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Thread: European Swordsmanship vs Japanese Swordsmanship

  1. #1

    European Swordsmanship vs Japanese Swordsmanship

    Hi, I'm new here, and I'm also quite new to swordsmanship itself.

    Brief background: I was first introduced to "swordfighting" through Sports Chanbara (see http://www.internationalsportschanbara.net/entry.html ; http://www.samuraisports.com/actionflex/index.html), my sensei is a direct student, if I'm not wrong, of Master Dana Abbott. As "sporty" as Chanbara may sound, we do learn the fundamentals of Japanese swordsmanship, and our instructors remind us that they do offer higher levels of legitimate swordsmanship: my sensei has mentioned a "Toyama series", I think he means Toyama-ryu Iaido. We are also currently moving toward "sports kenjutsu", which means using actual sword techniques but with the padded weaponry.

    Anyway, why I'm posting in here and not the JSA forum is because I wish to find out more about the differences between European swordsmanship styles, specifically that of the bastard sword (it's also called a longsword, right?), and Japanese sword styles in general.

    I haven't seen much European swordfighting (not Olympic fencing), but from what I've learnt and seen, about JSA especially, they seem to me more about getting in there and cutting the other fellow to pieces, while European sword arts seem to have more "swordplay". Then again, I haven't seen much.

    Please pardon the long-winded post, but I hope my curiosity was properly phrased.

    Looking forward to a fruitful learning journey here.
    Thank you.

  2. #2
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    This question has been asked ad nauseum, so before someone else says it, use the 'search' function.
    "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim D. L. View Post
    Hi, I'm new here, and I'm also quite new to swordsmanship itself.

    Brief background: I was first introduced to "swordfighting" through Sports Chanbara (see http://www.internationalsportschanbara.net/entry.html ; http://www.samuraisports.com/actionflex/index.html), my sensei is a direct student, if I'm not wrong, of Master Dana Abbott. As "sporty" as Chanbara may sound, we do learn the fundamentals of Japanese swordsmanship, and our instructors remind us that they do offer higher levels of legitimate swordsmanship: my sensei has mentioned a "Toyama series", I think he means Toyama-ryu Iaido. We are also currently moving toward "sports kenjutsu", which means using actual sword techniques but with the padded weaponry.

    Anyway, why I'm posting in here and not the JSA forum is because I wish to find out more about the differences between European swordsmanship styles, specifically that of the bastard sword (it's also called a longsword, right?), and Japanese sword styles in general.

    I haven't seen much European swordfighting (not Olympic fencing), but from what I've learnt and seen, about JSA especially, they seem to me more about getting in there and cutting the other fellow to pieces, while European sword arts seem to have more "swordplay". Then again, I haven't seen much.

    Please pardon the long-winded post, but I hope my curiosity was properly phrased.

    Looking forward to a fruitful learning journey here.
    Thank you.
    Welcome Jim, well H.E.S is just as much about getting your opponent as JSA
    The German school is especially notorious for it's offensiveness.

    But as Caleb said it's been asked ad nauseum so the search function would be a good idea

  4. #4
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    Some folks "play" more than others.

    It's still all about killing and not being killed.
    If you're not wearing a dirk, you're wearing a skirt!

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    Hi Jim,
    A month or two ago I was invited to do a demonstration of Historical European Swordsmanship for "SwordFest". This was a sword festival showcasing sword arts, but it was by and far predominantly Japansese sword arts. The only non-Japanese demonstrations were Scott Rodell's Chinese Swordsmanship, and my European one.

    After I did my demo with a student of mine (David Rowe), the entire day we had dozens and dozens of Japanese sword practitioners coming up to us to discuss just how similar their arts are with the German longsword arts. While of course there are definately differences, some of which are larger than others, by and large the major core of techniques are remarkably similar.

    On a related note, here are two well done videos that give a broad idea of German longsword:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3DhjFUOG6Y

    http://www.warussepat.fi/

    And here's another longsword one that isn't specifically German, but still shows some clean techniques:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kj4Ng6DBfrg
    Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
    --German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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  6. #6
    Hm.. I've tried searching, but could only find snippets of info from various threads, but not whole threads dedicated to the topic... I've tried a few keyword variations as well. "Differences', "comparisons", etc.

    Thanks for the videos and stuff, Mr. Grandy. They were helpful.
    Last edited by Jim D. L.; 09-07-2007 at 01:29 AM. Reason: New reply while I was typing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim D. L. View Post
    while European sword arts seem to have more "swordplay".
    I have always felt it to be the other way around.

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    Saying that the German style or the Italian style are one more offensive, one more defensive is incorrect--both from a technical and a historical standpoint.

    Technically, both arts rely on the principle of placing the burden of defense on the opponent as soon as possible. And they both contain darn effective means to prevent the opponent from doing this to you, even when he attacks first.

    Historically, let's not forget that these arts were also amply used in dueling. Depending on whether you were the "plaintiff" or the "defendant" in a duel, you had to either deliver or wait for the first blow--you couldn't just attack or wait as it pleased you.

