- What is "Tate" Sword Fighting?
- Learn Tate Sword Fighting with "Samurai've" in Shinjuku, Tokyo
- > To Begin: The Basics of Tate Sword Fighting
- > Getting up to Speed: Learn the 10 forms of Tate!
- > Becoming a Samurai! Performing a full Tate Sword Fight
- What is the Beauty of Tate? Interview with Representative Godai
Have you ever seen sword fights in Japanese historical dramas? Of course, they are not actually cutting each other. The smooth movements of their fighting is created by a type of acting called, "Tate" - A Japanese style of stage-fighting. Everyone, at some point has wanted to become the action star that elegantly cuts down their enemies. I learned that there is a place in Tokyo where you can actually experience this piece of Japanese culture, while wearing kimono and using imitation swords! It is more than just remembering the forms and waving a sword. To study Tate was to learn the Japanese spirit.
What is Tate?
A sword fight is indispensable for historical dramas. The lead samurai cutting down the enemy in an elegant, dignified series of movements is always a sight to behold. The techniques shown in these exciting sequences are called, "Tate” (pronounced ta-teh). It are a genuine piece of Japanese culture performed in all kinds of battle scenes, such as those on stage plays, TV dramas and Japanese movies.
Tate is practiced in kimono, with a sword in hand
When you look in a dictionary, the meaning of "Tate" is "stage fighting in brawls or with swords, in stage plays and movies" Movements come in fixed forms, which are memorized and combined by many actors to create a flashy sword fight.
It is a sort of martial art, whose objective is to put on the show of a convincing sword fight. It is a beautiful thing, that while retaining the realism of a fight, attracts its viewers with beautiful movements.
"Tate" developed from the movements of Kabuki.
Kabuki is one of Japan's leading classical performing arts, which has an inextricable connection with tate. Today’s Tate has incorporated a great amount of Kabuki’s style of movement, which was further derived from those of Japanese traditional dancing. Both kabuki and sword fighting are the same in that they are acting, and “for show”. Tate is a combination of Kabuki’s broad, spectacular movements, and the Samurai’s martial culture, making it a leading piece of Japanese culture.
Learn Tate Sword Fighting with "Samurai've" in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Unlike combat martial arts, Tate is an elegant performing art specialized in fighting without connecting the sword to the opponent. I heard that there is a classroom where you can actually experience Tate in Tokyo, and I actually tried it!
This time, I visited "Samurai've" located in Shinjuku. The studio is on the B1 floor of a building, about a 5-minute walk from Shinjuku-Gyoen Station, on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line.
Representative Shinichi Godai
The instructor on this day is Shinichi Godai, who is the representative of Samurai've. He is also a member of "SAMURAI PERFORMERS syn", which displays fight performances. He is a professional tate master, who also conducts choreography for TV, stage, and movies. As somebody with a huge love for samurai, I was extremely excited to be able to learn tate directly from such a person.
I entered the classroom, stated my name, and first choose one of about 10 different kimonos to wear for the day. I decided on a beige kimono, for an elegant taste.
Choose your favorite kimono
The instructor will help you get dressed.The waist must be tight so that the collar does not collapse.It’s only a 3-minute process, but just wearing the kimono really tightens your mood. When the imitation sword is passed through the waist, you are ready.
The imitation sword is heavier than expected. Insert it inside the waistband.
Starting with the Basics of Tate Sword Fighting
Despite my expectations that we would be swinging our swords from the get-go, we were told to sit first, with our legs folded. With your fist raised on your thigh, the sword is pulled with the sheath and laid on the right.
Mr. Godai says: "By placing the blade towards yourself and to your right, the sword will not come out quickly, indicating that you have no intention of pulling out the sword, or hostility to the other person."
As he says, it is much harder to draw a sword when it is on the floor, opposite to its usual position on your hip. I felt like this was a representation of Japanese people’s great appreciation of manners.
Meditate to balance the spirit
Next, we closed our eyes and meditated. As the area room calmed down, all the participants, including Mr. Godai, faced heir own heart and concentrated on the sword. This moment of silence seems to be a kind of switch for everybody to get into the mind of tate.
■Drawing the sword
After meditating, it was finally time to draw the sword.
