and picking up broken rooftiles"
I finally picked up a paperback copy of Richard Cohen's By the Sword; I had been reluctant to buy this book originally, as it seemed as though this guy had some rather antiquated views on certain aspects of Historical European swordplay (I remember the material on Silver being pretty lame, when I first checked it out). Well, I took a look at the text again, and decided to buy it after seeing all the wierd (and extremely interesting) little tidbits of fencing history in it (things like Agesilao Greco's 4-hour duel with a man who had insulted a lady's honor at a cafe).
On thing which struck me as potentially noteworthy was the section on Japanese sword arts (Ch 7--"Where the Sword is the Soul"). In particular, the quote below:
The Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 also played a part, for it convinced many policemen that they should train in the martial arts, especially in fencing: too many skirmishes during the rebellion had been won by sword-wielding soldiers--on both sides. The head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the former samurai Kawaji Toshiyoshi, urged that kendo be added to the men's basic training. "Fencing is practiced assiduously in the various Western nations," he wrote. "If Japan abolished fencing, then some day we will have to learn it from them. Now, the saber is nowhere as sharp as the Japanese sword; so if we abolish Japanese swordsmanship and learn to use the Western saber that would be equivalent to throwing away gold and picking up broken rooftiles... Although this may be the age of the gun, the success [of police use of swords against the rebellion] is more proof of the worth of fencing than all other arguments.
I was admittedly surprised by this commentary by a former samurai of the late 19th century. We know that Western sabers could take a keen edge--witness the exploits of the King's German Legion using the 1796 LCS, or that old photo that appears in Amberger's Secret History and elsewhere, that shows the aftermath of a heavy saber duel that ended in decapitation for one of the opponents.
So basically, I'm trying to place Toshiyoshi's statements in some sort of perspective--his comments appear to be critical principally of contemporary Western swords, though they are arguably critical of Western swordsmanship as well.
Now, I realize that Western swordfighting traditions in the 19th century were generally not as comprehensive as they had been during the Middle Ages or Renaissance, but they still appear to have been effective nonetheless. One even finds things like a rooftop-style parry accompanied by a safety check with the free hand, in D. Jose Cucala y Bruno's 1854 material on saber usage--whether this was a holdover from the old German messer days, or something that was incorporated from contemporary Filipino fighting systems, is difficult to say--but the technique was known nonetheless.
And yet, Toshiyoshi's words speak out to us. Were Western swords and swordsmanship already that lacking in effectiveness by that point, or should we not place so much credence in the thoughts of one man?
David Black Mastro