Throwing the blade in Negishi Ryu
Adjusting to distance
When adjusting to the variation in distance while throwing in the Negishi Ryu, one cannot make the same simple adjustments possible in Shirai Ryu, where one just needs to turn the blade in the hand. In Negishi Ryu, the hand grip is constant. To make the adjustment to different distances, slight postural changes need to be made, both in the way the hand is held, and the leaning of the body at throw.
1. Leaning the body “When close to a target, lean back on the throw. When far from a target, lean forward on the throw”
On close throws, as the arm sweeps down, pull the torso back at the last moment to add turn to the throw. This causes the shuriken to straighten earlier in the shorter distance, thus allowing a more direct hit. It also has the added benefit of pulling the head back from target slightly, in case the blade miss hits and bounces back.
On distant throws, leaning forward on the throw adds the body weight, creating a more powerful throw, necessary to cover greater distances. It also has the added effect of intensifying the concentration forward, giving the psychological advantage by creating the illusion of being closer to the target.
2. Timing the release “For close targets, release later, for distant targets, release earlier”.
When the arm is raised in Koso no I, the blade is pointing upwards. In its flight towards the target, the tip tilts forward and straightens in relation to the target, so it is in line with the angle of trajectory at the moment of, or just before, striking the target. So when closer to the target, the shuriken has less time to tilt in flight, so a late release means that the shuriken is more horizontal as it leaves the hand (see fig 33). When further from the target, the shuriken needs to align with the trajectory just before striking the target, because of this tendency to tilt, so an early release will compensate for this tilt.(see fig 34-35)
Fig. 33. Late release, and turning the palm, for close targets.
Fig. 34. Mid release for mid-range targets
Fig. 35. Early release, and facing the palm, for distant targets
3. Turning the hand “Face the palm for distant throws, turn the palm for closer throws.”
The shape of the hand is very important for the trajectory of the blade as it leaves the hand, as this is the last contact with the body to have influence over the blade’s flight. Not only does the blade need to be gripped lightly, as though “holding a swallows egg”, the hand must facilitate a clean, smooth, and even departure called hanare, from the hand. Early and late releases have different effects on the position of the blade in relation to the trajectory, and earlier releases have a less controlled hold, so their departure tends to be more variable (see fig.35). By turning the hand so the palm faces the target on early release, there is more weight and support behind the blade.
For a late release, the blade has already developed velocity, so the grip then tends to require more gentle guidance. By turning the hand so the palm faces to the left in relation to the target, the hand is really only offering a straight pathway for the blade to depart the hand. The thumb catches on the butt end of the blade as it departs, preventing the blade from turning excessively before reaching the target (see fig 33)
In training, one should start at a close distance, and practice late release with the turning of the palm, as basic technique (as shown above in Manji no kata). As the student becomes more proficient, the distance is increased, and the blade releases earlier in the throw, while at the same time, the hand is still facing more to the target. For a long distance throw, (see fig 35), the blade releases when the arm is still quite high above the head, and the fingers actually seem to stroke the shaft of the blade as it leaves the hand. As it does so, the blade is pointing upwards, so that during its travel to the target, the head of the blade “falls” forwards, so that by the time it is about to align with the trajectory of the throw itself, it strikes the target. If it aligns with the trajectory before striking the target, it will continue “falling”, and when it strikes the target, it will have become a dead hit already.
Note: The “stroking” of the shaft as it leaves the hand is actually a method of applying power to the forward momentum of the blade in the throw, but it has to be done skillfully else it will upset the smooth flight. It seems that the feeling of stroking has less of an upsetting effect, but also it creates a drag effect on the tail as it releases, causing the blade not to turn so much. This is why there is the practice of wrapping the shafts with thin twine, then coating it with laquer. It creates a “grippy” surface on the tail end of the shaft, which will enable more pressure to be exerted on the stroking action on the release.
