BattojutsuNovember 6, 2009
Battojutsu is one of many names for the art of drawing and cutting with the sword. Suisha Ryu teaches battojutsu (or “batto”) as covering the first one or two movements after the sword is drawn; after that, it’s straight kenjutsu. Note that there’s a definite difference between battojutsu and the better-known art iaido. Iaido, like many modern “do” arts, focuses on self-improvement, sometimes to the exclusion of combat effectiveness. Battojutsu is the combat draw – it’s about getting the sword into action as quickly as possible, without getting hit in the process.
Superficially, the batto draw looks like the iaido draw – the sword starts sheathed edge-up, comes out on the left side of the body, and (usually) cuts across the body from left to right. However, there are some subtleties that make batto and iaido, at least conceptually, extremely different. First, a disclaimer: I’ve never practiced iaido. You should take everything that I say here about iaido as hearsay; I’ve spoken to iaidoka, I’ve read about it, but I’ve never really studied it, so my knowledge is pretty superficial.
The primary difference between batto and iaido is that the batto draw is not a single movement. The problem is that, in a combat situation, it just takes too long to get the sword out, no matter how skillful you are. Think about it – the sword can’t be effective in its usual mode at the very least until its full length is clear of the saya (scabbard). That means that the entire sword must move, lengthwise (not the easiest way to move the sword), its full length, and only then to the position where it can be useful. That’s a good fraction of a second, which is plenty long enough to get killed.
Instead, batto tries to make the sword useful before it clears the saya. This can be done in several different ways. The most obvious is simply to turn the draw into a strike with the kashira. Obviously, this won’t do a lot of damage, but it can certainly stop an attacker momentarily, while you’re completing the draw. Slightly more subtly, the tsuka can be used to hook an attacker’s hand, arm, or sword, tying it up briefly, or the blade can be used for a parry while it’s still being drawn.
All this complication, naturally, changes the nature of the draw. Iaido attempts to make the draw into a single, seamless, flowing movement. Batto doesn’t necessarily work that way; a batto draw may actually be a rapid sequence of short snappy movements. For example, imagine drawing a katana in close quarters, with an enemy only a few inches in front of you. The initial draw is a strike to the bridge of the enemy’s nose with the kashira; when he flinches (whether or not the strike connects), the katana clears the saya at a sharp upwards angle and the left hand comes up to the spine of the sword to push it through a close-quarters version of kiriage that strikes to the shoulder, the neck, or the side of the head. To my knowledge, there’s nothing like this in iaido.
Batto is one of the subtler parts of studying the sword. You can (and must!) do thousands or tens of thousands of draws before you will start to understand even what the parts of the draw are, and you’ll still be learning subtleties after you’ve been practicing the same draw for decades. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I’ve certainly done many thousands of draws, and I feel like I understand only the general outline of what’s going on. Back to training…