Kirikaeshi 切返し

Over the last few weeks I’ve been super busy, both with keiko (as usual) and also researching/planning/writing the next kenshi 24/7 publication(s). Feeling guilty about neglecting this website (!!), I’ve decided to post an entire chapter from our last publication: KENDO TOKUHON (the kendo reader).

If you haven’t picked it up yet, the full book is available in both print and digital formats.

The importance of basic training has already been mentioned in an earlier chapter dealing with the process of kendo, but of the many methods used in basic training, perhaps kirikaeshi is the most essential.

Kirikaeshi is an exercise that all kendo shugyosha must not neglect. Some may think that it is an exercise necessary only for beginners but they are quite mistaken. Of course, it is an important drill for the novice, but it is also a drill that is invaluable for the more experienced as well.

During the first stages of training a student may move to keiko, shiai and the like only after first constructing a foundation for his kendo through basic training. If, however, from the start he engages solely in keiko and shiai, excessive concern for winning will result in the development of small technique and bad habits. Attacking with abandon, leaping from a distance and positive striking will all suffer. For the stemming of bad habits, the correction of already established bad habits, and for the fostering of large, correct and relaxed kendo, there is nothing as effective as the practice of kirikaeshi. Even so, however effective the practice of kirikaeshi may be, if it is not done properly it will not have the desired result.

The way to practice kirikaeshi is as follows: from to-ma (long distance) raise a loud attacking kiai and leap in to strike men with a large and straight blow, follow it with 5, 7, or 9 more oblique strikes to the left and right men, beginning and ending with a strike to the receivers left side. Break off and step out to the required distance and repeat the process again. When making the oblique strikes they must be accompanied by loud attacking kiai.

The do’s and don’ts of kirikaeshi

* Relax the shoulders;
* Straighten the elbows when striking;
* Do not sway the head, waist etc, to the rhythm of the strikes;
* Keep control of the gap between the feet, and of posture during the advancing and retreating;
* Take care to avoid striking with the back or side of the shinai;
* Always strike to the obliquely to the men with the feeling of actually cutting it;
* Always raise the shinai and strike fully.

It is essential to practice kirikaeshi fully and correctly. If one seeks only speed, striking will become imprecise, insufficient and small. Always aim for precision and then with improvements gradually increase the speed.

The benefits of kirikaeshi

1. Improves posture;
2. Develops fiercer technique;
3. Increases stamina;
4. Develops stronger and surer striking;
5. Makes the shoulders more supple;
6. Develops clear and sharp te-no-uchi;
7. Develops free and fluid arm action;
8. The body becomes light and agile;
9. Develops free use of the long sword;
10. Develops the ability to maintain posture;
11. Develops sharper eyesight (i.e. powers of observation);
12. Develops swifter technique;
13. Improves footwork;
14. Develops a calm mind;
15. Develops awareness of striking distance;
16. Corrects tachi-suji (hasuji), understanding the cutting plane of the blade;
17. Develops the ability to strike from to-ma;
18. Strengthens the arms;
19. Strengthens the spirit;
20. Strengthens the whole body.

There are many other benefits that could be added to the list. At times, for instance, when technique does not flow as it should, when one’s confidence for shiai is low, or when the spirit in general is at a low ebb, the practice of kirikaeshi is the best remedy.

The person who is receiving kirikaeshi must allow enough distance for striking. He must alter the intensity of the practice according to the ability and strength of the student while at all times drawing him out spiritually.

The benefits of receiving kirikaeshi

1. Posture improves;
2. The body becomes light and agile;
3. Develops clearer eyesight;
4. Develops awareness of the opponents skill;
5. Develops awareness of distance;
6. Develops surer and sharper te-no-uchi;
7. Develops parrying skills;
8. Calms and quietens the mind.

Again, if we were to take into consideration other more subtle benefits we would discover many more advantages to be had from receiving kirikaeshi. If sound and correct kirikaeshi is practiced continually and without falter, one will never cease to make good progress and an excellent style of kendo will result.

EDIT: This is a promo vid for the highly popular Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills manual released by kenshi 24/7 back in September 2012. Kirikaeshi from 0:38-0:55. Enjoy!


Kendo Tokuhon (the kendo reader) by Noma Hisashi. Edited by George McCall. Published 2013.

Eikenkai February 2014

Though a little bit chilly, yesterday was a beautiful day here in central Osaka. Arriving a little bit earlier than usual for keiko I decided to take a wander through the oldest shrine in the prefecture – Sumiyoshi Taisha. The budokan we are based at is right next to it… it’s so close in fact, that we usually walk through the shrine to get to the dojo.

After asking the gods for kendo-power, I headed next door to the budokan. Numbers were a little bit lower than usual (17 participants), but keiko was no less quiet or subdued. In recent keiko’s the numbers have been too large to effectively pratise dou-uchi during kihon!!

Today we were visited by old and new friends, and even had to say goodbye to one of our main members who is getting married and moving to Kanto. Personally, for me, the highlight of the day was being able to do kendo with some of my ex-students – after teaching them kendo for 3 years at high school they graduated and continued practising at university. Now – after turning 20 (the legal drinking age in Japan) – I was allowed to have a beer with them = great!

