Battojutsu is a Japanese term meaning techniques for drawing a sword. It is often used interchangeably with the terms iaijutsu, battodo, or iaido, although each term does have nuances in the Japanese language and different schools of Japanese martial arts may use them to differentiate between techniques (e.g. standing or sitting techniques).

Batto jutsu differs from Kendo or Kenjustsu in that the sword usually begins in the scabbard, where with the other two budos the sword is already drawn. It also differs because in batto justsu the focus is on cutting, and cutting practice. In the other two arts dueling tends to remain the focus. It also differs from Iaido in a couple of ways.

There is more focus on actual cutting that there is in Iaido. The batto jutsu practioner will often practice real cutting techniques to practice on wetted straw mats, or bamboo. There is also more focus on the cut itself. With Iaido the cut usually takes place with the drawing of the sword. Batto jutsu requires a draw and then a cut.

The emphasis of training in battojutsu is on cutting with the sword. All terms are somewhat more specific than kenjutsu or kendō which more broadly means simply sword techniques, and is often used to refer to techniques where the sword is already out of the saya.

Many classical ryu feature Iai-jutsu, the art of drawing a sword from the scabbard; but they prefer to call this art Batto-jutsu.  The expression ‘batto-jutsu’ is equivalent in meaning to ‘iai-jutsu’, but the former more clearly states the harsh act of ‘striking instantly with the sword’ in dealing with an enemy.  When combined with the practice of tameshi-giri, the art of testing the cutting ability of a sword and the skill of its user, batto-jutsu implies actual combat.

The establishment in 1873 of the Toyama Gakko, a special school for training army personnel, led to the founding of the Toyama Ryu in 1925.  Contained in the martial curriculum of this ryu is gunto soho, or the method of using the army sword.  Gunto soho, or Toyama Ryu iai as it is most popularly called, stems from the experiences of many kenshi (expert swordsman), notably those skilled in the techniques of the Omori  Ryu tachi-iai, or drawing (and using) the sword from a standing position.  Seven techniques comprise the Toyama Ryu iai.  All are practical methods to be used to kill a foe instantly.

Nakamura Taisaburo (b. 1911) was a master technician of Toyama Ryu martial studies; he was skilled in gunto soho, juken-jutsu, and taken-jutsu (short-sword art).  He was also a master teacher of classical iai-jutsu and such modern disciplines as kendo and iai-do; in addition, he was highly skilled in  kyudo and judo.  Nakamura brought over thirty years of experience in the founding of his Nakamura Ryu, and made batto-jutsu its central subject.

Nakamura purposely chose to classify his system of sword-drawing techniques as a jutsu form in order to reserve the dignity and martial character inherent to the system.  A sense of the practical thus dominates all of his teachings, and no special attempt is made to embellish techniques with a network of fanciful philosophical concepts.  Nevertheless, a positive spiritual essence lies at the base of all training in the Nakamura Ryu.

Nakamura Ryu batto-jutsu draws its spiritual essence from what is suggested by the expression eiji happo, which is literally translated, ‘the ideogram eternal, eight laws,’ a fundamental concept of shodo (the way of calligraphy).  But it is the deeper, Buddhist figurative meaning for ‘eight,’ ‘myriad,’ that is intended here; thus the expression eiji happo means ‘the myriad eternal ideograms.’  This special meaning implies the infinite variety of patterns possible for the calligrapher’s brush as it is used to write various ideograms, and applied to Nakamura’s batto-jutsu this becomes happo-giri no tosen, or ‘the myriad patterns (sword trajectories) for cutting.’

The very practical elements of Toyama Ryu iai inspired Nakamura to include them in his brand of swordsmanship.  As in the Toyama Ryu techniques of iai, seiza (the formal Japanese sitting-kneeling posture) has been entirely eliminated from Nakamura’s batto-jutsu; all techniques are executed in a standing posture.  Nakamura has extended the scope of the five standard kamae (combative engagement postures) of modern kendo (chudan no kamae, gedan no kamae, jodan no kamae, hasso no kamae, and waki no kamae) to eight by making left and right variants for the kendo standards of jodan, hasso (happo), and waki no kamae.  Eight cutting techniques, known as happo-giri, make up the entire repertoire of the Nakamura Ryu batto-jutsu, therewith literally fulfill the designated requirement of eight actions indicated by that expression.  But these are fundamental patterns, and the expert is free to improvise within the latitude afforded him by the Buddhist interpretation of eight as myriad.

