Applied theory

In the last post on the site I discussed about what the term ji-ri-itchi means to me personally on a more macro level, and now I want to discuss a particular example of a theory applied to physical practise.

Ken-chu-tai, tai-chu-ken

AFAIK the first reference to the teaching of Ken-Tai appears in Yagyu-shinkage ryu’s Hyoho Kadensho, written by Yagyu Munenori in 1632 (it also appears in Hozo-in ryu and Itto-ryu documents, and probably more traditions as well). Ken-tai and variants of it (e.g. Kobo-fuki, Do-sei-ichinyo, etc) are usually rendered into English as “defense within attack, attack within defense” or more simply as “attack and defense as one. A description from the Hyoho Kandensho reads:

“Ken means to attack single-mindedly, to strike fiercely in order to be the first to strike a blow.

Tai means resisting making the initial technique while awaiting the opponent’s first move. It must be understood that tai is a position of utmost watchfulness.

Ken and tai mean to attack and wait.

Concerning the principles of ken-tai pertaining to the body and the sword, advance upon the opponent with an attacking posture and hold the sword in a position of waiting, making efforts to entice the opponent to make an attack and counter it. In this way ones posture is in an attitude of ken and the sword one of tai. The ken posture is used to induce the opponent to initiate the attack.

Ken-tai pertaining to the mind and body. The mind should retain an attitude of tai and the body an attitude of ken; this is because if the mind retains an attitude of ken it races and this is not good; thus have the mind wait in tai, and with the body in ken induce the opponent to make the first move and defeat him.

Again there is the principle whereby the mind takes an attitude of ken and the body in one of tai; the reason for this is that with the mind in ken it is put upon its guard and with the sword in tai the opponent is induced into making the first attack. One should think of the body as being the hand that holds the sword. Thus the mind takes the attitude of ken and the body one of tai.

Ultimately both methods are the same, the aim is to induce the opponent to make the first move and defeat him.”

Kendo Tokuhon (The Kendo Reader), kenshi247.net, October 2013

I don’t think the theory of Ken-Tai is particularly difficult to understand cerebrally, but utilising it effectively within keiko is another matter. Specifically, I’d like to talk about it in reference to executing oji-waza.

I’ve sometimes seen oji-waza described as “reactive” techniques in English but I posit that this is – for advanced practitioners anyway – a misnomer. I mention this in my Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills under the “Oji-waza is not a guessing game” section. To be clear (under this definition): oji-waza are techniques executed with prior knowledge to what your opponent is going to do. The reason you have this foresight is that you have setup the situation: that is, you are in control of not only the area being struck, but also the timing.

A specific example: men-kaeshi-dou

To setup the situation you need to do two things:

1. Open up your men for attack;
2. Seem to be unaware of the impending attack.

There are many ways to open your men up, but the easiest one is done simply by dropping the point of your shinai down diagonally to the right (preferably subtly) and, at the same time, moving your right foot out diagonally (body in ken). By doing this all you need do is raise up your arms to catch your opponents men strike and move smoothly into the dou strike. Needless to say, you should be calmly watching your opponent and calculating while doing this (mind in tai).

However, we still have a problem. If your fighting spirit is obvious and/or your look like you are setting things up, then your opponent will not attack you (unless they are inexperienced): you have to fool them into actually believing that you are actually open. If you are overtly obvious in your setup or desire to strike then experienced people will not strike.

In this situation it’s often best to make your attacking spirit obvious immediately prior to the setup described above… then slightly relax the pressure. The switch from overt pressure to a relaxing of it is often enough for someone to launch an attack… inexperienced people will attack at this point even when there are no openings. This, of course, is Ken-tai in application.

Do I need to know the theory behind the action?

The answer to this is “no” if you are doing kendo casually, and “yes” if you are not. To some extent, “knowledge” of kendo will come naturally through doing it… in fact, I suspect that the best and most naturally way of understanding kendo is simply through constant daily practise without too much thinking. At some point, however, especially if you want to become a teacher, then it’s probably better if you spend time on the whys and wherefores.

Many people might say “I can describe my experience without relation to the more traditional kendo terms” which I think is a fair comment. I guess it’s up to the individual to choose how they teach and describe kendo. For me personally, I prefer to pepper the description with classical terminology…. kendo is after all, for me anyway, also a study of the past.

There are a number of overlapping theories used to describe the physical and mental process of executing kendo techniques, for example the different kinds of sen, discussion of kyojitsu (a term almost unknown in the English kendo community and disappearing in the Japanese one), and various other teachings from classical swordsmanship schools that have found their way into kendo theory. On top of this there is also the more modern boxing of waza into shikake and oji techniques, the odd sports-science explanation, and of course personal theories (sometimes eccentric) from various teachers. Some of these complement each other (for example, my use of ken-tai to describe oji-waza), and some don’t (the various types of sen and the shikake/oji waza definition).

