By Thomas Johnson

Reishiki is a Japanese word that means "etiquette" or "ceremonial form" and is composed of the kanji for rei,




"etiquette" or "rite," and shiki, "style," "ceremony," or "form" (See insert).  

In a typical dōjō, "training hall," of the Japanese sword you will often have a form of reishiki. While this form may differ from dōjō to dōjō the principles are basically the same. In the following series I have detailed the form as it is practiced and taught in the San Sai Ryu. I have also included some pointers to keep in mind as you practice this form.

While performing reishiki do not be in a hurry. Reishiki is a formal exercise and should be practiced as such with a touch of elegance. Your mind must remain focused and all movements performed with purpose. Also, during reishiki you must never relax your vigilance. You must be alert as if you were ready for an attack from any direction. This will generate a type of psychological tension that is an important factor in the sword forms to follow.

One final note: Normally when performing reishiki you would be facing the Kamiza, "the shrine area." The following photos were taken with the Kamiza in the background for aesthetic purposes only.









The sword and the looped sageo are held in your left hand. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right while turning your body slightly to the right.


Lower your hips, and with your right hand use a quick left-right motion to flare out the legs of the hakama. Your left hand firmly maintains the sword at your left hip. 


You should continue to lower your hips until you are in sonkyo, "croutching position." In sonkyo your feet should be in the position shown in the photo above and the knees are off the floor.









Slowly lower your left knee to the floor in a controlled manner and then your right knee.


With both knees on the floor, your feet should temporarily be in the position shown in the photo above.


To complete the movement to seiza, "seated position," flip your toes out to the rear so that your weight rests on your insteps. When in seiza, your left big toe should rest on top of your right big toe as in the photo above, and your hakama should be flared out to the sides so as to form a triangular shape.








Your posture in seiza should be straight, not slouched or hunched. The movement from the standing position to seiza should be performed as single fluid movement.


Grasp the saya, "scabbard," with your right hand near the tsuba.








Using your right hand, move the sword forward, pulling the saya through your left hand until your left hand is at the kojiri, "the cap on the end of the saya." While doing this continue to hold the sageo in the left hand so that it is stretched the length of the saya.   Move your left hand to a position next to your left knee. Bring your right hand back to a position next to your right knee so that the sword is in front of both knees.



Place the sword in front of you with the edge forward. Do not allow your hips to rise as you do this.


As you straighten you upper body, draw your hands back and slightly together with the palms upward.


As your hands reach your thighs, rotate the hands to a palm down position on the thighs. As you do this, fix your gaze on the sword. Note: This is the first time that you look at the sword. Prior to this point the eyes are firmly fixed forward.








Perform a zarei, "seated bow," to the sword. Both hands move together to the floor in front of the knees with both hands in a fist. The back and neck are straight. Do not raise your hips.   After bowing to the sword, return your hands to your thighs.



Reaching forward with your right hand, grasp the saya from the bottom near the tsuba. Place your left hand on top of the saya next to your right hand. Do not allow the hips to rise.


Slide your left hand slowly down the length of the saya, straightening the sageo as your hand moves to the kojiri.


Straighten your posture and draw the sword to a position just in front of your knees. Return your gaze to the Kamiza at this point. Without pausing move to the next step.




While leaving the kojiri in place on the floor, swing the sword to your left, positioning the sword at a 30 degree angle with the edge toward the rear.   Lift the sword, pointing the kashira to your right front, and place the kojiri in your obi. Use your left thumb to guide the kojiri under your obi. Slide the sword under your obi and allow the sageo to bunch up in your left hand. This is performed in one smooth motion.










Take the sageo with the right hand, ensuring it is straight, and place the end of the sageo under your obi.

Note: Some schools tie a knot in the end of the sageo and some schools place the end of the sageo under the himo on your hakama.



Now you are ready to practice.

Some notes on holding the sword with the left hand while it is in your obi:



Your thumb should be at the 2 o'clock position, viewed from the blade side of the tsuba, as in the photo above.



If you place your thumb in the 12 o'clock position, as in the photos above, you expose yourself to the potential of a dangerous cut.


Some final points to consider:
  • The importance of reishiki cannot be overstressed when working with the sword.

  • One of the biggest mistakes made by students is insufficient attention to detail. You must pay careful attention to the most minute points.

  • Junior students focus on learning the next form. Seniors focus on reishiki.

  • There is more to reishiki than just the form. Remember reishiki also means "etiquette."

A final note on reishiki.  If you want to impress the junior students, practice the flashy techniques. If you want to impress the seniors, master reishiki.



I would like to thank Mr. Dungan for his assistance taking the photos, and the Delaware Budokan the use of their dojo as a background for the photos.
Thomas Johnson is kanchō for Kyoshin Dojo.