This was always going to be a challenging agenda; an instructor’s course with Tanto Dori (knife defence) as its main focus!
Fortunately, Sugasawa Sensei gave it his blessing and allowed me scope to present a three-hour training session dedicated to this much maligned, much misunderstood aspect of the fuller Wado curriculum.
Three hours was barely enough.
Let me explain how I chose to design it…
First of all, I had to create a case for Tanto Dori.
I wanted to present it not as some kind of museum-piece (and certainly not as something that stands apart from the wider Wado curriculum).
As such, my opening statements first of all, tagged Tanto Dori as distinctly ‘kata’, NOT choregraphed knife fighting, or (heaven forbid) ‘self-defence’, this is not how the pedagogy works. The wider agenda, of course, has personal protection as it’s ultimate goal, but that’s way down the line, Wado is far more of a sophisticated entity than to pander to mere expedience as it’s driving force, oh no, the methodology is complex and of a much higher order.
So, I presented Tanto Dori as Principle-driven.
Essentially, you cannot access Tanto Dori without anchoring it securely in your core Wado Principles. If any of those key elements are missing then the practice of Tanto Dori becomes empty and meaningless; this is why so often it just appears as a curiosity, an anachronism, or, as is often seen, a sensationalistic ‘performance’ ramped up as a crowd pleaser and (probably) rightly criticised and called out as such.
We started out with a series of solo drills, which were designed to explore body shifting relevant to the kata we were to later engage with.
The opening techniques featured the established protocols of handling the blade and the nuances of the relationship between Tori and Uke.
The starting technique was ‘Hiki Tate’, this established the element of Tsuki Taro Tokoro, essential to timing and the control of the opponent.
The second technique was ‘Ude Garami’, which introduced the timing necessary for Okuri Taro Tokoro and then involved the locking up of Uke’s whole shoulder process, before leading to his structural downfall.
Next, Harai Uke was deployed against a chudan thrust, leading to ‘Kinu Kuguri Dori’. This was useful in that it emphasised the need to keep Uke perpetually off-balance and never let him recover.
This was followed by ‘Kiri Oroshi’ which lead to ‘Kote Nage Dori’, a vicious demolition of Uke’s attack, which delivered a series of devastating pinpoint attacks designed to take Uke apart into his weakest line.
We then moved into the infamous left-handed deception; the attack and timing of this sneaky thrust puts a challenge on both Uke and Tori.
I followed this with a technique (kata) that was not a part of our normal tradition but emphasised what can happen when Tori is a skilled knife-man, where Uke attacks with a deceptive left-handed move and Tori deploys a hidden multi-point slice and dice which moves from wrist to jugular, follows the line of Kesa-giri and then pierces the lower abdomen supported by an ‘Aiuchi-style’ demolition which in turn uproots Uke and finalised a chain of events that efficiently concludes the encounter.
The last technique was an Idori-style defence against another left-handed thrust.
To finish the whole session off, the brief was a freestyle test; an opportunity to ‘fail’ and to put into perspective the strengths and weaknesses of what can be extracted from the kata of Tanto Dori.
I then added an extra challenge which put Tori into a virtually impossible position, again another opportunity to explore the outermost boundaries of what is possible.
Sugasawa Sensei contributed with adjustments and subtle direction, which emphasised issues of balance and position and the relationship between Tori and Uke. He also advised individual students on how to ensure that Uke suffered the maximum of disruption which preceded their demolition and ultimate downfall.
My thanks to Richard Barham for organising the venue and coordinating everything, and to Richard and Linda for the excellent post-training lunch and refreshments. You can’t get more civilised than that.