Essential Principles of Nakamura
Nakamura Taizaburo (with Capt. Guy H. Power)
was a taito honbun sha in northern China
during World War Two; that is, I was officially
authorized to carry a sword. More specifically,
I was an army kenjutsu instructor charged with the
task of teaching the battlefield techniques of sword,
knife, and bayonet to both officers and noncommissioned
officers of the imperial army.
I had received training in kendo before joining
the army in 1932; in fact, at twenty years old I
was already a third degree black belt in both judo
and kendo when I enlisted. During unit training
I applied myself rigorously to all aspects of the
military arts, and taught kendo to the recruits,
officers, and noncommissioned officers of my unit.
In 1935 I was assigned to a Boy's Military School
as a kendo and jukendo (bayonet fencing) instructor.
During this four year assignment I also studied
Omori Ryu iaido. Then, in 1939 I was selected to
attend the Rikugun Toyama Gakko (Toyama Military
I attended the Toyama Army Academy for a six month
period and qualified as an instructor of jissen
budo, the combat martial arts of sword, knife, and
bayonet. These techniques differed from kendo and
traditional iaido because they were for combat;
they were exact, precise, and powerful. I may offend
some, but these techniques were taught to kill effectively
with one blow.
I also practice calligraphy. While teaching kenjutsu
in northern China I was inspired with the thought
that eiji happo, the eight rules of calligraphy,
could be applied to swordsmanship. As I practiced
the ei character (this is to calligraphy what do-re-me
is to music) I saw in my mind that these eight strokes
of the brush traced the trajectories of the sword
when cutting. The first brush stroke, soku, is the
thrust of the sword tip; the second stroke, roku,
is the left and right horizontal cut; the third
stroke, do, is the vertical cut; and so on.
When I gazed at the finished ei calligraphy,
I could actually see the eight cuts of the sword.
Through my years of learning and teaching fencing
I had sensed that there were few cuts in swordsmanship.
When I contemplated the ei character, I was made
to realize that there are only eight distinct cuts
possible; any other technique, whatever artistic
name it may have, is only a variation of the theme.
This realization was the beginning of my deeper
understanding of swordsmanship. Eiji happo transformed
to happo giri, which is auspicious since the Chinese
character ei means eternal. Also, the number eight
is both a lucky and auspicious symbol in Chinese
numerology, indicating prosperity and implying myriad.
Therefore, the eight ways of cutting are myriad
I began to organize my realizations and ideas into
a system of practical swordsmanship devoid of meaningless
techniques. Through-out my research I found that
most old-school styles do not use the kesagiri (downward
I wondered how this could be omitted-the kesa giri
is the most natural cut to make, yet it was not
being taught in either kendo or iaido. This must
be due to the lack of objective, logical thinking:
just passing on techniques without thinking into
their deeper meaning.
I was determined not to fall into this mode of thought
as I codified my ideas of fencing. My cutting techniques
are effective in their simplicity: the thrust (either
single or double-handed); the downward vertical
cut; left downward diagonal cut; right upward diagonal
cut; right downward diagonal cut; left upward diagonal
cut; left horizontal cut; and right horizontal cut.
No theatrics, just combat-effective techniques.
My system is based on studies of how to bring the
sword blade to a halt following a cut, how to parry,
and how to progress to the next combative posture
by utilizing the sword's kinetic energy.
The five kamae (fighting stances) are basic to kendo
and iaido. They are the foundation of swordsmanship
based on the old-school traditional styles, and
are the product of the pain-staking research of
our teachers' teachers. However, I found that the
five kamae were out of balance because they left
defensive gaps on the left side of the body. To
make up for this oversight, I incorporated three
other kamae: left waki gamae, left hasso gamae,
and right jodan gamae. So, adding to my inspiration
of eight methodical cuts, I now incorporated eight
defensive fighting postures.
There are various methods of noto, resheathing the
drawn sword, which are extant; I have incorporated
eight of them into my system. The Toyama Ryu technique
of guiding only one third or one half of the blade
into the scabbard is standardized throughout. This
differs from the old-school technique in which the
full length of the blade is dragged across the back
of the left hand until its tip slips down into the
The eight noto which I incorporate are:
From chudan gamae, the right hand elevated as
it draws the back of the blade across the left
hand (Toyama Ryu).
2) Overhand grip, after left kesagiri.
3) Overhand grip, after right kesagiri.
4) From the reverse-sword position after left
kesagiri, blade resting on right knee (Omori Ryu
5) From the reverse sword position after right
kesagiri, blade on the left knee.
6) Overhand grip from chudan gamae.
7) From yoko ichimon-ji, so named because the
sword looks like the horizontal Chinese character
one (Omori Ryu).
8) From chudan gamae, the right hand lowered (Katori
Shinto Ryu kenjutsu).
I must say a few words about chiburi, throwing the
blood from the blade. As performed in the old-school
styles, the swordsman describes a huge "O"
in the air, the blade traveling in a counter-clockwise
direction. Beginning at the six o'clock position,
the arm circles slowly to the twelve o'clock position,
then it is brought forcefully down to the six o'clock
position where it is abruptly halted.
The centrifugal force created by this movement is
supposed to be enough to shake debris from the blade;
however, this chiburi is ineffective. It is impossible
to discharge flesh and blood so easily from the
sword. The only sure method is to use a cloth or
absorbing paper to wipe off the debris.
The chiburi used in Toyama Ryu iaido and Nakamura
Ryu battodo is actually an en garde position; the
sword is snapped down, point slightly elevated at
knee level. From this position one can maintain
zanshin, as well as convert easily to a thrust should
you need to.
In creating Nakamura Ryu Happogiri, I have researched
test cutting through an extensive range of experiences.
I have killed three cows at war's end so that hungry
soldiers could eat. I have broken several meito
(swords by famous smiths) in my dojo while experimenting-on
two occasions by striking the blades on their back
(muneuchi); and seven times just doing dodanuki
(cutting straight down on a horizontal target).
Also, as I have no experience with human targets,
I accumulated knowledge directly from Takayama Masakichi
sensei, who killed 40 people in China.
I have demonstrated test cutting many times on television,
as well as during kendo and other martial arts tournaments.
While performing test cutting I always cut bamboo
or thick rolls of rice straw as substitute targets.
I always display the best sword techniques which
I have gained from my experience: the blade angle-of-attack,
blade arc-path, firm wringing grip, and spiritual
aspects of the unison of sword, heart, and mind.
This is true iaido, born from the basic sword of
kendo and iaido.
From the seigan no kamae (a variation of chudan
gamae), holding your sword with its tip pointed
at your opponent's eyes, it is said that "the
sword is soul and heart." Stand in chudan gamae,
middle combative posture, with your heart as the
core of yourself, like a big cedar tree. From this
seigan no kamae you can generate ever-changing,
kaleidoscopic techniques which are essential to
both defense and offense.
Iai to wa, hito ni kirarezu,
Jiko no renma ni,
shugi no michi.
Iai: not killing others;
not being killed by others.
Self-training and polishing, the
road to discipline and cultivation.
About the Author: Nakamura Taizaburo
was born in 1912 in Yamagata prefecture. He now
resides in Tsurumi, Yokahama, where he presides
over the International Iai-Battodo Federation and
teaches battodo for the Kaku Sei Kai.