- Kaito Suiju is master of the Hisui school of battōjutsu and instructor at Hisui Tokyo.
- We ask him to rate the realism of katana sword scenes in movies, including skills of actors, the way they hold and train with the swords, as well as the choreography of fights.
- Kaito Suiju rates Japanese-language movies including “Harakiri” (1962), “Yojimbo” (1961), “13 Assassins” (2010), “The Sword of Doom” (1966), “Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins” (2012) and anime such as “Samurai Champloo” (2004).
- And Hollywood movies such as “John Wick Chapter 3 – Parrabellum” (2019),”The Last Samurai” (2003), and “Kill Bill Vol.1” (2003).
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Kaito Suiju: My name is Kaito Suiju. I am the master of the HiSui Tokyo dojo in Ginza, Tokyo. At HiSui Tokyo we offer instruction on the dignity, conduct and movement of the samurai.
“The Sword of Doom” (1966)
A ronin is walking through a pine forest. He shuffles forward using suriashi, maintaining a good maai, or distance between them, and as one of the samurai attacks him, he draws his katana and immediately counterattacks with a nukiuchi, slashing at the man’s torso. This is a technique used when you are moving, holding your katana up against your opponent.
Rather than walking you slowly shuffle your feet along the ground. By doing this your torso remains perfectly balanced, and you will have greater power and impact against your opponent. He draws his katana and immediately counterattacks with a nukiuchi, slashing at the man’s torso. Nukiuchi refers to placing your hand on the hilt of the katana, then drawing and attacking immediately as your opponent approaches. It is the art of performing a sudden surprise attack. The way he attacks and then immediately repositions himself is excellent, masterfully using his katana to attack. Finally, he is left facing two opponents and adopts the seigan no kamae stance.
While maintaining eye contact, he loosens his posture, luring the men into an attack. Just as they approach, he nimbly steps out of the way, slashing and killing both of them. This technique of holding the katana, known as seigan no kamae, is the most fundamental stance. From this position it is easy to move into jodan no kamae or wakigamae.In seigan no kamae, there are no clear openings which your opponent can attack, so it is generally the most basic stance in which a samurai enters a fight.
There is a concept known as zanshin, which is the state of relaxed alertness felt by a samurai after he has dealt a killing blow. Cutting from bottom to top with the point of the katana facing downwards is called kiriage. The reverse move of making a long cut downwards is called kesagiri. That’s what I liked about it.
“The Last Samurai” (2003)
All samurai carry katana. When going outside, they carry two swords. Inside rooms they would carry a short katana like the one I’m holding, called a tanto. This short sword would usually be worn by high-ranking chiefs and noblemen whenever they visited a castle. They wore this short sword because if they made a careless mistake, caused damage, or were insolent, they would commit ritual suicide. This is a real sword. With this sword, the samurai of old would slit their stomachs. The sword is not only for killing people, but also for self-discipline, to protect the family, to protect the clan, and to promote world peace, in a sense. This is the purpose of the katana.
They are using wooden swords, which were made from oak. It would be bad if someone was killed. Sanada’s movements, behaviour, and eye contact are particularly good, just like those of a samurai. He is attacking with his sword, as well as using jujitsu, to bring down his opponent. There’s the moment of defeat. It’s wonderful.
Up to the age of 6, children would fight with wooden swords. Then once they are over 6 years old, if they train as a samurai, they are prepared to use a real sword.
Tom Cruise is fighting several opponents. He’s very good. His movements truly look like the movements of a samurai. So he prepares to fight with his bare hands.He readies his hands for attack as the opponent approaches. He then shuffles his feet backwards to create a good maai between them. This is just like how a samurai would move. Maai refers to the concept of the exact distance a samurai must keep from their opponent on the battleground to make an effective attack, not getting too close or staying too far from them. By maintaining that eye contact, he really captures the look of a samurai. A move such as this couldn’t be done without being a true master.
