the left hand forward and up, allowing the sword to hang vertically in front of you, blade inwards. Turn the left hand so the palm is facing up, causing the sword tip to point to the right, making the sword horizontal. Place the hand, knuckles down, to the floor, and bring the right hand to the sword near the tip, steadying it, as you open the left hand and allow the sword to lie flat, squarely in front of you, with the handle to the left and the blade pointing inwards. This is the most deferential position to lay the blade, as it is in the most difficult position to quickly grab and attack someone in front of you. To have the blade turned out, and/or have the handle to the right, near your sword arm, is the most offensive position, as it facilitates a rapid draw and attack. 

After the bow, and when movement begins, reach your left hand to the centre of the sword, palm up, and take the sword to your left side in the reverse order to placing it on the ground. To stand however, step forward and up onto the right foot. From here you can draw immediately into hanmi, or leave the sword by your side. Keep the sword at your left side at all times, even while kneeling, until you store it away.