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The Meaning of Batto Giri in Takeda Ryu Swordsmanship


by Okuden Shihan Günther Fleischer
(Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha)

 

Takeda Ryu is the oldest currently existing school (style) of Japanese martial arts (budo) and today is only represented in a small number of branches (ha) that focus on different elements and objectives.


In the ISTB, which teaches Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha, two primary focuses are the “sobudo” concept, in other words the practice of a comprehensive martial art, and the greatest possible degree of authenticity and practicality in each of the individual disciplines. To achieve this, our way of practice (do) comprises a progression from the acquisition of fundamental skills to the learning of basic techniques and variants of these basic techniques, and finally to the application of these techniques in fighting situations. While a student of budo (budoka) today is not training to confront situations that may result in death as was the case in the past, we still wish to develop special abilities that are not needed and that are therefore not fostered in the practice of fixed forms (kata). The best way to acquire and refine the skills needed in a fight such as quick reflexes, good timing, a correct sense for distance, effective strategies and many others is to train the free application of the school’s techniques. In our school, a minimum level of required qualification and experience for participation, and exact rules for the individual exercises make it possible for us to engage in free fighting situations without a significant risk of injury.

 

 

 

Batto Giri – the Experience of Real Cutting

 

The sword arts of the Takeda style, iaido and kendo, also impart a series of skills for free fighting by means of various exercises. Kendo shiai focuses on fencing with the sword, iaido batto shiai is a competition that focuses on speed and precision in drawing and cutting. However, both of these forms of competition are executed under conditions that eliminate certain elements of swordsmanship so as to be able to better focus on others. In kendo, for example, cutting with the sword is replaced by striking with the shinai. This makes the movements shorter than the cuts in iaido and also makes the exchange of blows faster, but above all also promotes better reflexes and quicker reactions. In batto shiai, on the other hand, the competitors stand at a greater distance from each other and, as when performing kata, execute cuts without contacting the opponent or his sword. This means that they do not feel the resistance of a solid object against their blade and also have no direct experience of whether or not other important factors such as distance, the manipulation of the sword, body movement and others were correct or not. For this reason, advanced students of Takeda Ryu also practice batto giri. This enables iaidoka who hold dan ranks to experience real cutting, and to thereby gain valuable experience in using a real sword, without which mastery in swordsmanship is simply not possible.

 

Nidan Gyaku Giri (Shihan Fleischer)

 

The name “batto giri” describes the purpose of the exercise: batto means “to draw,” and giri means “to cut.” In other words, this exercise entails practicing quick drawing, precise cutting and returning the sword to its sheath (saya) from a variety of situations, as in iaido, but with the key difference that the student uses a sharpened sword. The cutting targets are usually maki – tightly rolled and water-soaked straw mats (tatami omote) that are typically used to make Japanese floor mats (tatami). At higher levels, the maki are modified in various ways to increase their resistance, for example by adding a bamboo core or by rolling multiple mats together.

 

 

 

Batto Giri – Tameshi Giri: What's the difference?

 

It is common for people to use the terms batto giri and tameshi giri interchangeably. This is not correct, however, because they mean two fundamentally different things. Batto giri, which entails quick drawing and efficient cutting, is an exercise and test for the swordsman by means of which he can assess and refine his skills with the sword. Tameshi giri, test cutting, on the other hand is a test for the sword (tameshi means “trial” or “test”), whereby certain cuts are performed with a new sword (commonly on the bodies of executed criminals in ancient Japan) to ascertain its quality. This means that this exercise omits elements of swordsmanship that are crucial to batto giri.

 

 

 

 

 

In Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha a batto giri kata consists of:

 

  • Maai – the (spontaneous selection of the correct) distance
  • Batto – the drawing of the sword
  • Kiri waza (giri) with taisabaki – the cuts or cut combinations with the corresponding body movements
  • Zanshin kamae – a fixed posture of focus and awareness (not included in cuts performed when walking, running or jumping)
  • Chiburi – the removal of blood from the blade (standing or in motion)
  • Noto – the return of the sword to the sheath (standing or in motion)

 

 

What does batto giri teach?

 

An iaidoka who is introduced to batto giri for the first time gains a series of important experiences. While mistakes with the iaito (dull practice sword) normally cause no or only minor injury, the slightest slip with the shinken (sharp sword) can cause serious injury. The safe use of a shinken demands that the student be highly concentrated, aware of his body and the sword, and extremely precise in his movements. Working with a shinken is an important step in the development of every iaidoka. And one cannot honestly speak of swordsmanship when it does not include the skilled and safe use of a real sword.

 

The experience of cutting a solid object with a sword helps the student to identify errors that are often not apparent when working with an iaito. Such errors in drawing (batto), in gripping and manipulating the sword (te no uchi), in selecting the proper distance from the target and also the poor coordination of body movements with the cutting motion result in problems in cutting such as:

 

  • the sword gets stuck in the maki,
  • the maki is not completely cut through,
  • the cut is ragged or curved,
  • the maki is knocked off of the peg,
  • the cutting stand is knocked over,
  • the student loses control of his body during or after the cut (problems with balance or the correct body movements), or
  • the student loses control over the sword during or after the cut.

