Sensei 先生

One of my main sensei is in his mid 70s. During keiko I attack him as best as I can but he still hits me and pushes me back. My heart rate rises quickly and I feel myself on the back foot at all times. He just keeps coming… like a Terminator! He’s in the dojo almost every time and he pushes everyone to do their best kendo. He has my utmost respect. Recently, however, during post-keiko beers, some of my sempai have been wondering exactly how long he has left at this pace. I had never thought about that until it was mentioned.

Old Geezer, October 2012

A man of little words, the sensei in question above quietly stopped coming to the dojo sometime in 2014. It happened without any notice – he simply didn’t show up. After a week or so my sempai contacted his house to inquire after him only to find out he was diagnosed with cancer and had already been operated on. Not wanting to intrude, we left him to his privacy. Hopefully he’d come to the dojo when he was feeling better.

Earlier this year he had seemingly recovered enough to pop in to the dojo and watch a godogeiko. I couldn’t attend that particular keiko due to a work kendo event, and only found out later that he had come to watch. “I should call him” I thought, but I never did. Last Saturday morning I heard that he had passed away five days earlier on the 3rd of November.

When I first landed in Osaka in 2005 I had been through a torturous two years in Hiroshima. My work experience there was a truly miserable one which was only magnified by the difficulties I faced kendo-wise. I practised at a central police station with police teachers and people from the nearby naval base. I think in those two years nobody allowed me to strike their men, they just beat me up constantly. Unbelievably, I remember standing in the dojo sniffling in my men with sheer frustration (at least twice). I made no kendo friends, mainly because I couldn’t speak Japanese, but also because there was nobody of my age in the dojo. Many times I thought about quitting and going home but, somehow (I still don’t know how I managed it), I scrambled through and escaped to civilisation: Osaka! There my kendo life was about to start proper, partly due to the efforts of one man.

Before arriving in Osaka I had already managed to get an introduction to Yoseikai, a dojo in the city centre. The shihan of Yoseikai was hanshi hachidan and Busen graduate Furuya Fukunosuke sensei. Below him was club president and a long time member of the dojo and student of Ikeda Yuju sensei: T-sensei.

(I haven’t mentioned his name here because he very much kept to himself. If you can read Japanese or have visited the dojo in the last few years I’m sure you can work out who I am talking about.)

I don’t know what it was about T-sensei and me, but somehow he started looking after my kendo relatively soon after I arrived. I think it may have been because I did something that people in Japan don’t bother with nowadays: I asked him for permission to take my next grading. Shaking his head and waving his hand, his answer was pretty curt:

“You can if you want, but you’ll fail.”

And fail I did.

For the next nine years I’d put my men on quickly and line up to do kirikaeshi with him at the start of practise. At the end of keiko, even if I’d already done a final kirikaeshi with someone else, I’d go up to him again and do one more kirikaeshi. During jigeiko it was no holds barred. I think I was the only person who even attempted to tsuki him, which he seemed to enjoy! On the very rare occasion that we managed to socialise together I’d pour his beers. After a few his taciturn nature disappeared and he’d say what he thought about people’s kendo or their attitude in the dojo… being a strict man, his opinion was often strongly put, much to the chagrin of those listening! Luckily I always got a pat on the back and a beer refill. Randomly, he once gave me some razors because he thought I needed a shave, and on another occasion some cabbage that he’d grown in his garden because he knew I was vegetarian. Due partly to T-sensei’s tutelage, I pretty much forgot my first horrible two years in Hiroshima.

Despite all this, sadly, I’m not sure that I can say that I actually knew him as a person. Kendo-wise there was some sort of unstated and mutual understanding between us… when and why it started I’m not sure, but whatever it was that initiated it, and why it continued is a mystery to me still. This seemingly vague relationship has, however, affected my outlook in kendo in many areas, for example: I can’t stand overly verbose instruction; I respect hard workers; and I try not to shy away from telling people things (in the dojo) that they don’t like to hear.

T-sensei never became hachidan. He never, at least to my knowledge, won any shiai, major or minor. You won’t see any documentaries about his kendo life on YouTube or read any books filled with his pithy kendo sayings. He was just a normal kendo person like the rest of us… except, for me at least, he wasn’t.

The passing away of the person who I considered my main teacher at relatively young age of 75 has caused me to stop and think. The first and most obvious thing is, of course, that I should be especially thankful for (and respectful to) the older kendoka that I practise with. The most senior (grade-wise) teacher I study under is about 63. Another teacher that looks after me turned 74 recently. The oldest, however, will be 90 in December (as a very young soldier at the end of WW2 based in Hiroshima prefecture he saw the mushroom plume of Little Boy). Also, as you can imagine living at the opposite end of the earth from my own family, I started thinking about my own parents as well.

The second thing is something I believe to be absolutely fundamental (but not limited) to kendo, is that I have an obligation to pass on what was taught to me. Exactly how I do this I’m not yet sure, but whatever shape it takes you can bet T-sensei’s teachings are to be found, somewhere, therein.

The only picture I have with me doing kendo with T-sensei
The only picture I have with me doing kendo with T-sensei

Duty of care 注意義務

Judging the outcome of shiai and handing down a decision may at first appear a simple task but, in fact, it is far from it. It would be more accurate to say that it is one of the most difficult of tasks. Perfect refereeing can be achieved only by the Gods alone – it is unnatural for one man to pass judgement upon another; thus, we cannot hope for faultless and perfect refereeing.

– Noma Hisashi, The Kendo Reader (1939)

A couple of weekends ago – for the first time in years and years – I attended a kendo seminar. Unlike seminars abroad, here in Japan they tend to be really small scale affairs, perhaps of only a few hours length, dedicated to a single area of kendo (i.e. shinpan, kata, teaching methodology, or grading). In fact, the whole (enjoyable!) “seminar” scene outside Japan simply doesn’t exist here (of course people get together for kendo weekends, but it’s a different experience you have in, say, America or Europe).

Anyway, the seminar I attended was a shinpan one and was taught by three local 8th dan teachers. The top teacher lectured us for an hour then, during the practical shinpan part, berated people constantly for their poor shinpan skills. Luckily – being a confident judge with lots of past experience – I evaded any criticism… but I must admit I was sweating it a little during my judging session!!

Today I’d quickly like to introduce (actually, reiterate) something important that was said to us repeatedly during the lecture as well as discuss a couple of points that were mentioned or came-up during the day.

The importance of a good shinpan (a.k.a. The effect bad shinpan have on kendo in general)

Let me start, if I may, with a quote from myself:

Kendo’s vicious circle circle, unfortunately already at play in various places where an established kendo infrastructure does not exist, looks something like this:

  • shiai too early + bad shinpan = bad points awarded;
  • bad points awarded = reinforcement of bad kendo;
  • reinforcement of bad kendo = a drop in the physical (technical) overall standards of kendo (yuko-datotsu);
  • a drop in the physical (technical) overall standards of kendo = a drop in the overall standard of grades;
  • a drop in the overall standard of grades = immature teachers (naturally bad shinpan);
  • immature teachers = students not taught correctly and put into shiai too early.

– George McCall, Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills (2012)

Perhaps I’d re-word it slightly now, but the point remains: there is a very real connection between shinpan skill and technical level of competitors. This influence, I posit, is often hard to see because it can take time to manifest itself in an observable manner. In larger kendo populations with a good infrastructure the change might even take generations. Most places outside of Japan have (through no fault of their own) a poor kendo infrastructure so the influence of shinpan over competitors (and, in extension, the general kendo populous) is both larger and more easily detectable.

The solution to this, according to the sensei at the seminar, is of course that people who shinpan must be active kendoka. It’s not that they should simply be doing kendo, but they must pursue it. Shinpan have a duty to understand what makes a yuko-datotsu, knowledge of which can only be gained through hard training over the course of years under the tutelage of good teachers. The ability to read (as well as execute) a good yuko-datotsu comes through this experience alone.

Above and beyond the physical and technical ability of the shinpan are of course a few other factors: shinpan must make decisions fairly, not based on personal bias; they must not favour one technique over the next; they cannot fail to award what seems like a good strike because they claim they have never seen the technique before; they should be well versed in the rules of shiai and how to act as a shinpan (how to move around the court, the calls); and so on.

Understanding how to referee is one of the technical aspects of kendo that you have to become used to and is therefore an important skill to acquire. What follows below are some of the most important points to be careful about:

  • Impartiality.
  • Use correct etiquette.
  • Become one with the competitors.
  • Make clear calls.
  • Respect the regulations.