When aiming at the target, the basic shape of the aim is to have the tips of the blades in the left hand in line with the eyes and the target (see fig.26, above). However, on a more advanced level, the idea is to try and take aim with the navel, rather than take aim with the eyes. By looking at the target, our focus is outside the body, and our thoughts are with striking the target. Rather, we should feel the target, by placing our awareness in the navel, and try to feel some sort of connection between our centre (the tanden) and the centre of the target. Mr Shirakami relates a story of how his teacher felt confused by this concept, and mentioned this to his teacher, Tonegawa Sensei. The two of them went to the dojo at night, and began to throw shuriken in the dark. The first blade made the sound of piercing the target, then the second blade made an unusual sound. Apparently it had hit the tail of the previous blade.
This story illustrates how one can learn the perception of the target by feel, rather than by relying in sight alone.
Variations in Training
Training can be made more interesting, or to focus on particular skills, by varying the training method. One of the basic forms of variation is to train on the knees. In several traditional martial arts, training in a number of techniques, called suwari-waza, is still done on the knees. This form of training builds up necessary strength and stability in the hips, and also teaches the body movement to be more precise. The seated form of the throw is called za-uchi, (see fig. 36) and can be done directly facing the target, as in a) – b) or in the stance called tachihiza, c) where the left knee is forward and the foot on the ground, and the right knee is back and placed on the ground.
Fig. 36. Za Uchi, or seated throw.
Figure 37. Here the toji form on the knees in tachihiza, is illustrated .
The side throws can also be performed in seated posture. Note that the front throw is performed in either seiza, (full seated posture), or tachihiza with the right leg back, whereas sideways throws are made in tachihiza with the left leg back. (see fig. 37)
Figure. 38 Hon uchi, yoko uchi and gyaku uchi from kneeling posture (tachihiza)
Throwing from a “still distance” and from a “moving distance”
There are training methods for throwing the blade while running, jumping and turning, and also lying down. When the basic form is practiced, the distance is set, and training progresses incrementally from 1 step and beyond. At each step, we throw repetitively until that distance is mastered, then we take the next step back. So arises the desire to be able to throw one step further away. However, we are bound by the throw from a static position, which is a constraint preventing us from being able to throw at any distance. The tendency when throwing at greater distances is to unconsciously add more power to the movement, which in fact adversely affects the technique. Mr Shirakami writes of his teacher Naruse Sensei that even when he was throwing at great distances, his movement was relaxed and appeared as though he was throwing only a close distance, yet the blade flew powerfully and struck firmly. To be able to achieve this, we must overcome our thoughts about distance as being an obstacle.
Figure 39. Multiple throwing can also be practiced while walking.
Note: 1 – 3 shown from the front, 4 – 5 are shown from the back. The action is a continuous stepping to the throwers right side.
Figure 39 shows a method of multiple throwing in time with the stepping of the feet.
The training method of throwing while running, either forwards or backwards, is another such method. Training at Sei no Maai, or “still distance” lays the technical foundation for Do no Maai, or “moving distance”. By training at static distances, one learns the mechanics of the form. When we count the steps and throw, the concept of distance is always at the back of our mind. By training during movement, one is using the form. At each distance, one must make minute adjustments in their technique to have the blade strike effectively, and while static, we have plenty of time to think about the distance and achieve this. But when moving while throwing, at the moment of departure of the blade, our posture and movement has to be adjusted quickly and precisely to allow the blade to strike effectively. This form of training cuts down the time we think about distance, thus decreasing the obstacle that is always at the back of our mind. Eventually, we lose the concept of distance entirely, and merge with the target at the moment we think of throwing, enabling us to throw a blade and have it stick at any distance without thought.
