Concerning the problem of tsuki

The following is a translation of another short article by Takizawa Kozo hanshi. As someone who was never taught tsuki for many years of his kendo career I think I would have liked to have had Takaizawa hanshi’s advice on the matter earlier.

I started my own experiment (almost untaught) as a member of the British kendo team years ago: myself and a couple of friends all agreed that we would practise tsuki together; we weren’t really taught it, and poked each other for a year or two, slowly making some progress. Years later I now teach tsuki as a fundamental technique and have gone from merely thinking that its cool, to wondering how you could actually do kendo without it.

At any rate, the following article is from 1978, enjoy!

Concerning the problem of tsuki
making tsuki waza a central technique of children’s kendo

For a long time its been said “Kendo begins and ends with Tsuki” (a saying attributed to the teachings of Hokkushin itto-ryu). You can see this if you look at the composition of kendo no kata: you are expected to pressure the center of your opponents body with your kensen, and not remove it from there (this is expressed in zanshin as well).

After the war, it was declared that tsuki was too dangerous to be attempted by those of junior high school age and younger, and its use was outlawed in shiai of that age-range. Accordingly, its become the norm that the technique is not taught in normal practise anymore.

(Editor: Its possible that Takizawa sensei was suggesting that not only did children not learn the technique, but this special handling of tsuki influenced their kendo into adulthood as well. This is certainly my personal experience, where many people develop good kendo, yet are hesitant to use or even practise tsuki.)

Post-war kendo was re-conceived as a sport, and as such sportified new rules were created. Because of this, it became important to ensure safety, and elements of the traditional kendo pedagogy (pre-war) became undesirable, e.g. leg sweeping, grappling, pushing and shoving (with no aim of scoring), striking un-armoured areas, etc… these in fact became hansoku. On top of that – due to pain felt when hitting the ears – valid yoko-men strikes were limited to those above the ear only, and tsuki became a banned technique for those of junior high school age and below. Anything that was thought to be dangerous was constrained by the rules, and regulations were detailed minutely.

Pre-war kendo was conceived as budo (bujutsu), so things like leg sweeping, grappling, pushing and shoving, etc in fact there was even a time when over the top violent actions happened openly and without penalty. At this time, it was the case that older people, women, and youths hesitated to practise kendo.

(Editor: Women kenshi were extremely rare pre-war. The only time you hear of any are those that took part in Sakakibara’s gekkikenkai, where women were for show/curiosity, and very occasionally at places like Noma dojo. I don’t think its that they ‘hesitated’ but that they couldn’t train, but that they couldn’t.)

Nowadays kendo done by amateurs. That children, youths, women, and old people can all practise together is largely because there is a high level of safety involved. We should recognise this characteristic as one that is mainly responsible for the success of modern kendo.

On the other hand, because of this minute detailing of rules, we can see people doing this such as deliberately trying to break them, taking breaks in tsubazeriai, etc, basically we see a bad tendency to try various methods to win and the essential essence of kendo – etiquette, strictness, intensity – has become diluted.

In this way, even though we note the success of modern kendo, we must deeply consider and reflect on what its become. One example is the case where we have banned tsuki for use in children of junior high school age and below; to look at it a different way, if you consider the very basis of kendo – hitting a clear DATOTSU (打突) i.e. cutting (打) and thrusting (突) – we have removed the thrusting part (突) and as such its not an exaggeration to say what we are left with is a kendo that incomplete (deformed).

I looked at the (kendo) publics opinion on the matter of “tsuki as a dangerous technique.” In amongst people who claim this, there are those that simply say “tsuki is dangerous” without giving any concrete examples; their view is simply abstract. Instructors that get together and say this in one voice paint a bad image of pre-war kendo. In particular, although they accept that kendo should be used for educational purposes, those that teach kendo in schools are amongst the most vocal about the issue of danger.

In the situation that has risen as described above, where public (abstract) opinion says that “tsuki technique is dangerous” in spite of evidence to prove it and the technique has been banned in junior high schools and below, and because this situation obstructs the development/growth of kendo and inhibits the ability to transmit the traditional culture of kendo to future generations, we must impose on instructors to clarify tsuki technique (so that its proper use will be understood).

When the children that come to my dojo (6-12years old) are able to put on their bogu and perform kakarigeiko to a good level, the first thing I then teach is morotezuki. If you introduce tsuki at this age, they will naturally be able to acquire good technique. The purpose to have them study tsuki is that the children should be forced to understand the following points about the importance of kihon:

  1. Strike men as if aiming to tsuki, don’t let your kensen go outside your opponents center (correct chudan no kamae);
  2. It helps fix unnatural tenouchi (correct grip);
  3. Tsuki not with your hands, but with your hips (correct body movement);
  4. Modotachi receives by tucking their chin in and keeping posture (correct posture);
  5. If mododachi’s footwork is wrong (with their heel down on the ground) then there is a fear that they will be knocked over (correct ashisabaki);
  6. Both the motodachi and the technique executor become serious (feeling of tension).