– Ogawa Kinnosuke, The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan (1932, revised 37)

(note, all bullet points in this quote are abbreviated for this post)

Of course, it’s impossible to wait until people have mastered the (often mysterious and always difficult) inner secrets of kendo before they attempt to judge competitions…. not only because most of us will never reach that level, but because there are often aren’t enough experienced shinpan going around to judge competitions (this goes for larger competitions inside Japan as well).

There are many ways you could possibly tackle this problem, but i’d rather explore that in a different article. Today I think it’s sufficient to point out that the problem is a very real one.

Yukodatotsu - click to enlargen

A couple of interesting points

There’s a few things I picked up at the seminar that I could mention here but for the sake of keeping things short I’ll just mention two things: one interesting and one minor. Also, at the end, I’ll add in something I read in one of this months kendo magazines which came up by chance as I was writing this piece.

1. Change in positioning for a jodan competitor

One of the most interesting things that was said during the day was in reference to shinpan positioning when one of the competitors was a jodan competitor. Interesting because not only have I never heard this said before, I’m pretty sure it’s not in the rule book either! It goes like this:

In ai-chudan the three shinpan are organised in a triangular fashion. When one competitor is using jodan, however, both the chushin and the fukushin nearest the jodan competitor should move into a position where they can clearly see the competitors tsuki-dare. This is because tsuki is a common technique against jodan and it’s difficult to see if has struck properly. The triangle in this situation becomes slightly skewed.

Check out this wonderful sketch by yours truly:


2. Red flag over white

When calling hikiwake we are taught that the red flag should be placed over/in front of the white one. We also wrap the red flag round the white one when we are finished using them. Interestingly, at the seminar we were told when cancelling a point the red flag should be above the white flag as well. If you pause for a second you’ll realise the position of your hands thus changes when you are chushin (red flag in right hand) and fukushin (red flag in left hand).

It’s a really minor point (and not that important I think) but it shows to illustrate just how particular some sensei are about shinpan methods!

3. Not allowing a jodan kenshi to take kamae

In one of the kendo magazines this month there was a shinpan question I thought interesting: “Is it illegal to stop a jodan kenshi from taking their kamae?” By this I mean the chudan competitor keeps going in to a close distance and smothering the jodan competitor so they cannot assume their preferred kamae.

There were two scenarios mentioned but it basically comes down to this:

“Is the chudan competitors actions a tactic used to proactively attack, lure, and/or forestall the jodan competitor? Or is he simply moving in close to stop the jodan competitor from attacking him (due to fear or lack of skill perhaps) and wasting time?”

If it is the first scenario then this is basically one of the strategies that can be used against jodan and is valid. The second scenario is, of course, illegal and should be penalised for not attacking and/or wasting time.

Shinpan gallery

Bonus: All Japan Kendo Championships 2015 Shinpan opinion piece

My sensei was one of the shinpan at this years All Japan Kendo Championships (held yesterday). At keiko today he (as he usually does when he comes back from large shiai or events) chatted a little bit about what happened and gave us his own insight into the event. Tonight he mentioned specifically about Katsumi Yosuke, the runner-up in the competition. Despite losing in the final, my sensei said that he watched his kendo style carefully and felt that he was a kenshi that does good kendo. Check out this super slow-mo clip courtesy of the ZNKR (more here):

Book collection 剣道書集(一部)

On the rare occasion I actually get some time to myself I like to engage in my hobby… no, not kendo, but rummaging around second-hand book shops for kendo and kendo related books. In particular I enjoy getting my hands on pre-WW2 books/manuals, or autobiographies/first-hand biographies of kenshi that lived during that period.

Over the last few years libraries and universities across Japan have started to slowly digitise their old catalogue, so you can actually find many older books online for free. Personally however, I much prefer to get my hands on a physical copy – preferably an original rather than a modern re-print. Sometimes they are signed, have notes in the corners, or perhaps have key sections underlined… that’s part of the charm I guess!!!

The reason I prefer older books is a combination of simply liking old things plus the realisation that most kendo books produced in Japan since the 60/70s have, in fact, pretty much the same content: there isn’t much originality of thought, and they all seem to repeat each other (even more so nowadays). There are a few excellent academic history of kendo available which are highly worth picking up, but manuals and general discourse (unless it’s personal experience they are recounting) tend not to be so interesting… at least to me.