There is a certain posture with a technique developed for rapid throwing, where the left hand is held above the left eye (see fig 40,), so passing the blade from left to right hands could be done with the raised throwing arm. This allows for the rapidity of throwing blades in succession. There is a phrase from olden times that says “Ikki Goken“, which means to throw 5 blades in one breath. A strong or prepared adversary may be able to receive the first blade (ie. deflect or ignore), so it is sometimes necessary to be able to throw several in rapid succession. Before the 1st blade strikes, the 2nd blade should be on its way, closely followed by the 3rd, and so on. When we practice the basic form, we are taught to pause and observe momentarily, in zanshin or readiness. This is because we are learning the throw. But we have to be detached from the throw, and to be able to continue our movement without caring if the blade strikes well or not. The art is in being able to detach ourselves from the throw immediately after the blade has departed the hand, and throw the next, or commit ourselves to the next action.
Figure 40. Posture for rapid throw. (Used with permission,© Robert Gruzanski)
Throwing the blade during a sword cut
There are also techniques that involve throwing shuriken while holding a sword. Because the throwing position of the right hand, and the throwing action of the right hand is the same as the position and action of the right hand as it holds and cuts with a sword, the two weapons can be blended in such a way that they do not adversely affect the movement of each other. There are 5 forms in a kata called Tojustsu Kumikomi no Kata, (see fig. 37) where the sword is held as normal by the left hand, and the right hand is held inKoso no I. The throw is made, then the right hand returns to the sword, gripping the handle.
Figure 41. Some of the postures of the Tojutsu Kumikomi no Kata
The idea is that one develops the ability to throw shuriken quickly while one is drawing and cutting with the sword. Most swordsmen trained only in the sword know only the rhythm of the sword, which has a certain timing, due to the weight and size of the weapon. The shuriken, being smaller and lighter, can be drawn and thrown much quicker than a sword, so it can be said that you can attack inside the rhythm of a swordsman’s attack. Thus one could be able to launch 1 or 2 shuriken at the opponent before they are in sword distance, giving you an advantage already.
Receiving a blade, yadome
An advanced level of training involves not throwing a blade, but having a blade thrown at you. This stems from the days of the Samurai where a swordsman would defend himself against attackers throwing or propelling objects at him, such as a shuriken, or an arrow. There are stories of famous encounters where swordsmen could deflect the flight of arrows and shuriken in battle, though this is generally thought of as being the stuff of legends. However, within the arts there are training techniques designed, calledyadome, to develop this ability, so we should not discount the possibility that an individual can perform this sort of feat. Mr Shirakami tells of his experiences where he asked his student to shoot arrows at him, while wearing fencers protective face gear. He was able to develop the ability to deflect the flight of an arrow but cutting at it with a sword as it was fired at him..
The key seems to be in the mental attitude one takes when faced with such an attack. Rather than wait to see the path the arrow is taking, then react to it by trying to block it, the idea is to move at the same instant, with the same feeling as the attacker, and cut the arrow down. I believe this feeling is the same as awase training with sword, in Aikido. Here the idea is to match your feeling and movement to that of the attacker’s without the thought of reacting to their movement.
The shooting of an arrow, or the throwing of the blade is seen as being like the cutting of a sword. There is the moment in the attackers mind where they commit to action, then the body follows, acting out the mind’s intentions. So by using awase, the idea is to unify yourself to this moment, to cut as the attacker cuts, and providing the sense of timing in awase is correct, it does not matter whether the weapon attacking your centre is a fist, a sword, an arrow or a shuriken, correct performance of the technique will protect your centre, thus deflecting the attack.
Wrapping the blades with paper, varnish and string – updated
There is mention of some Negishi Ryu shuriken being wrapped in paper, string and lacquer (Interview with Saito Sensei in Skoss, 1999), which is for reasons different to that of attaching pigskin hairs to the end of the blade. Some people have suggested this is to adjust the balance of the blade so it is perfectly centred, but this appears not to be the case. The practice of gluing pigskin to the end of the blades with the hairs pointing backwards, is to assist in the smooth departure from the hand, and create drag in flight for a straight trajectory, however this seems to serve a different function to that of wrapping the blades. In the interview Saito Sensei makes vague mention of this in conjunction with the balancing of the centre of gravity of blades to accentuate close or distant hits, however it is not at all clear.
