kendo theory

Tenouchi for men cutting

Editors comment

I have a load of kendo books and magazines at my desk at work. In amongst these I have a couple of kendo-specific scientific sports conditioning and training books. I use these as reference and pick them up for a leaf through quite regularly. Last December I randomly took a picture of a nice diagram from one of them and posted it on the kenshi247 facebook wall. It showed the action of how the shinai moves in your hand as you start and complete a strike. The picture caused a bit of debate on facebook (for and against) so I decided to translate and present the text that goes along with the picture here. I must stress that this is only PART of a larger topic and urge you to read the original book if this topic interests you (see source).

As I noted on facebook, in a dojo of 10 sensei you will get 10 different methods of striking men. I know this through experience. Although kendo does have a general ‘set’ method (defined by the ZNKR) it does – in fact – allow for a breadth of style. To exclaim that this or that is ‘wrong’ shows, I believe, not only inflexibility of mind, but potentially of method also. So, even if you don’t adhere to the method explained here, at least realise that many people actually do. What would be nice, however, would be that the people who don’t use this method to actually try it… a bit of research and self study (called KUFU in Japanese) is required in budo after all.

As implied by the above, please realise that this is not some ‘how to do kendo properly’ article at all, but is presented for your (and my) study purposes. One of the well-known kendo phrases is:

‘Everybody but myself is my teacher’

Tenouchi for men cutting

Look at the picture. It shows the tenouchi, specifically the rather unique usage of the pinky, and its role in energy manifestation in a kendo competitors left hand (as the muscle is extended power is generated). As you can see, as finger/hand muscles are being used the shinai-gashira (the bottom of the shinai) moves/slides between the up and down swing. This unique manipulation of the area around the pinky allows for faster control of the shinai, e.g. when you do kirikaeshi. It also allows for a finer control of the shinai tip.

Although this picture mainly demonstrates the action of the left hand in kirikaeshi, let us think about the position of the thumb and index finger and its role as a fulcrum for the pinky leverage. In this situation the wrist is in a fixed position (i.e. it doesn’t move). If the wrist bends the leverage mechanism will disappear and shinai speed and the ability to do kirikaeshi will be compromised. It follows that if the wrist is fixed then the fulcrum power of the hand can be used and kirikaeshi speed will increase.

If you move the wrist further than needed you risk compromising the ability to snap the wrists when you strike. Please be careful of this.

Lets think about it a little bit more. What we found out before (read the book – see sources) is that – when raising the shinai tip to strike – you risk losing energy in the strike if you bend your wrists in an awkward or crooked manner. Instead, as you raise the shinai tip to strike, keep your wrist fixed and allow the shinai to ‘slide’ in your hands. Ok, so where does the energy start from when you start to raise your shinai tip?

This energy comes from the elastic energy produced by the fumikiri movement (pushing of) from the left foot. As the body is being pushed forward the movement transfers energy (inertia) from the lower body to the left side of the body and arm, and the leverage of the left and right hands causes the start of movement in the shinai tip. Using the elastic energy that is transmitted up from and through the left side of your body plus the coordination of the bend of the muscles in the left shoulder, hand control, and the angle of the raised shinai tip, allows you to the possibility of changing the timing of your men strikes.

Elite competitors say ‘technical ability = the knack of striking men’ (i.e. if you can master how to do a men strike the rest will naturally follow). Once you have this control/knack you can attack with various timings, strike from various positions, be able to turn/rotate your shinai at will, and strike with correct hasuji (‘blade angle’) etc. For example, once you have this control you won’t lift your shinai tip up further than you have to when you strike.

The control of the shinai tip is found through the transmission of elastic energy from lower body >> body trunk >> upper body >> tenouchi (hands) >> shinai.




UPDATE: Check out some youtube footage of the DVD that comes with the book that was released prior to the source listed above:

By George

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19 replies on “Tenouchi for men cutting”

Very interesting article. Personally I use a combination of this “sliding in the hand” movement and the other “tsuka-gashira doesn’t move” method. I also do not keep my wrists as rigid as the above article discusses. So I guess 1/2 sliding tsuka-gashira and 1/2 moving wrist, with pinky, ring, and middle fingers tightened.

I always find the differences between people’s techniques very interesting. As one said during a seminar one time, “Kendo is too big to be broken up into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.”

I have been concentrating recently on keeping a very tight grip with little and ring finger of the left hand.

This article has give me food for thought or rather, “kufu”.

Thanks George

There is a video on youtube where miyasaki sensei explain this movement and gives some exercises you can see how the shinai moves exaclty like this skematics. In the other hand there is always different points of view specialy in tenouchi this happens in kyudo tenouchi too

Kendo is too big to be broken up into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ -> I like it!

