The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Spear in Japanese Martial Arts

There was a very good post about the Japanese spear, the Yari over at Ichijoji blog. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The spear is a weapon that has been used in some form in virtually every corner of the earth, and must be, after the club and the rock, one of the most basic weapons devised by mankind. Japan is no exception, and has a long tradition of the use of various pole arms, including spears, dating to way back before the 'samurai' era. However, as far as samurai are concerned, the spear was not even the principal pole arm until the 15th or 16th century. For some reason, it was the naginata that assumed that role, while the spear languished until the time of the Namboku-cho (1334-1392) when it gradually gained popularity. This popularity increased during the early Sengoku period, until, by the time of the famous warlords of the mid to late 16th century, it had assumed the position of one of the main weapons on the battlefield. This was partially due to logistical considerations, and indeed, the growing size of armies meant that it provided a cheap and easy to use armament for levies and other
irregular troops.

Though individuals became famous for their use of the spear, on the battlefield, their particular forte was in tactical deployment. Walter Dening, in his The Life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, tells the story of how Hideyoshi got caught up in an argument to see whether long or short spears were superior. Oda Nobunaga's spear instructor favored short spears (short in this case means up to 8ft long) whereas Hideyoshi favored the longer type.

A trial was arranged: both men would train a group of fifty men in the use of their chosen length of spear,and after three days, the two groups would compete against each other. To cut a long story
short, while the spear instructor taught his men the techniques to oppose the longer weapons, Hideyoshi told his men they had the advantage anyway, so they could attack any way they liked, and wined and dined them. He also divided them into three units so they could make forward and flank attacks. On the day of the contest, Hideyoshi's men made mincemeat of his opponents.

Although this is probably an apocryphal tale, it does indicate the tactical value of the spear on the battlefield. That is not to deny that a shorter spear offers definite advantages to the individual warrior, but in battles employing formations of troops, longer spears offered a decided advantage. In fact, Nobunaga employed longer than average spears in his formations, and even on an individual level,
some warriors made use of the longer spears. Maeda Toshiie, for example, used one that was reportedly 6m in length.

The differences on such weapons also lead to certain specializations in the way they were used. For the ashigaru, who made up the bulk of the armies in the Sengoku period, spear usage was comparatively limited. Among the most common techniques was a downward strike aimed at knocking the opponent's spear downwards. This was particularly useful in tight formations, and contemporary writing suggests that this was seen as preferable to thrusting.

In fact, despite it's efficiency as a thrusting weapon, on the battlefield even the shorter spears were, as often as not, probably used to knock down an opponent and then despatch him. The triangular sectioned blade of the su yari (straight spear) was particularly effective for this, and this may also explain the popularity of the tanged spear head over the socketed type – the tang running deep inside the shaft gives greater durability as well as weighting the head, making it more effective for sweeping and striking movements.

Practice with long weapons quickly brings an appreciation of the difference in their range and speed compared with the sword. Facing someone with a spear (if they are using it well) allows one to realize the advantage it has – it is said that the spear gives its user a 3x advantage. When you see the speed with which a spear can be extended and retracted, how quickly the blade can shoot out at different targets, you appreciate how difficult it would be to face one in earnest.


Compass Architect said...

It is a good reading article on the spear.

Compass Architect said...

Good Post. ...
The effectiveness of any implement is based on many factors.

In the Chinese martial forest, the Chinese spear is known as the King of Long Weapons because of its emphasis on the following four strategic factors: 1. speed, 2. accuracy, 3. techniques and strength.

Technically, one needs to have techniques to do the following three objectives:
* Develop speed;
* Enhance accuracy; and
* Build strength.