books kendo

Kendo Advice 1919

About three years ago I translated part of a book and shared a bunch of pictures from various other books by Hotta Sutejiro (a mini bio can be read on the linked article). An interesting if somewhat mysterious character, he was a early and very prolific kendo author. Last weekend, in a rare couple of hours of free “George time,” I stumbled upon a reprint of his 1919 “Kendo Gokui.” At only 600 yen, I automatically bought it! 

I haven’t had time to read through the entire thing, but due to the current situation (=COVID-19) I’ve found myself somewhat free. Like his other books the illustrations are kind of interesting, so I picked one that I liked and (loosely) translated the associated section. Enjoy!

Enticing the enemy

It is the nature of humans to feel doubt when something sudden or unexpected occurs. As such, through aggressively threatening to strike and by the movement and changes of our sword tip, we can (psychologically and physically) control the enemy. When this happens we can say that we have “caught” the enemy’s mind, that is, they are moving in accordance with our will not their own. 

As a test, try moving your shinai slowly up or down. If the enemy reacts to your movement then you already have control over them. Striking them in that very instant will lead to victory. 

Let me give a more detailed explanation. When the enemy steps in to attack, when they try to press down or slap your shinai, or when they threaten to strike, immediately strike them. This is called “striking at the very start of a movement” (okori, 起り). “Enticing” (tsurikomu, 釣り込む) or controlling the opponent is different. For example when you lower the shinai tip to threaten the enemy’s fists or raise it up to threaten their head, they will almost certainly respond by striking, thrusting, or defending. In that instant it is essential to counterattack and strike (引き出し, hikidashi). In the case that the enemy attempts to defend, attack immediately. 

If the enemy attempts this on you be calm, utilise the distance wisely, don’t break your kamae, and be suspicious of their strategy. By acting in this manner you will be able to calmly wait and discern an opening to strike. 

When you start practising this strategy, however, it is easy to hesitate, so you should first cultivate the correct (calm) mindset, work on not breaking your kamae, and learn how to carefully read the enemy quickly. By paying careful attention to these points, and through self-experimentation, your techniques of attack and defence will improve. 

Let’s think about how to “entice” in practise rather than in theory. The following diagram shows the situation when shinai are crossed:

At this point, if there is no fluctuation in the enemy’s spirit then it would be difficult to defeat them. It would be like attacking a firm castle wall. However, even if a castle’s walls seem impregnable there is a way to break even the strongest structure and attack. In kenjutsu (i.e. kendo) the technique to do this is by “enticing by going on the offensive.” The means to do this is by moving the shinai tip up, down, and diagonally. 

First, you must also defend yourself from being attacked. Look at the diagram above. If you move (the extension of) your shinai tip on the black points shown above you will not only be able to defend yourself, but you will be able to successfully threaten the enemy and, by extension, break their kamae. If you point your shinai tip to any other area you will compromise your defensive posture, which is basically the same as shooting yourself in the head. 

So, be careful to aggressively threaten the enemy while keeping a defensive posture, cultivate attacking techniques through hard practise, control the enemy’s kamae with yours, and encourage them to strike randomly (i.e. under your control). These are important points to work on.

Note that the terms “shikake-waza” and “oji-waza” are post-war and were added in an attempt to explain kendo more clearly to school students. In pretty much all pre-war kendo manuals they don’t appear except for the odd reference to “oji-kaeshi-dou” (only dou, no kaeshi-men or kote). This is probably why the experienced kenshi feel often feel that debana-waza are shikake and not oji waza… but that is a post for another day.

In modern terms what Hotta is describing is the act of “sasoe” (luring or enticing) an attack and executing a technique (“oji-waza”) against it. 

For those of you that are studying Japanese, the literal translation of what Hotta is referring to here is not “enticing” but rather, “fishing” or “reeling in.” Translation is hard!!



By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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4 replies on “Kendo Advice 1919”

George sense, I hope you and your Kendo team are all well. I am learning Kendo in China and started to translate your diary during my country blockade. This is somehow saved me. I know now Japan is the most depress time. We will finally win. keep strong keep safe.

Great read, Thank you for putting it so clear and organized. Now I only hope I can start applying it in practice without thinking too much and hesitating.

Well, first you have to actively think about it. Hesitation will, of course, come. You will fail more often than not … at least in the beginning. Don’t get frustrated, and be patient … it will work out in the end. Eventually!

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