Keiko was the usual 45-30-45 format (45 mins kihon, 30 waza practise, 45 jigeiko) followed by the Osaka speciality Okonomiyaki and beer.

Check out this link for more information about Eikenkai, what you need to know before joining us, and to see this years schedule. Cheers!!

Shinsa – things to think about

The following is a translation of three very short pieces by Sakuma Saburo hanshi on the subject of gradings. Obviously there is some overlap between the articles. I don’t know about you, but I personally hate gradings and need all the advice I can get !!

Things to be careful about in gradings

  1. Improve your posture
  2. In other-words, ensure that you learn kendo-no-kata thoroughly.

  3. Kiai with a loud voice
  4. This serves not only to rouse your own spirit but intimidate your opponent.

    If I were to give an example from my past, there was a time I went on a 10-day gasshuku. By the 3rd keiko of the day my voice would be hoarse and dry and I couldn’t kiai anymore. Around about the 5th day my voice started to survive even the 3rd keiko session. Going through this pattern over-and-over you will finally develop a loud and sharp kiai that resonates in your opponents stomach.

  5. Attack with abandon (fervour)
  6. “Now!!!” – the very instant you think you see an opening for attack you should attack with full abandon irregardless of what your opponent may attempt to do to you or your shinai.

    If your strike doesn’t land then you should – in the same breath as your first attack – continue striking over-and-over until a valid yuko-datotsu is struck.

    To develop a nimble and flexible kendo style (so you can do the above) you should do intense kakarigeiko with your sensei or sempai (of about 50 seconds to a minute)

  7. Express zanshin
  8. If you think you have struck a valid yuko-datotsu then take an appropriate distance and express your confidence in that strike.

  9. Only do keiko with people better than you
  10. Never do kendo with people of lesser ability than yourself.

    If you are currently practising with the intent of taking a kendo exam then you have to be a little selfish and decline doing keiko with those that aren’t at your level. If you do kendo with these people then your focus will relax and your level will drop. If for whatever reason you can’t refuse, use the keiko as a chance to practise your techniques.

    Against a more senior opponent, first fight for the first strike (shotachi). After that is over continually attack them until the keiko is finished. At that time, be sure and get advice from them.

  11. Acquire various techniques
  12. Do lots of kihon and oji-waza practise. You will face many kenshi who have many different styles of kendo. It’s important that you learn enough techniques so that you can deal with any style of kenshi that you face (i.e. have a large repertoire of techniques which you can select and apply appropriately depending on your opponents style).

Ten points on gradings

  1. Sink slowly and composed into sonkyo. Resolve yourself to feeling “When I stand up I’m going to strike the instant you move (debana).” Stand up deliberately with this in mind.
  2. From the pit of your stomach kiai so as to rouse your spirit and intimidate your opponents.
  3. It doesn’t matter what happens during the shiai, never move back.
  4. Don’t attack recklessly – aim for debana.
  5. If your attack isn’t successful don’t stop and rest – continue striking until you land a valid yuko-datotsu.
  6. If you think your strike is successful take an appropriate distance, ensure that the extension of your kensen is aimed towards your opponents throat, and express zanshin.
  7. Aim for ai-uichi, that is, strike at a hairs-breadth before your opponent.
  8. Get out of tsubazeriai quickly.
  9. Don’t face your back towards the examiners.
  10. After doing the final bow move backwards 3 steps before leaving the area.

About kendo gradings

Some people thing that gradings should be approached in a special manner, but I believe that you should just do your normal kendo, nothing special. Just do what you have been taught by your sensei and sempai.

Here are things that you should be doing as a matter of course:

  1. Wear your uniform correctly.
  2. Act respectfully (i.e. proper emphasis on reigi).
  3. Fight energetically and with a strong spirit.

Here are some extra points worthy of note:

  1. Don’t just attack men.
  2. Some teachers say “Strike men, strike men… who cares about dou etc.” but following this advice can make it difficult for you to pass.

  3. Strike gyaku-do.
  4. There are people that don’t strike gyaku-dou even when it is wide-open. Left and right dou hold the same value in kendo.

    In competitions sometimes shinpan haven’t read the rule book carefully on this point (and thats why they don’t award it and hence why people don’t do it in gradings). Some people, however, end up hitting the floor after striking gyaku-dou, that shouldn’t be considered ippon.

  5. Sometimes I see people strike ai-uchi and then they turn and look at each other as if they are mutually resting… I have no idea why they do this.
  6. (editor: little bit hard to understand this point)

    If your opponent seems to be resting, strike him immediately. If the distance is relatively close people tend just to strike men, but at such a distance it’s simple to defend against. At this time you should tsuki your opponent back, breaking their posture, then strike.

  7. Half-baked strikes are minus points.
  8. Don’t strike randomly.

  9. People often lose (fail) because their movements become ‘stuck’ or their kensen is often off-centre.


About the author

Sakuma Saburo was born in Fukushima prefecture in 1912 and started kendo in primary school. Before the war he taught kendo in various places. After the war he trained under Mochida Moriji at the Mitsubishi dojo before opening his own. He held a senior position in the Tokyo kendo renmei. He passed away at the age of 84 in 1997.



