kendo theory

Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 4)

This is the fourth part in a five-part series that translates a lecture made by Morishima Tateo. To see the rest of the published series plus a bio on Morishima sensei, please click here.

Pursing the spirit and modern kendo


3. Mai (間合) and ma (間)

MAI is the physical space between yourself and your opponent when you are in kamae. MA is everything involved when you confront an opponent – physical distance, time, KYOJITSU (“truth and falsehood” 虚実. If you are open to attack or have a loss of concentration this is 虚; the reverse is 実) – i.e. the current “state.” When this state is good for you when “you are far from your opponent, yet your opponent is within reach of you.” Scientifically speaking this is of-course impossible. This is a spiritual problem. If your spirit is calm but your opponents is overwhelming, he will seem closer to you; in the reverse situation he will seem further away – this is MA at work.

We can explain how to come to this “advantageous state” through 6 factors:

  1. Kamae. Utilisation of the natural posture of chudan no kamae you can respond and adapt to the your opponents actions.

  2. Mai. “Issoku itto no mai” is the distance where you can reach out and strike your opponent in a single step. However, people have different bodies, abilities, kendo is done by different genders, etc various things change this distance. As you get older you naturally can’t strike from a far distance, so your Mai becomes shorter. The same “issoku itto no mai” is a lot longer for younger people. That is, the distance changes on the individuals circumstance. Working to strike from the best distance and time is called “MATZUMORI” (間積り).

  3. The principles of attack and defense as one (攻防の理合). Important For the purpose of achieving Matzumori are the Sansappo (“three killing methods” 三殺法) and Kyojitsu. Depending on the way you use your shinai and they way you move forward and back, left and right, you can make the best distance and time to attack.

4, 5, and 6. Kiai, Waza, and Movement of the Spirit. These three factors are an important element in creating the desired “advantageous state.” Movement of the spirit refers to MUSHIN. If you are thinking about some sort of ideal or worldly thoughts then you can’t move freely. If your spirit is like a mirror you will be able to respond to your opponents movements and execute techniques freely.

If we combine all of these factors, comparing yourself with your opponent you should feel closer to them than they do to you. In kendo terms this is called *NORU (乗る). There are many different explanations of this “noru.” There are no mistakes in them but the real “noru” is what I explained above. When you are in a more advantageous position than your opponent you can then be said to be “overwhelming” them.

* I would translate this not literally from the dictionary, but as “Overwhelm”

Continued in the last part…



By George

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14 replies on “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 4)”

Excellent read as always. Looking forward to the final part.
A quick question: what is and where is the picture from up top?

Thanks for your kind comment. Um, I took this pic a long time ago on my iphone… I think the book is 強くなるための剣道コンディショニング&トレーニング (you can find it on but I’m not sure of the top of my head.

The thing that constantly amazes me about the language relevant to budo is that the Japanese have an old word for concepts that even modern English cannot easily articulate without going into multiple sentences.

Not only have our sensei and predecessors (the ones we bow to at shomen-ni-rei/joseki-ni-rei) mentally grasped the concept, but then disected, reflected and articulated the concept for fortunate people to come. There seems to be a Japanese word or term for literally every thought and experience that you will ever encounter.

I can’t wait till I can allocate the time to further study this deep, profound language and it’s idioms, hopefully later this year.

Thanks again George, it’s great to see these concepts explained so well!

Thanks for the effort in translating Morishima-sensei’s words. What I read coincides closely with my current view of kendo – you must attack. The only comment I have concerns 三殺法 (sansappo). The primative meanings of the kanji lead to the wrong translation. In “剣道段級審査” (香田都秀 ISBN 9784415308111) “剣道の相手の竹刀を殺し、技を殺し、気を殺すことを三殺法といい…”. Recently at very high level shiai, you commented on the fact the shimpansha awarded the point before the kensen made contact. Aite was defeated. I think 三殺法and 気剣体 are expressions of the same thing. The first refers outward to the aite. The second is internal. This makes us think of the idea it 剣道 not 刀道. The ken is a double-edged weapon. Kendo has these two sides. Yin/yang, basis of the Toa(the chinese reading of 道) and the vocabulary of kendo kata 4, 5 honme. Before I go too far, 言語無道 – 4字熟語, words shape the way we think and sometimes get in the way.

By “primative (sic) meanings of the kanji lead to the wrong translation” I guess you are talking about my quick rendering of sansappo into “three killing methods?” This was done simply as a reminder of what the term is, or to serve as impetus for the reader to find out… I did not attempt to explain it: I assume readers know the term. If they are unfamiliar with that term (in Japanese) then the entire lecture may be beyond them.

With the combination of sansappo and kikentai… either you’re understanding of kendo is far in advance of mine (very possible), or you are thinking too much (or both). I’ve never heard that explanation before, and cannot fathom how you got to such a conclusion.

Which high level shiai are you referring to? If it is the senshuken taikai it wasn’t that the shinpan awarded the point before it was struck, its that the shinai moves too fast to see… so even if it doesnt strike correctly yet other aspects of the ippon are there, then I asked the question “can that be a true ippon?” I am not sure, but I think you misunderstood the article. I have a feeling this links to what I said in the 2nd paragraph, but I am not sure I understand what you are on about, so who knows!!!

Witing ““primative (sic) meanings of the kanji” is just rude. The terminalogy comes James Heisig.

Dear Robert, I do not know the word “primative” and assumed you meant “primitive.” As I thought it was a spelling mistake (fairly I believe, even though I wasn’t sure what it meant in this context) and as I was quoting you I used (sic). I am not in the habit of correcting peoples spelling (assumed) mistakes when I quote them. I’m sorry you felt that (sic) was used rudely, it wasn’t.

If you are going to use jargon that nobody knows (by someone myself and perhaps many other readers have never heard of) then please provide references. I did a google search just now on “primative James Heisig” but have not found a definition. I did discovered something about some kanji-remembering-method but that’s it. I have no idea if this is the guy you are referring to or not.

p.s. I did find this in wiktionary:

Thanks for the articles George. Think your down in kansai area but i hope youre doing ok with all this stuff going on here in japan.

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