Since I wrote my scorching takedown of how badly women with swords are depicted in art and photography, I’ve tried to provide positive examples so that people know what a woman warrior looks like who isn’t so incompetent she’s about to slice open her own jugular or femoral artery. But pickins is slim, I tell ya. So, I haven’t posted many of those.
Honestly, I Love Artists and Photographers!
Anyway, I’ve noticed lately that lots of people reach my site by Googling the phrase “katana poses” or something similar. If you’re an artist who found my site this way, I can help you understand the mechanics of what makes a cool, authentic pose. Plus, I used to study costumed figure drawing when I worked at Disney. So, I have an idea of what you might need.
For those who just genuinely want to create better images, here are some photos with hand and sword positions that can help you design images of both male and female Samurai. Granted, these suggestions are from Shinkendo*, and there are certainly other Japanese sword arts, like Iaido, Kendo etc. However, not only does Shinkendo combine elements of these other Japanese sword schools, all sword arts that focus on target cutting share some similar “best practices.” So it’s safe to say that, if you want your artistic subjects to have an authentic air of Samurai strength, balance and technique, this guide will get you a step closer.
Let’s start with this photo from the UCLA Newsroom attached to an article about Shinkendo sensei (my friend and colleague) Dr. Joe Pierre.
Sensei Joe’s first pose on the left is a defensive posture called kasumi. He isn’t trying to hit anyone. He’s defending against an overhead strike from an opponent. His sword held in front of him and tipped downward a bit so that whatever hits it will slide off and away.
The next pose is in the middle of a yoko strike — cutting from side to side. The last pose on the right is what a Samurai would look like at the ending of that strike. Look at his hands and feet. Using his core rather than relying on his arm strength, he shifts his balance from one side to the other as his blade moves through the target in front of him.
The third pose from the left is especially informative for artists. Called jodan, this is a basic “ready” position (also known as a kamae) that’s taken just before performing either a straight downward cut or a diagonal downward (kesa) cut. Look at the angle between his right arm and the sword. It’s a 135-degree angle. A Samurai never loses that angle between her arm and sword. This angle is optimum for drawing a sword through a target. It also guards against self-injury. A larger angle might mean the wrists are flexed too far and at risk for injury. A smaller angle shortens the blade’s reach and the wielder will miss the target.
Balance and Foot Position
In all of these poses, the balance for a Samurai is always on the front foot, about 70% front/30% back.
Hand Position When Holding a Katana
Jodan is also a great pose for studying hand position. Note that the hands aren’t choked up together like on a bat, but rather there’s about a fist-width between them. Believe me, if you let the knuckle of your right hand ride against the tsuba (hand guard), you’ll get a nasty blister very quickly. So, a smart Samurai keeps her right hand just below the tsuba, both hands squeezing the tsuka (handle) as if she’s wringing out a wet dish rag.
Here are some poses I did two years ago in a photo shoot with Sensei Matthew Lynch for Katsujinken Magazine‘s special Women of the Sword Arts issue.
In the photo above, I’m about to perform what’s called an upward kiriage from a crouching position. My sword will draw upward diagonally, from left to right (see next photo for the end point). Check out my hand position.
Note that the sword tip (which is a bit blurred because I’m in motion) is pointed forward and the edge of the blade is up. I’m cutting upward at an opponent. Again, check the hand position, right over left. The katana is two-handed, right hand-dominant implement. (Sorry, lefties!)
And this is a blade thrust from that same crouching position.
Just so you know, this block is also often performed standing. Like this.
That’s a wooden practice sword, also known as a bokuto, rather than a katana, but you get the idea. The sharp part of the blade should be pointed up.
(Although, if you do want to get technical, you shouldn’t block a blow with the blade’s edge. You should block with the sword “rolled” towards you a bit so that it’s the solid mune blocking and not the more brittle ha taking the blow. But that’s definitely nitpicky shit no one cares about but us sword slingers.)
It’s Tip Forward, Not Tits Forward
Whatever you draw or photograph, it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. Maybe the hands won’t be quite right or the blade’s too short, or a cat’s swinging from the Samurai’s hakama like the living room drapes. Don’t care! Don’t fucking care. JUST MAKE SURE THE BLADE IS AWAY FROM THE WOMAN’S FACE, NECK, SHOULDERS, BOOBS AND GENITALS, AND THAT SHE’S ACTUALLY THREATENING SOMEONE WITH IT.
In case you’re confused about which part of the katana is sharp, check this website (there are many like it) that details the sword’s anatomy.
Movement with Katanas, Bo Sticks and Other Weapons
Here’s a great, one-stop reference for warriors in motion. It’s a ridiculously great Shinkendo video that incorporates Aikido and even some knife techniques. (For the record, I don’t study Aikido, although it’s offered in some Shinkendo dojos.) I’ve sent this videos to many artists who have requested such in the past. It seems to be useful.
That’s It For Now
I hope this helps in your research. Go forth and depict women as competent warriors. Remember: she doesn’t want to fuck you. She wants to fuck you up.
And she will, too.
*I do not speak for the International Shinkendo Federation in any way.
P.S. Want more? Check out my article in SF Signal, “4 of the Dumbest Things Done with Swords in Film and Fiction.”
Thank you! This is brilliant. I write romances with über competent female heroines (SciFi Romance) and often look to experts in the field for consult. I’m wondering If I might ask for your help at some time, when I try to write one with a sword in hand? To legitimize that I’m not a random wacko, I think you know my husband Thom Ryng.
Thanks, Jayne! Sure. Send me any questions you have. Please give Thom a hug for me. 🙂
So kind of you! Thank you kindly. I will do that.