Nukitsuke (the initial draw and cut) is essential to the art of Iaijutsu. Without nukitsuke, Iaijutsu would not exist, it would be considered Kenjutsu. While nukitsuke is slightly different in each kata, the same ideas apply to all nukitsuke. Technically, not every kata begins with nukitsuke; however, the principles of nukitsuke still apply in the drawing techniques of those kata. As Inazuma (Omote no Maki, kata number one) contains all the principles of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, I will focus mainly on nukitsuke in Inazuma.
Nukitsuke should begin with an awareness of Teki (the enemy). At the beginning of the technique, Teki is not necessarily a threat, simply another object to be aware of. As Teki begins to move in to attack, he becomes a threat. Metsuki is directed at Teki and the left thumb is placed on the Tsuba. This lets Teki know that you are aware of him; ready to take action should it be necessary. At this point Teki could still back away.
However, Teki continues to move closer, in an aggressive manner. The right hand grasps the Tsuka and the draw begins immediately. During the whole draw, the sword leads the body and it is important to keep in mind that the draw is performed by both the right and left hands. As the sword is drawn forward, the Saya is pulled back (this is called Sayabiki). Using the left hand to position the sword in the correct place for the draw is a principle that is repeated at the beginning of every Iaijutsu kata.
Using the thighs to rise up and to the left knee, the draw is performed with a feeling of “shikkari” (determination) until only the Kissaki remains in the Saya. This is a critical point in all kata. At this point during any nukitsuke, Teki will have the opportunity to back completely out of range and survive the encounter.
While preparing this essay, I began to question what the intent of nukitsuke is. I came to the conclusion that the intent of nukitsuke, in any kata, is to cut Teki. The severity of the cut varies in each kata, but nevertheless, the intent is to cut Teki and hopefully end the encounter. However, in kata, nukitsuke is normally not the end of the encounter and Aite (the person performing the kata) must react accordingly. This led me to ask, if the intent of nukitsuke is to cut, where is the compassion?
The moment before the draw is complete, there is a slight hitch, where the draw is slowed to a very slight pause. This is the moment of compassion in nukitsuke. The cut is not begun immediately; rather, with the sword in position to strike, Teki is given a last chance to back away. If Teki does not get out of range, Aite must respond and the draw is completed with the intent to cut Teki. A line from a waka (a traditional Japanese poem of 31 syllables) in Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu One Point Lesson says, “If the sword is drawn, cut. If the sword is not drawn, do not cut. That the sword is simply for cutting is very important.” Thinking about this statement has taught me much about nukitsuke.
During the draw, it is important to not over-reach. By this, I mean the draw should be performed at an upward angle, not straight to the front. It is important to realize that the cut is coming from underneath Teki’s attack and does not need to be stretched out to reach Teki. While the cut should be extended, it should not be reaching. In other words, the back must be kept straight.
With only the Kissaki left in the Saya, the sword is released by the left hand pulling the rest of the Saya off the sword (Sayabanare) and while standing the cut is executed. By sliding the left knee to the right knee at the beginning of the draw, the hips should be towards Teki. To keep the hips towards Teki while standing, the left foot rotates slightly in to lock the hips forward. The chin should be pulled in slightly. Continuing the motion of Sayabiki the shoulder blades are brought together. This opens up the chest, allowing for proper breathing and creating a counter balance for a strong, dynamic cut. The cut is performed in a large, powerful manner. It should be explosive and overwhelm Teki with strength and skill. While I still think this is true to some point, when first learning nukitsuke, I thought that minimizing the distance the cut traveled would be beneficial. My technique was to simply flick the wrist after the draw was complete. This led to a bizarre looking and, more to the point, weak cut. Instead the arm moves out and over, as the tip of the sword draws an arc, cutting upwards to Teki’s elbow with a feeling of “Onuki” (large cut). The cut is stopped by flicking the wrist. The cut is a flesh wound and is used to stop teki’s cut, not to do great bodily harm.
The cut is stopped on the center line. That is to say, the cut is stopped so that the tip still controls the center line. Cutting directly to the center line leads to ineffective cuts and tends to result from simply flicking the wrist, instead of performing a strong “Onuki” cut. Also, if the cut is aimed to contact with Teki, the sword would be stopped inside of Teki. Not pleasant to Teki, but leaving Aite at a disadvantage when responding to another attack. Stopping the cut at a point to still control the center line allows Aite to react quickly. Should Aite miss Teki, Aite is not left in a defenseless position.
It is my opinion that perhaps the two most important points of nukitsuke are jo-ha-kyu (timing) and ma’ai (space / distance). Jo-ha-kyu can be applied to many aspects of Iaijutsu and other Arts in general. In nukitsuke, I see jo from the moment Aite sits down until the first 4 to 6 inches are drawn. Ha is the action of rising to the left knee while drawing the sword almost out of the Saya. Kyu is the explosive action of pulling the saya back and unleashing the cut. Jo-ha-kyu can also apply to Furikaburi/Kiri Oroshi as well as a pacing for Jodan-Zanshin. In action I believe this holds up better than in words.
In my humble opinion, the most important principle that nukitsuke can teach, is ma’ai. Without a correct understanding of ma’ai, nukitsuke would not work. If the draw is started early, Teki would simply stop and Aite would lose the advantage of being in control of the situation. If Teki is rushing in to cut Aite, the draw must be performed quickly and all the techniques become condensed. If Teki approaches slowly, Aite might have to wait until Teki is closer than he would if Teki was moving in faster, or might have to draw more slowly until Teki has been drawn in to the proper distance for nukitsuke to work. In every technique there is ma’ai. The speed of the draw, the angle of the cut, and target of the cut, all have to do with ma’ai. Kata in general can be seen as how to control ma’ai, but during nukitsuke you can really feel the play between distance and timing.
Of course, the exact detail of nukitsuke in Inazuma may not hold true for all forms on drawing techniques. However, when it comes to concepts like jo-hya-kyu, ma’ai, not over reaching, cutting to the center-line, the principles of nukitsuke can be applied in some form or the other to all Omote no Maki kata. This is way I feel nukitsuke is essential to Iaijutsu.
Nidan, Southeast Michigan Branch
US Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu