Japanese Samurai Sword Techniques

samurai with katana

The Japanese samurai were fierce, highly trained warriors of ancient Japan, also called bushi. The samurai were similar to knights in medieval times in Europe, and lived by a code of conduct known as "the way of the warrior." The samurai were trained and adept in the use of multiple forms of weaponry, including the spear and bow, but were especially feared and respected for their sword skills.

Yoko Giri

The yoko giri is known as the side cut. The sword grip is held in both hands to the right side of the body, right elbow bent and left elbow slightly bent, holding the sword just above waist level. The blade is turned sideways as the sword arcs from the side with a powerful outward swing in a horizontal slashing movement that was meant to disembowel an attacker in the soft region of the abdomen.

Kesi Giri

The kesi giri is an overhead slashing move that arcs slightly to the right or left, depending on which side of the head you start the move. Hold the sword in both hands above the head, wrists tucked close to the scalp. Extend the wrists and shift the hands so that your wrists are now centered over your head and above the level of the left eye. Slash downward at a slight angle, from left to right. Your blade should travel from above your left shoulder down toward your right thigh, your hands stopping the slashing movement when they're level with your right hip.

Overhead Cut

The overhead cut is a simple, elegant move. The sword is held in both hands over the head, with the cutting edge of the blade facing the ceiling, elbows bent and held close to the ears. The sword blade should be perfectly centered over your body, not shifted to the right or the left by an intensely strong grip. Extend the arms and straighten the elbows as you bring the sword down in front of you in an arcing, slashing motion. Stop the sword's downward path when your hands are about level with your hips.


The Nukitsuke is an initial starting position designed to intimidate an opponent. Stand facing the opponent, knees slightly bent, stance wide, sword in its sheath. Grasp the grip of the sword with your right hand. Your left hand grasps the sheath just beneath the hilt of the sword. With your left thumb, slightly lift the sword upward by pressing on the hilt until it's raised about an inch out of the sheath. With the right hand, pull the sword from the sheath and adjust your stance so that heel of your left foot is even with your right heel, but turned slightly outward for balance. In one continuous move, draw the sword out of the sheath, tuck the sheath behind you with your left hand and swing the sword horizontally from left to right at shoulder level.