Collage of Nitō-ryū from a 1661 Denshō document



Offensive or winning efficacy of the short-sword in Nitō-ryū - where did it go?

From my Niten Ichi-ryū training with Iwami Toshio sōke I was admonished that the Nitō Seihō's primary focus is really about learning and acquiring the skill to use a single long-sword in just one hand to strike or win against an opponent. And within the outward transmission of the five Nitō kata, the short-sword is exclusively used to parry or control the opponent's long-sword so you can strike with your own long-sword - in other words, the short-sword's function is as a defensive or parrying weapon.

Furthermore, as a starting point of learning Nitō usage, it's sensible to remain on the outside of an opponent’s ma-ai and therefore just apply the offensive or winning efficacy of the long-sword. Also, the long-sword is generally suited to all situations. So, within the context of that focus, the riai and kata being transmitted is cohesive and purposeful.

However, when I became a direct-student of Ishida Hiroaki shihan, I came to realise through his teachings that there's a lot more to Nitō-ryū than I had recognised, perhaps due to my own immaturity or inexperience as a student at that time (and not as a reflection of my prior teacher or teachings, I must point out). It was just the focus was different; not better or worse - just different.

From training with Ishida sensei, I was taught that the left short-sword side was also important, offensively, like the right long-sword side.

In that regard, the short-sword's reach when held extended by one hand is basically the same distance as a traditional long-sword held with two-hands, and the single long-sword held in one hand has an effective reach greater than that of a long-sword held in two hands. Yet, when used in concert, the short- and long-sword held in each hand do cover the entire range of ma-ai that is from the inside through to the outside of the opponent's ma-ai when treated from the prospective offensive or winning efficacy.

As an aside, in this way, the use of dual-swords shares a similar and deceptive riai as Shintō Musō-ryū's Jō, which allows a user to take an obvious advantage of the full length of a 128cm weapon over a swordsman by working on the outside the opponent's ma-ai yet by moving down the Jō to the middle or to the other end, the weapon still remains effective right up to body-to-body distancing as you enter inside the opponent's ma-ai.

Therefore, the short-sword and long-sword of Nitō-ryū can also freely adapt, situationally, to any distance, timing, and direction of their opponent's attack albeit with the use of two weapons simultaneously compared to an innovative single weapon like the Jō. Additionally, the cutting or thrusting functions of either sword still remain effective regardless of the ma-ai, and whether you have entered inside, or remain outside the opponent's ma-ai.

What Ishida sensei taught in that regard was that one must learn to control the left and right side in the same way, in both attacking and parrying (offense and defense), while using two swords simultaneously and interdependently. And that the dual swords - from the perspective of left and right, or short and long - should be treated more equally rather than being entirely dominant on just one side from an offensive and/or defensive perspective.

Perhaps this viewpoint of focus was because Ishida sensei, in addition to being a menkyo-kaiden in Niten Ichi-ryū, was also a menkyo of Enmei-ryū, which has a direct connection to the earlier through to middle teachings of Musashi's Nitō-ryū, and still has some offensive efficacy of the short-sword.

Anyway, the above image is from a 1661 Denshō document of a deshi of Musashi, named Aoki Joemon Kyushin (* see below), and it clearly illustrates the offensive application of the short-sword. The kanji can be read as Muikken (Dream One/Single Blade/Sword) for those that may be interested.

Within the same denshō, there are other illustrations of short-sword offensive techniques while the long-sword is parrying. This also illuminates, in my view, that there was once more offensive or winning use of the short-sword within earlier Nitō-ryū transmissions.

Further, Yonehara Kameo sensei, a menkyo-kaiden of Aoki Kikuo 8th sōke of Santō-ha HNIR, has also stated publicly in the video we subtitled that the left-hand is vital in Nitō-ryū's ultimate teaching (gokui). This would appear to imply, from the outward nature of what is being transmitted in modern times, that this gokui is the use of the short-sword for defensive or parrying purposes primarily, in which one is limited to using the outside ma-ai to strike or win with the long-sword exclusively.

In the end, what I personally have come to truly appreciate from Ishida sensei's teachings is that, ultimately within Nitō-ryū, there's also a wealth of offensive or winning short-sword riai available. These then, do make available for use a wider and deeper gamut of Nitō techniques which, for example, can be utilised to take the initiative from a mutual chūdan-no-kamae awase (coming together) without concern. And, also assist in manipulating, restricting or striking an opponent in an effective way through the complete range of ma-ai and de-ai, and against the full directional variety of an opponent’s attack.

Of course, this does require the ideal use and focus of both left and right sides in attacking and parrying with the short- and long-swords, and by not completely separating their functions or roles. Or, put another way, to win with the short-sword as well as the long-sword or be ready to win with all the weapons.**



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* There is a sibling connection between the Aoki and Miyamoto (Hirata) family (from the generation of Musashi's grandfather, the founder of Enmei-ryū). The Aoki descendants were also successors of both Enmei-ryū and Tori-ryū. According to Bushū Denraiki written by Tachibana Minehira, a 4th generation successor of Niten Ichi-ryū, Aoki Joemon had been a former student of Musashi's father (Munisai) first, receiving a license of transmission, and then Musashi's student.

** In the Scroll of Earth, Musashi states: "To be ready to win with all the weapons - that is the essence of my school." - Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings: Kenji Tokitsu, 2006.




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