Seme #2: Sakudo Masao

Already well known in Japan, Osaka sports universities Sakudo sensei is becoming more and more well known outside of the country nowadays, so I thought I’d dig out a piece of kendo literature by him to share with kenshi247 readers. Here is a translation of a short description of ‘seme’ that was originally published in a Kendo Jidai article series called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” (originally serialised in 1983-84). The series was published in a two book format called “renma no hibi” in 1989. At the time Sakudo sensei was still only kyoshi 7dan (now he is hanshi 8dan).

See Seme #1 published in 2008.


SEME

You must face your opponent with the feeling that ‘ki’ is crystalized in and emitted from your body. Your hands must be soft. The softness of the inside of your right hand is especially important. Lightly touch the tip of your sword against your opponents sword; don’t especially strike or push their shinai in any way. During this time your body should be soft and flexible and your heart/spirit firm. To get the knack of this you must constantly think about this ‘firmness.’

While keeping this ‘fullness’ of feeling in your body you must project the feeling of ‘come and strike me!’ at your opponent, and – at the same time – while abandoning yourself to their strike, slowly close distance. Depending on your opponents movements you may sometimes close in relatively quickly and largely, but in any case the most important aspect you must keep in mind is your breathing as you move: it is essential that you unify your body movement and your breathing. That is to say, you must not move as you breathe out in a large/long blow, but execute movement as you are breathing out rhythmically in short, slow blows. This is so that your opponent cannot read your intentions easily.

While you are moving your body in this manner, the tip of your shinai should be soft and flexible. If your shinai tip is stiff then in the instant where an attacking movement occurs it will not be able to stay in the center, and all your strikes will be incomplete. Please be careful about this point.

To conclude, keeping this ‘fullness’ of feeling in your body and spirit you must begin to ‘seme’ and – whilst this is happening – you must study from where the intention of your opponent appears: is it from their shinai top? their right hand? their eyes? When your opponent doesn’t begin to move/react to your pressure but you see an opening and attack, then this is called ‘kakari no sen’ and if they move because of your pressure and you strike them this is called ‘go no sen.’ When you strike, do so straight from your kamae.

About the author

Sakudo Masao hanshi is a professor at Osaka sports university (specialising in Budo) and the leader of the kendo club. He is a graduate of Tokyo University of Education, earlier called Tokyo-shihan-gakko, the school that was home to Takano Sasaburo. There he was taught kendo by such famed sensei as Nakano Yasoji hanshi and Yuno Masanori hanshi. Upon moving to Osaka he did kendo under various sensei including Ikeda Yuji hanshi. He had competition success at university level and has taken part in the 8dan taikai. Outside of university life he holds several kendo related posts both in Japan and abroad.


Source

剣道時代の「名選手、錬磨の日々」(1983ー84)からの抜粋です。「錬磨の日々」の本は1989発行。作道正夫。

Two points for daily practise

1. By the time you are in sonkyo you should already have your strategy in place:

‘As soon as you stand up, 1 – seme, 2 – seme, 3 – seme… pressure, pressure, pressure.’

‘If you want to strike me men go ahead, do it! When you attempt to I will strike your dou.’

‘Just as your partner attempts to strike have the feeling of thrusting his left eye, this will cause a disturbance in his heart/will.’

‘Pressure the omote and strike the ura.’

etc etc. Whichever strategy you have decided on stand up silently from sonkyo and with full vigor face your opponent – if you do this and manage to take an ippon within 20 seconds it will be a mark that your kendo is improving.

Its very common for teachers to say ‘do shiai with mushin’ but this advice is for experts who have already forged their technique. If inexperienced people whose technique is far from polished try to do this they will simply be struck.

In order to stand up and take an ippon in under 20 seconds you have to concentrate on taking the ippon at shotachi (the initial strike). Shinken-shobu is often called ‘the fight for shotachi.’

2. While pressuring your opponent, or when their body-shape is in disarray after execution of an attack – when their heart/will is in a state of confusion – you should immediately attack without giving them time to breathe. If you are too late in taking the chance it will not come again.

Your mental state should be the same as an athlete who is waiting at the starting block of a 100m race: ‘ready, set, go!’ If the strike isn’t an ippon you must cultivate the practise of striking multiple times in one breath (until you hit a good strike). If you don’t do this in your daily keiko then your body won’t be able to keep up (during shiai or against other opponents).

This isn’t about striking with your head. Your legs should move of their own volition. Only when you have reached this state can it be said that you have mastered technique.


