Zanjutsu (斬術, "Swordsmanship") is the fighting style for the Zanpakutō (i.e. sword-fighting), and is one of the four fundamental combat styles of the Shinigami, known collectively as Zankensoki. Arguably the most important of the fields owing to the nature of the Zanpakutō, candidate Lieutenants and Captains of the Gotei 13 are typically required to achieve considerable skill in this particular way of combat to become worthy of such a high rank.
Ancient and intricate, Zanjutsu is a fundamental component of the Zankensoki combat system, and predates the establishment of the Genji School from over 2100 years ago. However, the modern incarnation of the martial art has been extensively revised and codified by instructors of what is known nowadays as the Shinō Spiritual Arts Academy. Originally a school of pure swordsmanship, Zanjutsu obtained profoundly greater scope and importance with the advent of Zanpakutō, a veritable extension of the wielder's soul in the form of a sword.
Developed throughout millennia and employed by intrinsically supernatural beings, Zanjutsu is a highly complex martial art. Broad in its scope, it consists of six distinct forms. On the whole, each form is a compact martial art with a unique combat philosophy of its own, as well as a unique set of kata (型, "form"), that is sequences, and kamae (構え, "posture"), opening stances. The form is a strategy, the general approach the practitioner takes in order to achieve one's goal: overcome the opposition. Stances are more than just a pose that begins the engagement, but a way for the swordsman to enter the appropriate mindset, reflected in the way they perform from that point onward. Accordingly, every move (技, waza) included in a form is a specific tactic employed to achieve the goal, a single expression of the overall approach. Moves are rarely performed in separation, but rather in a variety of sequences. However, they are far from being rigid in their delivery. This is owing to the fact that each move is a "template" of sorts, and as such easily adapted depending on the circumstances. Whereas there exist 378 distinct moves total, the influence of factors such as sequence, position, trajectory, strength, speed, and ingenuity means the permutations are virtually endless.
Way of Moderation is the default form taught to all students of the Shinō Academy. The form is a comprehensive set of 108 moves that include a wide variety of offensive and defensive techniques. In addition, it facilitates the employment of other fields of the Zankensoki in order to supplement the fighting style. Nonetheless, there exist five derivative forms as well. Each of them boasts a set of 54 different specialised moves more suitable for a specific approach. Prospective expert swordsmen are generally advised to select one of the derivative forms because of their valuable focus. Naturally, the practitioners are able to include moves from across all six forms in their repertoire in order to develop a distinct personal style. In fact, the fighting style of a true master swordsman, whilst still predominantly adherent to a specific form, seldom contains recognisable elements from less than two various forms.
Combat philosophy, physical conditioning, and incessant refinement of skill are all crucial to become a proficient Zanjutsu practitioner. However, meditation is another, less obvious yet equally significant factor. The practice of Jinzen is the pathway to communicate with the facet of the wielder's existence that is imprinted upon the physical form of the sword, the process which gradually transforms a mere Asauchi into a full-fledged Zanpakutō. Practitioners are encouraged to establish and maintain a healthy, stable relationship with the spirit within. Over time, as the bond improves, their compound power flourishes through the achievement of Shikai and Bankai states, which manifest the innate might of the total of their being.
Way of Moderation
Chūyōdō (中庸道, "Way of Moderation"): The most basic, and thus fundamental, of all the forms, chūyōdō is characterised by its versatility and balance. In short, it is a comprehensive set of offensive and defensive moves that together constitute the common basis shared between the more specialised styles. As a relatively generic, jack-of-all-trades kind of form it relies upon deliberate, measured swordsmanship which offers no distinct advantages, but also no major drawbacks for the opponent to exploit. In addition, it encourages the employment of other disciplines of Zankensoki as a way to supplement pure swordsmanship. Because of how simple and well-rounded chūyōdō is, this form is the one taught to all prospective swordsmen who attend the Spiritual Arts Academy.
- Kamae: Chūkan (中間, "Middle"): Balance between defence and offence. The practitioner spreads one's legs slightly, and shuffles the dominant leg forward. The sword is held relatively high in a two-handed grip. The blade points diagonally upward and somewhat in. The posture is fairly stable and, ideally, allows the user to either swiftly defend, or perform an attack depending on the circumstances.
- Dainidankai (第二段階, "Second Step"): The move consists of two stages. First, the swordsman performs a strong strike which ideally forces the enemy's weapon to the side with recoil. Then, one follows up promptly with an upward kick to the enemy's chin. Such a manouevre can unbalance the opponent, and create an opportunity to deal the decisive blow in the immediate aftermath.
- Jūji (十字, "Cross"): The user performs a vertical slash. Ideally, it encourages the opponent to focus their defences on their upper body. As such, immediately afterward the swordsman follows up with a side kick aimed at the opponent's midsection to exploit the resultant opening.
- Nidan Kōgeki (二段攻撃, "Two-Step Strike"): A powerful sword strike forces the opponent to shift balance. Once successful, the practitioner quickly follows up with a roundhouse kick that should be able to hit unabated.
- Satsujin Hitouchi (殺人一打, "Murder-Stroke"): Under certain circumstances it might be more convenient to strike the enemy with the pommel of the sword, rather than swing the blade in an ordinary attack. Such an unusual strike is often quite unexpected and can briefly stun the opponent.
- Sokuji Ōtō (即時応答, "Immediate Response"): The practitioner evades the enemy's attack, possibly with the use of a Hohō technique, then strikes back right afterward in one fluent motion. Swift enough users can catch the opponent off-guard.
- Tsuri (釣り, "Angling"): In general, the move involves the user casting a Bakudō spell, such as Hainawa or Hōrin, in order to constrain and pull the opponent closer. Then, the practitioner can slash the bound enemy with impunity. Notably, the technique can be performed with any rope- or chain-like item which has got the right properties, including certain Shikai forms.
- Yoshin (余震, "Aftershock"): Whenever a sword strike disrupts the enemy's defence, or forces them to withdraw, the swordsman can quickly cast a Hadō spell to exploit this brief window of opportunity and intercept them.
Way of Resolution
Ketsugidō (決議道, "Way of Resolution"): On the whole, this passive form of combat is the preferred style of benign combatants who are unwilling to slay their foes; guardians, rather than killers. As well as of those who merely prefer to use the ferocity of their opponents against them, however. Dependent upon composure, perseverance, and economy of movement, it emphasises defensive techniques performed with the employment of tight motions of the blade, as well as graceful dodges. The nigh-constant, efficient swings of the sword are intended to cover a wide area, and offer substantial protection with little effort on the fighter's part. Poise and focus are essential. Practitioners of ketsugidō strive to outlast their typically more aggressive opponents owing to their impressive resilience and optimal delivery.
- Kamae: Chūjiku (中軸, "Pivot"): Stalwart defence. The practitioner assumes a stable stance with one's legs slightly spread. The three body centres of mass are aligned on a vertical axis to ensure optimal balance. Furthermore, the sword is held upward at a high angle, in front of the user. The posture is intended to form the foundation of an impenetrable defence as the practitioner is highly steady, and capable of quickly moving the blade to intercept any attack.
- Aburaha (油刃, "Oil Blade"): A distinct stance that requires precise positioning of the sword. The technique allows the swordsman to protect oneself with minimal effort as the correct angle causes the enemy's attacks to virtually slide off the blade with but a fraction of their original force.
- Furiko (振り子, "Pendulum"): A bizarre yet versatile defensive technique. The practitioner holds the Zanpakutō pointed downward with the main hand, and maintains the off hand on its pommel. As a result, one is capable of swinging the blade in a pendulum-like fashion that allows to effectively protect two-thirds of one's body. Moreover, the user may quickly swing the Zanpakutō upward to defend their upper body as well, should the need arise.
- Kenkanmon (剣関門, "Sword Barrier"): Designed as one of the alleged "absolute defence" techniques, this manoeuvre involves a continuous series of broad swings in order to produce the so-called "Sword Barrier". Preferably, the practitioner is capable of covering all vital spots due to the sheer speed of the blade. Needless to say, the technique requires substantial practice to perform properly. A competent user is able to defend from multiple sword strikes, ambushes, and omnidirectional attacks. Because of the effort involved, the move is best used sparingly to defend only from particularly dangerous assaults, such as volleys of strikes performed by particularly nimble opponents, or a whole group of them at the same time.
- Kyozetsu (拒絶, "Rebuff"): This basic move is very effective in its simplicity. Rather than allow the enemy to perform their strike unabated, the practitioner parries abruptly with a swift and powerful one-handed swing of the blade. Frequently, the technique is sufficient to disrupt the opponent's attack. Thus, the user can launch their own counter-offence immediately afterward.
- Narashijū (馴らし獣, "Taming the Beast"): The move involves twisting one's wrists whilst performing a thrust to unexpectedly intercept and force down the enemy's blade. Subsequently, the practitioner can block the opponent in this position to force a stalemate.
- Tawami (たわみ, "Deflection"): The practitioner redirects the momentum behind the enemy's slash by guiding their blade to the side. This can disrupt the opponent's stance, and serve as an opportunity to strike back.
Way of Aggression
Kōseidō (攻勢道, "Way of Aggression"): This violent and dynamic form of combat is the trademark of merciless enforcers of law. Notable features include a wide variety of circuitous swings, abrupt thrusts, and sallies performed with considerable force. Additionally, numerous acrobatic manoeuvres such as leaps, somersaults, backflips, and spinning are used extensively to deliver crushing attacks and outmanoeuvre the enemy in equal measure. The form largely eschews defence in favour of incessant offence, as this is where its focus lies. Owing to its intensity, it is also not really fit for protracted combat.
- Kamae: Kanadzuchi (金槌, "Hammer"): Ferocious offence. The practitioner stands with legs spread fairly wide and bent somewhat. The sword is held in a two-handed grip above the wielder's head, pointed diagonally upward and to the back. Defence is of no concern, as the stance is intended to provide anchoring and impetus for a powerful downward strike, one that may begin a vicious assault, or finish the duel in one fell swoop.
- Assei (圧制, "Oppression"): This move consists of the user employing the momentum of one's body to suppress and push back the opponent with a vicious charge, so that the opponent has got little choice but desperately defend oneself.
- Bōsekishi (紡績死, "Spinning Death"): The practitioner performs a series of circular slashes all the while spinning toward the enemy. As opposed to a more mundane approach toward offence, this technique sacrifices some speed for the sake of less predictable trajectories and considerably increased impetus.
- Dantōdai (断頭台, "Guillotine"): A semi-acrobatic manoeuvre that involves the practitioner jumping into the air. With a mid-air somersault the user then descends toward the opponent with one's sword poised to take advantage of the considerable momentum. The resultant strike is highly powerful and can suppress the enemy, if not cut one in half outright.
