The following is a translation of a collection of things to be careful about during keiko by Takano Shigeyoshi entitled “Keiko kokoro tokushu.” It is a mostly random collection of kendo hints – things to be careful of, things to do, things not to do, comments about waza, etc. Some of the content is a bit dated but thats fine – it serves to illustrate both how kendo has and has not changed over the years as well as being a useful list of pointers.
I found the Japanese text online (see here) where it states that it was a document handed down to the owner of the homepage. Takano Shigeyoshi wrote only one book to my knowledge (and then it was published way after his death) and the list is not in there. I have no reason to doubt that it’s not Shigeyoshi’s work as it’s highly possible it was a not-for-sale publication (it’s reasonably common to privately record renowned sensei’s teachings in books like this after their death – I have 2 myself) or perhaps even from some private correspondence… it could even be taken from a students notes, I don’t know. Anyway, I believe Takano Shigeyoshi to be one of those highly influential pre-WW2 kenshi who’s impact is relatively unknown today – inside or outside of Japan -possibly due to his long spell in Manchuria but more probably because of his lack of written output. It’s for this reason that I am presenting it now.
The picture at the top shows Takano Sasaburo (left) and Shigeyoshi (right) performing kendo no kata in Saitama circa 1934.
Collection of pointers for keiko
1. Beginners practise should be short, use large movements, and be with full spirit.
2. You should always aim to have a correct posture and manner at all times.
3. In kendo, posture is of utmost importance. If you have a bad posture then you are not doing kendo.
4. In chudan no kamae your right foot must not face outwards. People with posture like this will never improve no matter how much keiko they do.
5. Be sure to point your left thumb down when gripping the shinai.
6. In chudan no kamae the left hand should be held at the height of the belly button and a little bit forward from it and the right should be placed lightly on the shinai. Although the left hands grip should never be relaxed, only at the moment of impact should you squeeze with the right hand and put power into it. If you constantly put power into your right hand then you will be unable to execute a good strike.
7. There are people who, immediately after standing up from sonkyo, move to the right – this is bad (your kensen becomes weaker). It’s important to move forward at this time, even if it’s only the big toe of your right foot.
8. When you move your front foot out the back foot must follow. In the same way, when you move back on your back foot then the front foot must follow.
9. It’s not good to fight from close distance.
10. You should aim to strike from as far a distance as possible.
11. If beginners concentrate on learning men and kote then they will naturally be able to do tsuki and dou.
12. You must defeat your enemy first by seme then striking, not simply striking (with no seme).
13. Leading with your right foot strike the enemy. At this time be sure that your right foot doesn’t land before the strike,
14. It’s not good to raise your front foot up too much when stamping. Aim for your foot to skim across the floor.
15. Try to remove the enemies kensen from aiming in your direction before striking.
16. There are no chance to strike other than when your opponent attempts to strike you or when he moves back (even a light debana kote is still ippon).
17. After you acquire kendo to a certain extent, then you should make an effort to research/study body movement / footwork. When the front foot moves the back foot must follow.
18. If you see an opening in your enemies kamae lower your kensen and pressure their right fist. While they are protecting this area you can cut or thrust them.
19. When moving your kensen down to pressure your enemy be wary of moving your hips down at the same time – in fact, it would be better if you actually went forward half a step with the feeling of overpowering them. If they attempt to retreat at this time immediately strike men (alternatively seme their right fist then thrust).
20. Kirikaeshi is for the benefit of removing unneeded power from the shoulders. Without moving your shoulders up bring both hands above your head (high enough so that you can see the enemy) and from here cut either side of the head to around about the 3rd bar on the mengane. Be careful of not striking flatly (horizontally) and ensure that your kensen touches your back. But this is only half of the story. The receivers job is to pull out the best from their partner so they should receive with the a light feeling, never a hard “striking” one. Also, receivers should always encourage attackers to strike whilst moving forwards, so they should move back, and even move circular if need be. When the attacker seems to have spent their energy then allow them to strike a final men. Be sure that the attackers last men is done from the correct distance so to strike with the monouchi (itto-issoku). You can allow them a little pause for a breath if need be. This last men is very important as it’s the type of men that is likely to be executed during a shiai.
21. Do keiko as if you were in danger of being cut or thrust.
22. Be constantly careful of distance during keiko. It’s important to try and always have the feeling of striking first: when you think you see a chance, even if you think you won’t execute a successful strike, you should step forward and attack.
23. Try to strike the enemies intention to attack with as small a strike as possible.
24. If you think about striking then it’s already too late. When the thought occurs you should already have struck.
25. When striking ensure that your right hand is fully stretched and that your footwork, stomach, and arms are acting in unison.