Thanks for the comments guys! Personally I don’t keep my wrists as tight as the article suggests. Ive spent time concentrating on keeping a slight opening at the top of the grip to allow for a bit of looseness and freedom of movement… which led to me – unknowingly – doing the ‘slide’ thats suggested here. Reading this book has led me to examine my own grip further as well as look at others.

After midnight here and an early start in the morning, so good night!

“if you can master how to do a men strike the rest will naturally follow” – I have a feeling I’ll be working towards this for, like, the rest of my life!

Thanks for posting this. I dug out my copy of Imafuku sensei’s book and am inspired to go deeper into the material instead of just watching the DVD. His discussion about how the shinai rotates during a men strike vs.a kihon men needs to be studied further, for example.

I do not have a great memory but that is a subject about wich I have read in GoRinNoSho from Musashi. He says something about wich fingers should hold stronger or more smothly.
This is a subjetc for much traning.

I remember hounding you on facebook for this article. Great zanshin 🙂

Just as you said, I do not believe in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of doing kendo (I believe in a correct and ‘what are you doing..’ way of doing kendo). From what I have observed, there seems to be a way that is taught to learn and a way that is taught to do. I think the reason most view something as wrong (or that’s not the way my sensei taught me) is that they are not at the point of being able to do, or have not yet discovered, the ‘right-er’ way of doing it.
Certain things are omitted when teaching, either to lessen confusion or to isolate the aspect that is taught (reminds me of when my math teacher told me that negative numbers do not exist when learning to add of subtract).
As I progress, I am finding this to be more and more true. What I knew before was not wrong, it was simple an adjunct for something greater.

(I would like to know if this is right or not; if feels right, but I’m slight OCD about being right sometimes)

George, this discussion has been “resuscitated” after another posting of same video in facebook.
Some dojo strive at trying to follow actual sword play the best possible when using shinai, even though we know there are some intrinsic differences and limitations between both “tools”. Sensei correct students to have a good hold of the shinai so much so that some sensei easily and consistently knock the shinai off your hands when the “slip” grip is used.
I personally believe that the more parts are synchronously involved in a motion, higher power and speed could be achieved. Extreme development of coordination and initial motion generation will be required. However, after confessing I have not read the book referred to and only going by the visuals of the video, holding the tsuka with both hands close together by the mid portion of the tsuka definitely shortens the moment of torque of the lever (right hand is the fulcrum with respect to the motion being discussed here.)

As reference to this I quote below the definition of the “Law of the Lever” from Wikipedia:

“The lever is a movable bar that pivots on a fulcrum attached to a fixed point. The lever operates by applying forces at different distances from the fulcrum, or pivot.
Assuming the lever does not dissipate or store energy, the power into the lever must equal the power out of the lever. As the lever rotates around the fulcrum, points farther from this pivot move faster than points closer to the pivot. Therefore a force applied to a point farther from the pivot must be less than the force located at a point closer in, because power is the product of force and velocity.[4]”

I think that theres many aspects to consider when striking – this translation only looked at the left hand. Theres also the right hand and arm movements to consider. Personally, I don’t see a point in over analysing like this: the best way to learn tenouchi is to strike and be struck (by kenshi of ability).

[…] Updates:  Aug. 4, 2022 – added some additional “Comments for Myself” and a reference to [KendoNotes YamauchiHikitsuke].  Aug. 22, 2022 – added Koda’s sensei’s comments on keeping the armpit area closed when striking, the right hand relaxed in kamae and when raising the shinai, raising the shinai with the left shoulder and back muscles and comments the Youshinkan dojo on the tenouchi.  Sept. 21, 2022 – added two videos with Chikamoto Takumi (Kyoshi 7th dan).  Nov. 23, 2022 – added comments from Brandon Harada (7th dan).  Feb. 22, 2023 – added a breakdown of the sections, comments from Chinen Katsuo (7th dan), a video by Imafuji Hiro Sensei, an instruction by Komeda Toshiro (Kyoshi 8 dan) and an uncanny sound-effect reminder (“ssssss-Tong”) that, when verbalized or imagined, seems to help me produce a nice crisp sae in my strikes.  Mar. 18, 2023 – added a summary of the points to keep in mind before striking and references to [Hyakushu_HitStronger] [Hyakushu_Tenouchi] [KendoNotes_Ssssss-Tong] and the video [Shodokan_Keiko].  July 20, 2023 – edited the “swivel, lever and whipping action” description and added [Hyakushu_SmallMen].  July 26, 2023 – added Kunitomo Rentaro (6th Dan, All Japan Champion 2019) comments.  Aug. 9, 2023 – revised and cleaned up the “Comments to myself” in the 1st section “Prior to the Strike”.  Aug 11, 2023 – Added a quote from Imafuku Kazuhisa Sensei (今福一寿) [Kenshi247_Tenouchi]. […]

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