Deborah Klens-Bigman ◆ March 8, 2015
From time to time I have heard Japanese senior budoka describe two related practices as “two wheels of the cart,” meaning that they complement each other (a one-wheeled cart is not a very good cart). I have heard Japanese swordsmanship (iaido) and Japanese fencing (kendo) mentioned in this way, but for me, the two wheels are actually iaido and jodo (stick-fighting).
In its most basic sense, Japanese swordsmanship involves learning how to use a 3-foot razor safely and effectively. The samurai were exclusively entitled to use long swords. (Civilians were allowed to use short swords.) Eventually, the warrior classes became the de facto rulers of Japan during the Edo Period, starting around 1603, and lasting until the start of the Meiji period in 1868.
Samurai rule was not always just or peaceful. As their rule solidified, the samurai of the ruling class were supposed to abide by ethical rules of conduct that were issued from time to time. The fact that there were so many lists of rules suggests that at least some people had trouble behaving themselves at least some of the time. Just like the European Code of Chivalry, the samurai rules of conduct were more like ideals to be striven for rather than an actual reflection of their society. Samurai themselves were subject to all of the usual human frailties, enhanced by the political power they possessed.
Jodo originated alongside swordsmanship as a formal practice, as a police function. In jodo kata, the jodoka, with his 4-1/2 foot long stick, learns to subdue a partner wielding a sword. The jodoka always wins. Generally speaking, the purpose of jodo is nonlethal means of control of a swordsman. However, the potential for lethal means is always there. As in some other budo forms, the practice form of the kata could, with a slight adjustment, cause serious injury. For example, in the basic Omote kata Sukizue, the jodoka evades a cut by the swordsman and counters with a strike that comes down the middle of the swordsman’s body, ending by trapping his wrist. In reality, the jodoka could hit the swordsman’s head, break his nose, bruise his sternum, and break that wrist. Frequently, a jo kata ends with the stick positioned just in front of the swordsman’s eye. The implied suggestion is that any further hostility from the swordsman will result in a much more serious injury than he has already experienced. Ramming a stick through an opponent’s eye into his brain could indeed result in a fatality.
We think of swords as essentially the king of hand weapons. Japanese swords were both beautiful and deadly. But for all of their beauty, and the high level of status enjoyed by their owners, there were times when a sword (and a swordsman) needed to be stopped from doing harm. People, even ruling elites, are people, after all. Too much drinking, for example, leads to poor impulse control. Now imagine that person with a deadly weapon which he has trained to use for many years. Someone has to step in to prevent trouble.
The jodoka was that person. He needed to take control of a situation quickly, before it became serious, which is what jodo kata teaches us to do. Even now, modern policemen in Japan train in jodo, along with other, more modern budo, in addition to their regular training. Though they are unlikely to meet any sword-wielding samurai, the timing and tactics of jodo and related practices are still considered useful.
This is why I think of swordsmanship and jodo as being two wheels of the same cart. In Edo Period Japan, the swordsmen ruled. But for a civil society, someone needed to rule the swordsmen.