*originally a blog post at my Multiply. Here is the link
to the original post.*
Gatotsu - Is It For Real?
After a brutal drinking binge in Simala today, I slept at 6 pm and woke up just 2 hours ago. As a result, I have nothing to do. I wanted to go on building my composition but no tune comes into mind yet so I have to put it off for now.
Today I'm going to write about one more hobby of mine: kenjutsu. This time I'll try to discuss the merits and of course the disadvantages of Gatotsu, the fictional kenjutsu technique used by Saitou Hajme in the anime Rurouni Kenshin. This is the Gatotsu as everyone knows it:
My kenjutsu sensei will probably reprimand me for this, as they are all under the impression that since Gatotsu doesn't exist, it doesn't merit studying. I think otherwise, although no disrespect intended to my sensei and senpais. We just think differently.
The stance for Gatotsu is executed as follows and as describe in the picture above.
First, the practitioner steps his right leg forward and puts half of his weight into it. The half goes to the left leg which is then held apart from the right. The right foot is pointing forward while the left is 90% perpendicular to the right. In short, this is the horse stance in which all practitioners of martial arts are aware of.
What makes Gatotsu so difficult and perhaps even impossible is that the practitioner grips the sword by the left hand alone. The right is either held above the body of the blade, with the sharp edge facing the left side as done in the picture above. There is another grip as described in the anime, and that is having the sharp edge facing upwards and the right hand placed along the blunt edge. Personally, I prefer the one in the picture as it is most practical because it is easier to execute a thrust that way that will the blade facing upwards.
The Gatotsu is a fictional waza (technique) created by Nobuhiro Watsuki for the Rurouni Kensin manga and anime. It was, however, modeled after the real technique used by Saitou Haijme in the Shinsengumi during the Bakumatsu days. This technique, though unnamed and without any lessons passed on, consisted of a single, sudden and high speed thrust through the opponent. Saitou, in turn, must have based the attack on the kenjutsu ryuha created by Toshizo Hijikata, one of the leaders of the Shinsengumi: the Hirazuki.
It is interesting to note that another skilled swordsman of the Shinsengumi, Okita Souji, also used fast thrusting attacks. His variant consisted of three thrusts done at quick succession.
The fictional Gatotsu uses four attacks: Ishiki, the most basic variant, uses a straight forward thrust aimed towards the throat of the opponent. Nishiki, the second technique, uses a diagonal thrust aimed perhaps towards the abdomen and aimed to run down the lower torso of the opponent. The third one, the Sanshiki, is a nearly vertical attack aimed upwards to a jumping opponent. The fourth kata, the Zero Ishiki, is most difficult to pull off as it uses the upper body to generate force for the front thrust. This is used by Saitou (the anime character) at extremely close range.
For practicality's sake, however, only the basic kata is applicable in real life, or at least in my opinion. This, for certain, must have been the case in which the real-life Hajime Saitou used his technique for.
All Gatotsu attacks always has a follow-through. If the thrust misses, the practitioner rotates his body 180 degrees counter-clockwise in a dou attack: a horizontal thrust designed to dismember an opponent or eviscerate him.
One word: speed. The thrust is a very simple-looking attack that is actually very difficult to master. First, you have to make sure that the thrust indeed hits where you intend it to be. Even with two hands, it is a hard thing to really get the hang of. The fact that Gatotsu requires it to be held at the hilt of the left hand makes the thrust a bit harder than usual. Second, you have to be very fast so that your opponent has minimal chances of defending or avoiding the attack.
Another advantage to Gatotsu is the range. Since the practitioner grips the sword by the pommel (a standard grip used even in two handed kenjutsu practice) he has a bit more range of thrusting which is accentuated further by the speed and the legwork required from the user of the technique.
To conclude, anyone who masters Gatotsu would be able to harness nearly lightning-fast movements and excellent range.
As mentioned above, you need to able to execute a thrust real fast in order to really hit your opponent. That is where the main disadvantage of Gatotsu comes in: the probability of missing. Even though Gatotsu has a follow-through attack, essentially the practitioner has lost his technical advantage over his opponent and leaves him vulnerable (this, I think, was what happened to that Jigen-ryu policeman in RK) to counterattack.
To conclude this blog (or discussion, whatever), I would have to say that the Gatotsu might have been developed as a second technique or a surprise mechanism by Saitou in battle. I think the follow-through attack is a cliche: you cannot guess what the opponent will do when he avoids the technique. For example he could sidestep either left or right and do a kesa attack (severing the shoulder from the arms by slashing at the shoulder blades) while the practitioner pauses for a split-second to perform the follow-through. In actual practice, I would do the following: turn towards the opponent and prepare to defend. I think it is most practical, and allows you to look for another opportunity with which you can use the specialized thrusting again.
To use it the way it is used in the anime, IMO, would be utterly foolish. The stance and preparation, however, could be a ploy to psychologically unnerve the opponent since it virtually airs an aura of confidence to actually try and perform a thrusting attack because it is the most predictable of all kenjutsu basic strikes.