Kenpitsu Issho: The Pen and Sword as One

The stroke of the brush is ultimate, just as the stroke of the sword…

A question was asked on a Koryū Networking Group the other day asking about any links or influences between Budō and Shodō, Japanese Calligraphy. The question caught my attention on a personal level as I have always made the connection between the two due to my own practices in Calligraphy and Iai, and personal frequent analogies of the similarities between the two. After receiving such warm feedback I felt I’d expand on it and make it into a brief article. I hope this is of as much interest to others, as it is to me.

Japan hasn’t always been a literate culture. Originally only the spoken word existed until the introduction of characters by the Chinese around the 6th Century AD. Upon receiving the means to use written words the Japanese were very keen to use this new discovery as much as possible. Centuries later they had become arguably the most literate culture on the planet, recording births, deaths, incomes etc wherever possible. Over the evolution of the written Japanese language numerous different scripts were created for women, scholars, foreign words etc showing just how important writing was to the Japanese as a people.

The same phenomenon existed in Western Europe, China and the Middle East, however the Japanese Martial Arts more than others made excellent use of written media in order to keep their arts alive. By the Edo Period, arguably the Golden Age of Martial Arts, it had become common practice upon entering a Dōjō for one to sign a contract upon entering the school. Your name was then added to the school’s record books, or a small wooden plaque, a Nafudakake (名札掛け) added to the roster. After years of practice you may have been lucky enough to receive a Makimono containing some of the techniques. Various Mokuroku syllabus scrolls and levels of Menkyo, certificates enabling you to teach certain aspects of the art yourself, were handed down from Sensei to Deshi, and were handwritten reproductions of the scrolls the Sensei themselves had received from their teachers. There is more often than not a traceable paper trail showing record of a Ryūha’s evolution from creation to succession.

It is natural then for the Japanese Martial Arts to gain such synonymy with the brush. Not only due to practitioners being so literate, but also the similarities in the physical structures of both Budō and Shodō. I would like to stress that this article so far and especially the content below is drawn from my own (very limited) experiences in Calligraphy and the Sword Arts, and by no means ultimate fact.

The majority of Japanese Sword Arts are broken down into sections, whether Shoden, Chūden, Okuden and Hiden, or Omote, Ura, Gokui etc. The same can be said for Shodō.
In Shodō, the first things one must attain are the tools. A brush, the ink, the paper, the stamp etc are all required tools of the chosen art. The same of Swordsmanship. Without a sword, the attire, the correct instruction etc there is nothing but someone waving a stick. One must then learn to hold the brush, and hold correct posture and technique when practicing, just as with Iai. One must be able to manoeuvre the brush freely to attain the various strokes required in any individual character, as one is required to hold the sword correctly in order to cut efficiently and in the manner required of said technique.

In Shodō, one is first required to study the Kihontenkaku, a collection of basic strokes: Tate, Yoko, Harai etc which build up every Kanji in existence. Just as in Iai one is required to learn the basic Kamae of the school, the various cuts from different angles: Shōmen, Shamen, Kiriage… We then put these individual strokes together to form one Kanji, or one Kata in Swordsmanship.

The basis of calligraphy is Kaisho, the block characters. This is the standard, basic way of writing a character where each individual stroke will look the same in each Kanji. Each individual stroke is performed smoothly and crisply until it becomes a natural movement, slowly allowing an increase in speed of the strokes as they become second nature. This is the Style which one has to perfect first. In other words the Shoden techniques.

Once perfection of the basics is achieved one can move onto Gyōsho, the running script. In Gyōsho the individual strokes begin to flow together. Three strokes may become two, or two can become one long stroke. Although more connected and a more rounded Kanji than Kaisho, the basic Character still forms the heart, and can clearly be seen within it. This is where the Chūden of our sword work is visible. Our techniques should hopefully roll together more smoothly, although seemingly more complex, a firm grasp of the Shoden means that simple adjustments of the individual aspects, go on to form the Chūdengata. In Musō Jikiden Eishin Ryū for example, there is a practice known as Hayanuki, where all Chūdengata are performed as one long smooth Kata, where controlled deceleration and acceleration connect separate movements into one. This is our Gyōsho, where even the gaps between strokes are connected by invisible lines.

