Monday, March 17, 2014


Martial Arts

ZATO at work
The last few weeks I have immersed myself in the world of Zatoichi the Blind Swordsmen. I started from the beginning.  The 1962 Tale of Zatoichi and The Tale of Zatoichi continues are the story of a blind masseur, yakuza, gambler, and master Muraku kenjitsu / Iaido swordsman.

Maraku kenjitsu and Iaido is a real sword system. Legends about this system are abundant today. Practitioners have been rumored to be able to cut chopsticks that had been thrown in the air several different ways from an initial sword draw. 

The main plot of the Zatoichi films is that the blind swordsman has decided that his life as a yakuza is wrong.  Zato is remorseful of the deaths he has caused and is determined not to kill unless left without a choice.  He still dwells among the gangsters, gambling and getting paid for his massages but uses his time among the yakuza to gather information and help stop the plans of the bosses that would cause harm to innocent people or the gangs that flaunt their criminal status amongst the populace.

The Blind Swordsman has almost superhuman hearing. Zato uses this during dice games spotting loaded dice and for the duration of sword fights finding enemies by the sounds they make throughout their attacks.  One of my favorite scenes is when Zatoichi is walking down the street blowing a constant note on his flute.  He was using the echoes from the flute to find his way through the streets and alley ways.

The sword used by Zato is a Shikomizue or swordstick. This is a forged blade (not folded) concealed in a cane.  Seven films into the series and we have also have been shown that the cane hides a small dagger.

The movies action is done fairly well. I do at times question the one handed reverse style grip Zato uses. I am not a fan of this hold and I have attempted it for tameshigiri and failed miserably.  I also have reservations on his fighting stance and again I have attempted this during sword sparing and find it very difficult if not impossible to use.

The great thing I have found out is that all of the movies are interconnected. Zato’s actions in the previous films have consequences for the future films. I strongly suggest watching them in order. I have yet to discover a bad flick. My next Zatoichi will be FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT (1964).  I am really looking forward to ZATOICHI MEETS YOJIMBO and ZATOICHI MEETS THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN.

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