Stances for Samurai Fighting Styles

Written by michael o. smathers
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Stances for Samurai Fighting Styles
The woman on the right is standing in an exaggerated and stylised hasso-gamae. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Although hundred of schools of samurai swordplay have existed over the centuries, the basic techniques and strategies of swordplay hold true across disciplines. One of the most important aspects of Japanese swordplay is the existence of five basic stances used for different situations. Although different schools include extra stances, there are five stances that virtually all kenjutsu schools have in common.


Chudan-gamae, sometimes called Seigan-gamae, is the most basic stance. It provides a balance between attack and defence. Chudan-gamae means "centre-level posture." The user stands with right foot forward, body squared toward the opponent and holds the katana pointed forward at an upward angle so the point is level with the opponent's eyes. The sword forms a 30-degree angle from the horizontal line, with the end of the hilt held a fist's width from the navel. Assuming chudan-gamae prevents the opposing swordsman from closing the distance by putting the sword point in the way. It also allows for a quick thrust as the opening attack.


Jodan-gamae is a more aggressive posture, literally meaning "high-level posture." In jodan-gamae, the purpose is to have the katana already in position to make the most basic strike: shomen-uchi, or a downward cut to the crown of the head. The sword is held pointed backward above the head at approximately a 45-degree angle, though this varies between schools. Because of the aggressiveness of jodan, students of kendo are required to say "Gomen," or "I apologise," upon assuming it during sparring. Jodan-gamae also places the sword in position to cut diagonally downward in kesa-giri to either side. Either foot can be forward in jodan-gamae.


Hasso-gamae serves a similar purpose to jodan-gamae, but conveys a less aggressive intent. In hasso-gamae, the user turns his body to the side, shifts the leading foot behind and holds the sword vertically at face level slightly away from the body. From this stance, the user can perform the vertical shomen-uchi, the diagonal cut, kesa-giri, or the lateral cut, yoko-giri. Hasso-gamae was originally intended to serve as a substitute when a samurai couldn't assume jodan for some reason such as having a low ceiling above or wearing a constricting helmet. This stance can be taken on either side, but is most often a right-side stance with the left foot forward.


Waki-gamae is a stance that originated from before sword lengths were legally fixed. Meaning "hidden guard stance," waki-gamae's purpose is to hide the length of the sword from an opponent by positioning the sword behind the body. Like hasso-gamae, waki-gamae can be taken on either side and requires the user to turn his or her body sideways.


Gedan-gamae is the lowest stance. Like jodan and chudan, it has the sword positioned on the centre line of the body. It is used mainly to provoke an enemy into making the first attack due to perceived weakness. The sword points at the knees of the other fighter and therefore seems to leave an opening. Gedan-gamae can lead into a deceptively fast counter: kiriage, or rising cut. This involves turning the sword so the edge faces upward and scooping the blade along the enemy's abdomen.

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