kendo shiai

Tsubazeria rule changes in high school kendo

The following rule changes will probably not impact your kendo training any time soon nor in the near future. However, implementation of them in competition for young Japanese kenshi ensures that there will be a stylistic change in the kendo leaders of the future and it is also strongly hints at what the kendo leaders of today see as bad style.

The changes have been in discussion and trial over quite a while here in Japan (implementation was decided in May 2009, and I have personally seen the rules been applied in shiai), but it is only from this month (October 2009) where competitors will get a hansoku rather than a warning, i.e. the rules go into full implementation.

Lets look at a simple definition of the new rules:

– from a correct tsubazeriai you have 10 seconds to either attempt a strike, or break off. Not doing so will result in a penalty (hansoku);

– if you chose to break off from tsubazeriai you must do so to a distance where your shinai (kensaki) are not touching

– if you are trying to break off from tsubazeriai yet start attacking, taking jodan, or doing something other than attempting to break to the distance above then you will be penalised (hansoku)

An emphasis on “correct tsubazeriai”

One of the major points in the literature and training seminars concerning this is that tsubazeriai must be “correctly” done. That is, both competitors must work to not allow their hands to float up, ensure their posture is correct, and their shinai must be on the omote (right) side of their opponents. Incorrect tsubazeriai will earn you a hansoku.

Although pushing and the placement of the shinai on your opponents shoulder are not covered in these new rules, both are already considered bad form and could land you with a penalty.

Ura tsubazeriai?

If your shinai goes to the ura (left) side, then you won’t be penalised as long as you make an effort to move it back.Also, breaking off whilst your shinai on the ura side generally won’t result in a penalty unless it is continually done by a particular competitor.

What if an attack is launched at the very moment one of the competitors chooses to break off?

In this instance the decision to award a successful strike is left to the shinpan. However, it must be from the point (or pretty much so) where the competitors kote are touching. If an attack is launched when one competitor has already moved back somewhat, then that would be a penalty.

Why were these changes made?

This is relatively easy question to answer: kendo absolutely prefers a positive, forward attacking style, especially the younger you are. However, many youth competitions in recent times have seen an amazing amount of hikiwaza being scored, sometimes drastically more than a normal men-uchi. There are a few issues tied into this:

– negative kendo: many kenshi simply blocking (sometimes both competitors at the same time) and closing into tsubazeriai is against the preferred positive/attacking style of kendo and is seen as incredibly negative (I would go as far to say its even ugly) and has drawn criticism from many corners;

– blatant time wasting: its obvious that many competitors close into tsubazeria deliberately in order to time waste. With the new 10 second rule combined with the fact that if one person chooses to break off then the other can’t stall, the amount of time they can use up becomes limited;

– increase in hikiwaza specialists: obviously its not a bad thing to have a speciality technique but – as a school kendo coach myself – I’d rather train my students to favour more positive, attacking waza.

What happened to “wakare” ?

If the competitors are in correct tsubazeriai and they both have the will to strike, yet do not do so nor attempt to break off within 10 seconds, then the chushin must chose either to award a hansoku to both kenshi, or call wakare, though they are warned not to use this option “simply.”

My personal feeling is that shinpan will be more likely to call wakare at the beginning of a match but – if the competitors keep going back to tsubazeriai again and again – the chance of getting hansoku will increase drastically.

In summary

The impact these changes will have should become clearer in time, but hopefully it will promote a more forward attacking, positive style, rather than the long tsubazeriai and hikiwaza-centric competition we see a lot of nowadays.

I think the rules are somewhat vague (kendo rules are like that anyway!) and it may take sometime before individual shinpan become comfy with them. In the general kendo population itself there are many stylistic variations of tsubazeriai and how to attack/break off from it, and it follows that the shinpan themselves have a lot of opinion (hangups even!) in the matter.

I said in the beginning that these rule changes probably won’t affect you, and this is true. However, I do believe that what is spelled out by these changes are simple hallmarks of good kendo anyway, and although most kenshi tend to disfavour hikiwaza as their kendo matures, or at least use it in a more rational manner, I think its worthwhile keeping these points in mind while we are practising (and teaching), competition orientated or not.