About the author

SAKUMA SABURO sensei was born in 1912 in Fukushima prefecture. He started kendo at around 10/11 years old in Fukushima Butokuden. After graduating from what is now Fukushima University he started teaching kendo at various high schools. In 1939 he began to work in Mitsubushi’s mining operation and taught kendo throughout the country whilst visiting various mines. After the war, he became a student of Mochida Seiji hanshi and – while running his own kendo club – began working as a director in the Tokyo Kendo Renmei amongst other things. He died at 84 in 1997. He was hanshi hachidan.


Source

平成・剣道 地木水火風空 読本(下)。佐久間三郎。平成9年発行。

Tenouchi for men cutting

Editors comment

I have a load of kendo books and magazines at my desk at work. In amongst these I have a couple of kendo-specific scientific sports conditioning and training books. I use these as reference and pick them up for a leaf through quite regularly. Last December I randomly took a picture of a nice diagram from one of them and posted it on the kenshi247 facebook wall. It showed the action of how the shinai moves in your hand as you start and complete a strike. The picture caused a bit of debate on facebook (for and against) so I decided to translate and present the text that goes along with the picture here. I must stress that this is only PART of a larger topic and urge you to read the original book if this topic interests you (see source).

As I noted on facebook, in a dojo of 10 sensei you will get 10 different methods of striking men. I know this through experience. Although kendo does have a general ‘set’ method (defined by the ZNKR) it does – in fact – allow for a breadth of style. To exclaim that this or that is ‘wrong’ shows, I believe, not only inflexibility of mind, but potentially of method also. So, even if you don’t adhere to the method explained here, at least realise that many people actually do. What would be nice, however, would be that the people who don’t use this method to actually try it… a bit of research and self study (called KUFU in Japanese) is required in budo after all.

As implied by the above, please realise that this is not some ‘how to do kendo properly’ article at all, but is presented for your (and my) study purposes. One of the well-known kendo phrases is:

我以外皆師
‘Everybody but myself is my teacher’


Tenouchi for men cutting

Look at the picture. It shows the tenouchi, specifically the rather unique usage of the pinky, and its role in energy manifestation in a kendo competitors left hand (as the muscle is extended power is generated). As you can see, as finger/hand muscles are being used the shinai-gashira (the bottom of the shinai) moves/slides between the up and down swing. This unique manipulation of the area around the pinky allows for faster control of the shinai, e.g. when you do kirikaeshi. It also allows for a finer control of the shinai tip.

Although this picture mainly demonstrates the action of the left hand in kirikaeshi, let us think about the position of the thumb and index finger and its role as a fulcrum for the pinky leverage. In this situation the wrist is in a fixed position (i.e. it doesn’t move). If the wrist bends the leverage mechanism will disappear and shinai speed and the ability to do kirikaeshi will be compromised. It follows that if the wrist is fixed then the fulcrum power of the hand can be used and kirikaeshi speed will increase.

If you move the wrist further than needed you risk compromising the ability to snap the wrists when you strike. Please be careful of this.

Lets think about it a little bit more. What we found out before (read the book – see sources) is that – when raising the shinai tip to strike – you risk losing energy in the strike if you bend your wrists in an awkward or crooked manner. Instead, as you raise the shinai tip to strike, keep your wrist fixed and allow the shinai to ‘slide’ in your hands. Ok, so where does the energy start from when you start to raise your shinai tip?

This energy comes from the elastic energy produced by the fumikiri movement (pushing of) from the left foot. As the body is being pushed forward the movement transfers energy (inertia) from the lower body to the left side of the body and arm, and the leverage of the left and right hands causes the start of movement in the shinai tip. Using the elastic energy that is transmitted up from and through the left side of your body plus the coordination of the bend of the muscles in the left shoulder, hand control, and the angle of the raised shinai tip, allows you to the possibility of changing the timing of your men strikes.

Elite competitors say ‘technical ability = the knack of striking men’ (i.e. if you can master how to do a men strike the rest will naturally follow). Once you have this control/knack you can attack with various timings, strike from various positions, be able to turn/rotate your shinai at will, and strike with correct hasuji (‘blade angle’) etc. For example, once you have this control you won’t lift your shinai tip up further than you have to when you strike.

The control of the shinai tip is found through the transmission of elastic energy from lower body >> body trunk >> upper body >> tenouchi (hands) >> shinai.


Source

剣道選手の打突のしくみ。今福一寿。剣道日本。2009発行。


Bonus

UPDATE: Check out some youtube footage of the DVD that comes with the book that was released prior to the source listed above: