Madame Manga (madame_manga) wrote in little_details,
Madame Manga
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Kendo/Kenjutsu moves and terminology

Kendo/Kenjutsu moves and terminology


For a fanfic set in 18th century Japan, I am writing a sword duel. The samurai manga on which this fic is based (Blade of the Immortal) has some fantasy elements and some modern vibes, but otherwise is fairly realistic. So I'm looking for some help to keep it real. :) I have some bookish and cinematic knowledge of Japanese arms and armor (lots of black and white samurai flicks, that kind of thing) but I have never picked up a sword myself, nor have I taken classes in any sort of martial arts.

Update: Thank you to everyone who's replied. I'm still looking for combat specifics other than states of mind... which I probably made way TOO specific, considering how long this post got. :D

Unlike some other martial arts manga I could name, no one in this story has supernaturally effective special attacks or magical swords, and there is no dramatic posing and calling out of names of moves, etc. The combatants just swing weapons, kick and throw taunts, and are focused on winning rather than doing things "right". Some of them care about honor and bushido and so forth, but not all.

So far in this fic I have written a number of duels, but my POV character has only witnessed them, not participated directly. Since I have to be in her head for this one, I feel in need of much more specific detail and technical sword-fighting vocabulary than what I currently have at my command. Else it's probably going to come out sounding vague or totally off base.

I have been looking at videos of kendo competitions and reading up on the history of the sport. There's some useful information under "kendo", "kendo training/history" and "kendo competition", but I've gathered enough to realize that what I probably need to know about is traditional kenjutsu training focused on killing people, not so much the post-war non-lethal sport of kendo. So I've dug up some resources on kenjutsu as practiced in the feudal era, mostly offline ones like the Book of Five Rings. Unfortunately, those authors tend to couch everything in cloudy generalizations about states of mind, rather than describing specific moves in a way that I can visualize and put on paper. If you have the right terms and a sense of how these things ought to go, please point me in the right direction!

My combatants are two young samurai women. Both have had a reasonable amount of martial arts training, though mostly as a matter of class privilege and tradition rather than from any expectation that they would ever need to defend their households from invaders. My POV character's late father headed a sword school, and she trained in the family dojo. She has also had some real-world experience in defending herself, has recently been taught a few things by her streetwise swordfighter bodyguard, and she's witnessed a number of brutal fights to the death. This duel is to settle a serious question of family honor and personal threats and insults.

The protagonist's opponent has no real-world experience. However, she had very strict and classical instruction in the martial arts, and is proud of her correct and elegant form for form's sake. She is also much more self-confident than my protagonist. The two are matched in height and general strength, but the opponent is a little quicker and better coordinated -- she's a good dancer too.

Both girls are feeling pretty riled up, and at least initially, are willing to take each other apart. However, they haven't firmly established what will end the duel and determine the winner: first blood, surrender, or death. The protagonist's bodyguard is watching, and he may try to interfere on behalf of his charge if she gets in serious trouble, though she has asked him to let her settle this on her own. (He's been badly wounded and is somewhat disabled for the moment.)

The women have no protective gear and are armed with swords. The protagonist has a katana somewhat too long for her height, but is used to it, and the opponent has a shorter, handier sword that she has just picked up for the first time. The duel takes place outdoors, in broad daylight. The ground is mostly flat -- a wide riverbank that was under water until a couple of days ago -- and the main obstacles are mud puddles and clumps of rushes.

I would like the duel to start with some not-so-subtle showing off on the opponent's part, and a sense of inferiority on the protagonist's part. What sort of moves and flourishes might the opponent use to display her prowess and look intimidating, and what in particular would the protagonist notice about the other girl's form that makes it seem superior to her own? What aspects of her own form would she try to polish up on the spot so as not to look sloppy? I'm thinking that she would be calling up memories of her father's dojo and of listening to him instruct his students, as well as her own training. Japanese terms are fine, though I will probably want to make use of English equivalents in the actual writing, so please tell me what they mean.

I'm also interested in getting ideas for developing the fight beyond the initial stage. I have a pretty clear picture of the psychological progression and the outcome, but I'd love to hear any suggestions of how to contrast a formal and rule-bound duel gradually moving into a slipshod struggle as both girls tire and are slightly wounded, and then a furious hack and slash at the end. I'm trying to amass a menu of choices to help me visualize the exact moves and create turning points. (Something like, "her sword point is starting to droop since she's tired, so she has to work at keeping it up to parry head shots, which leaves some other area open..." Which sounds totally generic, which I'd like to avoid if I can!)

The protagonist has sheer determination on her side if not self-possession, and she's capable of reckless bravery and inspiration in the moment. The opponent's skills are well-studied, but not designed for creative thinking, and she is unlikely to totally lose her cool, since she takes samurai stoicism very seriously.

Suggestions on particular books to look up or movies to watch would also be great-- I've got Netflix. :)

Thanks for reading this long post, and for any help and suggestions you can give!
Tags: ~martial arts
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