Mi o Hitoe ni kanari koto
The body must be maintained in profile.
Differences between the times of armor and the battlefield and today’s combative sports are numerous and diverse, from placement of the feet and hands, to the usage of kamae and tachi, types of weapons, qualities of movement, so on and so fourth. One of the first details that we are going to look at here is the notion of placing the body in proportion to the enemy on the battlefield.
More specifically, this is the idea of standing profile to the person in front of you; but why would we want to do this? does it not limit our options and maneuverability in combat? Well, this may seem unusual, unorthodox, or counter-intuitive, I can assure you that it is both a classical form of movement, and an incredibly effective method for managing one’s own body, though that will take a few steps to get there.
The quote at the beginning of this writing is from Yagyu Munenori’s Heiho Kadensho (柳生 宗矩, 兵法家伝書, 1632), where it is written five bodily principles regarding the nature of one’s sword posture, and it’s relevance to the enemy. This quote regarding standing profile (hitoe; 一重) is the first of the five details, and as we like to say in ninjutsu, “the first transmission is the deepest transmission“, and as such, this should be deeply considered.
This teaching however, stretches back to at least the Nen-ryu (念流) founded in 1368, where even in the current iterations of the Maniwa Nen-ryu we can see this a little, (as well as that of Hicho no kamae), as Nen-ryu was the origin of the principle of Tōtoku Hyōshi (刀匿礮姿), a principle derived from defending against projectiles, but had been adapted to the sword, spear, and much later, unarmed kamae.
Similarly, paintings and illustrations all through Japan’s history exemplify body positions like this, and it wasn’t that it was some artistic leniency that inflicted the art style; as we see variances between different social classes within the same artist or writers examples. Within one artists career we might find illustrations representing the forms of Nanba Aruki , Hitoe, and leg and foot positioning (ichimonji; 一文字) to allow for freedom of movement (jiyū jizai; 自由自在) in response to the needs of the battlefield. Indeed, it is even uncommon to see warriors depicted as not working within this form of movement.
However, as the warrior class moved away from armored battlefield combat, some of the perks of this positioning (which will be elaborated on in the next section) dissolved, and the combatants began to square their shoulders towards the opponent. This further suffered when foreign influence came into the picture and exposed the warrior class to what we today refer to as gendai taisō (現代体操), or modern exercise.
Though in order to not incessantly ramble on indefinitely on the subject, this will not be an exhaustive list, but at least three points will be explained here: Kamae, Sōgō, and Kage.
Kamae in this case refers to the position you take proportionate to the enemy, that is to say, they can only see the side of the body that you show them, at least half of your body is out of view. While in armor, this means that half of your openings are protected, all that remains is the face, the armpit, and the foot. Hicho helps to protect the foot, by pointing the foot at the enemy the armor’s shin guards protect the rest of the leg, the hand in front protects both the face and the armpit with what ever weapon you have through postures like seigan and the principle of Tōtoku Hyōshi.
Most classical schools of Japanese traditions in the martial arts are comprised of numerous weapons and techniques, connected by common denominators. This structure is called Sōgō Bujutsu (composite martial science; 総合武術). This is how to connect one’s basic fighting posture between the sword, spear and unarmed; seigan no kamae is shared between each of the weapons with little modification, whether in armor or otherwise.
As such the techniques involved were developed to be adaptable to any weapon, the principles of each becoming the common denominators between each. This all comes from the postures itself, beginning from the feet, and their position, to that of the hips, and then the shoulders. The transition between each weapon is natural without much thought for extra thought and no need to adapt the movements. As such the idea of Sōgō Bujutsu illustrates the principle that from only one technique, only one form, multiple applications can be produced. The technique is an expression of the kamae, and both are in turn a reflection of the practitioners depth of practice, understanding, and spirit; a measure of how open and accepting to life’s adversities he can be.
Kage, or “In” (as in Inyo; 陰陽, the Japanese reading of Yin-yang), refers to what is visible, and invisible, or out of sight. The term kage no kamae comes from the technical writings of Shinkage-ryu, but is referred to several times in the mokuroku of Jiki Shinkage-ryu.
Most of the kamae found in ninja-related ryuha are positions where the body is also seen in profile and the feet are on one line (called Ichimonji; 一文字). To have such a profiled posture carries with it the “spirit of being profile”, in that it is an attitude or intention in which only half is allowed to show, what the practitioner decide to offer. The intention of this profiled posture is one of a state of hiding. To reiterate, the practitioner of ninjutsu doesn’t appear directly, doesn’t show everything to his adversary, but instead creates doubt about his real capacity.
Though this seems exceptionally difficult as well as counter-intuitive, I hope some of the logic and examples provided above give the reader some grasp as to how the classical warrior’s science differed from today’s practice of things like kendo. From bio-mechanical principles established in the late 13th century and survived all the way through the feudal era, only to dissolve due to complacency… It is a shame indeed that even though publications such as the Life-Giving Sword are out there and thoroughly reviewed, principles, right at the beginning of the book, and written in very plain legible English are all but completely ignored or overlooked when they form some of the basis for such famous schools as the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu.
- Yagyu, Jubei Mitsuyoshi. Tsuki no sho (1642). Annotated by Imamura Yoshio. Sanjo-shi: Nojima Shuppan, 1971.
- Yagyu, Munenori. The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of the Shogun (p. 109). Shambhala.
 “Whether striking or parrying, these must not be forgotten. When one is a beginner, they are intended to correct strain from incorrect body posture. It is the same as correcting unevenness in a bow. . . . If you know your body well, knowing strain is knowing yourself. If you think only of what’s in front of you, you will forget about straining your body . . . correcting strain is the first stage of understanding in knowing yourself.” —Himonshu
 初伝わ奥伝なり。 There is a few reasons for this: 1) In order to preserve some of the most important teachings of the tradition, it is structured in such a way that if the pupil learns only the first few teachings or lessons and the master dies, some of the most important lessons are not lost. 2) There would have been more individuals that have practiced the first technique, then any other technique, thus it has been exposed to more minds, refined more intensively, and had more knowledge compacted into it than any other technique in the tradition.
 Nanba Aruki (ナンバ歩), a system of bio-mechanics seemingly unique to Japan for various reasons, that includes keeping the feet, hips, and shoulders inline while moving. Due to the very low strain nature of this movement, some have hypothesized that this is the human being’s natural way of walking and moving in daily life. I myself have spent the past 9 years working this into my daily behavior, and have noticed a reduction of strain-injury as well as more overall energy throughout the day. Studies have also shown that the nanba method of walking can reduce knee impact and strain, improve fluidity of movement, and reduced slip potential. Interestingly, within the Bujinkan, there is a series of exercises that educate the pupil on how to do exactly this called the Sanshin Gata (三心型).
 Seigan no kamae (正眼之構), a position where the sword, spear, or other weapon is pointing directly at the enemy’s eyes, serving as an obstacle that they have to circumvent in order to deliver and effective attack.
And the TL:DR version: