Noto, or the act of resheathing the sword is really practiced to it's extremes in arts like iaido but for the average cutter it can be kept very simple. There are however many, many different forms of noto, and each different type has different nuances or inflections if you like that pertain to each school that teaches it. As a cutter I find it almost impossible to remember them all off the top of my head but then thats ok because I am self taught and although I do want to study a formal sword art at some point in my life, at the moment I am mainly concerned with practicality.
A lot of cutting videos won't have noto in them and this is because the saya is usually put to one side after the sword is removed from it. I do this myself, mainly when I'm learning new things or I'm trying hard to make certain cuts because I find that without a proper belt to hold the saya, it just swings around and gets in the way. Regardless of this, I think noto is an important skill to learn because it breeds familiarity with the sword and therefore boosts confidence. With confidence, as long as it's not allowed to run amok, comes the potential for greater learning. I know that when I feel confident in something I relax whilst remaining focused and this is a good thing. Noto is a part of cutting that I feel we should all be comfortable performing.
Before we move on to the practical stuff, I'd like to say that accidents with swords usually happen when you aren't cutting. Noto is one of these things that you don't associate with hurting yourself and so you need to remain as vigilant performing noto as you would tameshigiri. This is important, trust me.
What we're going to look at is a basic vertical noto. This is in my opinion, one of the very simplest that will allow you to return sword to saya as practically as possible. Now I've put together a quick video to show you the basic noto in action. I make no apologies for my lack of skill, I'm just a cutter and have no formal training ;) However, it is perfectly practical and will give you the gist of whats going on in noto and hopefully, if you yourself notice any glaring holes or inadequacies, you'll be forewarned and forearmed enough to improve on it yourself.
Now, that should at least give you an idea of how noto should roughly look and how to go about it. Let's break it down a little more now
Every noto will be taught from this basic position which I believe to be something that resembles chudan. This basic ready position is known by everyone and it's the simplest place to start.
The left hand comes back to the saya, gripping with the palm and rear 3 fingers. the thumb and forefinger sit right at the very edge of the saya, around the koiguchi or sayas mouth.
The sword starts to come back over the top and the saya is moved forward in the belt so as to make it more accessible. The saya is actually manipulated a lot more than you would think, even in a standard simple noto like this one.
The mune, or the back of the blade is laid to rest on the back of your hand, on the webbing that sits between your thumb and forefinger. This creates a little cushion for the blade to slide on and allows you to know where the blade is without looking. Your right hand adjusts its grip slightly, letting the littler fingers grip the tsuka less tightly, allowing the forefinger and thumb to do most of the work.
The sword is brought forward and at the same time, your left hip twists backwards. This, along with moving the saya backwards, will give you the reach you need to allow the kissaki to drop into the mouth of the saya without any problem. If you do this properly, there will be no reason to have to lean forward. This is a common mistake that everyone makes when first starting because they don't know how to move their body with the sword.
Move the saya over the tip of the sword, carefully and deliberately. This is one of the points that you will definitely find gets easier with practice. The angle of the sword, on both planes needs to be correct or you will bite into the mouth of the saya or worse. Take your time lining this up properly and it will make for an easier finish to your noto.
Rather than moving the sword into the saya, move the saya over the sword. This feels more controlled and helps with a smooth noto. It is much easier to get the angle right when you are leading with the saya because your hand is closer to the koiguchi, the object being moved.
Bring the saya up to the habaki, place your hand on the end of the tsuka and gently push the habaki firmly into place. pop your thumb over the tsuba for good measure, ensuring the sword doesn't slide out of the saya and gift you a trip to hospital. Not everyones habaki is tightly fitted and I had a loose saya years ago. since then I've never trusted them completely to not just fall out.
Push the sword back into your belt until it hits its balance point. remember your thumb on the tsuba. trust me ;)
Is that it?
Yes and no. This is the basic noto that I believe everyone should take the time to learn. You dont have to do it perfectly, but it's a good thing to at least know how to do with a modicum of compentence. If you find yourself using noto a lot, because some people really do get on fine with having a sword in their belt whilst cutting I just happen to not be one of those people (although the lack of an actual obi probably doesn't help), get looking at some other forms of noto. There are tons of them, some flashier than others, some very simple and functional. Iaido videos are a good place to start but Im sure there are other people out there like myself who are perfectly good sources of information. The only thing to remember and I've probably mentioned it before in other posts I've made is that the majority of accidents happen during noto and during sharpening. keep that in mind and you'll be fine