Tuesday 30 April, 2024 -


By Hatsumi Masaaki

The style of swordsmanship that is practiced in the Bujinkan Dojo is called Bikenjutsu (秘剣術) or “secret sword technique”. It is a system based on the teachings of the Kukishin Ryu, Togakure Ryu and a few other schools.

Bikenjutsu is applicable to not only the usual size Japanese katana (刀) and wakizashi (脇差) but also to the battlefield long sword (長大太刀), the shinobigata (忍刀) and dual swords (二刀).

In Bikenjutsu the standard length of the sword blade for training purposes is 2 Shaku (尺) and 8 Sun (寸) or 85cm. The standard length of the “tsuka” (柄) or handle is 1 Shaku (尺) and 5 Sun (寸) or 45.5cm.

This handle length is a bit long for the usual Japanese sword. This longer handle makes it easier to do certain secret techniques of the style that use the lead right hand as a rotating axis. It also allows the warrior to strike with the handle and entangle the enemy with it when grappling. It is of key importance in Bikenjutsu to keep in mind that you do not fight with a sword and only use the blade. All of it can be used as a weapon.

The hilt, the handle, the guard, the scabbard, the cord, the back of the blade and lastly the razor-sharp edge can all be used as a weapon. This is the ultimate secret in Bikenjutsu. Soke has often said that first you must be able to cut, thrust, press, strike, perform reversals and throws. Then once you have mastered these you will come to understand the true meaning of “winning without drawing the sword” (抜かず勝つ) and master the secret to the techniques of “no-sword” (無刀). As with Taijutsu (体術) or unarmed techniques the whole body must be used when armed with a sword. Not just an arm or a leg creating the power, but rather the whole body generates the power through unified and proper body movement. Taijutsu is the core of everything we do in the Bujinkan.

The basic body movements or Tai-Sabaki (体捌) for Bikenjutsu are found within the Taihenjutsu (体変術) exercises of basic Taijutsu. The techniques of the Gyokko Ryu and Koto Ryu delve into various weapons and strategies but within them also lay the secret foundations of the movements for Bikenjutsu.

For example, the Koto Ryu method of crossing the legs in an X shaped fashion when moving in and out of the enemy’s range of attack and the Gyokko Ryu’s concept of moving the body off the line of attack by 45 degrees using the rear leg, etc. If you are applying these concepts while holding a sword in your hands you are practicing the basics of Bikenjutsu.

It can be said that if you cannot do Taijutsu well, you will not be able to do Bikenjutsu.

Hatsumi Masaaki

34th Grandmaster of the Togakure Ryu

(translation by Sean Askew)