    This is a meme that was prevalent around 10 years ago--it's time to shelf it.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Leoni View Post
    Depending on whether you were the "plaintiff" or the "defendant" in a duel, you had to either deliver or wait for the first blow--you couldn't just attack or wait as it pleased you.
    Tom,

    That's fascinating...do you have any more information about it? Was it something done only in a certain region or was it more or less universal?

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    Here's a slightly different take.

    http://www.thearma.org/forum/viewtop...light=japanese

    Much of the idea that WSA consist of "playing" about is that what the public sees of us most readily is stage combat, which is about putting on a show, not fighting. The historical masters referred to these guys as klopfecters (sp?) which translates as clown fighters. Many of them will make no claims of any real fighting skill (alot do though) but the public, especially young boys, will assume that they can fight and this is how you do it.
    If you're not wearing a dirk, you're wearing a skirt!

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Edelson View Post
    Tom,

    That's fascinating...do you have any more information about it? Was it something done only in a certain region or was it more or less universal?
    Here's a quick synopsis of a lecture Tom did at ISMAC2006 about dueling.

    http://salvatorfabris.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=104

    But basically, the Agent was required to make the first attack. The Patient was required to await the first attack. Thus the use of the terms and the reason why Lovino's manual (as well as those of the Bolognese) are set up and use the terminology the way they do (i.e. a duel was not just "anything goes" once the combatants entered the steccato).

    Steve
    Last edited by Steven Reich; 09-07-2007 at 07:56 AM.
    Founder of NoVA-Assalto, an affiliate of the HEMA Alliance

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    Some of the *very* specifics of dueling laws were particular to the region/principate--but the general structure came from Germanic law and was consistent across most European nations.

    The agent/patient roles were most definitely within the broad guidelines.

    Best,

    Tom

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    Not to venture too far OT, but that's a fascinating article Tom.

    Moreover it really clears up something I had been wondering about when I read about a duel in 'The Sword and the Centuries' by Hutton. In it he references a case of rapiers duel in which both combatants had such difficulty using them that the king ended the duel in disgust. I had wondered why one hadn't simply thrown away one of the rapiers and just used one. But your reference to the fact that throwing aside a weapon would be considered cheating clears that up nicely.

    I wonder though, the combatants also were allowed to have daggers in addition to the case of rapiers. Assuming that the rules about throwing away weapons still apply, would they only be allowed to use the daggers under certain circumstances rather than simply abandoning the off-hand rapier in favor of the dagger? Say if they were disarmed or if it came to grappling?

    I'll admit, there's a few of Hutton's anecdotes that leave me curious....

    The specific duel was between de Sarzay and de Veniers in 1537 (extremely early for case of rapiers if the date is even correct) and occupies Chapter XV of Hutton's book. Check it out.
    "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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    Anything that was agreed upon by both parties *beforehand* would be legal and make the victory legitimate.

    The documents exchanged leading to a duel were long contracts, involving minutiae and specifics--much like drawing up a short rule-book for a sports event.

    Of course there were still cheaters, and thus exceptions. But these were exceptions.

    Tom

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Caleb Hallgren View Post
    Not to venture too far OT, but that's a fascinating article Tom.

    Moreover it really clears up something I had been wondering about when I read about a duel in 'The Sword and the Centuries' by Hutton. In it he references a case of rapiers duel in which both combatants had such difficulty using them that the king ended the duel in disgust. I had wondered why one hadn't simply thrown away one of the rapiers and just used one. But your reference to the fact that throwing aside a weapon would be considered cheating clears that up nicely.

    I wonder though, the combatants also were allowed to have daggers in addition to the case of rapiers. Assuming that the rules about throwing away weapons still apply, would they only be allowed to use the daggers under certain circumstances rather than simply abandoning the off-hand rapier in favor of the dagger? Say if they were disarmed or if it came to grappling?

    I'll admit, there's a few of Hutton's anecdotes that leave me curious....

    The specific duel was between de Sarzay and de Veniers in 1537 (extremely early for case of rapiers if the date is even correct) and occupies Chapter XV of Hutton's book. Check it out.
    I have a feeling a moderator will be moving this part of the discussion to a new thread soon...

    The exact rules of a particular duel would have been set out before the duel. Unfortunately, we don't know what the agreement was in this particular duel.

    Don't get hung up on the terminology ('case of rapiers')--it fits within the dates of the Bolognese and their instructions on the use of two swords.

    Steve
    Founder of NoVA-Assalto, an affiliate of the HEMA Alliance

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    One more question about that article. You mention that the agent is expected to strike the first blow, however, if the first exchange fails to result in any conclusion and there was a lull in the fighting, would the agent again be expected to strike the first blow in the next exchange, or is that only in regard to the very first strike of the duel itself rather than all exchanges within.
    "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Leoni View Post
    Saying that the German style or the Italian style are one more offensive, one more defensive is incorrect--both from a technical and a historical standpoint.

    Technically, both arts rely on the principle of placing the burden of defense on the opponent as soon as possible. And they both contain darn effective means to prevent the opponent from doing this to you, even when he attacks first.

    Historically, let's not forget that these arts were also amply used in dueling. Depending on whether you were the "plaintiff" or the "defendant" in a duel, you had to either deliver or wait for the first blow--you couldn't just attack or wait as it pleased you.