I guess the point here is that for every action you do in kendo has, theoretically, some sort of rationale behind it, and if you want to be a good kendo teacher then you should spend time not only in research of these theories, but in actually application of them. At least, this is my aim.

“An important teaching, comprehension is difficult to come by without hard training.”

For a longer discussion on Ken-Tai, please see p84-6 of the kenshi 24/7 published Kendo Tokuhon (The Kendo Reader). Also, don’t forget to check out Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills for discussion and description of oji-waza.

SEME #5: Arimitsu Masaaki

The following is a short translation of a famous sensei’s description of SEME.

Seme #5: SEME #5: Arimitsu Masaaki

“Kamae with the centre line (the extension of your shinai) being around the area between your opponents chest and throat, all the while energetically pressuring your opponent. However, don’t intentional show this spirit at the end of your shinai; as much as you can, keep your outward composure at all times. For example, if the opponent does something like strikes down your shinai etc, quietly and unhurriedly allow your shinai to go back to the centre line.

However, at the instant when your partner threatens to step in and strike, without a moments delay face them enthusiastically and ensure that your pressure is projected out through the tip of your shinai towards your opponent with the feeling of “If you are going to attack, come on then!!!”

To do this, you must relax your shoulders, soften your hands, and kamae in the centre utilising your spirit to face the oncoming attack. In order to achieve this you must always sink your spirit into your lower abdomen (tanden)…. so much so that your abdomen feels tight against your obi and tare.

Depending on your ability to do this, your shoulders will become relaxed, your hands soft and flexible, and your kamae will look bigger and more impressive.

If you can achieve this then during a fierce bout then you will be able to read even the smallest behavior in the disposition or movement of your opponent, and you will be able to strike wholeheartedly with abandon using all the resources available to you. This ability to read your opponent is connected to one’s belief and therefore ability to throw themselves into an attack wholeheartedly (sutemi).

During keiko, especially of your partner is more senior to you, its common that you find yourself being constantly pressured strongly by the tip of their shinai. At this time its important that you fight with the feeling of receiving that shinai on your throat, and that when you step in and attack, to do so with the aim of getting past that shinai tip. This is the first stage in the study of true kendo.”

Arima sensei was the winner of the All Japan police individual championship 3 times and the team championships once (2nd place once as well). He has also taken part and placed highly in the All Japan Championships, Kokutai, and the Meiji mura taikai amongst other competitions. At the time of writing this piece he was a police kendo teacher in Kagoshima police HQ and kyoshi 8dan. He is currently the vice-director of Kagoshima kendo renmei and a director of the All Japan kendo association. He is now hanshi 8dan.

Source

This small section is part of a much larger series of interviews called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” (famous competitors and their day-to-day practise) published by Kendo Jidai between 1983-84. The series was compiled into 2 books and published as “Renma no hibi” in 1989. Most of the interviewed sensei were only 7dan at the time and are now renowned 8dan sensei.

剣道時代の「名選手、錬磨の日々」(1983ー84)からの抜粋です。「錬磨の日々」の本は1989発行。

Ishihara Tadami hanshi’s Important point’s for keiko

The following is short semi-translation of a small introduction piece published from the ZNKRs official kendo magazine Kenso (August 2013). I say only ‘semi-” as there wasn’t much explanation behind the points in the magazine so I’ve liberally translated what there was and then freely added in my own explanations. Feel free to interpret the points as you like.

Ishihara Tadami hanshi

* Born in Okayama prefecture.
* Graduate of BUSEN.
* Awarded 9dan at 74 years old.
* Honourary president of Okayama kendo association.
* Currently 97 years old.

10 important points for keiko

1. 一足一刀少し入る
“Enter a little bit further than issoku-itto-no-ma”

When executing an attack its best to enter a little bit further than perhaps you need to when striking. In this way you will feel a little bit more “freedom” in your attack.

2. 剣先立てて指す
“Keep the kensaki up”

When being attacked many people lower their shinai. Rather than doing that, receive/absorb the attack with the shinogi of the shinai.

Don’t duck and dodge, or use your shinai like a wind-shield-wiper in order to avoid or stop an attack.

3. 面は左右にかわす
“Avoid men strikes by moving right or left”

Two things in one here: when the opponent strikes men move your body to the left or right and – catching their shinai with the shinogi of yours – deflect their attack and strike men.

This describes either a suriage or a kiriotoshi action.

4. 引き出して打つ
“Pull a strike out from the opponent then strike them”

In other words, lure your opponent into striking you then – as you are in control of the timing – strike them as they commit to their attack. This describes debana waza.

5. 上虚下実で気攻め
“True seme comes from the lower body”

Loosen your upper body and put your strength into your tanden. Seme strongly with your spirit from this position.

This also relates to tension in your body and proper breathing method.

6. 受け、即打突に
“At the instant you receive your opponents strike turn it back on them”

Its important to not just negatively receive or block your opponents strikes. Instead, turn any defensive posture immediately into an attack. For example, “defending” against a men attack by performing kaeshi-dou.

