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Kenjutsu - Forward Guards, Backward Guards, Meeting in Chudan & Kendo

In the last two posts I have simply shown some European longsword guards and compared them to Katori Shinto Ryu guards - this in itself doesn't really say anything much - so what was the point?  The point is to undermine the idea of both parties coming into sword contact in forward (especially chudan/seigan) guards and then beginning to fight.

This is often seen in Kendo shiai, Kendo kata and Kenjutsu kata - but we have to be careful of how we interpret these observations.

It should be noted that in European longsword guards are not simply positions to fight from but also transitional positions - it might seem strange to have an extended middle guard but if one thrusts that position is encountered and so the theory is movement from that position is required, be it to defend, attack or counter.

It is notable how many of these guards are backward or withdrawn. If the progression of European fighting styles is followed the swords developed much better hand protection and the guards came forward, culminating in sabre styles featuring comprehensive hand protection and almost constant forward guards. It follows then that the hands are vulnerable and common targets when hand protection is lacking as is the case with the katana.

If we follow Katori kata closely, we see the hands are constantly attacked and, perhaps surprisingly
to the casual observer, there are transitions through a myriad of mostly rear guards - rarely is an engagement actually taking place from two middle guards, indeed this mostly occurs due to
meeting attacks and many times leads to half-swording.

Here we will take a close look at Katori kata and highlight black and white any deliberate coming together of middle guards.

It’s pretty clear coming together in middle guards and then beginning is not really a feature of these
engagements - indeed much like European styles engagements start from attacking, defending and countering from backward guards.

Correspondingly, perhaps we should think of Kendo as having skipped this, and essentially be
boxing distance.  This action in Kendo is easily explained - as with any combative art when a sporting element is added the art bends to the rules of the sport, at least for the competition itself.

When we consider Kendo kata and other Kenjutsu katas we must often strip the beginning away - often the beginning of the story is simply to contrive a position and how you ended up there is not so important.  We can see in the Katori engagement above what have become meeting forward guards as the result of an attack being made by one of the parties - now you find yourself momentarily in these positions and the tactics from that position become relevant.

Therefore when we look at the story of a kata, and by kata I mean any repeated training cycle, we must discern when the story is the message and when the story is only there to support the underlying meaning.

Screenshots were taken from videos on the Kendo World channel.

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