Upon perfection of the Gyōsho we’re able to break down the characters, and learn the correct Kuzushikata to write Sōsho, grass style. The Kuzushikata, or how to break down Kanji can be easily learned from just watching. The shape maybe similar, but the essence will be different, however. Only through vast knowledge of strokes and individual Kanji can one start to appreciate Sōsho. This is also where the individual’s roots can be seen. Each character has numerous ways of being broken down for the cursive form, depending on the School, teacher and individual experience of the practitioner. This would be our Okuden. Often with numerous techniques existing, but again each being broken down to the bare essentials. The Okuden techniques tend to appear the most simple, but contain vast amounts of hidden workings gained from years of experience. They flow together into one long, continuous movement, just as Sōsho allows a Kanji to become one long, continuous brush stroke. You can also tend to see who someone’s teacher is or lineage by which version of a technique they perform, just as a Kanji can be recognised as being a certain style of writing.

There are also other ways to write characters such as the Imperial script, Oracle Script or Ancient Scripts (among others). These are not often considered the basic three forms of Shodō. They are supplementary, often more traditional or former arts/ additional styles to aid and deepen understanding of the current standard. This can be seen again in Iai. In Musō Shinden Shigenobu Ryū, there are a vast amount of supplementary arts such as Shin Tamiya Ryū, Itabashi Ryū which aid the understanding of the art as it stands today. Along with a plethora of older or different versions of individual Kata, which now exist as Kaewaza or Henkawaza.

Many famous sword masters such as Nukata Hisashi, Nakayama Hakudō and Yamaoka Tesshu were all very skilled penman, with Yamaoka Tesshu having numerous works published. Perhaps most famous of all is Miyamoto Musashi, writer of the Gorin no Sho, and also a very skilled painter.

I hope this very short analysis is of interest to fellow Budōka and Shodōka alike, and I hope you may even try your hand at one or the other yourself someday.


The Universal Principles of Budō


A plethora of Martial Arts exist in Japan. From arts dealing with  the sword, some the spear, the bow or empty hand, to those dealing with shouting your opponent to their knees or how to swim in armour. However, within all of the arts which fall under the title of Budō, Bugei or Bujutsu, exists the basic principle “Ichigan Nisoku Santan Shiriki” 「一眼二足三丹四力」.
Arguably four individual aspects, they unite to form the fundamental structure necessary to becoming an accomplished Martial Artist.

Now many may wonder why this article was chosen to be uploaded to a site dedicated to Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu and Iai, but the principles which will be discussed are especially important within Iai, and can indeed be applied to all arts descendant of the original Hayashizaki style. Secondly this article was inspired by a lecture given by Kawaji Toshihiro Kyōshi Nanadan, a practitioner of (Hayashizaki Battōjutsu Heihō) Musō Shinden Shigenobu Ryū, one of the arts with a direct lineage to Hayashizaki JInsuke Shigenobu and with Densho leading back hundred of years. Finally, a number of the succeeding arts of the original Hayashizaki style, including the aforementioned, are/were full systems not just composed of Iai, but Ken, Yawara, Yari, Naginata, Bō etc.

Ichigan Nisoku Santan Shiriki, one principle composed of four aspects, each being exceptionally important, however they hold a key order in the development of effective Martial Arts. The phrase itself is quite long for non-Japanese, so it will be broken into its individual aspects and expanded on.