Yesterday I went to a book market and picked up a nice little manual for 400 yen (post WW2 but written by a sensei I am interested in) which inspired me to root through my books this afternoon. This post is simply a rummage through part of my kendo book collection!

There are many Meiji (1868-1912) or pre-Meiji period books available in online university or library sites, but originals are obviously extremely hard to come by. Like most people I rely on these digital versions plus modern re-prints.


The Taisho period (1912-26) period was when kendo became a school subject for boys, and can probably said to be the time when the development of modern kendo began in earnest. Due to this there are a number of highly interesting books floating around that can be picked up dealing with the emerging theme of kendo pedagogy. Getting physical copies can be hard, however, but not impossible. The second picture is a hand-made scroll showing Takano Sasaburo and Nakayama Hakudo performing Teikoku-kendo-no-kata.

btw, the tsuba keeping the page down in the picture below is hand made by Tom from Leather Tsuba (highly recommended).



It is the Showa period (start 1925/6) when the amount of kendo books suddenly proliferate. It seems that hundreds of titles were produced and millions of books distributed throughout the expanding Japanese empire. There are probably four main reasons for this: the expansion of kendo teaching in schools, the maturation of the new batch of teachers, the increase of the popularity of kendo itself (brought on especially by the Tenran-jiai, starting in 1929), and the increasing militarisation of Japan herself. I am particularly interested in titles up to the end of WW2 (1926-1945).

Due to kendo’s popularity and the production of so many books, it’s relatively easy to get your hands on original copies of books from this time period.


Books produced in the immediate couple of decades after WW2 tend to be of three kinds:

1. Historical overviews of kendo;
2. Discussion/instruction of the new kendo-as-sport pedagogy;
3. Biographies of famous kenshi that have passed away or semi-auto-biographical recollections by older, senior sensei (some lamenting the loss of “traditional” kendo).

I have a lot of the number 2 type books above but, in all honestly, they are all pretty much the same and are quite boring really. I much prefer number 1 and 3 type books!


There are a couple of books I have that, although post-war, require a special mention. Both are beautifully illustrated coffee-table sized books that can easily be found and – this is why they get a special mention – can be understood without Japanese ability (with language ability is preferred of course!)

* Zusetsu Kendo Jiten, 1970, Mochida, Nakano, Tsuboi (pictured top) : a comprehensive overview of kendo with lots of pictures and diagrams.

* Nihon Kendo Kata, 1977, Shigeoka (bottom) : an authoritative and highly detailed pictorial guide to kendo kata. This book is the foundation of the modern version of the kata we practise today.



Last but not least, I have to of course mention the English translations of pre-WW2 Showa era books that kenshi 24/7 publish. These are the only translations (in to any language) of pre-war kendo books that I know of.

* Teikoku Kendo Kyohon – The Kendo Textbook of Imperial Japan (1932, republished 1937).
* Kendo Tokuhon – The Kendo Reader (published posthumously in 1939).

Both these books and our others are available in both print and digital versions.

I really love handling and reading these old books, and perhaps I will translate another one in the future… but not for the time being.


Basically, I wrote this post because I found myself with a rare free afternoon! As I was sitting on the floor going through some of my books I suddenly thought why not show kenshi 24/7 readers where a lot of the site content and inspiration for content comes from? I have a many more books in my catalogue, and am quite passionate about my collection. Soon I’ll need a bigger house though… !!

kenshi 24/7 publications can be found at, please check it out!

Victory and defeat: 15 points 勝敗

Along with Naito Takaharu, Takano Sasaburo (1862-1950) is rightly considered one of the fathers of modern kendo. There are many reasons why he can be considered so (see a full bio of Sasaburo here) but the one of interest to us today was the publication of the highly influential kendo manual (sometimes referred to as the “bible” of kendo) simply titled “Kendo” by Sasaburo in 1915.

“Kendo,” based on years of research and almost certainly influenced by Kano Jigoro (who Sasaburo worked under), discussed kendo in a more logical manner than kendo books up until that time had, in particular it tackled the process of instruction and the purpose of kendo in the teaching environment comprehensively. The impetus for this book was, of course, the recent inclusion of kendo as a school subject for boys (which was also, btw, the reason the kendo kata were created).

In 1930 Sasaburo would go on to publish what is basically a revised and extended version of the 1915 book, which he called “Kendo Kyohon.”