- Kensakuban (研削盤, "Grinder"): Whenever two sword-fighters lock their blades, the practitioner might employ one's superior strength to overpower the enemy, and grind one's blade against that of the enemy only to slice and inflict a wound upon the exposed body shortly afterward.
- Kūshaku (収穫, "Harvest"): This technique is a sequence of powerful diagonal slashes. Ideally, the enemy is forced to withdraw with each consecutive strike owing to their great power. Meanwhile, the practitioner follows them relentlessly step after step, all the while maintaining the vicious assault.
- Naburigoroshi (なぶり殺し, "Death of a Thousand Cuts"): This continuous series of short strikes is performed to maintain an extremely fast and oppressive assault. The technique relies upon sheer volume of attacks that might overwhelm the enemy's defence with quantity rather than quality.
- Shikaiten (死回転, "Deathspinner"): This move can be performed by some of the more nimble combatants. The practitioner leaps at the opponent whilst forcing one's own body to rotate at extremely high speed. With the sword positioned in an appropriate manner the user can then exploit that motion to cleave a single, or even several enemies simultaneously, within an instant.
- Shikuiki (死区域, "Killzone"): A demanding but extremely lethal manoeuvre that involves a metaphorical tempest of lightning-fast slashes. In doing so, the practitioner produces the so-called "killzone" within the reach of one's sword. Anyone or anything caught within that area is nigh-instantly torn apart in a vicious series of strikes.
- Shishako (死者弧, "Dead Arc"): The practitioner holds one's sword pointed forward in a two-handed grip. Then, one performs a broad horizontal slash to a side with bone-shattering impetus achieved through a simultaneous shift of stance. The attack might cut a bloody swath through several opponents.
- Suikawari (西瓜割, "Watermelon Splitting"): A strong, two-handed overhead slash which vertically cleaves an opponent in twain. The move renders the practitioner vulnerable during the delivery, although it boasts crushing power as a form of compensation. In addition, one may precede the technique with a leap to gain extra momentum.
- Tettsui (鉄槌, "Crushing Blow"): A measured sally that transitions into a powerful two-handed strike. The technique's purpose is to suppress the enemy with a display of superior strength and force them to lose ground, if not their life.
- Tsuki (突き, "Jab"): This simple move is a stabbing motion delivered from a side. The defensive stance required to block such an attack is relatively awkward. Consequently, the user may follow up quickly with another attack to take advantage of this.
- Wangetsu (彎月, "Crescent"): The practitioner points their sword downward and transitions into a powerful, two-handed upward strike that can cut the enemy in twain.
Way of Attrition
Shōmōdō (消耗道, "Way of Attrition"): This form revolves around methodical infliction of various types of pinprick yet enervating wounds. Essentially, shōmōdō consists of numerous techniques that gradually nick, shred, and impale the extremities of the opponent in order to gradually wear them down with the least effort possible. Seasoned fighters are aware which spots are prime targets for precision strikes, although even they might be surprised by such a consistently circuitous approach. "Death of a thousand cuts" is the form's core principle; it benefits greatly such endurant sword-fighters who prefer to circumvent defences or evade the opponent's superior strength, patiently rendering their formidable foes more vulnerable to the inevitable killing blow.
- Kamae: Ibara (茨, "Thorn"): Roundabout attrition. The practitioner assumes a balanced two-handed guard. Legs are spread and bent, with the non-dominant one shuffled forward. The sword itself is held fairly high and pointed slightly to the side. In consequence, the stance is perfect to evade the opponent's strike only to immediately follow up with a wide circular slash to the enemy's unprotected side or back.
- Benimaku (紅幕, "Crimson Curtain"): The practitioner abruptly slices the opponent's forehead. Ideally, the resultant wound causes bleeding that hampers the enemy's sight. In addition, if left unattended the injury may lead to dangerous blood loss.
- Bikkoashi (跛足, "Lame Leg"): Since the guard is usually held high to protect the upper body, legs are often left relatively vulnerable. The practitioner performs a swift slash intended to cut a tendon or muscle of a leg in order to decrease the opponent's mobility.
- Handō (反動, "Backlash"): A violent counter strike where the sword-fighter repels the enemy and fluently inflicts a minor wound on them in the process.
- Hōzuri (頬摺, "Cheek Stroke"): One of the most basic moves of the form, this is a simple slash that aims to swiftly cut the enemy with the tip of one's Zanpakutō. Even though the attack might be perceived as a sign of desparation, it is in fact a deliberate action that allows to deal damage, if marginal, with very little effort.
- Mamō (摩耗, "Abrasion"): The move is a crippling one rather than outright lethal. The user performs a broad circuitous slash intended to flay, or even shred the enemy's body. The resultant wound is usually an extensive one. The main intention behind this technique is to cause severe pain, and hinder the opponent's capacity to fight.
- Mukōude (無効腕, "Numb Arm"): The off-hand of a sword-fighter is often relatively exposed. As such, the user targets the limb with an abrupt superficial strike to sever a major tendon. This can render a two-handed grip impossible, and hamper the enemy significantly.
- Naizō Tekishutsu (内臓摘出, "Evisceration"): Whenever an opportunity to strike the enemy's abdomen presents itself, the user can perform a low horizontal slash. The wound inflicted by such a strike not only proves a hindrance to the target's mobility, but a deep enough cut can cause their entrails to be damaged, or even exposed. Needless to say, the damage it may deal is often crippling.