    This is a meme that was prevalent around 10 years ago--it's time to shelf it.
    Understood Tom, by the way do you have any info on dueling customs from Fiore's home town.
    Last edited by CarlRutledge; 09-07-2007 at 04:05 PM.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by CarlRutledge View Post
    Understood Tom, by the way do you have any info on dueling customs from Fiore's home town.
    But it wasn't a matter of customs; dueling was a part of the legal system, and there was a legal code involved. That is, it was a part of the civil judiciary system. It didn't become a matter of "customs" until after dueling was no longer a part of the legal system. (I know, I'm nitpicking).

    I'm sure that at some point in the future Tom will write a big article on all this, but there's a lot to read and it's all in 1500s legalistic Italian--definitely not an easy read.

    Steve
    Founder of NoVA-Assalto, an affiliate of the HEMA Alliance

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    Here's a link to a previous discussion on Japanese things:

    http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=68102

    Paul

  21. #21
    Thanks Paul for getting this thread back on track (even if I'm one of the guys who derailed it)...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim D. L. View Post
    I haven't seen much European swordfighting (not Olympic fencing), but from what I've learnt and seen, about JSA especially, they seem to me more about getting in there and cutting the other fellow to pieces, while European sword arts seem to have more "swordplay". Then again, I haven't seen much.
    A close examination of the western systems will reveal as much variation as the eastern systems. At a fundamental level, all of the western systems are very much about either quickly finishing off your opponent or preventing him from doing the same--i.e. the same as the eastern systems. This doesn't mean just brute strength and raw aggression, but mastering the art so that you defeat your opponent with your art.

    However, just as in the east, the study of swordsmanship often went far beyond just "being martially effective." For example, if we look at the Bolognese system (an Italian sword art which reached its apogee in the 1500s), we can see--in addition to the "battlefield" and steccato (i.e. dueling field) techniques--the concept of the assault as an exhibition of your virtue, as well as swordplay as a sport. In the first case, you would be expected to show your mastery of your art in front of your peers and betters. Thus, it would not be so much about winning, as it would be to show your understanding and mastery of the concepts and techniques of swordsmanship in front of a group of people who are also educated in this art (Castiglione's Book of the Courtier discusses this, and Pagano gives a more direct example in his 1550s treatise). In the second case (i.e. sport), it would a display of skill within a set of rules--sometimes very arbitrary (the Bolognese manuals hint at this with brief discussions some of the rules of bouting).

    Studying a western sword art will require the same commitment as does studying an eastern one: things might look and sound a little different, but you will need just as much dedication. If you have formal training in another system, it will help you to appreciate the necessity of much of the unglamorous repetitive drilling required to become a proficient swordsman.

    Steve
    Founder of NoVA-Assalto, an affiliate of the HEMA Alliance

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    One very clear difference is the prevalent use of the half-sword techniques in western swordsmanship (in which the blade is grabbed by the off-hand to facilitate greater leverage and specific maneuvers).
    "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    -Benjamin Franklin-

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Caleb Hallgren View Post
    One very clear difference is the prevalent use of the half-sword techniques in western swordsmanship (in which the blade is grabbed by the off-hand to facilitate greater leverage and specific maneuvers).
    Actually, I think that is also present in various JSA schools.

    Steve
    Founder of NoVA-Assalto, an affiliate of the HEMA Alliance

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Reich View Post
    Actually, I think that is also present in various JSA schools.

    Steve
    It is present but generally the hand is held along the mune (spine) and doesn't grip the edge at all.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim D. L. View Post
    Hi, I'm new here, and I'm also quite new to swordsmanship itself.

    I haven't seen much European swordfighting (not Olympic fencing), but from what I've learnt and seen, about JSA especially, they seem to me more about getting in there and cutting the other fellow to pieces, while European sword arts seem to have more "swordplay". Then again, I haven't seen much.

    Please pardon the long-winded post, but I hope my curiosity was properly phrased.

    Looking forward to a fruitful learning journey here.
    Thank you.
    Welcome Jim.

    Since both Japanese and European swordfighting arts make use of the human body wielding a piece of steel, there will be many similarities because the human body can only move in a fixed number of ways when it wields that sword.

    The European knights and swordfighters of old fought as much to the death as did their Samurai counterparts.

    The big difference is the shape of the blade. The samurai blade is curved, most (not all) european blades were straight. Techniques can differ because of that. Another difference is that most european blades were double edged, whereas most japanese blades were mostly single edged. That will influence their techniques as well.
    Maybe one other important point, the blacksmith methods. For these you might expand on your question on the blacksmith part of this forum.

    There is a number of European manuscripts that give very good and quite detailed information on the concepts and dynamics of how the sword was used. There is more information than one would think. But you should not just look at the pictures, you should read the texts, and there is a lot of text available.

    Though I have to agree with the time machine theory, since we do not have one we cannot be 100% sure. But we can be 90% accurate ;-)

    Bert Bruijnen
    KDF, Netherlands
    Last edited by Hubertus C. Bruijnen; 09-07-2007 at 11:54 PM.
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