One Size Does Not Fit All
©1996 Kendall Kelsoe
Several years ago, I read a very good book by Mr. Charles Daniel entitled "Traditional Ninja Weapons". Before I read a copy of this excellent and concisely written book, I just couldn't seem to get a handle on my weapon kamae. My postures looked nothing like what they should look like. If I assumed a Shizen no Kamae (natural posture) with my 36" Hanbo (half-staff) my instructor would tell me "you're not doing it right". My body would lean down to place the end of my Hanbo on the ground. If I straightened up, the Hanbo would leave the ground and again, I "wasn't doing it right".
After reading Charles' book, so many things standing in my way fell by the wayside. Like Charles, I am above average height. So many of the postures and techniques did not work well for me due to the fact that the weapons I was using were much too small or short. It took so long to arrive at this conclusion, but everything has been made clear.
A warrior carefully selected his weapons directly to his size and strength, and selected the appropriate weapon to the task at hand. Waza such as Ganseki Nage ("throwing the big rock") would never work for me because I couldn't find an Uke taller than me. This elbow throw works very well on an opponent that is larger than the defender, but is difficult when trying to break the balance of a smaller opponent.
When I finally met an uke who was taller than me, I did eight henka (variations) of Ganseki Nage smoothly and easily.
When I was lucky enough to attend a few of Charles seminars, I brought up the question of height differences. Charles reminded me that Soke Hatsumi explains how Taijutsu (body art) is different for everybody. No two people will move in exactly the same way. Body size affects how a waza is performed. Unlike some martial arts that demand that the student adhere to a rigid stance or technique, Budo Taijutsu allows for differences in size and strength.
Shihan Stephen K. Hayes once said during one of his seminars "Martial arts were created for people and not the other way around".
When I first starting using a Japanese Katana (foot sword), I also trained with other Ryu (schools) to learn better how to utilize my own Kenjutsu (sword arts) skills. What I got was a great deal of anger and resentment because I wouldn't "do it their way".
I also noticed that in Fukoro Shinai (bamboo training sword) matches, I also won a lot!
Seigan no Kamae (the perfect eye posture) sent these people into orbit because they had never heard or seen it before, and therefore, it was wrong. When I started showing up with my Katana sporting a long Tsuka (handle) I had made, this caused people in other schools to scream at me that I had it wrong again. Amazing how easy it is for someone to feel threatened by the truth. Indeed, Soke Hatsumi said wisely "no school owns the monopoly on truth".
I use Ninpo as my outline for learning any new technique. Even when I practice European martial arts, I am using the waza learned from taijutsu.
These days when I work on my Kenjutsu techniques, I favor my Scottish Claidheamohr (Claymore greatsword) in lieu of a Daito (longsword) or No Dachi (warsword). My Claidheamohr is taller than some of my students!
A sword is a sword when it comes to swordfighting. It's all a matter of finding the right one for your own personal sword. If you can find Charles' book, I recommend that you add it to your library. Among other things, Charles' offers a guide to determining the proper length of blade for you.
Swords fall into various groups as far as size is concerned. Basically, they are: short sword, arming sword, long sword, hand and a half sword, two-handed sword, greatsword and bearing sword. The expression of "the right tool for the right job" holds true in swordsmanship. When someone asks me what the right length for a sword should be, I tell them it shouldn't be too long to allow you to draw it out of it's sheath.
Also, the scabbard shouldn't drag on the ground when you wear it on your side. This is not to say that you shouldn't be able to use ANY sword you come across.
I also read a great book by Mr. Jack Hoban entitled "Ninja Warrior Bojutsu Defense Techniques". Like Charles Daniel, whose knowledge was a great inspiration to me, Jack Hoban's book put so many things in perspective for me.
I am really grateful that there were teachers willing to share their knowledge and expertise with the general public. Jack wisely advised the practitioner to be familiar with any length of weapon, not just whatever suited them personally. I believe that this attitude and perspective demonstrates what is most important about the art of Ninjutsu (the art of invisibility and endurance).
A sense of spontaneity and adaptability can mean the difference between defeat and victory in a defensive situation. As it was in old Japan during the warring states period (Kamakura), unpredictability can mean the difference between life and death when the chips are down.
It is also true that one size does not fit all.