A couple of articles ago Stefan asked the following question in a comment:
Hey George, where is the article on how to build a tsuki pad?
In 2008 I published two articles detailing some DIY tsuki-pads I had made. The earliest of the pair was made over 10 years ago, way back in 2006, and both articles were eventually archived. The following article was inspired completely by Stefan’s comment. I hope it proves useful!
I strongly advise against treating tsuki as a special technique that can only be learned once a certain level of ability is acquired (this is generally ambiguous or arbitrary). Introducing it early will not only ensure that students learn it quickly, but will make them fear receiving it less. Also, the body mechanics involved in mastering tsuki mean that it’s an invaluable tool in creating good kendo.
– Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills (2012), George McCall
As many of my kendo friends know quite well, I love a good tsuki (giving and receiving). Morote, katate, omote, or ura, it’s all good! I’ve probably spent more time working on tsuki by myself than any other technique. Initially, due to it’s supposed taboo status, this was because nobody would (perhaps even could) actually teach me it but, eventually, I worked at it because I came to see it as a critical part of having a complete kendo style.
When I started teaching kendo as part of my job I started to see it not only as an important weapon to have in one’s shiai arsenal, but as a building-block on which you can teach good kendo form, help acquire good tenouchi, create interesting pattern practise, and temper fearlessness in students. As such, I believe tsuki-less kendo to be a compromised kendo.
Here is another quote from my Kendo Coaching manual from the section entitled The path to a confident tsuki:
Most if not all people are wary about practising tsuki. Generally, this is because they are fearful of hurting or injuring their partners. This feeling is easily understood. The best way to combat this is to build up confidence by actually practising tsuki. Avoiding it is not a solution.
At my home and dojo I built homemade tsuki pads for practising on (see kenshi247.net). On these I (and my students) can practise tsuki without concern for hurting our opponent. I emphasis accuracy first then – once accuracy rate is high – firmness. Once accuracy and firmness is acquired, students will naturally be more confident and this will lead to better results during partner practise.
Some people suggest practising at home using a pingpong ball hanging down from a string tied to a light fixture or something. I generally dissuade my students from solitary practise this way as it usually leads to a poking at the ball and not a thrusting and – unlike a tsuki pad stuck to a wall – there is no physical feedback when you start adding firmness. For primary and junior high school level children it can be a good learning game type of activity, however.
The homemade tsuki pads mentioned above can be read about below.
So, how do we improve our tsuki waza?
The answer is obvious as it is simple: practise it. People unduly fear practising tsuki because of the arbitrary taboo placed on the technique. As noted above, actually practising the waza will remove that fear.
If you are in a situation whereby you don’t have an experienced instructor, or your instructor doesn’t favour the technique itself for whatever reason, you can build tsuki pads like the ones I introduced on kenshi 24/7 years ago (re-produced below) and practise by yourself at home. Once you are somewhat confident in your accuracy find someone else who wants to learn the technique and practise together (this is actually how I started to practise tsuki waza when I was a member of the British kendo team back in 2000-03… because nobody would teach us).
If you are in a coaching position yet don’t teach it to your students I’d ask you to consider why this is: is it because you yourself can’t do the technique? Is it because you think it’s dangerous? Is it because you think your students are not at the point where they should learn tsuki? For point 1, if you are a teacher you should not run-away from waza you cannot do, but actively practise them. For point 2, well, I’d argue that someone who actually practises to execute and receive tsuki is in much safer place than someone who doesn’t. For the last point, I’d ask you to re-think. Tsuki can be taught right from the beginning of a persons kendo journey, and should be thought as a building block to creating good form and acquiring good tenouchi.
I’m not sure if the quotes and discussion above will help dispel some of the myths about tsuki or get your practising it, but I sincerely hope they do!
Related kenshi 24/7 articles:
Tsuki pad light version (2006)
I originally built this tsuki pad in 2006 for use in my home. I had the pad in my kitchen and used to practise about 100 tsuki in the morning before breakfast, another 100 when I came home from work before going to the dojo, and another 300 after coming back from keiko. Like a man possessed, I continued this pattern for months!
What you need
- foam for a sander/polisher (as thick as you need)
- sticky back square velcro patches (front and back, a little bit bigger or smaller than the foam should work)
- sticky back tape (1 square piece around the same size as the coasters)
- soft/flexible coasters (I used 4)
- strong tape
- strong post/area to put the tsuki-pad
- beer (1 or more)
- take your coasters and tape them together as shown in the diagram. Leave a small area in the middle to aim at if you like (as I did);
- take the sticky backed square tape and stick the coasters and the sander foam together;
- on the strong post / area you have selected to place your tsuki pad work out exactly the height you wish to place the tsuki pad. Ensure that the area can take impact and also that you have enough distance to correctly practise your footwork;
- stick the back piece of the sticky backed velcro onto your selected area;
- place the other piece of sticky backed velcro on the clean side of the sander foam;
- using the velcro, stick the foam to your selected area;
- practise a few tsukis. How is it?
- drink your beer in satisfaction.
Since you’ve used velcro patches to stick the pad to your wall or wherever, you can easily make multiple height targets… for tsuki practise against people who are taller/shorter than you.
Tsuki pad heavy version (2008)
This redesigned DIY heavy duty tsuki pad is for use in a high school kendojo. It was made/designed with the purpose of being abused 6 days a week repeatedly and heavily. Once nailed to the dojo wall I don’t want to have to remove it for repair.
Note that as I re-post this article in 2016, these heavy duty tsuki pads are still in daily use… almost eight years later!
What you need
- Strong wood squares, thicker being better
- Carpeting (you can normally buy cheaply in big squares)
- Plastic coasters (shape and thickness is up to you)
- Hammer and nails
- Take your coaster and place it on the carpeting. Cut the carpeting up so that you have a larger piece than the coaster. Prepare three pieces of carpeting the same size;
- Place the three pieces of carpeting on top of each other and nail it to the wood. I used about 8 nails to secure them firmly;
- Nail the coaster into the middle of the carpeting;
- Attach the tsuki-pad to the dojo wall, either by nailing it in (preferably) or by using strong adhesive.
- Try it out!
A random collection of tsuki pictures taken from kenshi247.net because, well, why not ?!