Although Sasaburo is credited as the author of both books the contents are, in fact, only partly his own work (exactly what percentage is hard to say). Some of the sections were written by others and simply edited, put together, and published under Sasaburo’s name.

Now and then I think about translating it into English, but it would be a mammoth task and unfortunately only a very small percentage of kendo practitioners would be interested in it. Besides, many/most of the concepts, ideas, and teachings have been repeated in other kendo books over the years (including my own), so I’m not sure – except for the crazy kendo nerds like myself – theres a need for it.

Anyway – after all that! – todays article is not a translation of part of the book. Instead what I have done is to take a chapter from the book and used the headings and points therein and expanded on them using my own words (influenced by the content of the book and my own experience). I hope you find it interesting.

Korea vs Japan

Victory and Defeat

Here are 15 points (as found in “Kendo”) that influence your chances of winning (or losing) a kendo match, be it in shiai or jigeiko.

1. Mittsu no sen

This refers to sen-sen-no-sen, sen, and go-no-sen.

Although a common concept in modern kendo’s lexicon many people don’t quite get the idea… perhaps because of it’s often subjective and nebulous nature (I’m not even sure I’ve got it yet!). Confusion sometimes occurs because of the overlap with other traditions that have the same (or similar) ideas but use slightly different terminology.

Sen-sen-no-sen is when you strike the opponent in the instant he has made up his mind to attack but before (ideally) it actually appears in physical form. In this way, strikes like these can have a mysterious quality to them (they might even seem like magic), and obviously it is difficult to actually confirm that this is what actually happened. This is part of the nebulous nature mentioned above.

Taking the initiative and striking first or luring the opponent into attacking you then striking, is considered sen. In this state – generally the default one in kendo – you continually prod and threaten your opponent proactively at all times in order to make an opening (suki) or force them to make a mistake (also suki) to take advantage of.

When the opponent has noticed an opening (non-deliberate) in you and strikes, reacting to this and striking in reply (often instinctively, without thought) is called go-no-sen. In experienced kenshi this is the least desirable of the three.

There is, obviously, a lot of overlap between the three states. For example an equally successful kaeshi-dou can be executed first by luring an opponent in and striking (sen) or reactively when your opponent suddenly attacks (go-no-sen). A successful men or kote strike can fall anywhere on the spectrum depending… though you could only properly call it “debana” if it was not struck after the fact (i.e. go-no-sen).

Due to the subjective element at play here, it can sometimes be hard to categorise our kendo in this way. At any rate, Sasaburo states that:

“In searching for SEN it is essential that you learn the myriad strategies of attack and defence, and to understand that every victory is borne out of one of these three states.”

2. There is only attack

When the opponent strikes unexpectedly we often try to block their shinai, dodge out of the way, knock their shinai to the side, etc., that is, we make an effort to stop their attack from making contact. This in itself is fine, but if we do so with the sole intention of stopping an attack then it shows inexperience.

In an ideal situation every seemingly “defensive” action would turn immediately into an offensive counter attack. I say immediately but Sasaburo says it should be the same action, like the fire that is produced the instant you strike stones together.

The renowned kiriotoshi of Itto-ryu is not cutting the enemy’s sword down then winning, it is one action: you cut through the enemy’s sword into their head (or naturally thrust into their body).

To give some easily understandable modern shinai kendo examples: men kaeshi-dou (blocking a men strike and cut dou), men nuki-dou (evading a men strike and cutting dou), kote suriage-men (blocking a kote attack and striking men), kote nuki-men (evading a kote attack and striking men), hiki-dou kaeshi-men (blocking a hiki-dou attack and striking men), tsuki suriage-men (blocking a thrust and striking men), etc.

Another kendo term used to describe this (but not used in “Kendo”) is “Kobo-ichi” – attack and defence as one. One term that Sasaburo does use is “Isshin-itto.” It’s literal meaning of “one heart one sword” brings us seemingly into the mysterious again, but it basically means to do something with a single intention, i.e. to block/evade and attack in a single rhythm.

Seemingly an easy concept, I think the reality of doing this constantly is very difficult.

Btw, another way to look at this concept is that pro-active attacking is itself, in a way, a type of defence. If you opponent is overwhelmingly powerful sometimes it’s better to attack them than just wait to be struck. Hopefully they will be overly concerned with your attacks to forget to attack themselves (hopefully!) and you might just fluster them enough to get a good strike in.

