Thread: Why no tsuba?
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Old 10-07-2011, 01:05 PM   #47
Keith Larman
Location: California
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 1,496
Re: Why no tsuba?

Let me throw something else out. In our main headquarters aikido dojo there is not a single bokuto on the rack with a tsuba. We don't use them. We do aiki-kengi but we do not have anything within our curriculum that utilizes tsuba.

But... We are not training in swordsmanship in our style of aikido, at least not in a comprehensive way. We are training in Aikido and use the kengi to inform our movements, to train our bodies, to train our minds.

That said, we also emphasize effective cuts. Effective movement. I have even hosted an event in my backyard where I lent a number of very highly ranked instructors my personal shinken and let them cut tatami all afternoon. It was great fun, but the point was serious. It was about confirming things about cutting form, about distance, about a lot of things. Again, trying to keep things more "true" to the source.

But... We do not use tsuba there.

So I understand where some of you are coming from, at least I think I do.

But I would never make some general statement that using a tsuba is laziness. Maybe for those who are already lazy and sloppy in their practice, but that's like saying wearing proper eye protection with power equipment makes you careless. Maybe if you're an idiot, sure. Otherwise it is simply a good idea. It just depends on what you're doing. And that is the point here.

There are a vast number of things I've seen from a variety of styles that utilize that tsuba. Be it for stopping someone riding down the blade. Using that connection in grappling over the sword to control and/or throw. Using the tsuba as part of a pressure point in a leveraging move. Not to mention the purely practical aspect of how you release a katana from a tight saya for the draw without having to use two hands.

The point I'm trying to make is that the tsuba is one part of a large topic. For some the tsuba is integral to practice. That doesn't mean it is used all the time, but it is part of the tool and as such has a role at various times. The sort of casual statements that started this thread about laziness or sloppiness end up reading as being dismissive of the entire "operating system" of other styles. Heck, even within some styles of aikido that tsuba becomes an issue.

I've got a photo around somewhere with Toby Threadgill with the point of his bokken on my forehead. I had just tried to tsuki him with him holding his sword in a way that looked like I should have been able to get him. In the blink of an eye he managed to deflect my bokken and set that tip on my face. I've seen him demonstrate a *lot* of very interesting deflections and redirections with the bokuto. Incidentally they use tsuba on their training weapons.

I have also seen groups to the same with habiki (unsharpened real blades). And on a few occasions with the real deal.

If you are limiting discussion to simple practice of aikiken without much in the way of contact at full speed, sure, tsuba are often not used. But remember that aikiken generally lacks a huge part of a larger syllabus of techniques. For some of those things a tsuba isn't just a good idea, it is a necessity. Because swords have tsuba. And they use them for a variety of purposes.

And fwiw have you guys ever heard the term "kirikomi"? This is a so-called "battle scar" and can be found on blades and sometimes on tsuba. I have a 16th century wakizashi with two significant kirikomi on the mune. Sword polishers know *not* to remove these as they are signs of the history of the sword as well as a sign that the sword survived the cuts and impacts. The same is true of tsuba. Some tsuba have cut kirikomi on the mimi (rim). Those are either signs of the original maker testing the tsuba or of an actual "battle scar".

During the early years of sword manufacture many prized swords were fit with what were called "tosho" or "katchushi" tsuba. Tosho were tsuba made from iron by a sword smith. Katchushi were tsuba made by armorers (often hard to distinguish from tosho). The point was that these things were made to be tough and were considered important parts of the sword. Not just decorative, but functional parts of the sword.

Okay, I'm done now... Feeling much better.