A Demonstration of Perfect Samurai Swordsmanship

The age of the samu­rai has long since end­ed, but does its spir­it live on? You might well feel that, despite every­thing, the flame of the samu­rai still burns in Japan today after watch­ing the swords­man­ship skills on dis­play in the clip above. Or per­haps we should call it swordswom­an­ship: the mod­ern-day war­rior exe­cut­ing those per­fect cuts is the daugh­ter of grand­mas­ter Fumon Tana­ka, and her bear­ing and self-pos­ses­sion bring to mind the onna bugeisha of old Japan. And as we see, gen­der mat­ters not at all in the stark real­i­ty of blade on bone — or in this case, blade on a sim­i­lar­ly dense stalk of bam­boo.

Tana­ka, show­ing an imper­fect­ly cut piece of bam­boo, explains that its curved edge means “your left and right hands are not bal­anced. If a samu­rai decap­i­tates a man with this bad tech­nique, it would cause great pain. It has to be one pre­cise cut. That is the way of the samu­rai.”

His daugh­ter then demon­strates just how hand­i­ly she can attend to any of your decap­i­ta­tion needs, halv­ing the bam­boo with what her father deems “a per­fect straight cut.” Though it only takes a sin­gle stroke, that sin­gle stroke comes as the cul­mi­na­tion of years and years of work toward mas­tery — and work that, in this mod­ern onna bugeisha’s case, no doubt began ear­ly indeed.

The Smith­son­ian Chan­nel pro­duced this video as part of their series Samu­rai Head­hunters, more of whose mate­r­i­al on “how these elite knights actu­al­ly lived, loved, fought, and died” you can watch on Youtube. If you’d like a more in-depth sense of how their sword tech­niques work, have a look at Masayu­ki Shimabukuro’s video series on samu­rai swords­man­ship, which begins with an episode on the basics and con­tin­ues on to sub­jects like pos­tures, two-hand cuts (as seen exe­cut­ed on those bam­boo stalks), and flick­ing the blood — that last per­haps more use­ful in feu­dal Japan than 21st-cen­tu­ry Tokyo, or for that man­ner every­where else, but a good samu­rai has always known how to hon­or the past.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Japan­ese Crafts­man Spends His Life Try­ing to Recre­ate a Thou­sand-Year-Old Sword

Female Samu­rai War­riors Immor­tal­ized in 19th Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Pho­tos

A Hyp­not­ic Look at How Japan­ese Samu­rai Swords Are Made

Hand-Col­ored 1860s Pho­tographs Reveal the Last Days of Samu­rai Japan

Meet Yasuke, Japan’s First Black Samu­rai War­rior

Leg­endary Japan­ese Author Yukio Mishi­ma Mus­es About the Samu­rai Code (Which Inspired His Hap­less 1970 Coup Attempt)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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