Raw Kendo

Digg is probably the news aggregator app that I use most on my iphone to get news stories/information for reading when I am on the train or in the coffee shop (I don’t always read kendo books!). The other day I randomly picked a story about something I had never heard of before: Raw Denim. This is defined by wikipedia as “a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production” or by as a “denim that has been unwashed, untreated, and virtually untouched to the extent that it remains in its pure form.” Basically, people into the fad purchase cotton jeans and try to wear them as long as possible before giving them there first wash. When they first wash them the dye comes out in an uneven manner reflecting the wear-and-tear of use, creating individual patterns and shapes. One pair of jeans on the rawrdenim site had been worn for 15 years without a single wash!

As someone who constantly wears jeans I was fascinated by the article and – you know whats coming – I immediately drew parallels to kendo.

Like almost every kendo person, I have never washed any of my bogu… ever. The oldest piece of equipment I have is nearly 20 years old (a tare and dou). Keikogi usually get a wash when I buy them, and then again every few months (though the last few years – because I practise 10-12 sessions/week – I’ve usually wash them once/month). Hakama never see the inside of a washing machine – the most they get is stamped-on in the shower. Like the raw denim jeans discussed above, both the bogu and the dogi’s colour change over time and, depending on how often you do keiko, the shape may change as well.

A certain sense of… something

Ok, I’ll confess: I love it when my bogu starts to look well-worn and my keiko-gi gets a wee bit dishevelled around the fringes! My favourite dogi has patches on the shoulders and the colour has faded just enough to still look like I mean business. A men that I have used almost daily for the last 10 years has literally been hammered into shape on my head receiving uchikomi and it’s uniform colour lost (pictured at the top of the article).

I’m not sure why exactly I like this type of look, but I do. I guess it’s a kind of like saying “I’ve been working hard!!”









BONUS: You look cool, but you stink… !

The minute you say “kendo” to a non-kendo person here in Japan they immediately say “臭い” (stinky) such is the notoriety of the kendo smell!! Because it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the smell, we all tend to get used to it somewhat (our smell and others). However, there are things you can do to help.

Here are 2 things I actively do nowadays:

Juban – an undergarment (usually white) for wearing underneath your keikogi. I wear one constantly and wash it every couple of keiko’s. As my keikogi doesn’t get as sweaty as it normally would I can increase the time between washes. In winter, the juban also makes you feel warmer!

Gloves – for wearing underneath kote. These are now a must for me. They absorb sweat and definitely increase the life of your kote. Although wearing gloves won’t eradicate kote smell, being able to wash them helps tremendously.

Other possible strategies (I don’t do these):

Men pad/lining – there are a few different options for this: using a cloth chin-piece, a men-pad at the top, or even a completely removable/washable inner-ring. Of-course, tenugui help a lot.

Washable bogu – never tried it so can’t really comment. Doesn’t seem to be very popular here in Japan however.

Go white – another option is to constantly use white dogi. I sometimes go white in summer, but the major problem is that your gi can easily be turned blue by your own bogu, himo, or the bogu of others. I sometimes go white in summer but, it’s just not as cool.


Crouching lion and the roar of sonkyo

A while back I stumbled on a poetic phrase while reading some kendo information: 獅子の気合 (shishi no kiai). In kendo-friendly English it becomes “The Lion’s kiai” – what a great image! I stumbled on it randomly again today so thought I’d google it’s origin. Unfortunately I found next to nothing about the phrase online, so I assume it’s not an old phrase but perhaps just some personal imagery used by some sensei (famous or otherwise I have no idea; it could even be a sumo reference). What I did find was almost the exact same quote online as I appears in the book I was flicking through… which probably backs up my supposition (if anybody has any extra information, please comment!).

Anyway, it’s a nice image so I thought I’d share the – very mini – passage about it with kenshi 24/7 readers. The translation is a combination between the book and online descriptions and is very loose/free.

At keiko later this evening I will have this in mind !


百獣の王たる獅子は、自分より大きい像と戦う時にも、グーッと引きつけておいて飛び掛る。小さい兎に対しても侮らないで、グーッと引き付けておいて、ウォーと気合をいれ、パーッと捕まえる (book+online)。獅子がうずくまっている。。。この理の修業が大切である (online)。

礼法と思料するが内面は構え、外面は礼法である。これが修行の土台になる理の修行である。剣道で一番大事なことは、試合でも、稽古でも蹲踞である (book)。

The lion’s kiai

Even when the lion, the king of all beasts, comes up against something bigger than itself – the elephant – he pulls himself up, roars, and jumps at it ferociously. When he faces something smaller than himself – the rabbit – he doesn’t make light of it in any way, he again pulls himself up, roars bravely, and pounces.

The crouching lion – this principle is important to pursue.

Giving the topic of etiquette (reiho) some careful consideration, you will discover that the interior is your attitude and the exterior how polite you act. This is the very foundation of the pursuit of the principles (of budo). In kendo, the most important thing, whether it be in shiai or keiko, is sonkyo.


Online reference.