- Surudoi Senpū (鋭い旋風, "Razor Whirlwind"): An ostensibly harmless technique which is anything but. The fighter circles about the opponent and performs broad horizontal slashes. Rather than clash with the enemy's spiritual weapon directly, one aims to repeatedly inflict minor yet precise cuts with the tip of one's Zanpakutō. Major blood vessels and tendons are the usual targets of this technique.
- Toge (棘, "Thorn"): This abrupt manoeuvre is inspired by the brier flowers. In short, the practitioner anticipates the enemy's action and cuts them unexpectedly as they are performing their own attack. The move can exploit a likely lack of defence, and potentially disrupt the opponent's assault.
- Urakugi (裏釘, "Reverse Nail"): The swordsman abruptly stabs the enemy's foot as a way to reduce their mobility.
- Yuruinigiri (緩い握り, "Loose Grip"): The practitioner slices the hand of their opponent in order to enfeeble their grip, or outright disarm them.
Way of Precision
Seimitsudō (精密道, "Way of Precision"): This form focuses on pinpoint accuracy. Characterised by swift thrusts and sallies, the intent of seimitsudō is to overwhelm the enemy defences with highly precise attacks of miniscule footprint that target vital spots. The delivery is sharp, fluent, and extremely efficient. This is the most elegant approach of the various forms, and the one most likely to eliminate the adversary quickly. In spite of the form's relative lack of flexibility, a veteran swordsman can always rely on their deliberate, graceful moves, and superior skill.
- Kamae: Kushi (串, "Skewer"): Precision strike. The practitioner shuffles the dominant leg forward with feet shoulder-width apart. Usually, the swordsman faces the opponent side on, with the blade pointed directly at one's face. The thumb points down the length of the blade and other fingers are wrapped quite tightly around the hilt, allowing for small, fluid and accurate movements. This stance is perfect to open the fight with a rapid thrust.
- Agitowari (顎割, "Jaw Splitting"): Reminiscent of battōjutsu and iaidō principles, it is a lightning-fast manoeuvre. The user draws one's sword, swings rapidly in a broad motion and then sheathes it back, all within a fraction of a second. This technique is abrupt and strong enough to cut down a lesser foe without them even noticing. The most notorious aspect of the technique is its delivery; a highly adept user is capable of casually walking past several enemies seemingly without performing any other action during the process, yet bifurcating all of them in extremely short order.
- Haretsu (破裂, "Split"): This move consists of a swift two-handed slash aimed at an estimated weak point in the enemy offence. The combination of accuracy, focus, strength, and speed is sufficient to sever particularly durable obstacles, up to and including spiritual weapons.
- Muken (無剣, "No Sword"): The practitioner thrusts at the enemy's hands and proceeds to twist the weapon out of their grasp. Provided precision and perfect timing one can quickly disarm the opponent.
- Onibi (鬼火, "Oni Fire"): The swordsman strikes the enemy with the pommel of the weapon. In spite of being conducted with a blunt portion of the weapon, a proper exertion of spiritual pressure can result in a large, gaping hole of a wound in the opponent's body.
- Semu (剪, "Snip"): One of the extremely fast manoeuvres that also requires impeccable timing and precision. When the user determines patterns in the enemy defence with a significant degree of confidence, one might finally move to deliver a crippling blow. Thus, the fighter approaches the enemy swiftly in a bold leap, swings their blade in a twisting arc that aims to simply pass by any potential defence and, usually, cut off a limb. The most frequent target of this technique is the opponent's weapon arm, although other limbs, or the head, are perfectly viable as well. Master swordsmen might be able to block the strike, although owing to its peculiar trajectory, are often left in an awkward position in the aftermath. This can not only prevent a quick counter-strike, but may actually allow the user to perform a rapid follow-up attack.
- Senshi (穿刺, "Puncture"): Analogous to Haretsu, albeit it entails a measured and accurate thrust. The move requires even greater precision, and is intended to pierce a very specific chosen weak point. It is also relatively more difficult to defend from than the former due to the smaller footprint of the attack.
- Unmeinonejire (運命のねじれ, "Twist of Fate"): In a display of high concentration and agility, the sword-fighter performs a rapid sally toward their opponent as one is striking, pass by the attack narrowly, and impale them through the abdomen or heart in short order. Typically, this manoeuvre is a lethal one, one way or another.
- Yuiitsu (唯一, "Only One"): When the enemy performs an attack, preferably a broad slash, the practitioner passes by swiftly and evades the attack whilst at the same time bisecting the opponent with a horizontal slash of one's own. Whilst the risk of sustaining a wound in the process is high, so is the possibility of cutting down the enemy within that decisive instant.
Way of Deception
Azamukidō (欺き道, "Way of Deception"): The most sophisticated form of swordsmanship, which relies heavily upon elements of anticipation and psychological warfare. Combat moves as well as feints and deceit constitute the form in equal measure. Misdirection, abrupt shifts of stance, and winding slashes are par for the course, and no strike hits where it is expected to do. An integral part of this form is the ability to predict the reactions of the current opponent. Naturally, the more experienced the adversary, the less effective the feints are. Regardless, in the thick of battle there is rarely enough time to properly consider the best course of action, so reflexes often determine the reactions. Practitioners of azamukidō are well-aware of those reflexes, and as such aim to exploit the most logical responses. First, they trigger a specific reaction with one move, then immediately transition to another one that is intended to take advantage of that deliberately stimulated response. Out of the six forms of zanjutsu, azamukidō represents the pinnacle of swordsmanship. This style is the most difficult to master and the most risky to employ, but also the most effective no doubt.
- Kamae: Ōkikuai (大きく開い, "Wide Open"): Lethal deception. The practitioner stands firm with the non-dominant leg forward. Straightened up, one holds both arms diagonally to the sides, with the one holding the sword raised ever so slightly. Even though the swordsman is ostensibly wide open, they are in fact well-prepared thanks to the stance's unapparent flexibility. In consequence, the practitioner is ready to evade or block an enemy's strike, or promptly perform one of their own should the opponent hesitate.
- Kamae: Inakamae (否構え, "No Stance"): The official opening stance of azamukidō is generally employed in two cases: either by inexperienced fighters, or against inexperienced fighters. Advanced practitioners of the Way of Deception prefer an approach much more in accordance with the core tenets of the form, which means avoiding an easily identifiable stance. That is, deceit, and unpredictability. An azamukidō master shall begin battle with the opening stance of another form, such as the superficially similar chūyōdō, a unique one, or no stance at all. To them, every single move is a potential feint, and the starting point of a duel is no exception.
- Baikiru (倍斬る, "Twice Decapitated"): The Zanpakutō of the swordsman intensifies the aura of its own spiritual pressure. Since said Reiatsu is nigh-identical to that of the weapon's wielder, an illusory double of the swordsman is manifested to fool the opponent's Reikaku. Meanwhile, the real swordsman has got ample opportunity to perform a debilitating strike.
- Chirimakiri (塵魔切り, "Dust Devil Slash"): A preliminary move where the practitioner performs a sudden swing with the sword, preferably from a small or medium distance, targeted at the opponent. The ensuant potent gust of wind which may carry dust, sand, dirt, or foliage, can momentarily blind or distract the enemy. Then, the swordsman strikes within the following instant.
- Chishi Shissaku (致死失策, "Fatal Misstep"): A difficult deceiving manoeuvre. After a prolonged onslaught that fails to overcome the opponent's defences, the fighter can employ this technique to end the stalemate. The user purposefully interrupts their own assault with a fake misstep to lower the enemy's vigilance. The misstep is in truth a very controlled motion which allows the practitioner to swiftly regain balance and strike immediately afterward. Because of the nature of this manoeuvre, it is highly dangerous to either of the combatants.
- Dantō (断頭, "Decapitation"): This technique is performed with the use of Shunpo. First, the practitioner manifests an afterimage that seems to charge at the enemy frontally. In the meantime, the fighter oneself leaps onward and strikes from the other side in order to exploit the distraction. Such a manoeuvre can allow the user to bypass the enemy defence altogether to swiftly behead them with a single horizontal slash.
- Giji Kenkanmon (疑似剣関門, "Mock Sword Barrier"): This is part a swordsmanship manoeuvre, and part psychological warfare. The user swings one's Zanpakutō in a continuous series of extremely fast movements in order to create a purposefully flawed "Sword Barrier". At a first glance it appears like a blunt display of prowess, or a defensive technique that manages to cover the front and both sides, though leaves the back dangerously exposed. In fact, both of these aspects are completely deliberate. The manoeuvre might discourage the opponent from approaching, impress them with the fluent delivery, or prompt them to attack from behind. The practitioner is fully aware of the situation, and prepared to react accordingly. Demoralised enemies might be abruptly approached and torn apart in an instant. Those who dare attack, conversely, may find themselves impaled by an abrupt pre-emptive strike.
- Gyakukushi (逆串, "Reverse Skewer"): A perilous move that requires remarkable precision and impeccable timing. In a situation where the swordsman is attacked from behind, whether during an ambush, or as the result of a deliberate manoeuvre conducted by either of the combatants, one can choose to perform a sudden pre-emptive strike rather than rotate and face the opponent head-on. To that end, the practitioner swiftly reverses the grip on the sword and thrusts backward to impale the incoming enemy. Provided a dexterous execution, the move may well put a definitive stop to a supposed surprise attack.
- Itsuwari Jakuten (偽り弱点, "Feigned Weakness"): The practitioner deliberately leaves an opening in their defence. When the enemy takes action to exploit that, the user immediately deflects their attack, and counter strikes with the advantage of surprise.
- Kikokukiri (帰国切り, "Returning Slash"): One of the many misleading manoeuvres favoured by the practitioners of azamukidō, in fact it consists of two moves performed in rapid succession. The first one is an ostensibly straightforward sword strike whose lack of impetus prompts the blade to slide off the enemy's. Then, the fighter rotates rapidly and delivers the second attack, this time with much more power in order to overcome the confused opponent.
- Kiri (錐, "Drill"): This basic move is a strike of misleading precision. The swordsman faces the enemy side on and assumes a posture appropriate to perform a powerful thrust. However, as the opponent braces to parry or sidestep the impending attack, the practitioner twists the hilt to adjust the aim and instantly performs the corrected thrust.
- Kusakariki (草刈り機, "Grass Cutter"): The swordsman performs a swift, rapid spinning slash at the enemy. However, with the proper application of spiritual pressure one may halt the motion before the strike connects. Such a manoeuvre is very likely to encourage a quick, probably hasty response from the opponent. Depending on their reaction, the swordsman can proceed with the slash, or seamlessly transition into something else, such as a Zanpakutō technique or a Hadō spell.
- Makikiri (巻切り, "Sweeping Slash"): A fairly simple technique which might nonetheless prove very effective. The figher swings one's Zanpakutō in a very broad, meandering slash. Depending on the circumstances one readily adjusts the blade's trajectory on the move. Consequently, the technique can be employed to cut down a number of lesser foes in one fell swoop, or perform an ostensibly awkward diagonal slash that is difficult to block due to the odd trajectory.
- Nibun (二分, "Halving"): When the enemy performs an attack aimed at the practitioner's upper body, the latter ducks rapidly rather than blocks, and immediately swings one's sword in a broad horizontal slash. Best employed with a degree of preparation, this move may well finish a fight rather abruptly.
- Nisekyōda (偽強打, "False Swipe"): This basic azamukidō move involves a simple slash, the trajectory of which is altered mid-transition with a minute twist of the practitioner's wrists. As a result, the opponent has little to no time to adjust their defences accordingly.
- Ōi (覆い, "Pall"): The swordsman approaches the enemy quickly, side on, or turned back toward the latter. In the meantime, the practitioner prepares to perform an initially concealed sword strike the exact nature of which, a slash, or thrust, does not become apparent until one turns rapidly to deliver it. This renders the relatively basic move difficult to predict.
- Tatsumaki (竜巻, "Twister"): In a situation where both combatants charge at each other, the practitioner suddenly leaps to the side in a circular motion. Consequently, when the opponent is passing by the practitioner slices them with a downward slash.
- Tengokue (天国へ, "To Heaven"): First, the practitioner ostensibly prepares to perform a low horizontal slash. The moment the enemy positions oneself to defend, the swordsman rapidly shifts stance and employs the ensuant momentum to carve a swift upward cut across the enemy's chest.
In addition to the six main forms of swordsmanship there exist a few distinct styles. Rather than being diverse and complete combat philosophies of their own, they merely take into account the peculiarities of one's style, and apply them to whichever form the swordsman employs. These styles include wielding two bladed weapons simultaneously, or the employment of a reverse grip. Others benefit from the special abilities of one's Zanpakutō, or even proficiency in the other disciplines of Zankensoki.
Way of Two Blades
Nihadō (二刃道, "Way of Two Blades"): Whilst Zanpakutō that exist as two separate blades in the sealed state are a rarity, the occurrence of twin blades within Shikai and Bankai is common enough to warrant an appropriate sub-form of sword-fighting. Dual-blade combat emphasises offence and speed. Whilst it is possible to use one weapon for attack and the other for defence, it is more effective to perform an assault with the use of both. Such a way of fighting is rather demanding, and requires increased concentration, although it is proportionally more difficult to deal with for the opponent.
- Basami (ばさみ, "Shears"): Two simultaneous slashes performed from opposite directions to render the attempt to defend more difficult.
- Fukujūsen (複縦線, "Double Bar"): The fighter poises both of their blades to intercept and block an attack. This defensive move is highly useful when confronting a physically stronger enemy.
- Futatabime (二度目, "Second Chance"): First, the practitioner strikes with one sword. Provided the blade is locked with that of the enemy, even momentarily, one immediately swings the other blade to attack the exposed side unabated.
- Kōshō (咬傷, "Bite"): The move consists of stabbing the enemy from the sides, with both blades thrusting at the same time. This kind of "clenching" motion technically prevents successful defence with a single blade, but might be simply evaded.
- Sōkiri (双切り, "Twin Slash"): A basic attack where the duelist swings two swords from the same direction to increase the momentum of the attack. Both hit at the same time for optimal effectiveness.
Way of the Inverted Blade
Taosahadō (倒さ刃道, "Way of the Inverted Blade"): Some practitioners tend to wield their weapons in a so-called reverse grip. Oft-perceived as the mark of an amateur, some instructors discourage their adepts from employing this way of wielding a weapon owing to the inherent vulnerability to disarmament. However, expert practitioners are more than capable of utilising this style in a highly flexible and dangerous fashion. This distinct style offers some unique techniques, and renders the traditional ones far less predictable.
- Gyakutsuki (逆突き, "Reverse Thrust"): The move revolves around a sudden manoeuvre about the enemy, where the swordsman quickly strikes backward during the motion. The attack exploits the element of surprise to impale the opponent unexpectedly.
- Sashi (刺し, "Sting"): This move consists of a downward stab. Whereas the attack often leaves the practitioner susceptible to a counter strike, it is atypical enough to frequently score a hit that prevents any immediate response.
Way of the Phantom Blade
Maboroshihadō (幻刃道, "Way of the Phantom Blade"): One of the more peculiar styles of swordsmanship, it relies on a specific kind of Zanpakutō abilities which allow the wielder to swiftly disperse and/or restore the blade of their sword. Needless to say, this is an uncommon style, and somewhat dangerous if employed without proper concentration or timing. However, in the hands of a skilled practitioner the style becomes highly effective, especially as a supplement to the already deceptive azamukidō.
- Maboroshikiri (幻切り, "Phantom Slash"): The practitioner swings the Zanpakutō at the enemy. The blade of the sword phases out to pass by the enemy's defence, and materialises back right afterward to strike one with impunity.
- Okurerushi (遅れる死, "Belated Death"): This technique consists of pointing the bladeless hilt of the sword at the enemy's body. Then, the user swiftly restores the blade to pierce through them.
- Tsumazuku (つまずく, "Stumble"): The blade phases out whilst in a dead-lock, or when blocking a strong slash. The sudden disappearance of resistance causes the enemy to stumble, which provides an excellent opportunity to strike back.
Way of the Swift Blade
Kyūhadō (急刃道, "Way of the Swift Blade"): This advanced style of sword-fighting heavily relies upon creative use of Hohō. With the application of high-speed movement principles to swordsmanship moves one is capable of achieving feats of impressive swiftness. Skilled practitioners can perform multiple nigh-simultaneous strikes, attack so abruptly that only the most perceptive of enemies can notice the motion, or even appear to hit from a widely different direction than one could have expected. Notably, kyūhadō is a popular supplementary style among master swordsmen, especially those who devote considerable time to hone their skill in Hohō.
- Hankiri (反切り, "Opposite Slash"): First, the practitioner feigns a strike from one side. Then, one employs Hohō to abruptly change the trajectory of the blade and strike from the opposite direction. Swift enough users may appear to ignore the notion of direction altogether.
- Hitotsume: Nadegiri (一つ目・撫で斬り, "The First: Killing Stroke"): An extremely precise cut of virtually imperceptible swiftness. The practitioner draws the sword, performs a lightning-fast slash of incredible momentum, and sheathes the weapon. This entire manoeuvre is usually so abrupt that the enemy might stand there dumbstruck, only to fall dead as what has just transpired catches up with one, and the crippling damage is revealed in a gruesome manner.
- Futatsume: Tsukugiri (二つ目・突く斬り, "The Second: Spearing Stroke"): The sword is drawn, thrust into the enemy, then deftly drawn back into its sheath, all faster than the eye can see. The two opponents continue to face each other until the one who has been struck recognises a gaping hole in a vital point of the body. Shortly thereafter, death typically follows. The move is instant, exceedingly precise, and lethal. Conventional means of defence are normally of little significance.
- Mittsume: Kujikugiri (三つ目・挫く斬り, "The Third: Crushing Stroke"): Unlike the former two, this move employs the astounding speed of kyūhadō to exploit substantial momentum and the ensuant force to crush the enemy. A downward attack usually aimed at the head of the opponent, it strives to kill with such great power that the move does not even cut the target. Just the aforementioned force should suffice to extinguish the life of the unsuspecting enemy.
- Yottsume: Mosugiri (四つ目・燃す斬り, "The Fourth: Searing Stroke"): This versatile move may work as a strike, a deterrent, or a way to defend oneself. The practitioner increases the magnitude of friction one's blade meets as it is swung in a broad horizontal slash, so that the motion produces considerable heat, potentially a torrent of flames as the oxygen in the air ignites. Fairly simple in execution, the technique nevertheless requires expert Reiatsu control.
- Itsutsume: Sorigiri (五つ目・反り斬り, "The Fifth: Warping Stroke"): The swordsman performs an abrupt sally that causes one to travel a significant distance with a single Flash Step. During the motion the sword is swung in a highly erratic manner. As the practitioner halts, begins to sheathe the Zanpakutō, and pauses briefly before completing the action, the technique takes its effect. Anything adjacent to the path the swordsman has traversed is torn apart by what seems to be a rapid series of slashes where there is only one in reality, the sheer pressure exerted by the motion extending the range of the blade.
- Karamae (から前, "From the Front"): A technique where the practitioner makes two slashing motions near simultaneously, one in front, and one behind oneself. The attack behind takes place after the one in front but only the one in front is visible to the naked eye owing to the extreme speed of the technique, creating an invisible defence to catch those who would strike from behind unawares.
- Matataki (またたき, "Blink"): Basic application of the style which involves a simple but extremely sudden slash. Proficient practitioners can inflict a wound which the enemy notices only after the attack has transpired.
- Senmaioroshi (千枚卸, "Thousand-Page Wholesale"): The move entails a series of numerous extremely fast slashes that can shred the enemy in a matter of moments. Whilst the technique requires a considerable degree of focus, it is very difficult to block.
- Warūrugi (剖う動, "Rend in Motion"): A fluent three-pronged attack, created with such speed that the target is left unable to differentiate the marginal time difference between each motion, causing the practitioner to appear to have literally struck from multiple directions at once. The swings are typically aimed at both flanks, and from above the target to prevent them from escaping.
- Warūrugi: Chōzōko (剖う動・彫像刻, "Rend in Motion: Statue Carving"): A more advanced variant of the Warūrugi technique, the user unleashes instead nine simultaneous slashes aimed at several vital points in order ensure the elimination of an opponent. Similarly to the ordinary variant, Chōzōko is performed with such an immense degree of speed that all nine swings of the blade appear to occur as one solitary motion. Accounting for the added swings, this technique is in fact even faster.
Way of the Enchanted Blade
Miwakunohadō (魅惑の刃道, "Way of the Enchanted Blade"): The other advanced style of swordsmanship, which involves the usage of Kidō to achieve remarkable feats. Practitioners who boast considerable skill in both fields may infuse their blades with Kidō, use them to channel certain spells or even utilise magic to alter or control the Zanpakutō in a number of creative ways. Whilst dangerous to practise, the effects of such a combination might be truly devastating.
- Karyūnoha (渦流の刃, "Blade of the Swirling Current"): Hadō #57, Daichi Tenyō is employed to control the user's Zanpakutō remotely. This way the practitioner might emulate telekinesis and perform various unusual feats. Potential uses include erecting a barrier of sorts with a sword swirling at great speeds, tossing the Zanpakutō at an enemy in a boomerang-like fashion or wielding it like one would ordinarily, albeit exploiting the highly increased range and manoeuvrability.