The sword is held at the hip with the blade facing upward so that it can be swung as soon as it is pulled out. hold the sheathe with the left hand, push the guard (the metal plate between the handle and the blade) with your thumb, tilt the sword to the side (so that the blade slightly faces outward), hold the handle with your right hand and pull out.
The sword was longer than expected, so it was impossible to pull it out without stretching my arms and gaining momentum. If you have too much momentum, your sword will be heavy and your body will wobble. With my weak core strength, an imitation sword’s weight was enough to make me almost stumble.
■Sheathing the Sword
My next challenge was putting the sword back into the sheathe.
Hold the spine, and slowly slide the sword in
To do this, you must first stabilize the sheathe with your left hand. That same left hand will be lightly holding the spine of the blade to guide its path as your right hand slides it into the sheathe. This is very difficult! If I looked at the tip of the blade, I could manage to get it, but that won't be cool like a samurai ... If I tried to sheathe the sword without looking at the sword, it’s hard to gauge the length of the sword, you don't know where the blade is pointing, and you don't even know which way to store the sword. I couldn’t do it quite the way i imagined
I struggled to find the mouth of the sheathe.
When I consulted him, Mr. Godai told me that he had to practiced many times in the past,. "Everyone struggles with sheathing at first, so it's OK.", he says. I had never touched a sword for in my life, so it seems unlikely that I could sheathe it beautifully in a mere 5 minutes.
Getting up to Speed: Learn the 10 forms of Tate!
As difficult as sheathing was, that was never the point of the 70-minute experience. My goal for the day was to perform in a fight, and go home.
Next was a lesson on the three basic cuts: “Makko-giri”, “Kesa-giri” “Do-giri”
①【Makko-giri】: a cut straight from above the enemy's head
②【Kesa-giri】: a cut down diagonally
③【Do-giri】 : a slash sideways across the torso
Two things to note when cutting is "to not bend too much" and "to step firmly on the floor with your back heel". A hunched over back lacks refinement, and a floating back heel will note only make you less stable, but may make you lose your footing when swinging.
The heel tends to float when the sword is swung, must be kept down
Unlike combat martial arts like Kenjutsu, the goal of Tate is to make your movements as readable as possible. It has to be that way, so the audience can easily see what is happening.
Swinging the sword with a shout somehow made me feel much stronger. By paying attention to every movement of my body, and not only the sword, I truly felt like I was practicing real Tate.
Finally, I am ready to learn 10 forms of Tate. Below, I will briefly introduce each form.
■ “Rei" (bow)
All things begin and end with a bow. This too, is part of a Samurai etiquette
■1：“Koi-guchi wo Kiru” (cutting the carp mouth)
Preparing to draw the sword. Put your left hand on the sheath, push the guard with your thumb, and turn the sword sideways.
■2：“Batto” (Drawing the sword)
Draw the sword quickly
■3：“Seigan no Kamae” (front-facing stance)
Possibly the most basic posture of Tate. With your center of gravity slightly forward, keep a posture that can cut at any time
■4：“Jodan no Kamae” (Upper stance)
The stance one step before swinging down the sword. Keep your back straight and eyes on your opponent
■5：“Makko-giri” (Direct slash)
Swing down the sword with a loud shout. Be careful not to bend your back at this time
■6：“Hasso” (eight phase stance)
One of the basic stances. Raise the sword and hold it to the right
■7：“Seigan no Kamae”
Back to this form. Keep your eyes looking forward
■8：“Waki-gamae” (Standing aside side stance)
Hide the blade behind the waist so the opponent does not know the position of the sword
■9：“Seigan no Kamae”
One last time, Seigan no Kamae
■10：Sheathe the sword, and bow
Put the sword in the sheath and finish with a bow to close the sequence.
Although it is not difficult to make each of the 10 forms individually, it is a different story when it comes to performing them smoothly and continuously. If you focus on stretching your back and planting your heels, you may forget which leg to put forward, or or skip a sequence. The movement must be ingrained into the body, and be smooth, beautiful and dignified.
Tate sequences are made entirely by combining forms, similar to the 10 I learned. Since there are many patterns, the number of combinations is infinite. When choreographing a movie or stage, Mr. Godai takes into account a variety of factors such as the leading character, the duration of action, and the desired level of buildup to create a unique scene. When you try it out yourself, you can see how amazing it is.