Batto-jutsu, as taught by Nakamura, is not specifically intended to be an art of killing; but on the other hand, it is not intended that the opponent of batto-jutsu be killed should he be forced to face an enemy in combat.  The purpose of Nakamura’s system is to provide a means for the seishin tanren, or ‘spiritual forging,’ of the individual.  Through dedication of training, the practitioner of Nakamura Ryu batto-jutsu improves himself mentally as well as physically and thereby elevates his character.  Kokoro (mind, spirit,mentality) must be brought into all training efforts.

As a spiritual aspect of the self, kokoro enables the individual to prepare for the arduous discipline of training.  Kokoro frees his mind from distracting thoughts and enables him to concentrate his energy on what he is doing as he trains.  Seigan no kamae, a combative engagement posture that resembles the chudan no kamae of kendo but differs from the latter in that it specifically threatens the foe’s eyes, according to Nakamura “is a projection of the exponent’s kokoro”; it readily reveals reveals to an expert, like Nakamura, the user’s state of mind and his degree of skill with the sword.

No matter what level of spiritual perfection may be derived form the practice of Nakamura Ryu batto-jutsu, and regardless of how high a degree of skill in the pure form of happo-giri may be attained, Nakamura believed that without some way of testing practical effect, the art becomes a meaningless exercise in form.  He suggested, therefore, frequent use of tameshi-giri (test-cutting) as a necessary aspect of batto-jutsu training.  Through sufficient experience with cutting against targets made of bamboo and rice-straw, the practitioner of batto-jutsu can elevate his physical technique in terms of effect – this serves to indicate his mastery of indispensable fundamentals, such as  proper use of kamae and ma-ai (combative engagement distance), and his skill in focusing the cutting power of the sword through hand actions.

Nakamura was as traditional in his thinking as he was practical.  He did not consider any modern budo to be a martial art.  Referring to systems of iai-do in particular, Nakamura viewed them as nothing but disciplines for mind and body, many practitioners ow which use their individual skill to bolster their egos and impress viewers.  According to Nakamura, modern iai-do technique has purposely made both artificial and pointless from the point of view of combat – iai-do is beautiful according to the concept of tadashii katachi, or ‘correct form,’ which is exercised in accordance with the seitei-gata, or standard form of sword-drawing techniques, created by the Zen Nihon Kendo Remmei (All-Japan Kendo Federation) and the Zen Nihon Iai-do Remmei (All-Japan Iai-do Federation).  Nakamura views the seitei-gata as concessions made to the demands of today’s public.

The practical, combative aspect of sword drawing, which is the essence of jutsu forms, is lost when such techniques are adapted to the requirements of iai-do.  Beginning a sword-drawing technique from seiza, for example, “was not the manner in which the classical warrior employed his sword,” notes Nakamura, “for it is not a practical posture when one is armed with the daisho [long and short sword combination.”  Neither was Nakamura content with the form of execution of the four technical characteristics of sword-drawing when made in iai-do fashion.  Nukisuke (drawing the sword from its scabbard) is generally done far too slowly, and in a manner that withdraws as much as eighty percent of the blade from the scabbard before any appreciable speed of action occurs.  “This is not nuki,” the instantaneous action of the blade, says Nakamura.  The slow draw further exposes suki (weakness in defense) in the swordsman’s technique.

Kiritsuke (cutting action), as made by the majority of modern swordsmen, is also “ineffective,” says Nakamura, “because they lack experience with tameshi-giri.”  Chiburi, or manipulating the blade in such a way as to ‘shake off the blood’ that supposedly has accumulated there from the previous cutting action is also ineffectively done.  “No warrior ever did chiburi as it is performed by the iai-do practitioner today.  The only real cleaning action after striking a human target “is to wipe the blade with a piece of cloth or paper, an action never omitted by the warrior before returning a blade to its scabbard.”  The final act of noto, or returning the blade to its scabbard, did not escape Nakamura’s critical attention either; for not only does it follow on the inefficient action of the chiburi, but it is made quickly for no other purpose than a demonstration of skill.  In reality, “the return of the blade to the scabbard, as it was done by the warrior, was a rather slow careful action made as zanshin (‘alertness remaining-form’ – continued domination over the opponent characterized by complete, continuous concentration and evinced through both mental-attitude and physical-posture) prevailed.