3. Ken-tai ichi

This concept is easily explained by looking at the kanji:

ken: to attack
tai: to wait
ichi: in unison

Literally, “attacking and waiting in unison” the exact timing of which can be elucidated further by looking at a related phrase: ken-chu-tai, tai-chu-ken, the “chu” section being 中 (“within” or “while” in this circumstance).

In other words, while you are physically attacking your opponent, while your body and shinai are moving quickly, you should be calm and controlled (watching the opponent carefully) on the inside (i.e., spiritually and mentally). The reverse is also true: while on the outside you might not be moving a lot, on the inside you are calculating, strategising, and mentally pressuring your opponent.

Another, more poetic phrase hints at the same idea:

Movement and stillness as one

Personally, this is my preferred term to use when teaching this concept as it can not only be used to discuss kendo, but it also hints at how we should (or how I’d like to) deal with the varied problems that we face in our lives on a day-to-day basis.

Obviously many of the points in this list overlap and connect, and this section has strong connections to points 3 and 4.

4. The clear mirror of victory

When it comes to competing in shiai you should be free from worldly desires (Munen-muso). If you do desire strongly to win then you are already handicapped from the start. If you can keep yourself free of desire then all you need do is to be confident in the hard training you have done and allow yourself to respond freely to whatever situation comes up during the flow of the shiai. Mastery of ken-tai-ichi in particular is important here.

If you think too deeply, or strategise too much, your plans will not only appear on the outside and be read by your opponent, but you may become stiff and unable to move as freely as you could.

It’s very difficult, but maintaining a calm state of mind (and body) like this is one in which you can be said to be as clear and clean as a mirror.

5. Victory through the enemy

Again, this concept is strongly connected to what we wrote before. It also suggests that the desire to cut and thrust the enemy is a handicap. Rather, you have to, in a way, “give yourself over” to them, to follow their actions closely, to allow them to move as they want, and to adapt yourself to them in order to achieve victory. By doing so carefully you will be ready to take advantage of any openings that appear within them (which naturally appear in everybody). In the same way, also, you can select the right course of action to induce those openings.

It follows through that having a clear mind and mastery of ken-tai ichi is, if not a prerequisite, strongly desirable. Acting in this manner should be like the moon and the tide, or the reflection of something in the water, that is, natural and unforced. Needless to say, it’s not something that comes easily.

6. Don’t strike twice

A better title should be “don’t strike the same place in the same manner twice.” A good opponent will not only get wise to your strategy quickly and ready himself for your next attack, but it shows your own lack of technique variation. Even if your strategy works once or even twice, you shouldn’t do it a third time.

It’s common knowledge that the Japanese and Korean national teams (and America I think) video each others competitors and analyse the type of kendo (including technique selection) that is exhibited. Although you might not be such an elite competitor, it’s highly possible that your friends or people in the same shiai circuit are watching and making notes about what style of kendo you do in order to defeat you in the next shiai. The solution is, of course, to practise and master a wide range of techniques that can be executed against a variety of kendo styles.

7. Be quiet at the beginning

It’s often the case that youngsters or the inexperienced simply fly off the white line in an attempt to strike men (or kote) at the start of a shiai (some even do it in jigeiko). There is little concern about any meeting of minds or crossing of swords here. The whole act of “seme-ai” (the mutual play for the upper hand) before strikes are executed (or lured) doesn’t exist.

When the action starts, things can get a bit frantic with lots of movement, shouting, strikes, and tai-atari, but before the clash of shinai and body it’s better to seme-ai carefully and quietly.

8. Strike and be victorious in one action

When you calculate that the opponent is weak, or if they attempt to retreat due to fear, step in strongly and quickly dispatch them in one action.

9. Sutemi

I don’t think the concept of sutemi needs a long description here as I think everyone gets it. However, I think it’s very hard to attack with sutemi constantly in our daily keiko. In a way, it’s probably impossible, at least while we are in the process of learning kendo. Shiai (and I think degeiko also), however, provides us with a great opportunity to put this into practise.

In theory, once the decision to attack has been made, you should be attacking with such abandon that you care neither for life nor death.

In Itto-ryu, zanshin is the result of properly executed sutemi. If you have a cup of water and flick your hand so that the water flies out, this is sutemi. The small bit of water that remains in the cup is zanshin. I’ll let you ponder that!

