Posted by: B Gourley | December 21, 2012

9 Rules of Mutō Dori

Mutō dori gata are the techniques of dispatching an armed threat when one is unarmed. This use of the word mutō (no sword) is more literal than the use by Yamaoka Tesshu in the name of his school Ittō Shōden Mutō  ryū. Tesshu was saying that the separation between sword and swordsman was illusory, not that there was literally no sword. Anyway, names aren’t important. The name may vary from one school to the next. For example, Kotō ryū Koppōjutsu calls these techniques Heki-tō kata (“wall sword techniques”.) Whatever you call it, it’s about the most daunting situation one can experience.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1.) The tanden is where you live. Get out of your brain. I did a post on the tanden (in Chinese it’s called Dan Tian) months ago. At any rate, this is no situation in which to be cerebral.

2.) Reach with your feet. Stretching out one’s arms or leaning forward is death.

3.) Drill the form; vary the form; then forget the form. This is standard advice in budō. First, one has to repeatedly and conscientiously practice the basic technique until it no longer requires conscious thought and one can do it without showing one’s bad habits. Only then does one move to phase two, looking at how the principle applies as the attack is varied (e.g. the opponent cuts short, cuts long, varies the angle of attack.) When one can do the technique in wide ranging situations, one needs to be able to forget that there even is a technique. Otherwise one risks being cerebral about it. When in doubt, keep drilling the basic.

4.) Step or don’t step. If this seems to lack profundity, you’ve probably never had a wooden sword aimed at your head. Feet can get creative.  If you start your weight in a direction and then arrest it with tension in your feet and legs, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Faking stillness is risky business. If you get a case of the spastic herky-jerkies, it will be patently obvious to the swordsman. Trying to cover it up with tension is dangerous.

5.) Get hit (in the dōjō.) I’m not saying to try to get hit. I’m saying that if you’ve never been hit with a fukuro shinai in training, it’s not because you’re awesome. Either you, your training partners, or both are phoning it in. Mastering mutō dori requires being able to be missed by a hairsbreadth. If you’re never being hit, you aren’t learning that range.

6.) Every strike in mutō dori is a coup de graceOne can’t have a sport fighter’s attitude (i.e. that it’s an endurance game.) Every time you touch the opponent, you have to do it with the intent of ending the conflict decisively.

7.) It’s not over if you can still see the opponent. Zanshin (lingering spirit) is critical. It doesn’t matter that the opponent is down with a piece of bone jutting out of his leg and his sword is eight feet away, you still have to be mindful.

8.) Learn to step long with balance. There’s a trade-off between balance and the distance of one’s step. If one wants to optimize one’s balance, one  should take small steps. At the Muay Thai Institute I was taught to take small balanced steps, and this is what one is likely to see among skilled fighters in a fist fight. The problem is that one must have the ability to cover more distance in a single step in mutō dori. When the added range of a sword is a factor, one must compensate for it. However, one cannot neglect balance altogether. One can’t “cross the T” with one’s foot position or let one’s center of gravity fall outside one’s body.

9.) Don’t battle the weapon. Don’t fixate on the inanimate object, focus on the animate enemy.


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