This is a very difficult move, but he delivers a perfectly horizontal blow and slashes straight through the enemy’s neck. The man dies without so much as a final word. It’s wonderful. Usually it would take three to five years to reach that level of skill, so, in my opinion, the fact that he could move like that with only one or two years of training is wonderful.
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” (2019)
When fighting in a narrow room like this, it is much more advantageous to use a wakizashi. A wakizashi is one of the two katana worn by the samurai. They would carry a long and a short katana. The short one is called a wakizashi. There are a few reasons why they carried two swords.
If by any chance the longer katana broke, the wakizashi could be used as a backup. However, a wakizashi can also be difficult to manage. Even though a longer katana is generally more effective against an opponent, if you try to use one in a narrow room it can quickly become a hindrance.
You can tell that they are using all their strength to try to each bring down their opponent. He grasps the katana with an underhand grip and launches a full-on attack on his next enemy. The fight begins once more. With a katana, he can both cut and stab.
Stabbing is a particularly effective attack method with short swords. Then, when in close combat he draws the katana and creates space between him and his opponent. Naturally, if you grab a sword and try to pull it away from someone, it can almost cut your fingers off, which proves what an extreme fight this was.
“Samurai Champloo” (2004)
When you handle a katana, if you try to wield it while standing perfectly straight, then your body will collapse due to the weight of the sword. To support your body, you drop your hips, bend your knees, and poise with your feet firmly on the ground, in a posture known as iai-goshi. By assuming this stance, you can stop your katana shaking from the weight of it. Plus, you will gain more power. He is jumping in the air and sprinting around while fighting.
He is jumping in the air and sprinting around while fighting. Moving like this can easily make you out of breath, but he’s doing very well. He blocks the next attack with an iron plate fixed to the bottom of his geta sandals. This is also a difficult move.
Because noren are made from such soft cloth, they are very easy to cut through vertically, but it takes a master to slash through them horizontally so perfectly and neatly. Could you explain that in a little more detail? Katana are better at cutting hard material.
Something soft hanging up, for example the noren we just saw, is easy to cut through from top to bottom. However, if you try to cut a soft object from left to right, the cloth will simply slip away. To try and cut it apart, you must perfectly match the speed and pressure of your strike or it will not cut. In this shot, it seems to have hit at a perfectly level right angle. I think this is a wonderful performance.
I saw this movie 58 years ago, when I was 16 years old, I saw this movie 58 years ago, when I was 16 years old, and it was the most exciting movie I had ever seen. The two figures in this battle are Nakadai’s ronin and Tamba’s samurai.
Both are terrific swordsmen. By changing position he has thrown the other off his guard. By changing position he has thrown the other off his guard. It is now a matter of victory or defeat, and he adopts the uncommon hirakamae stance to lure in and stab his opponent. This kind of stance that Nakadai does makes his opponent go, “What?” You can see it in his facial expression. The sadness of the samurai, the eye contact. Perhaps the reason I am where I am today is because I felt the heart of a samurai when I saw this film.
“13 Assassins” (2010)
One way to fight against a large group of people is to fight in a small space. This strategy of fighting in tight spaces is like “The Art of War.” The opponents attack, but they cannot all charge at once. So, when they approach from the front, he slashes at them as they come. Look at this use of two swords. Wielding two swords is very difficult. The way he’s poised at the end, about to fight the chief, is very good.
Japanese katana are made to withstand hitting off each other, but after fighting a great number of opponents the blade can get dented. And with a sword that has started to lose its edge, it’s hard to cut people in the next battle. That’s why he changed swords from one to the other, to prevent the blade from getting too damaged. If the blade has been nicked too often, it becomes like a saw and can’t cut very well.
Stabbing can be fatal in an instant. It probably went straight through the heart. Then, in the hanmi position, she confronts her opponent. As the enemy draws his pistol, she slashes up her sword and flicks the pistol from his hand. This fight had lots of difficult moves. The man must be quite an expert to be able to take the sword away in this split second.
