Bokuto ni yoru kendo kihon waza keikoho

I am sure most if not all regular readers have at least heard of bokuto ni yoru kihon waza keiko ho if not already actively practising it (some people for years I guess). The first time I was introduced to it was in 2000 (or 2001?) at a seminar in Brussels, Belgium (Editor: see Serge’s comment below). What we were doing wasn’t explained to us and we rushed through the practise of it. 10 years later I find myself in a position where I must actively teach this to my beginner students as – starting this year (2010) – it has become a requirement for ikkyu across Japan.

Although I’ve been through it a few times and I think it an extremely simple set of exercises, I thought I had better go to a seminar and find out exactly what it is for and what I am meant to teach. What follows here is (selected/partial) translated information from the materials provided by a seminar held in Osaka earlier this year. The seminar was taught by 5 hachidan and the participants had to be at least godan (exceptions where made for school teachers lower than this). I also recently received direct instruction on the method by a sensei who had recently attended a hachidan-only seminar where this was taught.

I will leave my personal comments to the end.

Bokuto ni yoru kihon waza keiko ho

1. Aim

In order to acquire kendo techniques based on the the concept that “the shinai is the katana,” a bokuto is used to execute various carefully selected techniques. Use of a bokuto (i.e. it approximates a sword better than a shinai) helps the students to understand TOHO more easily (literally “sword methods” i.e. not only the basic physical movements of using a sword but also the principle and concepts that lie behind this)

2. Basic pointers

  • this method is preparation for the study of kendo-no-kata;
  • the aim is for the acquire correct kendo through using a bokuto;
  • you should use a bokuto that matches your development level (i.e. one that’s right for your age/size);
  • for rules on the basic movements see “Yoshonen kendo shido yoryo” (Kendo teaching essentials for kindergarden children and juveniles) and “kendo shido yoryo” (Kendo teaching essentials);
  • this method is normally used for teaching large groups so in order for everyone to be on the same level use the terms “motodachi” and “kakarite” (i.e. not “uchidachi” and “shidachi” which presupposes a teacher-student relationship);
  • if you teach in a large group, movements must occur on the teachers order;
    the teacher should chose the waza to teach based on the level of the students;
  • in aiming to increase the level of the students, the teacher should try various strategies, for example he stands in front of the class and acts as motodachi and all the students face him and perform the kakarite side, etc.

3. Points to be careful of

( this section is heavily cut )

  • Kamae: everything is in chudan;
  • Metsuke: look at your opponents eyes;
  • Maai: all waza start from issoku-itto-no-mai (UCHIMA) and the completion of each set finishes in YOKOTE;
  • Datotsu (strike): strike with the correct flight path, using the monouchi and pull up your left leg (hikitsuke). All strikes should be made in a single motion (ichibyoshi). Although the strikes stop just before the target, the student must be made to understand that they are cutting or thrusting with a sword;
  • ashisabaki: use okuriashi;
  • kakegoe: call the name of the target area ie men, kote, do, or tsuki;
  • zanshin: after striking return to chudan without a lapse in concentration.

4. List of waza

Kihon 1 – Ippon uchi no waza: Shomen. Kote. Do (hidari). Tsuki
Kihon 2- ni-san dan no waza: Kote-men
Kihon 3 – Harai-waza: Harai-men
Kihon 4 – Hiki-waza: Hiki-do
Kihon 5 – Nuki-waza : men nuki-do
Kihon 6 – Suriage-waza: kote suriage-men
Kihon 7 – Debana-waza: debana-kote
Kihon 8 – Kaeshi-waza: men kaeshi-do
Kihon 9 – Uchiotoshi-waza: do uchiotoshi-men

Personal comment

(Feel free to skip this portion!)

As a basic introduction to kendo and as a training tool for children, I think this kihon waza keiko ho (KWKH for short) is an excellent tool. For experienced people that already have acquired kendo movements this set is not only simple to execute, but can be remembered within a very short time, i.e. its easy to teach. Although its not written anywhere that this is specifically for children, it was said repeatedly that this is who it was aimed at in the seminar that I attended, and was echoed by the hachidan from whom I received recent direct instruction from. That its now a mandatory part of ikkyu exams across the country cements this position (ikkyu is a childs grade. Its common – but not exclusively so – for adult beginners to be given ikkyu without an exam).

Of course, the most important piece of evidence to support the KWKH as a childs teaching methodology is that BUDO will become a mandatory subject in Junior high schools throughout Japan in two years time. With the introduction of KWKH we now have a very simple and – importantly – very cheap method to teach “kendo” to children. Even P.E. teachers with only elementary kendo experience (e.g. a course at university) will be able to teach it. You don’t need dogi or bogu, simply a bokuto*. This was a smart piece of maneuvering on the part of the ZNKR over the judo association… as its potentially cheaper now to teach kendo over judo in schools.

( * Recently a safe, non-wooden “bokuto” made to sell to schools has been released. It seems that there is potentially a lot of money to be made here by someone somewhere… )

Waza selection

I have to teach this to beginners. Its a bit of a pain (I have a lot to teach already) but I will manage. Although I mentioned that it was an “excellent” tool and it was “simple” to learn, I am really puzzled by three of the waza included: harai men, hiki waza, and do uchiotoshi men.

Harai-men: orthodox kendo methodolgy teaches omote-harai-men to knock the shinai/bokuto down (not up like the KWKH) before striking. If doing the waza on the ura side, then the shinai is knocked up and either kote, men, or kote-men is struck. Why teach a waza that is – if perfectly valid – not one high on the teaching charts?

Hiki-waza: I think the method used is just too convoluted to apply in shinai kendo, part of the aim of the KWKH. I also question its relevance to TOHO.

Do-uchiotoshi-men: A valid technique but one that is rarely used nowadays. I must admit I enjoy performing it, but I question its usefulness when it comes to the stated aim of the KWKH.

Of-course, I am not and never will be hachidan like the people that put the KWKH together, but I actively teach beginners and these particular waza choices leave me with unanswered questions.

Adults are better off with kata

I think as an introduction to kendo for adults then the KWKH is great. I don’t really see its value after kihon1 and 2 over kendo no kata though. Sure kids don’t really understand the value or purpose (nor history and tradition) behind the kata, but adults should be able to “get it.”

Part of a larger move to Pure kendo?

Its a sad fact that kendo no kata isn’t given the respect it deserves, especially here in the Japanese kendo community. As the kendo community is moving towards a more Pure Kendo culture (i.e. where kendo is a combat sport based on the shinai), perhaps it would be easier to drop or reduce the importance of kendo no kata in favour of the much more shinai-kendo-orientated KWKH? If teaching TOHO is an aim of the znkr, then surely they should preserve the kata as designed by people from actually sword traditions? I am sure you all know, but the people on the 1912 board that designed the kata (Teikoku kendo no kata) were: Takano Sasaburo, Ono-ha itto-ryu; Mona Tadashi, Hokushin itto-ryu; Naito Takaharu, Hokushin itto-ryu; Negishi Shigoro, Shinto munen-ryu; and Tsuji Shinpei, Shingyoto-ryu… all leading swordsmen of their generation.

Perhaps TOHO (刀法) is not the right word except in abstract. What we are learning today is a shinai-ho (竹刀法) based on the bokuto-ho (木刀法), itself an abstraction of the sword. Mind you, it could easily be said that most of the extant swordsmanship traditions themselves are more bokuto orientated than aimed towards realistic sword combat…

These are my personal musings – for what they are worth! Generally I try to keep my own feelings out of my articles, so feel free to ignore or argue with them at your leisure!!



参考資料: 「木刀による剣道基本技稽古法」。平成15年6月第1版。全日本剣道連盟。

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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16 replies on “Bokuto ni yoru kendo kihon waza keikoho”

Hi George,

Sorry but the kata you’ve seen in Brussels were different from the Zen Ken Ren version. Hirakawa sensei compliled these kata from an old version of kata set up by Nuyi sensei from Tokyo Education (now Tsukuba University). The original tape of this execution shows Nariaki Sato & Nobuo Hirakawa much younger than today…

I can’t speak to the harai waza, but I found the hiki waza in the bokuto kihon nearly identical to how I was first taught hiki do with a shinai. The main difference is that kakarite’s men’uchi is blocked rather than allowed to land.

I agree that do-uchiotoshi-men is fairly rare these days. The only uchiotoshi waza I saw practiced regularly at my junior high was kote-uchiotoshi-men as a variant of ai-gote-men. However, I think the basic principles and mechanics of uchiotoshi waza are clearer in do-uchiotoshi-men than in kote-uchiotoshi-men.

Also, personally, I found the bokuto kihon a useful way to teach adult (well, college-aged) beginners when I ran OSUKC. Striking a motodachi in bogu with shinai, they’d get overly focused on the point of impact and they’re mechanics would go to hell. With kata, there’s so much more going on that they’d too busy focusing on what foot goes where and what the movements are to pay much attention to maai and the rest that goes into “inhabiting” the kata.

Another point in favor of the bokuto kihon is that as a college club, we were very heavy on beginners. The kihon can be quite useful even when both participants are beginners. I think that kata, on the other hand, requires at least one of the two to be at least semi-skilled to get the real benefits. Kata with two beginners just becomes an exercise in remember the shape.

At dojo or keikokai like the ones I visited in Japan, it would be pretty easy to have experienced kenshi for every beginner. But, as you noted, kata generally gets short shrift in Japan, and when it is done, it’s only at what I call the “katachi” level. (Osato sensei of SMR is fond of saying “形(かた)は形(かたち)じゃない。”)

My experience of teaching the KWKH to non-Japanese middle school students was a great difficulty with the reigi saho, specifically the coming to distance from kyuhonomaai, and the breaking off again between each kata. It took quite some patience for my students to make this part of every kata. My feeling was they kept wondering what all this starting and stopping was for. It seemed to dilute the purpose of the exercise for them. I wonder if this part of the KWKH (and kata in general) is a Japanese thing. I can’t tell because to me it just seems natural. But my students’ reaction was a bit like “what’s all this faffing around for? Let’s get on with it!” They saw it as irrelevant to the practice. That was a surprise to me. I wonder if contemporary Japanese students with no previous kendo experience would react like this, or whether there is already some kind of cultural resonance in these preparatory movements that they would respond to and understand implicitly as being necessary for the correct practice of the kata overall. It’s a bit like when I’m teaching B&W darkroom photography to my students in that class. These days I have to explain in detail the concept of the negative, which only 10 years ago all students would have understood implicitly. Sometimes it’s really difficult to be ready for what the students don’t know.

Given the reaction of my students, were I developing the KWKH as a sporting drill in a PE class I would have certainly dispensed with this part of the practice as being destructive to student engagement. Given that teachers in my State’s school system are now required to teach to the “e5 model” (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate), getting your students engaged in what you’re teaching is a mandated requirement. This seems like common sense, until you get to a teaching model like kendo’s where a student’s initial engagement is considered secondary to the fact that they participate correctly. Engagement may (or may not) follow.

Good article though G, and your comments are important for a bit of extra context. Yours too Kent. b

@Serge -> thanks for the correction!

@Kent -> thanks for your input as always.

@Ben -> interesting and engaging as always. Even though I am experienced, I certainly feel that there is a lot of faffing around in the middle of things too!

Today I selected two students to teach this set too and they learned the entire thing to a decent level in about 20 mins. End of story!

Ben, once students have the keikoho or kata down enough they don’t get confused about what to do, try having them do them without the pause after coming together. With the pause, the exercises often become: close, stop, get ready, start-for-real. Without the pause, you have to manage maai and seme while closing. It becomes quite a bit like drills that start from toma.

My personal hypothesis about the pause is that it’s just there to keep people from getting brained when they’re caught not ready. And, no, I don’t have any real evidence for that.

Kent, I don’t mean that small pause at uchima before performing the technique, I mean the whole, “kihon ichi!”, three steps in, , come back to yokote-no-maai, kamae o toku, five steps back, chudan. This is the stuff my students have trouble with! Remebering that they’re 12-14 and often have little desire to stick with kendo. b

I was responding to “My feeling was they kept wondering what all this starting and stopping was for.” You have to get out of distance so that you can close distance.

Personally, I generally ignore the yokote-no-maai part, as that seems arbitrary and pointless (and a relatively recent addition as well), and just go to uchima. If we want to be combativively ready but out of distance, why stop at crossed yokote? If we want to disengage while still in distance, doesn’t the actual kamae no toki cover that? Yokote no ma is not something I would even point out to students until they have everything else down.

Similarly, I mention three-steps and five-steps, but start with just “engage” and “disengage”. If starting on the correct foot, most people settle into those distances anyway. One-step feels way too close, and five-steps to close ends up on the other side of the gym.

Hmmm, if you attend the seminars here Kent there is *strong* emphasis on yokote and uchima/issoko-itto-no-ma. If you dont differentiate (and by extension, teach) it, then you will be critisized for doing it “wrong.”

I personally agree with you that its relatively pointless, but thats what the ZNKR want. Coming from a koryu background I can laugh it off as this-and-that, but in the end I am powerless.

How this will translate into passing and failing gradings I have no idea. I will tell you in November when my first batch of ikkyus go for it. I can’t imagine anyone failing… the set is just too simple. There is a 5 year old girl in one of my dojo who has learned it….

We had the first 4 ‘katas’ of KWKH as mandatory kata for ikkyu for a few years in the UK (before it returned to Kendo no Kata) and frankly, I saw little value in it.
Partly because kata sessions now had to be split into two quite different sections (KWKH and KnK), but also because it taught little than couldn’t be done with a shinai and that we were already teaching beginners.
Further, students who were already in bogu, very quickly got bored with it and as George mentioned, it’s very easy for the young kids to pick up too.

I think youth and adults are perfectly capable of choosing how much ‘sword’ they want in their kendo. For the younger, more competitive, it’s not an awful lot, but it certainly appears to me that as they grow up, both in age and in kendo, many will incorporate more ‘sword’ into their kendo again.

A little late, but maybe worth to consider:

When we start a beginners course we teach them kihon kendo no kata. After that we work on fumikomi, and many other important things.
When they are in bougu, we still do kihon kendo no kata. First without fumikomi but with hitting, later with full speed and all 9 in a row. Somehow like uchikomigeiko.
That’s maybe unusual but it has one big advantage: they all know the exercise already. there is something to rely on, even in the hostile and new world of bougu. 🙂
Try it in a row, it’s mentally and physically challenging – for both parts.

George, I am curious as to how the KWKH is administered on examination.
Does the examinee show both Motodachi an Kakarite, is it only one iteration, does everyone do all 9 kata, how many pairs simultaneously etc


Hey Nils,

For kids (up to high school) ikkyu right? It changes sometimes, but they may only have to do 4 of the “kata” … one-side only. Maybe 10 pairs at the same time.

I never attend the ikkyu gradings with my students as nobody ever fails it … ever.

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