Sasaki Kojiro’s Secret Technique: Tsubame-gaeshi

Sasaki Kojiro and Tsubame-gaeshi sword technique

There are many techniques in kenjutsu, and one of the most infamous is the “Tsubame-gaeshi”. Not only those who have taken up sword-fighting, but anyone who knows Miyamoto Musashi would probably have heard of this famous move at least once.

Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro at Ganryujima

Tsubame-gaeshi is a technique where you swing the sword down in front of your opponent right towards the ground. This is a feint, luring your opponent forwards when they think it’s a swing and a miss.  At the last moment you turn the blade upwards and reverse the cuts direction, bringing the sword back up and cutting from your opponents groin to his chin. It is difficult to prepare against attacks from below, as a result this Tsubame-gaeshi is a technique designed to defeat the opponent from below. This technique was called Kosetsuto, devised by the Chujo-ryu School of ancient sword fighting, in order to defeat opponents in duels. It was regarded as a secret technique that was rarely seen.

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The person thoguht to have this technique to the world was Sasaki Kojiro. Kojiro is know to have studied with the Chujo-ryu School. It is not known whether Kojiro called it “Tsubame-gaeshi”, the name is thought to be a later invention. This Chujo-ryu School was started by Chujo Nagahide, who combined the traditional techniques of his household with some of his newer innovations, and started it in Kyoto during the Muromachi era. His master Nen’ami Jion trained on Kuramayama (a mountain in Kyoto), and it is thought to be related to the legendary Kyohachi (Top 8 in Kyoto) Kenjutsu Schools. It also produced famous schools later such as the Itto, Tomita and Toda schools.

Attacks from below can be seen in other sports too. The upper-cut in boxing is a famous example. Due to the human physique, attacks from bottom to top can cause a huge blow to the body, and even with great kinetic vision it is difficult to guard against it completely.


Sasaki Kojiro’s Choto Longsword as depicted in Mikami Yasuo’s film Musashi.
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The name Tsubame-gaeshi (literally. “returning swallow”) suggests that the blade dived and swooped like a swallow. We aren’t sure whether that is entirely true, but this secret technique performed by Sasaki Kojiro was infamous for its speed and difficulty to predict.

In sword fighting, there may be many other special moves and secret techniques that are yet to be revealed to the world or have unfortunately been lost.

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