Musashi: Sanjugokajo-33 – Kim Taylor, Feb 20, 2015

Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023

The position of non-position


The position of non-position applies to the mental attitude when holding a sword. To be sure there are set positions in my school, but when we assume a particular position, both the sword and the body tend to become rigid. For this reason you should free your spirit from the stipulated position and always hold your sword so that you can cut your opponent effectively in the existing surroundings and conditions.

In the Jodan position there are three variations, the Chudan and Gedan positions also have three different spirits. The same goes for the Hidariwaki and Migiwaki positions. In short you should always hold your sword with the spirit of no position.

This should be carefully considered.


I love declaring in class: “Musashi tells us ‘there are no kamae, here are the five kamae'”. He really did say that, and probably with a grin as big as mine on his face.

Here he makes pretty clear to us what he means. He says this article applies to the mental attitude when holding the sword. Sure there are kamae but if we think about being in a kamae we lose the sense of dynamic movement in our body and our sword. We’re too focused on making the angle of the sword just so, the hands just this high, the knees just this bent. For those who do the seitei iai of the kendo federation what is the book but one long description of kamae. The sword is just this height, the tip stops at just this position.

This is the position of position rather than the position of no position. Sure, it’s a good idea to have your sword in a certain place at certain times, pointing at the opponent comes to mind, but don’t get locked into that position. The idea as always is to cut the opponent, not to pose for the camera.

If we take jodan, chudan and gedan and make three positions for each of them we might come up with right, middle and left for a total of nine postures. In other words, define enough postures and you end up with no postures at all. Right and left? How about high middle and low for six postures all around the body.

There are not nine, or even six kamae in Niten Ichiryu. There are five as Musashi defined them and those five correspond to the opening positions of the five Nito Seiho kata. If you practice the school go through your kata carefully and you will see how one kamae blends into another, then another during the movements. Are each of these positions a kamae or are the kamae simply positions through which the sword moves? The first kata is called chudan and it begins with the blades angled toward the opponent at throat height. We start with chudan, then do kissaki gaeshi to cut down to gedan, then move through hidari waki gamae to block his blade and cut upward into his wrist.

The block and upward cut could be called a variation of chudan, the two swords are in roughly that position but at this point trying to call a kamae becomes too much. Only if we are trying to write the movements down is having dozens of kamae and variations of any use. The kamae are a shorthand for teacher and student. Saying “start in migi waki gamae” is a heck of a lot less work than saying “Move your shoto forward at the same time as you move your left foot forward, so that you are aiming at your opponent’s neck with the edge somewhat outward and your left hand at about shoulder height, then drop your right hand back to your waist so that its tip is aimed at your opponent’s neck while you settle your right foot to the rear of the left foot (but not directly behind) and turn it outward no more than 90 degrees from the left which faces the opponent and sink down in your hips so that your right knee is over the right toes and your left shin is perpendicular to the floor.”

Like I said, migi waki gamae, which will be understood by my students to mean what I said in that long bit there, but may have a different meaning altogether to another line of Niten Ichiryu.

Kamae are shorthand instructions, not ideal forms from the Platonic realm. Even if Musashi had wanted us to know his position and copy it exactly, we wouldn’t be able to do it, so stop worrying about positions and start concentrating on cutting the opponent instead.

Kim Taylor

Feb 20, 2015

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