 

To ensure the success of the exercise, it is important that the instructing sensei does not lose sight of the complete iaido kata and focus too much on the cutting of the maki itself. Ideally, when the exercise is performed correctly, the fact that the maki is there is irrelevant, and the student should perform the kata without undue haste, tension or power and always with absolute control over the sword and his body.

 

 

How does a student learn batto giri?

 

Batto giri is a very demanding exercise in technical terms. While anyone can buy a sharp sword and try cutting all kinds of objects, this alone will not improve their swordsmanship to any great extent. Our students are required to have well-founded skills and experience in iaido, which they gain through many years of serious training. Once they reach the dan level, they are then gradually introduced to the subject by experienced instructors (shihan). Even though thinner rolls (maki) are generally used for the first exercises, as less force is required to cut through them, beginners tend to try to compensate for technical deficiencies with power. This sometimes enables the student to cut through the maki, but the experience gained in this way impedes the student’s learning progress. This means that a sufficient technical foundation and supervision by an experienced sensei are absolutely necessary.

 

Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha features a well designed and structured teaching concept that gradually prepares its students for new challenges. For example, the first single-cut kata (itto giri kata) for batto giri are practiced with the dull iaito. The first actual cuts are then performed while standing on half rolls (hanmaki), and later on full rolls (ippon maki), which offer greater resistance.

 

The basic cuts are diagonal downward cuts (sage giri), diagonal upward cuts (age giri), and horizontal cuts (suihei giri) and are taught in fixed forms (kata). Itto giri kata can also consist of multiple cuts, but these are performed as individual cuts, in other words the sword is returned to the saya after each cut and must be drawn again.

 

For combination cuts, multiple cuts are made after the sword is drawn once. Such combinations usually involve two or three cuts (nidan giri, sandan giri), though as many as four or five cuts can be combined in special cases. It is important to note, however, that the execution of a large number of cuts in series diminishes the focus on the fundamental feature of batto giri, namely quick drawing and immediate cutting with the sword.

 

Students next progress to single-handed cuts (katate giri) and cuts while walking (hoko giri), running (shippu giri) and jumping (hien giri), and from ippo giri (cutting in one direction) to niho and shiho giri (cutting in two or four directions with the corresponding number of maki). The difficulty of the exercises can be increased further by combining different elements (such as itto + katate + hoko giri, or nidan + shippu giri, etc.). At very advanced levels, conditions are made more difficult by cutting maki that are hanging or free-standing (that are not secured by a peg), or by modifying the maki to increase their resistance (by adding a bamboo core or by rolling multiple mats together into a single maki, for example). Our school also teaches the forms of makko giri, cuts on multiple maki that are normally stacked horizontally, and kiba batto giri, traditional techniques that were originally executed on horseback, but that are now executed on two maki while standing.

 

Morote Giri: Maki not fixed (Shihan Walter)

 


Batto Giri and the Sword Strategy of the Takeda School

 

All single and combined cuts in batto giri are executed with corresponding body movements (taisabaki). When multiple cuts are performed in series, they are not simply executed in an arbitrary combination, but are part of a strategic unit. In other words, the combinations must reflect the school’s sword strategy. Simply standing in place while performing multiple cuts makes no sense, because the strategically coordinated movement of the body is missing. As in all of our disciplines, batto giri exercises at a higher level also combine familiar aspects with new ones. Single and combined cuts, correct taisabaki and our strategies are known from kihon and koryu iaido training (basic and old-style iaido training). Batto giri takes these familiar elements and skills and adds to them the use of a shinken and the task of actually cutting a solid target.

 

 

Batto Giri Shiai – Cutting Competition

 

In Takeda Ryu Kobilza Ha, competition is never an end unto itself, it is always a learning tool. A batto giri competition consists of three rounds in which the prescribed and freely selectable kata must be performed. The entire kata is judged, from the draw to the return of the sword to the saya, whereby the execution of the cuts (kiri waza including taisabaki) and the execution of the remaining elements (batto, zanshin, chiburi and noto) each make up 50 percent of the score. The individual cuts and technical elements that a kata can contain are listed in a fixed table with a factor for their technical aspects. The difficulty of the overall kata is reflected in an overall factor that is calculated from the total of the individual factors of the elements contained in it. A time limit is also applied and factored into the score, and points are deducted when this time limit is exceeded. By giving the competitors a limited time in which to perform their kata, they are motivated to perfect their overall handling of the sword as we teach in our iaido and to not only focus on the actual act of cutting.

 

Batto giri shiai differs from most other forms of competition used in our school in that there is no other person who acts as an opponent. The contestants fight alone against their own shortcomings, with the objective of achieving the highest possible degree of perfection in working with a real sword. It is virtually impossible to hide mistakes in this exercise. This fight with one’s self and one’s limits is one of the fundamental concepts of budo, namely that this internal confrontation should lead to the personal growth of every budoka. Batto giri shiai promotes this character development more than any other form of competition.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Bugei Ryuha Daijiten by Watatani Kiyoshi and Yamada Tadashi. Tokyo Koppi Shuppanbu version, Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo, Japan. 1979.

2) Nihon Budo Jiten, edited by Sasama Yoshihiko and published by Kashiwa Shobo in Tokyo, Japan 1982.

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