Japanese sword combat stances

By Yossi Sheriff

Japanese sword stances are a set of postures that applies to various blade styles. The main set of postures (kamae) uses the particulars of the Katana: curvature, two-handed grip and one cutting edge.

The Katana can be held and worked with either one or two-handed grip, shorter swords of the shōtō classification, from the length of the wakizashi ( 脇差) and kodachi, down to the knife length of the tento are held with one hand only with the hand adjacent to the hand guard (鍔).

The overall body position is determined by the orientation to the opponent, the ground, whether it is uneven, and various strategies of attacking and defending.

Kenjutsu, the general name for the art of Japanese swordsmanship, has a storied history that dates back to the samurai era but has evolved to find relevance in contemporary times. For those intrigued by this martial art, understanding its five fundamental stances, or kamae, is crucial. These stances, explained after the video below, serve as the foundation for mastering both offensive and defensive techniques.

Video of Japanese Katana stances

  1. Central Stance: Chūdan-no-kamae
    The Chūdan-no-kamae is often the first stance taught to newcomers. It's a balanced position that offers equal opportunities for both attack and defense. In this stance, the practitioner safeguards their torso and right wrist.
    To assume this stance, position your left foot slightly behind your right and elevate your left heel.Keep your hips squared to the front and your shoulders relaxed for optimal balance and readiness.
  2. Elevated Stance: Jōdan-no-kamae
    Also known simply as Jōdan, this is the elevated stance where the sword is held aloft above the head, its tip angled backward. There are variations to this stance: one involves leading with your foot, while another is executed with a single-handed grip on the sword. The former is generally more prevalent in modern kenjutsu practice.
  3. Lowered Stance: Gedan-no-kamae
    In Gedan-no-kamae, the sword is extended forward, aimed at the opponent's waist or knee, depending on whether the practitioner is engaged in kendo or kenjutsu. This stance is a subset of the Chūdan-no-kamae and is primarily defensive, designed to parry incoming attacks and set up counterstrikes.
  4. Octagonal Stance: Hassō-no-kamae
    Named for its eight-sided form, Hassō-no-kamae is an aggressive stance. The practitioner steps forward with the left foot and holds the sword almost vertically, the hilt aligned with the right shoulder. This stance is geared toward heightened situational awareness and is primarily offensive in nature.
  5. Concealed Stance: Waki-gamae
    Waki-gamae is a deceptive stance where the sword is hidden behind the body, revealing only the pommel to the opponent. This stance was more common when there were no regulations on blade length, allowing the practitioner to disguise the length of their weapon and draw the opponent into a false sense of security. It's particularly effective for launching surprise attacks, as it conceals the sword's movements.
Understanding stances is essential for anyone serious about mastering kenjutsu. Each stance has its own set of techniques and applications, offering a rich tapestry of tactical options for the practitioner.

List of all the Katana stances on the AKBAN wiki

Video list of the Japanese Sword stances