After further discussion by email with several people who are training in shuriken, it appears that this practice of wrapping the shaft of the blade in paper, laquer and/or string is a way of creating a rough surface on the shaft of the blade, in order to apply a small amount of friction as it leaves the hand. This is because the technique of throwing involves a slight flicking or twisting of the hand, as well as a simultaneous downward movement of the hip, which applies a slight amount of pressure to the tail end of the blade just before it completely departs from the finger tips. This effect hinders the natural rotation of the tail end forwards, thus creating a more straighter flight before striking the target. If one were to throw a clean blade, with no string or paper wrapping, the smooth metal surface of the shaft would slip easily from the fingers, and therefore generate excess rotation. This is also one of the reasons Mr Otsuka believes the Negishi Ryu shuriken were hexagonal and octagonal, because a flat surface allows more grip on the shaft as it leaves the hand, whereas a rounded shaft will allow less grip on the shaft as it leaves the hand.
The principle of “Kanime no Daiji” (eyes of a crab) – Using the shuriken as a striking implement
There is another method of using the shuriken, and that is holding it in the hand and using it as a striking implement. The tip targets vital areas of the body, but uses the power of the arm and body to create the strike. The grip is similar to that of Jikishin, but the postioning of the thumb and first finger are reversed (see illustration fig. 42).
Fig. 42. Holding the shuriken in order to strike the target with the hand
The thumb presses down hard on the top of the blade, pushing the tip into the target. To do the strike, the tip is held slightly up with the arm bent at the elbow, as shown in the photo on the left. As one strikes, the arm is straigthened and the thumb pushes forward, and the wrist extends forward, as shown in photo on the right. Mr. Shirakami discusses this strike at length, saying that this technique came from a secret Negishi Ryu document titled “Kanime no Daiji“, and was Master Naruse’s final, secret instruction to him. The technique is to be used as a final resort. That is, the distance has closed between you and your opponent, so you can no longer throw the blade. When you can see the opponents eyes bulging, like “the eyes of a crab”, meaning, that you have entered and caught the opponent by surprise, then you would be victorious. The targets for this strike have been listed as the eyes, and the depression in the throat just above the collar bone.
Chikatoshi Someya Sensei, in his book “Shuriken Giho”, demonstrates a wide variety of apparently secret striking techniques where the shuriken is hidden in the palm, with the blade tip protruding in various ways. The techniques appear to be karate-like striking movements, but the focus of the attack is to pierce the opponent in vital areas with the shuriken at close range. He illustrates methods of holding 1 and 2 blades in the hand, and demonstrates methods of holding that can conceal the blade from onlookers, without raising suspicion.
Tipping the shuriken with poison
Mention has been made of the use of poison being applied to the tips of shuriken, thus giving them lethal capability. There are two traditional poisons I know of used for this purpose, one is the extract of Wolfsbane, or Aconite (Aconitum japonicum), which contains highly toxic and extremely fast acting alkaloids, for which there is no specific antidote. Substantial doses of Aconite cause almost instantaneous death. The active constituent Aconitine causes neuro-muscular paralysis and contractions, affecting the heart and respiration. As a side note, there is a variety of Aconite in Japan called Aconitum Aizuense, an interesting connection to either the Aizu area, or the Aizu clan…
The second poison is not so fast acting, but nevertheless lethal. Death is caused by severe and fast acting infection from a mixture of horse manure, chicken’s blood and oysters, which together contain the broadest spectrum possible of infectious bacteria, making it almost impossible to treat. This poison was not strictly limited to shuriken, but also used on many types of edged weapons, particularly among Ninjutsu schools.
Mention has been made by some that the poison from the fugu, or Japanese Puffer fish may have been used for tipping blades. I am not sure this is correct, as fugu poison is neutralised by oxygen after 24 hours. There has been extensive research into fugupoisoning, and it has been found that one can survive its paralysing and fatal effects if one submits to an artificial respiration machine for a period of 24 hours. That is, the effect of the poison wears off after 24 hours.