Ichigan: 一眼 First, eyes. The use of the eyes in the Martial Arts is the most important step for beginners and masters alike. It should be developed correctly at an early stage  in one’s training. In the early stages of contact arts and arts with two-man Kata, the eyes are obviously used to look at the opponent, and focus on where one must strike. However the ultimate aim of the artist is to not look at the opponent, but to see them. The physical movement of the eyes gives your intentions off to the opponent, allowing them to read your strikes and move your targets out of striking distance. Seeing your opponent without faltering your eye line is the ultimate goal of Ichigan. The eyes can also be used to take advantage of the opponent. Feign a strike to the arm and the opponent is likely to move their arms, thus opening up the neck. Furthermore, the eyes are used to intimidate and pressure the opponent. Ganzeme眼攻, pressuring/attacking the opponent with the eyes. In other words intimidating them into apprehension and an early defeat.
In those arts based on single-man Kata, the eyes can be argued to play an even more important role. Not only must the above be applied, but the fact there is no physical opponent must also be considered. The eyes have to visualise the opponent whom is not there, and keep fixed on them in order to begin to be able to achieve focus, Ganzeme, Tsukekomi etc.

Ichigan, first master the eyes.

Nisoku: 二足 Second, feet. The use of the feet in martial arts is quite obvious. Incorrect footwork creates poor balance, weak posture, and further weakens the hips and upper parts of the body. The science of this however is paramount. Correct footwork creates a strong grounding and good balance, allowing the practitioner to more smoothly and freely in avoidance, and between strikes. Though when striking, it is the feet leading into the legs, the hips, then Hara etc which provide the power in the strike. Kinetic linking of musculoskeletal groups is started by the feet being in contact with the ground and pushing down. This power is then passed up the legs to the fist/tip of the sword allowing little effort to achieve phenomenal power. Even such arts as Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō Ryū and Takenouchi Ryū both contain sword strikes from mid-air, and the latter Yawara techniques, too.  This is achieved as the power has already been passed into the legs and carried to the Tanden by effective footwork.

Nisoku, second master the feet.

Santan: 三丹 Third, Tanden. The Tanden丹田 is the point in the lower abdomen where correct breathing is said to be controlled by, and where true power is said to be created in Martial Arts. One of the Chakra points in meditative techniques, it was passed to China from India, becoming know as the dāntián丹田 in Gongfu(Kung Fu), and then onto Japan from China. The Tanden is used to develop correct breathing techniques carrying the power from heaven in the air into the body to be combined with the power from the earth draw from the feet to create Ki for strikes. Scientifically speaking modern Martial Artists will tell you that this deeper Tanden breathing allows inhalation of more oxygen thus enriching the blood to bathe the muscles, reducing fatigue and possibility of lactic acid build up. The muscles surrounding the Tanden, the abdominal, gluteal, pelvic, lumbar and dorsal muscles all link together to create an effective, powerful strike with little effort. Utilising the Tanden to initiate this generation of power is the goal of all Martial Artists.

Santan, third master the Tanden.

Shiriki: 四力 Fourth, power. The character 力(riki.ryoku) can be interpreted as meaning strength, but this is not what is need in true Martial arts. Strength implies exertion. Effort mirroring strength, more effort, more strength. This is incorrect in the Martial Arts. To create strength through great effort takes time to build the power into a strike. Time, which allows the opponent to strike you first. Real power is created from through mastery of the above three points. By utilising the eyes to pressure the opponent, the feet draw power up into the Tanden where it is concentrated into power and transferred into the necessary location to deliver a strike. Most high-ranking swordsmen will say “Don’t cut with the arms…”, of course implying that you don’t need massive muscles to hammer the sword down into the target, but by using the Tanden to create power with little effort and achieving a beautiful, yet deadly cut.

Shiriki, fourth master power.

All combined in order, Ichigan Nisoku Santan Shiriki can be seen to be separate, yet completely intertwined aspects which build up into what all students of the Martial way aim to achieve. I hope this shallow article has proven to be of interest, and may some day even help in your training.

Master first the eyes and suppress the opponent, then the feet to become as swift as the wind, utilise heaven and earth in the Tanden to unleash true power unto the opponent