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Dealing with Nito Part 4 - What was Musashi Thinking?

Last month I looked at those koryu schools that have an 'anti-nito' component - I was able to only find three examples, two of which are related.  Of course, it is normally true that one should be getting something out of both sides of a kata, and I have not looked at the actions of the 'loser' in the many schools in which the 'winner' employs nito.  That is for another series.  We can, however, look for some common threads within the limited scope of the material covered (and if you have other credible koryu examples, let me know in the comments).

From Kasumi Shinto Ryu we have:
  • Attack the weak direction of the crossed block or guard through the centre.
  • Take the centre once the guard opens and look for an opportunity to counter a single-handed blow with the long sword.
From Shindo Muso Ryu using a longish weapon we have:
  • Attacking the mid to high crossed guard (or arms) from below.
  • Opening the crossed guard to take the centre.
  • Countering single handed blows.
  • Attacking the mid to low crossed guard from above, with a view to either pushing both hands down or using Tai Atari from a high crossed block.
  • Avoiding an attempt to use the cross to pin the tip of the weapon on the ground, by retreating.
  • Recovering a pinned tip by pushing the other end towards the swordsman.
  • Coming under a high crossed block by pushing the grip-end in from underneath, in the manner of Tai Atari.
From Suio Ryu we have:
  • Trapping or entangling the two swords in the cross-guard to control them both with one hand (with the long weapon, when effectively in Nito yourself).
  • Countering single-handed blows.

In general, we might draw the following conclusions with regards to dealing with nito:
  • It would seem you really don't want to give the nito user the chance to perform simultaneous attacks, as we don't see any of this common tactic (perhaps this relates to weapon length as per the next section).
  • The crossed guard or crossed block is momentarily very strong in one direction and a very useful block, however, it is weak in the opposite direction and can mean both swords are pinned with a single weapon, end or hand (which may be why we see an emphasis on releasing the crossed position in schools in Musashi's line).
  • You should be mindful of having the tip of your weapon pinned to the ground by the cross configuration.
  • It would seem the idea is to either pin the two swords together and attack the weak angle of the crossed configuration or to take the centre and counter a single-handed blow from the long sword.

Weapon Length and Nito

I will go partly out on a limb and make some further hypothesis; in what would appear to be an unusual configuration, ie prevailing over nito, there seems to be a common thread of this being the business of the user of a long weapon (bearing in mind Kasumi Shinto Ryu's relationship with Shindo Muso Ryu).  There is also a naginata school (Tendo Ryu) that uses two short swords against the long sword.

This leads me to two hypotheses:
  • That there existed a notion that when confronted with a longer weapon it was advisable to draw your second sword.
  • That there existed a notion that it was a good idea to select a longer weapon against nito (as per above, possibly to limit the use of simultaneous strikes).
It seems to me that, although juxtaposed, both of these notions are reasonable.  

We do see the same notions in other cultures - a clash of two short weapons against one long one.  This is a staple, for example, of Okinawan weapons where sai, tonfa and kama are nearly always used in pairs, in cognisance of the opponent most likely wielding a staff.

Musashi's Duel with Kojiro

One of the questions that I'm surprised isn't asked more is "why didn't Musashi use two swords against Sasaki Kojiro and his famously long sword 'Drying Pole'?"  Did Musashi believe the use of two swords was susceptible to longer weapons?  Did he simply believe, as per the Wind scroll, that Kojiro simply relied on the length of his sword and couldn't deal with a longer weapon?

It seems that upon employing two swords, a reach advantage is gained by using the long sword in one hand (over a long sword held in two hands) and one can simultaneously intercept the opponent's blade with the short and strike with the long, being well in measure.  This equation changes when the opponent's weapon gets over a certain length.

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