This is the first in a series that looks at techniques done by those that are as acknowledged as the best executors of them.
The individual final of the 1st world kendo championships (1970) was between Toda sensei, twice winner of the All Japan Kendo Championships (1962 and 64, using jodan), and Osaka police’s Kobayashi Mitsuru sensei (3rd place in the same competition, 1963). The ippon that secured Kobayashi sensei’s historic win, 33 years before Eiga Naoki saved the Japanese team from defeat by using the same technique: katatezuki.
Although I was on the edge of the court in 2003 and watched Eiga sensei’s katatezuki land (after a few attempts), I wasn’t yet born at the time of Kobayashi sensei’s katatezuki. However, i’ve been lucky enough to receive direct instruction from him about how to execute the technique (as well as being on the receiving end a few times). What follows in this post is a description of it from personal experience and my own notes. I’ve also used a couple of kendo nippon/jidai articles for reference pictures.
First, please view the image above. Its quite possible that the tsuki that you’ve learned is slightly (or completely!) different from this. Thats ok, as there are wide variations on all waza in kendo. Even if it looks similar please read on, as the details might be quite different.
There are a couple of points that I would like to discuss in particular: extension of the left wrist; angle of the kensen as it hits the tsukidare; action of the right hand; and the pulling up of the left foot. Once i’ve talked about these physical aspects of a complete katatezuki I will quickly discuss sensei’s methods of practise and the mental attitude you should take when executing the technique.
Extension of the left wrist and angle of the kensen
Koboyashi sensei’s katatezuki (and his morotezuki as well actually) lands pretty much horizontal to the floor (this of course differs based on the height of your opponent). It does not come straight from chudan kamae, but is achieved from a complete extension of the wrist and a pushing forward of the arm. The kensen actually goes up, then down into the tsukidare. This generates power from the up-down momentum and is a highly accurate method. It is also very safe and has little chance of going up and under the tsukidare, which is a common problem for many people trying tsuki.
Right hand and the left foot
A very important part of the technique is the use of your right hand. Kobayashi sensei stresses that the pulling back of the right hand during the execution of the tsuki is necessary for body balance and to generate power and snap. Often people concentrate solely on the left hand and leave the right floating about somewhere. Pull your right hand tight into your body and let it act as a fulcrum, twisting both your hips and your shoulders.
Just hitting the tsukidare is not the end of the technique however. As you can see by the pictures above, Kobayashi sensei advocates pulling your left foot up sharply the moment the tsuki is in place. This engages the power of the hips (especially the left), and adds to the overall crispness of the tsuki. It also good practise to be able to return to your normal kamae as soon as possible in case you need to recover quickly.
Methods of practise and mental attitude
We all have different dojo situations. You may or may not practise tsuki as part of your normal kihon, or perhaps your sensei just doesn’t like it. At first, its Kobayashi sensei’s recommendation that you build yourself a tsuki pad and practise by yourself, outwith keiko if need be. This is in fact what sensei himself did.
Regular readers of kenshi247 know that I have built a couple of tsuki pads and put the instructions on this blog. This was at Kobayashi sensei’s direction. I have not only built tsuki pads for my house and the high school kendo club that I am coach of, but I practise kihon tsuki in my dojo every keiko, and have implemented tsuki practise (morote and katate) as part of kihon at my school.
With the pad I suggest using it first to practise accuracy then – once you have that – power. Practising a few hundred every day should immediately increase your accuracy, but power takes much longer. If you chose to practise with a tsuki pad seriously please be careful you don’t overdo it and sprain or injure your wrist (as I did).
Accuracy and power, however, are not enough to master tsuki. The next step – the mental attitude I mentioned at the beginning – is often the biggest barrier for most people in becoming good at tsuki (morote or katate).
If you are going to tsuki, then tsuki. Don’t be scared and don’t worry about missing or hurting your opponent: just do it. Sensei mentions that its a very risky technique so doing it half-assed is not only going to leave you in a possibly highly vulnerable position, but it conversely can be dangerous. He advocates attacking with sutemi, as if everything was on this one tsuki.
This can be often hard to practise in reality, so here are some of my tips on the matter:
- Once you have got accuracy and power on the tsuki pad, practise with a partner as much as you can. If tsuki practise is not part of your kihon then ask someone to do some kihon instead of jigeiko;
- Even in kihon, tsuki like you mean it;
- In jigeiko actively look for openings even against juniors or against older people (absolutely including sensei). Looking for openings doesn’t mean you take them, only that you train yourself to understand when the opportunity is there;
- Definitely use it in shiai, especially against jodan competitors;
- Learn to not be afraid of receiving tsuki yourself: if you are going to dish it out, you better be able to take it;
Of-course, its very hard to describe this technique verbally, but I hope you can get a feel for Kobayashi sensei’s method of tsuki via the article and pictures, and perhaps even give it ago.
I wish to stress that this is my take on sensei’s katatezuki waza: I have not translated any articles simply communicated what was taught to me with a liberal peppering of my own advice and experiences. As you can see by the picture above (updated June 2017), my katatezuki is not quite at the level of infamy as Kobayashi sensei’s is…. yet!