> Becoming a Samurai! Performing a full Tate Sword Fight
The experience is nearing its end. At the end, you will become a samurai and take on your instructors in an acted scenario.
Respond quickly to enemies approaching from behind
In this sequence, I was a lone samurai suddenly being attacked from behind by two ronin. I first blocked a frontal attack, then intimidated the other with my death glare. After that, I made quick work of them in the time of a blink. The click of my sword as it went back in the sheathe marked the end of the scene, and was the signal for the two ronin to fall to the ground. In that moment, I felt as if I was a famous female samurai!
Slashesing enemies with Do-giri. Exhilarating!
Even if I imagined it perfectly, it didn’t go quite as well in practice. I kept making mistakes, like forgetting my next move, or facing my sword the wrong way. Every participant practiced for about 3 full run-throughs to prepare for the final performance.
Suppressing the other enemy with a glare, while blocking the first
Always keep your back straight, and face the enemy with confidence.
The two instructors shouted loudly as they fall down, so I felt so satisfied -- like I'm really a samurai!
A father and his son from Australia participated along with me, and also had a great time. The father had a large frame, so each one of his movements were very powerful and flashy. Participants are allowed to take photos and videos freely, so during the last round, they enjoyed filming each other’s performances.
Commemorative photo at the end
After getting an abundant taste of being a samurai, we meditated once again. Once you have collected your mind, open your eyes and bow. The experience ends here.
A final bow to wrap things up
What is the Beauty of tate? Interview with Representative Godai
The 70-minute experience felt very quick. It was not too difficult nor too easy, but it was very meaningful, and allowed its participants to grasp the essence of tate, and the Japanese cultural values imbedded deeply in the art. This experience was of course designed by representative Godai.
What was his thoughts behind opening this content-rich classroom? We interviewed him to understand his views on his craft, and the depth of tate.
ーーHow did you decide to become a Tate instructor in the first place?
As I was training as an actor, I wanted to include stage fighting to my repertoire of skills. That was when I saw a really cool performance of tate, and thought “wow, I really want to be able to do that too.” That moment marked my entry into the world of tate.
ーーThroughout the experience, I felt a strong emphasis on the “mind aspect” of tate.
That's right. It is easy to attach importance to the appearance of the sword, but I also think that the beauty of the sword can only be exude if all of the “heart”, “skill” and “body” are aligned. The mind is calm, the feeling is positive, the focus is on the sword fighting away from the everyday ... I wonder if that kind of feeling is exactly what it appears in the aura, posture, or behavior. You are correct. tate tends to be known for its flashy movements, but I believe that the visual elegance of tate is something that permeates out because of the synthesis between the mind, technique, and physical strength. Things like calmness, positivity, and concentration on the tate movements at hand -- I really feel like those parts of your mindset really show in your posture and the air you carry.
"I want you to know the fun of the sword fight first-hand through the experience", Godai
ーーEven with that emphasis on the mind aspect, I thought the experience was really fun!
Thank you very much. Above all things, I want people to know how fun tate is. As a part of that, I truly believe the importance of tate’s mental aspect as a piece of Japanese culture. Through what they experience at my classroom, I hope that people can grow a new understanding of the Japanese mind, and expand their interest into other Japanese cultures like historical dramas. After learning some tate and understanding its movements, I think your viewpoint on TV and movie fighting really changes.
Samurai've’s content-rich trial classes take you from the basics all the way to a full performance, making them hugely popular to travellers from overseas. In fact, the vast majority of their participants are from abroad. However, I felt from my heart that this full-fledged experience of tate is one that should be tried by Japanese people too!
Before walking through the doors, I thought this experience would be much quicker. I thought I would be given a sword, swing it around a few times, and it would be over once I scratched the surface. That was not the case! I was dressed in a full kimono, wore a sword on my hip, and was taught the forms of Tate all the way from the basic postures. I feel like I was able to step into the deep beauty of Tate just a little bit, by learning about the mind and techniques needed to beautifully execute the movements of tate. Although there was a lot of fun to be had too, what the 70 minute-long experience really gave me was a genuine understanding of the art of Tate -- the art of “showing”.
The Tate experience provided by “Tate Classroom Samurai've” is a taste of Japanese culture that cannot be found in regular sightseeing, and is one that I recommend to anybody with an interest.