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Way of the Samurai 1:4

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Dawn, in the Japanese countryside, 35 mi from Tokyo. Everyday of the year, Otake Risuke leaves his house at this time to pray. He always carries his sword. As he walks across his garden, he leaves behind the modern world. He moves back in time to the 15th century. In these few steps, Mr Otake becomes a samurai warrior in thought, word, but not in deed. He's among the finest swordsmen living today. The teaching master of probably the best martial arts school in the world. He does not teach a sport. At this school, the students learn an art of killing that they will never use. The second part of the morning ritual consists of exercises in the art of swordsmanship. The Japanese call this Iaijutsu, the art of drawing the sword. Even now, life in Japan is lived on the floor. So it's natural to start fighting techniques from a kneeling position. Also, at night, a kneeling person is harder to see. While he practises, Master Otake always imagines that there is an attacker before him, and aims his blows at precise points of the attacker's body. His sword strokes are aimed to kill. After each group of strokes, part of the technique is to shake the blood from the sword before returning it to the scabbard. He never takes his eyes from his imaginary enemy. The exercises are planned to counter an attack from any direction. To be effective, the art must be used by a warrior who has developed his willpower. There is an old story about a young couple who were lovers. The young girl was attacked by a man-eating tiger and seriously injured. No matter what her lover tried to do for her it was hopeless and she died. From the depths of his sorrow he determined to seek revenge on this tiger for killing his beloved. So he took his bow and arrow and went into the jungle day after day searching for the tiger. He searched daily, until finally, he saw a sleeping tiger in the distance and he thought that this was the tiger which had killed his girlfriend. He drew his bow, took careful aim and released the arrow which pierced the tiger's body very deeply. He approached slowly to confirm the kill only to find his arrow stuck into a striped stone which happened to resemble the form of a sleeping tiger. After this event, everybody began talking about how he was so strong that he could pierce a stone with an arrow. People were determined to test him. But though he tried again and again, the arrows just bounced off. This was because he now realised it was a stone. Before, his wish for revenge was so strong that he was able to pierce even a stone with his arrow. This story is the basis of the saying "A strong will can pierce a stone." All samurai sought perfection with the sword. Not only in the fighting techniques, but in the weapons themselves. The samurai and the swordsmith worked together to develop the exquisite deadly Japanese sword. Sword making reached its peak of skill by the 14th century. The process starts with a lump of crude iron. It is purified by hammer blows and by pouring a liquid made from ash over it. There are six men working in Japan now who can make swords to the standard of perfection of the old masters. And Yoshihara-san is one of them. Making a sword is a religious act. A blending of faith and skill. And the result is a work of art. A blade made by Yoshihara-san is worth about £10,000. Most of them are bought by collectors, and to his regret, put straight into bank vaults. The art of making a Japanese sword lies in the folding of the metal. It is folded up to 30 times, which makes millions of layers. Out of this process comes the lightness and strength of the blade. After the folding, the lump is beaten into its final shape. The swordsmith makes only the blade. Other craftsmen finish the polishing and sharpening, and make the scabbard, hilt and guard. Master Otake's own sword is 600 years old. And the guard is 400 years old. Both were made by famous craftsmen. The whole assembly is held together by just one small bamboo pin. Everything about the sword is practical. The beauty of its shape exists because an elegant curve is strong and cuts well. The groove is cut into it to lighten the weapon without weakening it. And to prevent suction gripping the sword in a wound. All teaching sessions at the school start with practice in the art of the sword. The students practise the exercises in their own time, but always watched by Master Otake. It takes many years to attain speed and precision, to get the control needed to stop the sword instantly in a focused cut. Perhaps the hardest of all is to learn the relaxed balance that allows the body to spin so quickly. Keep it straight at this point in the kata. Then spin round. To practise the techniques of combat, the school uses wooden swords, Bokken, so that a mistake does not cause injury or death. Their teaching is based on the weak points of Japanese armour, which for the sake of flexibility, did not protect the blood vessels on the insides of the arms and legs. Their purpose is very different from the sword based sport of Kendo, where the strikes are aimed at the protected part of the body. Look at this protective posture. Look closely at this posture. You must try not to hit those plumes. You just attack, Mako-uchi. Straight downwards to the front. When you are attacked to the face, move your body to the side and cut the opponent on the neck. In training, you just block high, then cut to the leg. In humans, all the inside parts have many veins and arteries. These are all vulnerable points.

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes
Country: Brazil
Language: English
Views: 118
Posted by: halfleaf on Apr 7, 2010

Part of a eight part series documentary on the Martial Arts of south and south east Asia, originally broadcast on the BBC in the early 1980s. This episode follows an ancient Dojo in Japan who still practice the Samurai way. Part 1 of 4 parts.

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