10. Don’t match the enemy’s style

When playing rock-scissors-paper if you both put out rock then there is no victory. If one puts our rock and the other paper then the seemingly weaker paper beats the hard rock. This concept is the same in kendo.

If your opponent is attacking rashly and strongly it’s best not to get riled up and react in the same manner. Rather, you should reply to his power softly, using it against him or waiting for his inevitable mistake. In the same way, if the opponent attacks weakly you should reply strongly; if they use chudan you should go into gedan and pressure their fists from below; and if they use gedan you should use chudan and press down on them from above.

In other words, victory can sometimes be found by deliberately not matching the opponents style.

11. Victory through heart/spirit, not through form

Some people grow to be tall, some don’t. Some people exercise a lot when they are younger, others go to MacDonalds and eat junk food. There are lots of different people, body types, and shapes in the world. Some people are very athletic. Some people look strong but aren’t, and others look weak but are in fact powerful. Kendo-wise, when I face a very tall person who has good understanding of their maai I generally don’t manage to do my best kendo against them… well what I want to say is that I can’t hit their men!! I’m sure I’m not the only person with this problem.

Reading this section in “Kendo” was a revelation for me. Sasaburo suggests that if you forget the “form” element, i.e. how tall or short your opponent is, how athletic or non-athletic you are, etc., and focus on doing kendo “through your spirit/heart” (that is, sutemi) then the physical shape of things don’t matter. Kendo becomes a spiritual battle and, thus, through daily arduous training, a tool for spiritual polishing.

With this in mind I’ve suddenly realised that my “tall opponent complex” is in fact a spiritual weakness. I must train more!

12. Startle the enemy

This is a very simple concept – simply do something unexpected to surprise the opponent into opening an area up which you can take advantage of and attack.

For example attack from an unexpected angle, suddenly make a noise (e.g. fumikomi or kiai without actually attacking), feint, strike their shinai, etc.

13. Contagion

Unknowingly, people can affect the actions and emotions of others. We do this often through facial expressions, hand gestures, tone, etc. we mimic other people unconsciously relatively often. Everybody has “caught” someone else’s yawn.

But what about kendo? Have you ever noticed your movement being influenced (consciously or unconsciously) by your opponents? What about your mood? Have you ever tried to influence your opponent to act or react in some unconscious manner?

I can think of numerous things that fall into this category. Here are a small handful of examples of things that I do to influence my opponent hopefully without their knowledge (you can probably think of more):

– changing kiai to aggravate or calm my opponent down;
– stopping kiai completely;
– pressuring my opponents kote causing their hands to move up unconsciously;
– standing on my toe tips or sinking down (often my opponent will mimic this).

I have more to add but I don’t want to give all my secrets away!

14. Be careful not to have your concentration snapped away

This is the reverse of point 13. Whatever the opponent is doing, for example if he takes a strange kamae, shows an opening, feints, or suddenly shouts, never allow your concentration to falter and allow yourself to be drawn in by their strategy. If you do you will allow an opening to unconsciously appear, and you will be struck.

15.Know thy enemy

The last point of the 15 is a simple one: understand your enemy. What are their habits (good and bad), the techniques they favour, their personality, etc. The more information you have on them the more you can use to your benefit. If you aren’t in possession of good information you may under or overestimate their ability, either of which can be a recipe for disaster.

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Like I mentioned within the body of the article, there is a lot of overlap here. Some things might even be contradictory, but that’s ok! I also mentioned at the top of the piece that I used a chapter of Sasaburo’s “Kendo” only as a starting point – this is mostly my own interpretation of the content based on my experience. I hope that you can find at least one or two useful things therein. Cheers!

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Eikenkai September 2015 英剣会

Eikenkai is a kenshi 24/7 led kihon-heavy keiko session that takes place usually every couple of months in central Osaka.

Only two weeks after our last keiko, yesterday (Sunday the 13th of September) 24 kenshi got together at Sumiyoshi Budokan for our trademark session.

Thankfully the Japanese hot and sultry summer weather is starting to disappear, so lasting the entire practise is becoming (slightly!) easier. Still, we managed to work up a sweat the usual way: 40 minutes of kihon, 30 minutes of waza, and about an hour of jigeiko.

Our next session will 29th of September. If you are around the area at that time (and you’ve read and understood the “Points to note before joining a session”) then feel free to come along!