In kendo we have the teaching “kobo-ichi,” that is, attack and defense as one.

7. 心気力一体
“Shin-ki-ryoku-itai”

As the kanji imply, in order to progress your shugyo and understand ki-ken-tai-no-ichi, its important to combine your heart, spirit, and power into one.

8. 力 40・30・30
“Power 40-30-30”

A successful strike must be made up of 40% of the shinai’s weight, 30% power, and 30% snap. Using only SAE itself (power+snap through correct use of tenouchi) will not alone lead to a sufficient strike.

9. 初太刀
“Shotachi”

You must always pay careful attention to the first strike as its here that life or death is decided.

The importance an individual gives to shotachi illustrates, I believe, their progress in understanding the deeper aspects of kendo shugyo.

10. すりあげ面。出ばな小手。抜き胴
“Suriage men, debana-kote, nuki-do”

These are what Ishihara sensei believes are the fundamental waza that should be acquired.

I’m not and will never be a hanshi (nor 8 dan) but for oji-waza these are the very minimum OJI waza that I require all my student to acquire:

Men oji-waza:
– debana kote
– kaeshi or nuki dou

Kote oji-waza:
– aigote-men

These are waza that I’m confident all of my students can learn to a good degree. On top of this I soon add kote-gaeshi-men and kote-suriage-men as well. Of course I also have my students practise debana-men constantly, even as beginners, but its such an advanced technique that many never get the knack. Therefore I ensure that they at least have options when responding to an opponents men strike.

Source

月刊剣窓8月号。全日本剣道連盟。石原忠美先生の教え・山本普一郎。

SEME #3 and 4: Nishikawa Kiyonori and Sueno Eiji

The following is a short translation of a couple of famous sensei’s description of SEME.

SEME #3: Nishikawa Kiyonori

“With the extension of your kensen aimed between your opponents throat and chest area keep your kamae in the center. Without hitting or striking the opponents shinai, lightly stick your shinai to theirs. If your opponent tries to take the center, slightly push your shinai back on theirs (and re-take control). If they continue to try and take the centre lower your kensen to around about the height of their solar plexus and check their shinai in place.

When you are driving in for the attack be especially careful of your footwork and hip movement, and ensure that your feeling (of attack) is expressed out through your kensen towards the opponent. When you get into striking distance you must not attack straightaway; rather, keep the driving feeling as it is and watch the opponent. In the instant that they start to move, strike them.”

Nishikawa sensei is the main teacher at Keishicho, the top kendo police institute in the country. He studied under many of the countries leading kenshi, including Morishima Tateo. He has won the All Japan Kendo championships 3 times (+runner-up once, third place 3 times), the 8dan senbatsu championship once, the World Kendo Championships (mens team) twice, the All Japan Police championships (team) 8 times and placed 3rd in the individuals 3 times. He was kyoshi 7dan at the time this article was published; he is now kyoshi 8dan.

Nishikawa sensei as a young 6dan (chudan):

SEME #4: Sueno Eiji

“With your body filled to the brim with ki, kamae in chudan. Keeping the extension of your kamae somewhere between the middle of your opponent’s body and their shoulders, without striking or hitting their shinai, and while moving slightly forward, back, left and right, strongly apply pressure (towards your opponent) with your ki.

If the opponent tries to strike, hit, wind, etc, your shinai keep your hands soft and absorb their interference; however, without letting any time open up, let your kamae return naturally to the center. This is not just about destroying their kamae, but about destroying the internal kamae of their heart/spirit; to do this you must be deliberate in your seme.

Its at this point where the principles (of kendo) come into play: when the opponents spirit or ki stops (due to confusion or doubt), when the opponent is just about to launch a technique, when they step back to retreat, or when an attack is spent, etc etc, it is here that you must strike.”

Sueno Sensei was a kendo tokuren member then kendo teacher at the police academy in Kagoshima before retiring. He trained under famous kenshi including Nakakura Kiyoshi sensei. He won the All Japan kendo championships once (came 2nd once), the All Japan kendo federation 50th anniversary 8dan competition, the world kendo championships (team) once, Todofuken taikai twice, the All Japan police championships (team) twice and individuals once. He was kyoshi 7dan at the time this article was published; he is now hanshi 8dan.

27th All Japan Kendo Championships 1979. Sueno Eiji sensei (6dan, white) vs Seme #1 Furukawa Kazuo (5dan, red).

Source

This small section is part of a much larger series of interviews called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” (famous competitors and their day-to-day practise) published by Kendo Jidai between 1983-84. The series was compiled into 2 books and published as “Renma no hibi” in 1989. Most of the interviewed sensei were only 7dan at the time and are now renowned 8dan sensei.

剣道時代の「名選手、錬磨の日々」(1983ー84)からの抜粋です。「錬磨の日々」の本は1989発行。作道正夫。