Ok, this is a continuation of the last article entitled, as you may of guessed, "Training Dual Sword Wielding - Part One". So if you haven't read through that then click on through and have a look. You'll of course have figured out that going from swinging one sword about to swinging two is a little bit of a jump for anyone. This is why I've decided to try and break it down for you, easing the progression and hopefully reducing the likelihood of a tragic injury and subsequent hospital visit. One sword is dangerous enough, if you go unprepared into your cutting arena as it were, then you're going to get bitten. Last time we looked at using the sword one handed. Hopefully you learnt that the strength and grip that you get when you're practicing with both hands comes from the interaction of both of them together. You probably found that you felt a lot less confident about stopping the sword where you wanted to, felt the pull on the muscles in your wrist and swung the sword a little less vigourously to make up for all of this. This one handed practice doesn't stop here. You've got to carry on with your one handed all the time if you're serious about it.
What we're going to do this time around is to introduce left handed practice, two handed but dominant leftie swings and then some very basic dual wielding techniques that you are going to have to train again and again until you build a new sense of spacial awareness centred around the fact that both arms are now capable of injuring yourself and others.
As a point and as a semi-disclaimer: You should know the experience of the person relating any information to you when it holds the threat of injury, so I feel it's my responsibility to let you know that dual wielding is a very very new thing to me. I am very confident with single handed cutting and I'm getting better with every passing day, but with two swords I am only slightly past the beginner stage. The info I'm offering here is simply what I've learnt so far and what I can use from my experience with single sword technique, in fact I would be very interested in any questions or experiences you have.
Last week we concentrated on using the right hand on it's own without the support of the left. You no doubt found this amazingly awkward, especially on upwards cuts from right to left. Don't worry about this, it gets easier and the main point of using your right hand on its own is to get you used to where its going to pull on your muscles and tendons. Theres no point jumping in without understanding how much you rely on your left hand supporting your cuts and your angles. You will find that your grip is nowhere near as strong as you would of thought it was and this is something that you're going to have to continue working on.
There are no muscles in your hand so all the strength of your grip comes from your forearm. The muscles are connected by tendons all the way to the ends of your fingers, in fact if you make a fist and squeeze youll feel the muscles in your forearm contract and youll see what I mean. Your forearms are comprised of what is referred to by some weight lifters as slow-tick muscles. This means that they benefit most from heavier weights but moved fewer times. Remember this when you're doing your practice. If you want to build up those muscles, then make every cut count. Do 50 cuts and do them properly, don't bother doing 500 cuts poorly.
When I write or talk about two handed sword practice, I often find myself mentioning shiburi. The act of rolling the wrists inwards so they exert force in opposition to each other. This rolling of the wrists aids in supporting the cut as it places the hands over the top of the tsuka where they need to be. I was talking to someone recently about it and it sounded like their point of view was that it was not necessary. Although in the end it turned out that what they were explaining was that it doesn't need to be a conscious thing, it should just happen naturally because of the way the arms and wrists and sword come together into the cut it did remind me that single handed cuts are not able to take advantage of this 'wringing' action because you're only using one hand. For this reason you have to bear something very important in mind when performing single handed cuts.
You must make sure that as you come to the end of your cut the end of the tsuka does not pivot around the bottom of the thumb because the inertia from the cut plays against your weakest muscles when this happens and you will end up with the sword spinning out of your grip. The bottom of the tsuka should always come straight into line with the underside of your wrist. If you can make sure this always happens with your cuts then even if the worst happens and your unable to stop the cut with the strength of your grip alone, it will butt up against your forearm and stop that way. Practice making sure your grip is correct in this way and there will be no flying swords of death. Thats a good thing ;)
Left handed practice
So first off, just to clarify, you're going to need to continue with your right handed single cutting as part of your daily routine, but also you will now need to take another jump forward and start using your left. This is going to feel just as awkward as single right handed, if not more so. Don't worry about getting the force into the cuts yet, just attempt to make the same 6 cuts that you always do but with your left hand. Remember from your right hand exercise, that it's going to be easier to accelerate the sword forward than it will be to stop the sword afterwards. This can lead to muscle injury if you're over jealous on the forward strike, so take it steady.
One staple exercise that can be used for both your left and right hands is the snap-cut motion. Holding the sword forward, bring it up so your hand is above your shoulder, cut forward, snap the end of the sword forward a little and stop the cut as dead as you can at about neck level. Repeating this will again help to build up the strength in your arms that you're going to need to feel confident with whichever hand youre using at the time. As you practice this more you will be able to put more speed into the cut, more of a snap and still be able to control the blade and stop it quickly.
A fun thing to try to mix things up a little is to try something a little unusual. So try a two handed grip but with your left hand forward. A number of cutters have tried this technique and it had them stumped for quite a while but they've all managed to demonstrate skill in off-hand dominant cutting, some quite amazingly so. I think it's interesting sometimes to do things like this, carefully of course, just to see how it feels and to get some perspective over your normal cutting habits. I also think that taking away the power of your dominant hand by trying to rely on it less will slowly improve your dual handed technique.
