Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
The two feet
The two feet are the teaching that in a sword stroke you should make two footsteps. When you push down the opponent’s sword with your own or evade it, or when you step forwards towards the opponent or back away from him, you should always make two steps with both feet.
If you make only one step in a sword stroke you could easily become static.
With the word two is meant the normal way of walking.
This should be carefully tried out.
From boxing to western fencing to volleyball through every martial art I’ve done so far, the instruction has been to maintain the stance as I move from place to place. That means if you step forward with one foot you move the other so that the stance is maintained.
Why is it then, that every time I read this article I get confused. It’s that last statement, “With the word two is meant the normal way of walking.” Up to that point I am thinking of what we call okuri ashi. If the right foot is forward we move the right foot first (widen the stance) and then bring the left foot up to re-establish the original position. There is another way to do this, one might shorten the stance by moving the left foot up and then push the right forward to re-establish the stance. This we call tsugi ashi. In both cases the right foot forward position is maintained and this has a very simple advantage when close to an opponent, it keeps us stable because the feet are not coming together at any point, the rear, prop-foot is maintained. We are not switching from one foot to another through the weak spot where we trade the prop on one side for the other.
Get a partner and move into tai atari, put your bodies together tightly. Now push each other, try okuri ashi and tsugi ashi. Both work in certain cases, but tsugi ashi gets a bit dodgy as you shorten your original stance length doesn’t it?
Now try the “normal walking method” which we call ayumi ashi or sometimes chidori ashi, put the left foot in front of the right and the right in front of the left.
What happens during tai atari? Do you end up getting blasted across the dojo?
OK what’s the best way to get from the other side of the dojo back to your partner to try again? Is it ayumi ashi? So to get from point a to b you should use your normal walking method, that’s why it’s the normal way, it’s efficient. This is how Musashi told us to walk in article 5. Now we are at article 16 and talking about walking again. Surely this is something more than a repeat.
Tokitsu does not bother to translate the article, he simply refers us to the Go Rin no Sho where his translation states that you walk using positive and negative and that when cutting or pulling or etc. you move using your feet alternately. Not particularly useful I think.
Looking at my own Go Rin no Sho translation (section 2.5 or water 5) mentions that we should use a normal walking step but there is also the in-yo method of stepping where we must not use only one foot to cut, we must also pull the other foot up, as in okuri ashi. This agrees with general present practice in the Niten Ichiryu, and with my own bias from other arts so I’m going to assume this is correct.
Why two steps? Taking only one step in to cut, widening the stance dramatically, causes us to lose mobility after that first step. Try it, move your right foot well forward, as if you are doing your issoku itto, one step movement to cutting range. Without moving the back foot forward you are pretty well fixed in place aren’t you? In certain lines of iai, the very last cut is done from this wide stance, you are done, there is no other movement needed, the opponent has been cut down.
In my Niten Ichiryu I was taught a final striking position called koshimi, which is quite a deep looking stance with the hips rotated to face the side rather than the front, a seeming contradiction between present practice and Musashi’s writing. But if one rotates the hips into square one finds this stance is not so long after all. The stance, should you want to try it out, is with the rear foot facing the side, the front facing the opponent. The rear knee is over the rear toes and the front shin is perpendicular to the floor. If you set this up exactly it feels long, if you rotate on your back toes into square it is long-ish, but if you rotate on the heel of the back foot it is no longer than our usual stance. It is still longer than the kendo stance but that is a very short stance.
Long final stances which look like koshimi stretched out like a western fencing lunge were not uncommon in the old kenjutsu schools, at least according to photographs from the mid-1800s, and the fencing lunge itself is pretty long. It is for a thrust of course, for maximum distance and you must recover as quickly as you lunge, to bring the back foot up in this case would mean you will slow down your recovery and you will recover to a position within your opponent’s thrusting range.
There is no instruction in the martial arts which will not be a problem in some situation or other, which is why Musashi continues to tell us to think about it.
Feb. 3, 2015