大阪高体連審判講習会資料 (Osaka high school kendo association referee seminar materials)
第18回全国高等学校剣道選抜大会総評 (18th All Japan high school senbatsu competition report)
剣窓, H21・5月 (All Japan Kendo Federation newsletter “Kenso,” May 2009 )

By George

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24 replies on “Tsubazeria rule changes in high school kendo”

Interesting and very drastic changes. I agree that many high school kids -at least the ones I have practiced with- linger too long in tsubazeri-ai, enter/break tsubazeri-ai incorrectly, strike from tsubazeri-ai wildly (i.e. without proper ma-ai, zan-shin, posture, and control) and abuse the position, and I agree that this rule has some good points, but it will be interesting to see if this rule will influence adult/juvenile kendo in the future. More importantly, will this tsubazeri-ai rule influence the higher ranks of kendo and the way tsubazeri-ai is taught and thought about? At the recent All-Japan Kendo Championships, I could count on one hand the points scored by hiki-waza. Of course, scoring by hiki-waza is difficult, and maybe that’s the reason why there were so few, but many of the kendoka didn’t even attempt hiki-waza when the opportunity was ripe. Of course, viewing the shi-ai from my comfortable home and not behind the men are totally different, but if you watch the hachi-dan shiais, those guys utilize tsubazeri-ai a lot, and they do it properly and effectively. Hiki-waza is of course a fundamental tenant in shinsas and routine practice. I’ve always been taught that positive, aggressive, and forward-moving kendo is the best, but I’ve also been taught that hiki-waza is important when and if the situation calls for it.
I’m more concerned about this rule distorting coaches’ and instructors’ views of the importance of tsubazeri-ai as it pertains to kendo overall, not only shi-ai, when they are disseminating this to students.

Thanks for caring to spread the info.
I was honestly waiting for such a rule. At the latest WKC at least 80% of the time of the matches was in tsubazeriai…

PS – watch out, there are some “i”‘s missing in the article. 😉

Maurizio, George is indeed the author and of course non-English language translations are ace. Please remember and credit all writers, credits, plus provide a translated copy to s for publication.

While I like the attempt to decrease the amount of time spent in tsubazeriai, a few of these strike me as strange. In particular penalizing “ura tsubazeriai” and striking while separating. Both of those situations strike me as ones that either you shouldn’t let happen or you get what you deserve. If you separate and don’t maintain zanshin, you get hit and it’s your own damn fault.

Adding more specific rules could very well lead to what’s happened in a lot of judo where they keep having to add rules to keep people from gaming the last set of new rules.

Or just re-allow sweeps and tripping and people wouldn’t hang out in tsubazeriai anymore.

I like very much the 10 secons rule.
I completely agrre with the observations of Kent, to those i add:
-If i use a “reverse grip” (right hand to the end of the tsuka), which,even if rare is fully admittable, the ura side wouldn’t be the correct side (only to poit out a flaw of the rule)
-The limit where a correct hiki attack becomes an attack while aite is retreating (and so passible of hansoku) won’t be at less questionable?

Sorry Raffa, but I think yourself and some other people posting on online forums are slightly missing the point, which is:

… the promotion of a more orthodox kendo style and – at the same time – an attempt to control unsportsman-like and unfair behaviour…

Many people are focusing on whats written down rather than on common sense (which rules kendo shiai anyway).

Remember that this is aimed at high school kids in Japan, a very competition orientated phase in their career. It is not meant for adults who usually have enough experience and maturity not to take advantage of the rules this way (not to say that it doesn’t happen).

Adult beginners are a different kettle of fish.

This strikes me as over-legislating the issue. The shinpan already have the ability to call wakare…they just don’t do it. If they did, all this would be unnecessary.

I especially dislike the stuff about striking from a “middle distance” being hansoku. I think it takes us further away from the “principles of the katana” which are supposed to underlie the practice of kendo.

A kenshi should never be able to assume they are “safe” from the opponent’s sword during shiai, and this “middle distance” exception is a serious violation of that principle.

I disagree because I think the point is being missed. You are concentrating on a very minor modification of the physical aspect of kendo in a shiai situation and missing the point of kendo in the education system.

I run a high school kendo club, know loads of school kendo teachers, and go to shiai on a regular basis. I can assure you there is no talk of “swords” and little chat about the kendo rinen (though teachers should and do keep that in mind). What is important is playing fair and respecting your partner. There are of-course people and teams that will do anything to win.

Too much time wasting in tsubazeria, blocking, hikiwaza, etc, are all real problems in high school kendo. I believe these modifications can aid in clearing up some of these issues. As noted above, once it was decided officially to use these rules they were tried out for 6 months in official shiai before being fully implemented. Even before that there were trials.

In otherwords, this is not a sudden change for no reason.

Of-course, if you live outside of the Japanese high-school kendo environment you might not be able to fully conceptualise whats going on. No amount of looking at shiai on youtube will help this.

At the end of the day, I still stand by my point in the last paragraph:

“what is spelled out by these changes are simple hallmarks of good kendo anyway”

The widespread or even massive use of tsubazeriai, even in important competitions like WKC or Zen Nihon, trying to avoid the ippon, its a shame. It’s very sport like and have little of budo in it. Almost like many of us had forgotten that the victory is an important goal, but is not the only one or even the most important one.

Zé is saying a very important aspect of kendo, and a very important aspect of the kendo that our former sensei – a 86 year old kendoka that passed away a couple of year ago – was always been saying: “A beautiful victory, a beautiful defeat”

the english translations seams strange, but what he was saying is that you have to apply the correct and straight kendo in a fight.

Thanks for sharing George. Like some of the other people above, I found some of the rules – including the one about giving a hansoku for attacking “mid-distance” – to be a strange one and initially echoed Kent’s thoughts. That said, however, after reading your comments regarding the point of Kendo in the education system, the rules now make a lot more sense. Some of these rules may seem peculiar in the spectrum of adult Kendo. However as far as my rudimentary understanding of some of the issues in School Kendo go, these changes will allow for fair play and should allow individuals to evolve into better Kendo players if they continue to practice into adulthood. Thanks again.

George McCall :Thanks for your great comments Nick!
Check out the post on

Thanks for the link, George, I wasn’t aware of this site. I’m sure you attaching the link wasn’t only because Geoff referred to your “excellent blog” on the topic… (Just kidding!).
It’s a good piece however Geoff does raise an interesting point in believing it’s only a matter of time before this bubbles up into adult Kendo. This will definitely cause more than a ripple through the Kendo community and I imagine may be a significant trial period before being implemented.
As a Jodan player, naturally I prefer a short Tsubazeriai and break away so my opponent and I can get back to business!

HI Nick,

Thanks for your comment.

Its my thought that adults (tend to) do kendo more “maturely” anway, so this really is an really an inconsequential change when looked a the length of a persons kendo career. At least this applies to things here in Japan.

As for jodan… if the boom here continues at the rate its churning along, I wonder if munezuki will be re-introduced at some point….

(p.s. Geoff is a friend)

I have to agree strongly with George, here. Even at the junior high and elementary school levels, I see a lot of tsubazeriai and hikiwaza. It’s a “safe” thing to do; half-hearted men-uchi, close to tsubazeriai, then hang out there until you think you see an opportunity or can push the other person back using brute force.

Especially for younger kids, it turns into a “who’s bigger/stronger” contest where someone just pushes the other person back. I guess as a growing kid, the natural thing to want to do is try to exploit whatever you have available and it just becomes a habit that goes on through junior high and high school, though that’s oversimplifying things a lot.

my experience in tsubazeriai…im .lets say.. extra large kendoka…intresting thing is that kendokas that have lot less weight than me, are trying to push me in tsubazeriai..funny….i learned to fight from there. We XXL (:D) fighters expect you to do that! …do opposite! do proper kendo and you will have more chance to win than from tsubazeriai!

In my experience the only people that push and shove in tsubazeriai are the less experienced, usually high school and university students. Its annoying isn’t it !?

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