The Other Martial Art in the Rurouni Kenshin movies...
There is a lot of kenjutsu in the Rurouni Kenshin movies but the other martial art that I want to highlight is the use of Aikido.
I took Aikido because I didn’t like the rigidity of Karate. Aikido is graceful, almost like a dance with its circular movements and fast pace. Its beautiful to look at and its certainly dramatic.
Aikido is a modern martial art developed by O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba. It may not be apparent but there is something utterly poetic (for the lack of a better word) that the choreographers chose aikido (even though the timeline is off by 50 years because Aikido was developed in 1920).
The purpose of Aikido is to defend oneself but also protect the attacker by doing as little harm to them as possible. It makes sense that the pacifist wanderer would choose the “peaceful martial art”. Unlike other martial arts which are defined by their attacks, Aikido is defined by its defence. Most of the techniques are created that they answer to specific attacks or can be adapted to different attacks.
“Ueshiba envisioned aikido not only as the synthesis of his martial training, but as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation.”
There is one particular aikido technique or variation of it that Kenshin does in more than one occasion. Its shown in the first movie when the hoodlums attack the Kamiya Dojo and again in the village in the second movie.
The technique is called ‘Tenchi nage’ or Heaven and Earth Throw. This is a variation… and there is more to this that what may seem.
This is the actual technique used with a two-handed wrist grab or ‘ryotetori’. (I suppose the one that Kenshin uses is shomen uchi tenchi nage or overhead strike to the head then the technique).
But here’s why it shows us an insight into the character of Kenshin Himura.
In the manga, anime and live action, Kenshin is always at war with the hitokiri and himself and its in fights that we see the hitokiri emerge. Takeru makes a masterful transition between the two and its subtle but not lost on the viewer.
So how does it show in this example?
Like I said before, aikido always has the protection of the attacker in mind. At the start of the fight Kenshin executes a close-to-the-technique Irimi nage.
But as the fight goes on the hitokiri comes out and the techniques start to look more aggressive.
In a regular tenchin nage, the other
hand is holding the uke while the other moves to the heaven and back down to
earth with the goal to unbalance the attacker yet do as little harm to them as
BUT techniques can be modified to incorporate attacks of sorts within the technique itself. Its not practiced in Aikido and in fact its frowned upon. Here, there is a clear strike to the face before the attacker falls violently to the ground (btw from personal experience… this hurts like hell. Your ears will be ringing after). There are moments where he composes himself and then again reverts to more aggressive fighting.
There is a lot of contradiction and
subtext at play here that may not be apparent with these jaw-dropping fight choreography (at least the way I see it). It shows us the duality and even contradiction inherent in his character - the fight is as much within himself as with the ones that surround him.
Update: I do realize there probably are differences in the names. The style of aikido I practiced is called shin shin toitsu aikido or ki aikido.