Dual wielding forward swings one at a time
When training for dual wielding, in a perfect world we would all be using iaito or bokken. I know that these things aren't always available to everyone, but if you're going to continue with two sword techniques especially when you gain the confidence to speed things up a bit, then you're going to need to invest in buying or making some. Bokken can be made fairly easily given the tools and time, in fact I have two 'sticks' that I use for faffing about with. These work fine and thankfully they don't need to be amazingly pretty, they just need to be not sharp. Go slow, train one pattern at a time. I do this because I like my limbs where they are and with blood in them. You should too.
When you're training with two swords, unsheathing can be more precarious. Youll need a place to set the first sword whilst you unsheath the second. You're an adult I needn't tell you that a table would be a good idea, or to be careful whilst you do it and so on. Just bear this in mind and remember to look after your saya and to not just throw them on the ground or whatever. have a little respect ;) So yeah, unsheath both blades, safely setting aside the saya for each.
Taking a sword in both hands, bring them both back so your hands are in forward of your chest, the blades are roughly paralell to the floor and facing slightly outwards so there is no chance of you accidentally cutting yourself. It's not that I believe anyone would, but its these things you need to learn to pay attention to in order to remain mindful. Doing this will help to give you a continual awareness of where your blades are. If it's comfortable for you then you can also rest the back of the blades on your arm. This sort of tactile feedback is also useful to those that can get used to it.
Swing the right arm forward and towards the centre of your field of view, making a calm cutting motion as you would normally, remembering to add your snap to the end of the cut with your wrist. Be careful to control the cut by not snapping the wrist too hard and by leaving the elbow just a little bit bent.
After the cut has been controlled and stopped, return your right arm to where it was previously and repeat the motion with your left. For most people, the left cut will be more awkward so just go at your own pace, after all you're going to have lots and lots of repetitions worth of practice ahead of you. Work on this one, two motion again and again, going at a rate you feel comfy with.
When you start to make these cuts and you are throwing your arm forward, twisting your waist and moving your body's weight back onto the opposite foot will help with the momentum and will take some of the work away from your arms. Getting the rest of your body involved is going to help big time. This is something that everyone I know forgets because we're usually so engrossed in concentrating on what our arms are doing we forget that the muscles in them are relatively speaking, rather weak. Our core muscles are far more powerful so engaging them more helps us to shift the weight of the swords more easily.
This two stroke forward cutting technique isn't actually for target cutting, it's to get you comfy with two swords. The more you pick them up and carefully work out these cuts, the more proficient you will become with dual wielding. This is basically dual sword dry cutting and it's going to be far more strenuous than you'd imagine. Your wrists as I've mentioned before, don't respond well to continued physical stress so it's for this reason that I find it's best to keep these sessions to 4-5 minutes long. If you cant manage that, dont worry. Just stop when you feel that you're worrying more about how your arms feel and less about the actual cuts.
This particular method will teach you to pay attention to the pace that your arms are keeping. Sticking with a tempo that feels good for you and maintaining it is key as continuity with the cuts is more important than speed. As well as stretching and working those muscles responsible for your grip and swing, this whole identical cut for each hand/arm thing is going to slowly release the awkwardness in your left arm by removing the dominance of your right.
Mirroring is a well known technique for teaching seemingly ambidextrous moves to those who like the majority of us are strongly left or right handed. What we're doing here isn't strictly mirroring per se, as we are moving our arms 'off-beat' rather than simultaneously but it works in a similar fashion. It allows you to perform a move confidently with your dominant hand and then follow it with the one you're not so practiced with, each side sort of teaching the other.
With your feet, you should be just lifting your weight off of the leg on the side of the cut and twist your torso slightly to help with throwing the blade forward. keep your elbows slightly bent so as to not over extend and injure it and to retain more control of the sword. As you pull your arm backwards, twist your torso into the more neutral centred position so you can prepare for the strike on the opposite side.
Remember when doing these new movements, especially with the left arm that you're gonna be pushing your muscles to do things that they're not used to so go easily. Damaging a muscle and then not being able to practice for a month or two is totally no fun. Do light exercise during your non practice times as well to keep the muscles fluid (for want of a better word). One of the things I've found useful and strangely soothing is a 'powerball'. If you havent heard of these, they're a strange gryroscopic ball uses the motion of your wrist and elbow to cause to spin up to ludicrous speeds. It provides resistance to this movement and that can help to remove tension from overworked muscles.
Right, well enough of the strange tips, this is where I want to leave this article now. The reason for this is because I really am just starting out and I need a lot more practice before I can tell you any more about how I think it's best to approach the next cuts. Next time I write on dual swords, we will be looking at sets of basic cuts, how these sets can be grouped together and how they be best used on actual targets. For now, please be safe, train hard and stay cool.