A Japanese katana has a very sharp blade, and if it hits a pipe in the right way, at the right angle, it can cut through it.
Women were not called samurai or samurai warriors. Instead they were called princesses, and they fought with their masters or husbands. During the Warring States period, the samurai, the husband, would go out to fight. It was the woman’s duty to protect her family and defend the castle. So, if a thug came to the house, she confronted him with a naginata. They were taught from a young age to stand up for themselves in close combat with daggers and short swords. Women, in a sense, have the same mindset as the samurai.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003)
The swordsmith examines the quality of his katana, checking for any deviations and the neatness of the ripples. Japanese swords are said to be inhabited by gods. There is a shimenawa in the back, and behind that is a Shinto shrine. Beyond the sacred rope is the realm of God,and in front of it is the realm of mundane people.
This is where one purifies his mind before forging a Japanese sword. This is how you draw a Japanese katana. The slower the better. With dignified movement. Drawing a katana is the best time to show off its appearance. Drawing a katana is the best time to show off its appearance.
At this point, you naturally sense that the woman in the white kimono will be the winner. By the way she moves and carries herself, you can tell that she’s probably a strong person. Weak samurai, weak people move too quickly. The reason for this is that by moving slowly, you create fewer weak points. A Japanese katana is a very heavy sword, and when you change stance, you have to move it slowly so that you don’t create an opening. If you move it quickly, you will return the katana to its previous position, and you can be killed in a split second.
However, it’s different in the case of team fights.There is a slight difference between individual, one-on-one fights and group fights. If you are trying to dodge one, two, three, four opponents,you have to make your move against your opponent very quickly. In that case you have to move quickly and slash at the enemy. In this case, we are talking about a one-on-one match. Here, she slowly takes the seigan no kamae position.Her opponent takes the hanmi stance.
When you face your opponent, you face forwards and turn your body back halfway. You then move your eyes and angle your torso. She turns and knocks her opponent down with a slash to the shoulder. Very impressive.
The ronin is about to confront 10 yakuza men as he approaches. When you’re fighting an opponent with a firearm such as a pistol, if you walk straight ahead, you’ll be a target, so it is better to move left and right. So here, when faced with a firearm, the samurai, the ronin, brought a knife to use as a shuriken. The idea of slinging this knife into his opponent’s arm as a shuriken is amazing. When I saw it a long time ago, I remember thinking that this idea, or rather, this technique, of using this knife as a shuriken, is amazing.
If you carry a sword, even if five or 10 yakuza come at you, you will always win if you are an expert. The reason is that yakuza are not trained in swordsmanship, so they can’t do it very well.
It’s a rule for a samurai not to torment or attack women or children. The kimono the samurai wears is called a montsuki. The mark on it is a family crest called a kamon, and represents the family lineage. Even though he is a ronin, the fact that he wears this montsuki and wears hakama shows that he is proud of his master and ancestors. The highest-quality kimono are montsuki with black crests. This black-crested montsuki he is wearing looks dirty and dingy in the movie,but in reality he would have been wearing a good silk montsuki when fighting an enemy.
“Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins” (2012)
Here, a ronin walks up and he takes on one opponent after another using jujitsu or iaijutsu. He is careful not to forget the spirit of a samurai and bows when he enters the dojo. He is careful not to forget the spirit of a samurai and bows when he enters the dojo. He’s very calm. The reason why we bow at the dojo is because we have a Shinto shrine in the dojo. Since the beginning of the Edo period, the dojo has simply been thought of as a place for practicing swords and fighting, but it is actually a place to train a human being.
This is not a move that can be done easily. It is hit or miss. It’s very difficult to aim so precisely and stop just before you hit. By nature, samurai do not draw their swords recklessly. Here, because this young samurai is so skilled, he is able to beat his opponent using jujitsu rather than pulling out his sword, but in reality, I think this would be quite difficult. I got the impression that he was playing a descendant of a respectable samurai. That’s what I liked about it.
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