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Are there any school/style of Japanese swordsmanship that teach blocking (a parry or deflect is fine as long as there is contact between them) incoming attacks with the sharp edge of the blade of a katana?

Edit: I keep hearing that blocking/parrying with the edge of the katana was not done because it would dull the blade. Yet, I know of at least one kata in Aikido that does just that: You must block with the edge. I was described this as a "Yes, it's not done that's why we are doing it that way...". So, I want to know is this accurate or an urban myth?

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By 'blade', you mean the actual edge of the weapon? And by blocking, do you mean 'stop the incoming attack', or do you include things like parry and deflect? – Anon Jul 5 '12 at 15:33
@Trevoke: Question edited. – Sardathrion Jul 5 '12 at 15:45
I wish I could answer with a yes or no. Would you find useful an answer with some empirical understanding from my few years studying iaido? – Anon Jul 5 '12 at 17:28
@Trevoke: I would indeed find this interesting. Question edited with my motivations... – Sardathrion Jul 6 '12 at 5:28
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I've studied iaido for five years, and practiced a variety of styles under one teacher (that's how much my words are worth). In general, parries, blocks and deflections are done with the side or the back of the sword. It provides a very convenient yin/yang balance to the movements, where you can draw from your opponent's strike and smoothly deflect it, then return before they can recover.

I do know of one style, however, that says "What's more important to you, your sword or your life? You can buy another sword" and on occasion does some fairly strong blade-edge blocks, which would ruin the sword, but can be used very effectively. I don't want to give a name, because it's been several years and my memory has somewhat faded, but I remember this explanation very well.

I'm fairly certain that doing a blade-edge blocks has other implications regarding body structure, interaction between the two opponents, and such, but at this time I'm unable to provide valuable information on those topics.

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From what I've picked up about blade making, the reason to avoid blocking with the sharp edge is not just because of dulling or chipping - it's also because the steel is physically harder on the back edge (i.e. the steel is softer on the sharp edge not just because of thinness but because of the smelting process). – slugster Jul 7 '12 at 2:51
That is true - however, the structural integrity of the Japanese sword is much more easily compromised if you do a hard block with the back edge. That is, the blade is much more likely to snap. – Anon Jul 7 '12 at 3:09
@slugster: I always thought that hard steel was useful to keep an edge and soft steel was useful for absorbing impacts. Thus, I would have assumed that the edge of the katana is hard and the back soft. Anyone a metallurgist? – Sardathrion Jul 9 '12 at 13:56
@Sardathrion: I'm not a metallurgist, but my understanding is that a hard metal will keep an edge, but a blade that is too hard becomes brittle. Adding the soft elements allows enough flexibility to remain intact yet keeps the blade sharp. It can absorb a hit, but that's not the intention. You might enjoy this video. It is part of a series of excellent videos on traditional swordmaking and could answer some of your questions. – jabs Jul 10 '12 at 2:34
@jabs: Thank you. It confirms what I thought. – Sardathrion Jul 10 '12 at 6:16

Japanese martial arts traditionally do not block. The theory is Evade and Strike.

An easy way to consider this is to look at the footwork. In Aikido, your hanmi is not a strong stance to block, but it's a great stance for moving and evading. With this mindset, I have trouble believing that there is a proper "Block". I can't think of any time I've been taught, seen in a seminar or even on video any type of block. Extending your opponents attack, yes; stopping an attack during the windup, yes. But never a block.

In a nutshell, bladed practice was not the Founder's strength, so I'm wondering about the origin of this kata. If there is one movement in one kata that shows something like this, then maybe it's as Trevoke said - "What's more important to you, your sword or your life?" Ask your instructor, perhaps he knows the significance of the movement, but I just can't believe it's a block.

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Jabs: I don't know exactly what he meant by "block". Maybe he meant "meet the opponent's blade with your own" and maybe he meant "forcefully stop the attack with your blade". It's a good question. – Anon Jul 10 '12 at 2:55
Trevoke - yes, there is definitely room for interpretation. – jabs Jul 10 '12 at 12:42

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