How to use a Katana properly

Most people don't know how to use a Katana properly - and if you aren't using it the way it was designed to be used, it simply won't perform as you expect.

Bad technique, essentially swinging it like a baseball bat at a target, means that instead of slicing a Katana will simply impact, and I have lost count of the number of times that someone has rejected a perfectly good Katana simply because they aren't doing it right!

Thankfully, the basic cutting action is not very hard to learn..

Tip #1: Slice, we ain't playing baseball here..

The basic action of cutting with a Katana is to draw slice it through the target. If you just 'hit' with the sword, the edge needs to muscle through the target, and it is more akin to a hack than a cut.

Sure enough, with enough speed and considerable force behind it, it is possible to cut through standard targets this way. But cutting in this way means that you are only really utilizing around 25% of the swords cutting ability - and worst case scenario, you end up baseball batting a water filled bottle across the yard rather than slicing it like a knife through butter..

The way to use a Katana properly is to cast it out like a fishing line and draw cut the blade inwards using the elbows close to the body.

1) Blade is held almost vertical above the head. 2) It is cast out like casting a fishing line and then 3) as it contacts the target, the elbows draw it towards the wielders body and 4) the elbows are used like a brake to ready for a follow up if necessary

This casting and draw cutting action causes the cutting edge of the blade to SLICE across the target with the curved surface of the blade, and simply by modifying your technique slightly to include an inward draw cut action, the ease of cutting becomes extremely noticeable compared to just striking out - which is certainly NOT the way to use a Katana properly.

It is not a particularly big action (it is actually quite subtle) - but once you have it down you will definitely notice the difference and it will dramatically improve your test cutting results as you maximize the amount of cutting surface that passes over the target.

Tip #2: HOLD it properly, and watch your cutting speed and technique improve instantly!

In order to use a Katana properly, you need to hold it the right way - because by gripping it the right way, you will further improve your cutting abilities, as well as move and cut FASTER (and as everyone knows, mass x speed = cutting power).

Thankfully, it is not hard to do - as Darren McNamara writes in our free ebook Japanese Sword Arts 101:

"The grip for a Japanese sword is like that of a tennis racquet, a golf club, or a cricket bat. So ask your local sports teacher, golf-pro, or your Dad for any tips on structuring your grip if one is handy to you."

For a right handed grip, your right hand should be about an inch from the hand guard, holding it in a relaxed and firm grip primarily with the bottom three fingers of each hand,

Use a Katana Properly by Holding it Properly..

Strongest part of the grip should be from your little finger to your middle finger. The index fingers should barely be touching..
Grip near the bottom and the top of the handle for maximum leverage and control

NOTE: Spend a fair amount of time practicing the grip to make sure that you don't hold it too loosely..! It is a cardinal sin to accidentally lose control of a blade when cutting!

The feeling you should have is that the sword is kind of floating - indeed, the more you put a death grip on it, the less control you have. Indeed, one of the best tips I ever got was from a Shihan who watched my videos and suggested I grip the sword more like a paintbrush instead of strangling the thing. I tried this out and immediately noticed much cleaner, easier cutting!

So free up your grip and watch your cutting improve!

Tip #3: Edge Alignment is King!

Even if you manage to fluff up the correct slicing action and strangulate the grip until your knuckles turn white, good edge alignment and enough speed can work wonders..

Conversely, if you use the correct cutting technique and hold it the right way but don't line up the edge properly with the target, you will either scoop your cut or lose control and completely botch it up (quite possibly bending your blade in the process).

Holding the Katana the right way and holding it correctly goes a long way to ensuring correct edge alignment - but it is something that you should pay attention to and try to improve at every opportunity.

One way of improving your edge alignment is by cutting suspended sheets of paper. This requires PERFECT edge alignment and perfect speed and is best practiced with your sharpest blades..

Many Korean schools of sword arts practice cutting paper to improve technique and get perfect edge alignment.

Putting it all together

For the casual backyard cutter - the three tips presented above - slice properly, hold it firmly but relaxed and ensure correct edge alignment should see you go from struggling to cut ANYTHING (and cussing out the sword in the process) to lopping tatami mats, bamboo and water filled bottles so that it looks almost effortless.

Without a properly qualified and trained Sensei it is pretty difficult to improve to your maximum potential and truly learn how to use a Katana properly - but I have seen some people who have achieved what on the surface at least, looks like pretty good technique from self studying.

One good way of doing that is by watching videos of true sword masters doing their thing and simply try to emulate their stance, relaxed posture and the three basics we talked about above.

Go deeper..

It is probably enough to drill on and remember the three tips we presented above.But once you are mindful of them, you will probably be curious enough to want to dig a little deeper..

So here are some links you should check out if you want to take it to the next level:

Japanese Sword Training Basics

An introduction to Tameshigiri

An introduction to Backyard Cutting (PDF)

Japanese Sword Arts 101: Darren McNamara (PDF)

I hope this information on how to use a Japanese sword has been helpful.To return to Sword Fighting and Training Basics for Beginners from how to use a Katana properly, click here

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