Tsubame-gaeshi is named after a famous sword cut in kenjutsu (defined by its swift change of direction),1 itself supposedly named for the motion of a swallow in flight.
The Kodokan chose the rather impressionistic name for this throw "to reflect its unique qualities", and because the name was already well established:
The meaning of tsubame-gaeshi
The famous Japanese dictionary Kojien explains the meaning of tsubame-gaeshi as coming from "a swallow flying, to-ing and fro-ing quickly through the air."
- A technique in kenjutsu. A technique in which one holds a sword with the tip pointing in one direction. This is then reversed very quickly to cut.
- To turn the body around very quickly.
In accordance with the explanation above, this technique has been called "tsubame-gaeshi" for a long time because of its similarity to the quickly changing flight path of the swallow.
It was formally named by the Kodokan Waza Research Institute to reflect its unique qualities (October 1982).
His favorite technique was both respected and feared throughout feudal Japan. It was called the "Turning Swallow Cut" or Tsubame Gaeshi (燕返し, "Swallow Reversal / Return"), and was so named because it mimicked the motion of a swallow's tail during flight as observed at Kintaibashi Bridge in Iwakuni. This cut was reputedly so quick and precise that it could strike down a bird in mid-flight. There are no direct descriptions of the technique, but it was compared to two other techniques current at the time: the Ittō-ryū's Kinshi Cho Ōken and the Ganryū Kosetsu To; respectively the two involved fierce and swift cuts downward and then immediately upwards. Hence, the "Turning Swallow Cut" has been reconstructed as a technique involving striking downward from above and then instantly striking again in an upward motion from below. The strike's second phase could be from below toward the rear and then upward at an angle, like an eagle climbing again after swooping down on its prey. Sasaki created this technique around 1605.
- Sasaki Kojirō - Swallow cut (wikipedia.org)