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The Art of Japanese Swordsmanship – The Battle is Fought in the Mind

Author: J. Mijares

For those who haven’t seen the Jet Li movie HERO, there’s a brilliant sword fight between Li and Donny Yen. What makes it so unique is that half of the sword fight actually takes place in the minds of both opponents. They imagine the fight between them: each attack, each stroke, each parry, each anticipated counter-move is seen in their minds. Isn’t that the way we write? Our greatest action pieces have to be visualized in the mind first before they come to life on paper. But with something as specific as a sword fight, you have to know what you’re doing before you write in detail about it.

When I submitted my first short story to, it involved a sword fight between a samurai and a demon. As I wrote it, I could feel every single move made by my hero. I stood in the middle of my living room with my own katana in hand – very similar to the one drawn in the accompanying artwork for the story – and I went over every move. I could feel the fatigue growing in his arms. I could feel the sword starting to get heavier and heavier. And every single swing and slice that he made, I could not only see it in my mind, but I could duplicate it in the real world.

One of the reasons that I could feel the fight in both mind and body is because I practice a form of Japanese Swordsmanship called Iai-Batto-Do. “Iai” and “Do” means “the way of the sword”. Iaido is the most common form of Japanese Swordsmanship, which emphasizes the drawing and returning of the sword to its scabbard. “Iai Batto Do” is a more combat oriented art which emphasizes not just drawing the sword correctly, but using it effectively once it’s out of the scabbard.

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