Fencing and Kobudo

In Japanese sword it is often said that Iaido and Kendo are two wheels of the same bike. Iaido (or Batto Jutsu) allows the practitioner to perform deadly cuts with a real sword, while Kendo gives the sensation of fighting an opponent.

In Karate there is always the paradox of Kumite. Many traditionalists say Kumite gives bad habits and a reliance on sporting techniques, whereas fighters will claim that traditionalists can lack an unco-operative opponent. The truth is of course, somewhere in a middle ground.

However in a Kobudo art like the Sai, it is difficult to have any kind of sparring or simulated combat.

But actually the Sai has some similarities with the western art of fencing. For example the way the weapon is held. Instead of holding the handle like a hammer, it is manipulated with forefinger and thumb:

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Fencing also uses lunges and stances that are quite similar to Karate/Kobudo postures.

In this book on Italian fencing the swordsman is essential showing a deep zenkutsu dachi
In this book on Italian fencing the swordsman is essential showing a deep zenkutsu dachi

However the fact remains that all the three fencing swords (foil, epee, sabre) are very long, even for an average sword. So how do they compare with a Sai that is of course short:

Master Fumio Demura
Master Fumio Demura

But if we go back beyond modern sport fencing, there was a European weapon much like the Sai used in unison with the sword, called the Main Gauche.

The Main Gauche was Europe's answer to the Sai
The Main Gauche was Europe’s answer to the Sai
A renaissance fencing enthusiast using the Main Gauche like a Sai
A renaissance fencing enthusiast using the Main Gauche like a Sai

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Another “oriental” art with a link to fencing is Escrima.

The Escrima stick is much like the Japanese Tanto however in usage it is influenced by the Spanish invaders in the Philippines:

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Compare this trapping technique in Escrima…

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… With this trapping technique in an old fencing manual:

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Whatever their links, it is certainly interesting to explore the similarities between fencing and Sai Jutsu. Perhaps both arts can learn from each other.

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  • Simon Keegan holds 5th Dan in Karate. He has also studied Okinawan Kobudo, various styles of fencing, Chinese sword forms and Escrima.
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