Using tsuki technique to force the above understanding on students is useful.

From now on, I would like and expect those teaching children to teach tsuki not as a dangerous technique, but as a fundamental part of kendo’s basics; as a safe, efficient, important part of instructors teaching method, and for tsuki to be used more widely in general. If teaching children tsuki becomes open it will have the knock on effect of good technique later in life. To that effect, we must devise a method to increase instructors teaching ability.

Takizawa Kozo
Showa 53 (1978), January 20th.


思斉館滝澤道場 創立30周年記念誌。平成12年発行。非売品。 初代館長藩士九段瀧澤光三。

By George

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10 replies on “Concerning the problem of tsuki”

Greatly appreciated, as always.
It is nice to see a challenge(not quite the right word) to the rules and regulations that some view as purely a black and white matter.

Thanks for the comment!

Actually, I know of a few dojo here in Japan that teach tsuki to children…. it can’t – however – be used in competition until high school. In that sense, I don’t actually believe its a black and white issue per se: competition, after all, is only a minor part of the “kendo” journey anyway.

That’s are all good points even more in concerning of the changing of rules that deform the kendo

I’m always trying to practice tsuki but i’m my opinion it’s a movement that demands a high level o training. My problem with the tsuki is that if you do not perform in a good way ou can serious hurt your oponent/motodachi, everyone who receive a bad tsuki know how much does it hurt in the jaw when this happend and sometimes even when you perform correctly you oponent can move or not receive correctly and you still can hurt him

Probably and not the only one with this problem hahaha
It’s not a extremely difficult tecnic but the pre concept that it’s dangeous even if you can do it well should not be encouraged

I fell something similar about gyaku do(but without the danger), everybody say it difficult (it’s not!) then because of this pre concept nobody try it in the lower ranks and this only make the myth that gyaku do it’s “to difficult should only be used by high rank kendokas” bigger and bigger if people start to practice when they are still young or in the lower dans gyaku do would became a more popular move hahaa

Tsuki – taught properly – is not a dangerous technique. I teach it to beginners after about 4 months of experience. You have to teach how to execute, receive, and when to use it. fwiw, I teach morote-zuki prior to gyaku-dou.

“Tsuki – taught properly – is not a dangerous technique. I teach it to beginners after about 4 months of experience. You have to teach how to execute, receive, and when to use it. fwiw, I teach morote-zuki prior to gyaku-dou.”

Yes, that’s the way it should be you are doing right teaching them since young,
Avoid using tsuki tends to create the fear of tsuki that’s difficult to get over (like happends to me, i practice kendo for 3 years now and never have a proper tsuki training)

Other things about tsuki is that for some people tsuki it’s like a offense, if you hit or at least try tsuki they tends to take the fight to a personal level like you trying to humiliate than, and that’s a shame =/
That’s why when i visit some dojos i never try tsuki you never know what the person it’s crossing swords with you will think

One of the issues I’ve been working on in the past year is cutting from the hips. Recently I’m starting to get there and I take a couple of minutes at the end of practice to strike a kendo dummy including having a go at tsuki. I find that with proper movement from the hips tsuki is now much easier to hit correctly (also the kendo dummy shows what is too much force if it rocks back and forth too violently). I’m also told by a lot of sempai that small men-uchi should have a feeling of tsuki. It makes me think that if tsuki were practiced more earlier on, it would help illustrate the importance of moving from the hips. But I reckon this has to be done with a lot of control and should be emphasized that until it starts to become consistent in a drill situation, one should hold off employing it in jigeiko or shiai.

Wouldn’t most of these safety related issues be resolved by simply improve the bogu? Why don’t all people wear gorget underneath their men to protect against tsuki? Why don’t we add better padding to the sides of the men to protect the ears against yoko-men? Why don’t we incorporate modern materials such as d3o into bogu for better shock absorption?

Many senseis would defend that Kendo is a martial art and not a sport, and view any changes to the traditions and equipment as sacrilegious. Yet withhold thrust, one of the fundamental attack of any sword art, from beginners is not straying from the martial art roots? That seems contradictory to me.

Hi Meta,

You bring up very interesting points. I think the changes were made mainly to incorporate children, which I can understand to a point. From a early/young adult age there really should be no excuse to not have tsuki waza as a major part of your keiko repertoire.

hello, sesnsei! hello, everyone! thank you for taking time to post/write all this precious material. I know my question will be a little off topic but still with your permission… regarding tsuki waza: how does this fighting technique can become efficient (or does it at all) from jodan no kamae attacking stance!? or just because it consumes to much energy and time till the sword is on the right path to tsuki it is just excluded as a viable waza!? thank you very much.

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