Modern practitioners engaged in iai-do also have little understanding of the manners and customs of the classical warrior.  They appear to Nakamura to be a careless lot, “I have carefully examined many hundreds of swords belonging to modern swordsmen, and scarcely have I found one of which the koiguchi [the open-end of the scabbard] was unscarred.”  The classical warrior evaluated his skill and that of others by the condition of the koiguchi.  The koiguchi was not to be scarred by cutting it, which occurs when the action of drawing the sword or the return of the blade to the scabbard is improperly done.  The koiguchi is an integral part of the sword, virtually a part of the warrior’s ‘living soul,’ to scratch or cut it is tantamount to scarring one’s own soul.

Nakamura offered sound constructive advice that would evoke a greater sense of discipline from partitioners of modern iai-do and bring them to maintain traditional, practical values in the use of the sword. “There should be established a balance of the old and new in all training,” says Nakamura, “but the tendency for showmanship must be removed, sport or competitive aspects eliminated, and the relationship between kendo and iai-do recognized.”  Many modern kendoists know nothing of true swordsmanship simply because, “the shinai [bamboo practice sword] is not a sword.”  Only the live blade can instruct in kendo, the “way of the sword,” believed Nakamura.

Comparison with Iaido and Iaijutsu: The emphasis of training in iaido is on quickly and correctly drawing the sword, striking, and returning the sword to its saya (scabbard/sheath).

Battōjutsu techniques usually incorporate multiple cuts after drawing the sword. Often the focus in any form of iaidō is on cutting with the draw (i.e. cutting from the saya, rather than first drawing the sword and then engaging an enemy as a separate action).

Significance of -do and -jutsu: Karl Friday in his book, Legacies of the Sword discusses the historical usage of various terms in Japanese to describe sword arts.

Suffice it to say, that while in English many people may dispute the use of -dō or -jutsu or else ascribe specific differences to the terms battō or iai, these differences are not nearly as clear in the original language and the words are often used interchangeably. In general however, -dō refers to the way of…, usually including mental and spiritual practices, whereas -jutsu refers to the art of…, specifically the actual forms and techniques of the style.

History: The origins of drawing the sword from the sheath and cutting on the draw are murky. Although various martial traditions in Japan have legendary founders going back many years, much credit is given to Hayashizaki Jinsuke. He is now enshrined at the Hayashizaki Jinja, a shrine in the Tōhoku region of Japan seen by many modern practitioners as the chief shrine for iai. The concept of battōjutsu may have existed before this time, but it is unclear who was the first person to actually use the term.

Schools: Ryūha, or Japanese martial traditions, which teach battōjutsu are relatively uncommon in Japan, and less common in America and other countries. This is in contrast to the relatively high degree of availability of open hand training, such as karate and aikido. Here is a partial list of ryūha which include what could be called battōjutsu in the broad sense of drawing and cutting from the saya, although some of them more often use the terms iaidō, iaijutsu, or battōdō.

Listed in the Bugei Ryuha Daijiten (武芸流派大辞典, the Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Traditions) as koryu, or arts developed before the Meiji era.

  • Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryu — Traces back to the Hayashizaki RyÅ« Iai of Hayashizaki Junsuke (Late 15th century)
  • Musō Shinden-ryu — Traces back to the Hayashizaki RyÅ« Iai of Hayashizaki Junsuke (Late 15th century)
  • Suio Ryu Iai Kenpo — Founded around 1600 by Mima Yoichizaemon Kagenobu
  • Shin Shin Sekiguchi Ryu — Sekiguchi RyÅ« was founded by Sekiguchi Yorokuuemon Ujimune.
  • Mugai Ryu — Founded in 1693 by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi, who had previously learned Yamaguchi RyÅ« kenjutsu.
  • Jigen Ryu — Founded by Togo Hizen-no-kami Shigetada, its lineage traces back to the Shintō RyÅ« of Iizasa Choisai Ienao.
  • Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu — Founded in the 15th Century by Iizasa Choisai Ienao.
  • Yagyu Shinkage Ryu — From the Shinkage RyÅ« of Yagyu Muneyoshi, who studied under Kamiizumi Nobutsuna in the 16th Century.

Listed in the Bugei Ryuha Daijiten as arts developed after the beginning of the Meiji era.

  • Toyama-ryu — Founded in the late 19th, early 20th century to instruct officers at the Toyama Military Academy.
  • Nakamura Ryu — Founded by Nakamura Taizaburo in the mid-20th century, who had learned Toyama-ryu at the Toyama Military Academy.