Posted by: B Gourley | July 11, 2008

Conquered by My Own Weapon: Battling a 12ft. Spear

My arch-nemesis appears to the left in the foreground under the window in the above photo of the Jinenkan Honbu Dojo. (Unfortunately the heads are cut off.)

Lest some of my more serious-minded postings leave the misleading impression that I take myself too seriously- or actually know what I am talking about for that matter- let me convey my humbling experience learning how to use a twelve foot long spear (i.e. yon tatami / juni shaku, or 3.7 meters for Japanophiles or people from scientifically-sophisticated parts of the planet, respectively) as a means of disabusing readers of these impressions.

In June I had the great fortune to be able to learn from ManakaSensei at the Jinenkan Honbu Dojo in Noda City, Japan and to train with the students there for a week. In addition to the Jinenryu Juttejutsu (hooked truncheon weapon training) that I was taught during the week, I attended the weekly scheduled classes during which Sensei was teaching ShindenFudo Ryu Jutaijutsu Okuden Gata (unarmed grappling skills of a particular school and level) and KukishinRyu Soujutsu (spear – fighting from the “9 Demons” school). The most challenging training of the week, it seemed, involved warm-ups consisting of the basic thrusts done with a 12 foot long spear.

Now the 12 foot spear is about 3 foot longer than anything I have trained with, and about 6 foot longer than anything I have trained with extensively. Also, it is a little beyond the ideal length for doing kata agilely (i.e. up to 9 foot). In contrast to just walking into the opposition or letting them ride/walk into the spear point in the manner of a foot-soldier. However, it is a workable length for kata (if you have the space), and, sadly, at this point there was no one with a bokken (wooden sword) parrying my thrusts and advancing in on me (or anything else that might be a challenge to my movement.) On the contrary, all I had to do was perform five simple tasks each time I thrust:

  1. Use the full length of the spear. (i.e. always end up at the very butt-end of the spear)
  2. Keep the lead hand palm down.
  3. Squeeze the shaft under my armpit just before impact.
  4. Pull back the spear point at least as quickly as I attacked and strongly.
  5. Keep on balance throughout the thrust. (i.e. don’t lean, or be carried, forward)

Whether it was a lead-hand thrust, a rear-hand thrust, a thrust in which both hands were raised together in conjunction to swing forward like a battering ram, or, the ultimate challenge, thrusting from jizuri gedan no kamae-which essentially involved slinging the spear its entire length while getting all of the above elements locked in before it flew out of my hands- those five points were all I really had to perfect. Unfortunately, this proved to be about three points too many for any given thrust.

The training proceeded as such. I would concentrate intently in order to try to avoid throwing the spear out the side of the dojo or else wise making an ass of myself. When I thought I had it together, I would thrust. And Sensei would say: “Roll your lead hand over more.”

On the next thrust I would concentrate on that, and he might say: “Don’t lean forward.”

And so it would go with Sensei displaying saintly patience as he cycled through reminders about whatever my single most egregious error was in the previous thrust- neither over-burdening me about all my mistakes, nor letting me slide with a substandard technique.

Having now been training for quite some time (it is 20 years this year since I first began attending training in budo), I have had progressively fewer opportunities to remember what it is like to be a rank amateur. This is not to imply that I am not frequently challenged by training. However, it is one thing to find difficulty in performing impeccable footwork, timing, breathing, or awareness when faced with a live training partner who is moving, adjusting, and countering; and quite another to have such difficulty carrying out the rote actions of thrusting air. This, I think, is a good way to reinvigorate one’s training.

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