26. When you perform taiatari do so with the feeling of pushing the enemies arms upward.
27. In chudan no kamae, if the enemy comes forwards and attacks then you should use their strike and turn it back on them. Your feeling should always be “sen-sen-no-sen” and, no matter how difficult the situation may be, you should always be ready to respond to their attack, even if it is bad.
28. When the enemy comes forwards and strikes step forward without breaking your kamae and keep your kensen in the centre line. You should display the feeling neither that you have been cut or not cut.
29. After striking men don’t lift your hands above your head, instead you must express zanshin.
30. If the enemy attacks you, don’t step to the side and strike their shinai away, instead execute suriage and strike.
31. When you strike hikimen, don’t lift your hands above your head immediately after striking.
32. When striking kote, don’t move your body to the left or the right, instead strike straight forward.
33. Block with the monouchi when your right kote is attacked. Block with the middle of the shinai when your left kote is attacked. When your men is attacked block by lifting straight up, don’t hit to the side.
34. If you don’t have power in your stomach when moving back after a hikigote, then it won’t be considered ippon.
35. If the enemy attempts to tsuki you don’t move back but forwards.
36. After striking right-dou you must express zanshin and carefully look at your opponent.
37. Pushing down on the enemies kensen – if they don’t respond then simply strike men. If they push back, then go underneath their shinai and strike from the other side (ura).
38. When the enemy attacks men wait until the last second – until their arms are at full stretch – and hit their dou (kaeshi or nuki). Kote (debana) is executed in the same manner.
39. When you want to hit the enemies men slightly press down on their kensen and, moving yourself out of the centre line slightly and without lifting the shinai/arms up, strike men in a small motion. (editor: this description is a little bit hard to understand)
40. It’s not good to strongly hit the enemies sword from the ura side. Rather, you should lightly press down on their shinai’s omote side and always keep yourself on the centre line.
41. When you are pressuring the enemy by circling your sword under theirs and attacking their men and they decide to strike kote, simply stretch your hands forward (it won’t become an ippon).
42. In jodan no kamae don’t grip the shinai tightly – do so only at the moment you strike.
43. If the enemy is in jodan and you are in chudan protect yourself with the feeling that your left kote is your tsuba. If you step forward with this feeling you cannot be struck.
44. Lifting your hands up when being attacked from jodan means you will be struck. Instead, protect your right kote using your kensen.
45. In jodan no kamae, if you move back or become passive, then you have been defeated.
46. When you are in ai-jodan and the enemy goes to strike your kote don’t twist your upper body or pull your hands back, instead move out of the way using footwork then immediately launch a counter attack.
47. When tired everyone tends to breathe through their mouths using up all their energy reserves. Instead, keep the mouth closed and breathe through the nose.
48. Don’t do keiko only for your own benefit. Be prepared to keiko for your partners benefit as well.
49. There are two ways to see. One is to use your eyes, the other to use your heart (spirit). Seeing with the eyes only is small and is apt to error whereas seeing with the heart is vast and allows you to perceive not only the the state of the enemy, but to predict things before they happen. In fact, perceiving in this manner is a great benefit to your life as a whole, above and beyond kendo.
50. In the beginning use a long shinai (4 shaku 5 sun) then, as your grit and determination is tempered through hard training, move to a shorter shinai. Yamaoka Tesshu began with a long shinai then shortened it more and more. Finally he reached a point where a shinai was no longer needed.
(Editor: At the end there is simple list of terms: these show the flow from pre-attack to post-attack. I’ve put the terms in bold then – in my own words – described what they refer to.)
Wazamae – Preparedness. This term refers to what you do before you attack in particular the semeai. In other words, how the kensen is used to feel out the opponent, tapping, hitting, slapping, pushing, wrapping, etc their shinai, your footwork, use of the voice, etc.
Semete (Kuraiseme) – Pressure (presence). This is the pressure applied to the opponent. Sometimes this is done by movement, sometimes by spirit alone.
Gamanshite – Endurance. Don’t be rash – take your time, don’t be in a hurry.
Yudansezu – Carefulness. Often people are struck because they make a mistake.
Handanyoku – Careful judgement. You must be able to read the situation, to understand when to do what and how to react to unexpected situations.
Ketsudanshite – Decisiveness. Once a decision is made then you need to act on it without hesitation.
Suteminite – Attack. When attacking do so with no regard to success or failure. Throw your whole spirit and body into the cut.
Uchikiru – Finalization. Be sure and finish the cutting or thrusting action, don’t stop half way.
Zanshin – Awareness. After the strike keep calm and be ready to respond to any counter attack.