- Shokubai (触媒, "Catalyst"): This technique consists of channeling a spell through one's Zanpakutō. This might be done to bestow that spell with augmented power or additional properties.
- Tenteki (点滴, "Infusion"): The practitioner imbues the blade of one's Zanpakutō with a Kidō spell. Thus, it is the Zanpakutō that receives a considerable boost and extra properties. This allows the sword to achieve a variety of otherwise impossible feats.
- Yugamekyōha (歪め鏡刃, "Blade of the Distorting Mirror"): Particularly gifted users might employ the combination of Zanjutsu and Kidō for the purposes of deception. Proficient practitioners can cast an illusion upon their blade in a manner similar an ordinary spell may be infused with the spiritual weapon. However, the end result is naturally much different. There might be no warning at all to prompt the opponent to become vigilant. All it takes is deliberate motions of the blade to draw the attention of the enemy and render them susceptible to the charm. Usually, the effects are subtle. Be that as it may, it is entirely possible to construct elaborate illusions with swift bladework. Their exact nature varies wildly, although more often than not they are highly dangerous even to powerful combatants.
Blade of Wind
The art of Zanjutsu focuses largely on pure swordsmanship. However, one should never forget that Zanpakutō is not a mere sword but a spiritual weapon, a palpable extension of one's will. As such, it boasts unique properties, and is capable of feats far beyond what could be possible with an ordinary sword. Advanced combat between spiritual beings is mostly a matter of spiritual pressure. As such, in the hands of an experienced and skilled user a Zanpakutō is capable of easily bifurcating mountains, or piercing high-level Kidō barriers. This is because the weapon acts as a potent focus for the wielder's Reiatsu, which allows their intent to strike to extend far beyond the reach of the tempered steel of their blade. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "Sword Pressure" (剣圧, kenatsu), and is an indication of either superb skill or overwhelming power on the part of the user, if not both. To obtain it is to transcend the constraints of short-ranged combat as the masterful swordsman reshapes the very landscape with simple swings of their sword.
During his duel with Nnoitra Gilga, Kenpachi Zaraki was able to unleash powerful arcs of spiritual pressure from his sword just by swinging it two-handed. Furthermore, as Ichigo Kurosaki clashed with Sōsuke Aizen for the last time, his immense strength caused the torrential wind stirred by the motions of his blade to destroy his very environment as a side-effect.
The process to master one's Zanpakutō is perhaps the most profound manner of development a Shinigami might undergo. Where Hakuda is the stalwart approach of an individualist who seeks to harness their own potential, and Kidō is the arcane art of commanding shattered wills that pervade the spiritual realms to do one's bidding, Zanjutsu serves as the catalyst to achieve absolute unity between two kindred spirits. While the Zanjutsu practitioner strengthens the bond with the innate spirit of their sword, they might eventually achieve a remarkable degree of harmony. So remarkable that it manifests in the form of an ability, or trait, bestowed by the Zanpakutō upon its master, a permanent gift and a symbol of their unity. Accessible at all times, even if the blade remains in the sealed state.
Captain Rōjūrō Ōtoribashi can perform the musically-themed Arpeggio technique whilst his Zanpakutō, Kinshara, stays in its katana form. In the same vein, Divine General Ichibē Hyōsube can use the default calligraphy brush form of his Ichimonji to not only create powerful seals, but also cut the very name of his target in twain.
To obtain Shikai, a Shinigami has to enter one's personal Inner World through the process of Jinzen. In short, one ought to look inward, and draw out the latent potential. To acquire Bankai, on the other hand, a Shinigami has to externalise and subjugate the Manifestation of one's Zanpakutō. That is to say, materialise a distinct aspect of one's being to train and unlock additional power together – in the real world. Any Shinigami who has developed a Bankai might summon the Manifestation at will. While typically temporary, the Manifestation becomes an entity capable of fighting, defending, and healing on its own depending on its powers and abilities. As such, the two can act and fight together, including the use of their Shikai, although unify again should the wielder wish to employ Bankai.
Examples of materialisation include Ichigo Kurosaki's Bankai Training with Old-man Zangetsu, Renji Abarai's own attempt to obtain a Bankai with Zabimaru at his side, or when Shunsui Kyōraku decided to hand down Shinken Hakkyōken to Nanao Ise. The most extreme known example is the case of Kenpachi Zaraki and Yachiru Kusajishi; the former was not only unaware the latter was the Manifestation of his Zanpakutō for a long time, but "Yachiru" possessed a degree of autonomy sufficient to become a Lieutenant of the Gotei 13, act independently, and even fight her own battles.
- This article aims to elaborate upon a very broad and interesting concept that has received superficial treatment in the Bleach canon proper. The creator has been inspired by real life martial arts such as battōjutsu and kendō, but also forms of lightsabre combat from Star Wars.
- Various styles and techniques included in the article endeavour to explain and elaborate upon displays of Zanjutsu from the Bleach canon in a manner consistent with the fictional universe. This involves the application of Hohō to perform Senmaioroshi, or the use of the Way of the Phantom Blade by Rukia Kuchiki to kill Aaroniero Arruruerie.
- Zf6hellio provided help in the development of some of the more sophisticated aspects of this approach to Zanjutsu.
- The author prefers to view Zanjutsu as a complex but cohesive combat system rather than a set of assorted martial arts.