Frequently Asked Questions
About The School and Instructors
Q: What is Battōjutsu (抜刀術)?
A: Battōjutsu can be translated as the art of drawing the sword, and is a broad term which is used to describe techniques which involve drawing and cutting with the sword in response to a sudden attack or other situations which require rapidly drawing the sword and engaging an opponent. This art form has evolved into what is now commonly known as iaido, though it is sometime synonymous with the terms iaijutsu and battōdo. The earliest examples of battōjutsu are found within the curriculum of Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto and are credited to its founder, Iizasa Ienao. However, exclusive schools of battōjutsu did not begin to emerge until around the 16th century. After the unification of Japan in the early 17th century, following the Sengoku period, armored combat was no longer a primary threat to bushi (warriors), and as a result samurai sought training that reflected the new realities of the post-war environment. This required being able to respond to attacks while unarmored within the context of any situation.
Q: How does Ishiyama-ryū's style of battōjutsu differ from other styles?
A: Ishiyama-ryū is a dynamic art form that is designed for multiple encounter scenarios that addresses attackers coming from multiple directions within the flow of movement. Therefore Ishiyama-ryū kata is typically comprised of more cuts and techniques after the initial draw than most iai or Battō schools. In addition, Ishiyama-ryū is one of the few styles that incorporates nitto waza (two sword techniques) and sparring within its curriculum.
Q: Is Ishiyama-ryū a traditional Japanese sword art?
A: No, Ishiyama-ryū is a unique American expression of traditional Japanese swordsmanship. Its psychology and approach to swordsmanship are based on human virtue and self-improvement.
Q: Do you have experience in classical Japanese martial arts?
A: Yes, McCartney Sensei has trained in Toyama Ryu Battōdo, Nakamura Ryu Battōdo, Ryuseiken Battōdo, and some Muso Shinden Ryu Iaijutsu. Baxter Sensei has trained in Yagyu Shinkage-ryu Heiho, Mugai-ryu Iaido, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Hontai Yoshin-ryu Jujutsu, and Kendo.
Q: Why should I train in Ishiyama-ryū versus a traditional sword art?
A: Just like any artistic medium (painting, music, etc.), individuals are drawn to what they are passionate about. The technical application and the scope of training varies style by style. Students interested in pursuing training in the sword arts are encouraged to evaluate the available options and make an informed decision based on what they wish to gain from the experience - there are many fine schools available in the DC and Seattle metro areas.
Q: What is the value in training in swordsmanship/kenjutsu/battojutsu in today's world?
A: While the time of the sword as a military weapon have long since passed, the battles we are confronted with today are those of emotional weakness, indecision, fear, guilt and a host of others, which prevent us from performing at our full potential. The technical, strategic, and cognitive skills which are developed as part of regular training in swordsmanship are applicable in a variety of personal and professional situations. Famed samurai Miyamoto Musashi acknowledged this when he said, "if you know the Way [the virtue of the long sword] broadly you will see it in everything". Whether one's sword is a computer, a wrench or one's own voice, we train to use it with the strength of unbiased compassionate skill. This is the "the sword of no sword".
Q: Do you require contracts?
A: No, Ishiyama-ryū does not require contracts.
Q: Am I too old/young to begin training?
A: New students have ranged in age from 13 to their mid 60's. While there is no specific age limit, younger students must be able to demonstrate appropriate self-discipline in order to participate in training. Older students or those with physical disabilities should consult with a physician prior to beginning training - our instructors can modify movements or customize the scope of training to accommodate certain physical limitations.
Q: What equipment do I need to begin training?
A: During the initial trial period a student is only required to bring comfortable workout clothes, all other training equipment will be provided. Following the trial period, a student is required to purchase a bokuto/bokken (wooden training sword) and a white obi. A black gi and black hakama are worn during training after the student has trained for about 3 months. The instructor can provide a list of available online retailers where these items can be purchased.
Q: Do you use real swords?
A: Training in Ishiyama-ryū does lead to the eventual use of a live blade (shinken). To ensure safety, students begin to use an iaito beginning between their 3rd and 6th month of training. An iaito is a steel or zinc/aluminum alloy sword that does not have a sharp edge. This allows the student to safely practice and develop proper technique and safe habits. Most students students do not begin to use a shinken exclusively until around their first or second year of training. However, students will have the opportunity to practice tameshigiri (test cutting) within a controlled environment under close supervision prior to that.
Q: How long does it take to earn a black belt (shodan/1st Dan)?
A: Most students are ready to begin testing for shodan (literally "first step") after 4 years of continuous training. Contrary to popular belief, first earning a black belt does not signify mastery of the art form, but rather it signifies that the student has taken their first significant step in learning the art form. It represents the transition between a beginner student and a serious student, and is an important milestone in a student's development.
Q: What if I want to train in multiple martial arts/what if I am already training in another martial art?
A: Students are welcome to explore other martial arts in conjunction with their training Ishiyama-ryū. It is generally not advised to begin multiple arts at the same time as aspects of footwork and body mechanics may vary significantly style to style. This may actually slow a student's progress significantly. For students with an existing foundation in another martial art, it is easier to compartmentalize technique and those students may actually find striking similarities which enforce their development in both martial arts at the same time.