Kendo kotoba 剣道言葉

Kendo kotoba

I wandered into the dojo a week or so back, and overnight my sensei had written and taped some kendo-specific kanji to the wall (see picture above).

The terms are very commonly used when talking about or describing kendo, but I thought I’d use this this opportunity to go over them here. As an added bonus, his handwriting is beautiful – enjoy!

For each term I will present the ‘official’ translations available from the Japanese-English dictionary of kendo where available (italicised), then supplement my own additions after that. The final version of my additions became somewhat larger than I intended, sorry!

The descriptions of the words are written below as the appear on the picture from top-bottom and right-left (the traditional direction of Japanese writing). Pay careful attention to the order that the vocabulary are presented in, as its not random.

HASSEI (発声)

The act of vocalising. The act of shouting at the opponent when facing each other. The act of shouting kote, men, do, when striking.

KIAI (気合)

The state where one is fully focused on the opponents move and one’s planned moves. Also, it refers to the vocalisations one produced when in such a state of mind.

The words hassei, kiai, and (not mentioned above) kakegoe, are three – at times – overlapping and interrelated words that we in the English kendo community commonly package (mistakenly) into single word: kiai. Why is this mistaken? Basically, kiai refers to a feeling of focus and determination, an internal will or drive to do something (e.g. desire to pass an exam, determination to ask a girl you like out on a date, etc). Sometimes (though not always) this is expressed vocally as a shout. We are in the habit of calling this kiai, but its probably more correctly termed kagekoe. Hassei is the act of doing kakegoe.

KIHAKU (気魄)

The strength of spirit to face any situation. Also called ki-gai. A strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter or an attacking opponent.

To express kihaku in your kendo you would stand up and face your opponent without wavering. A power, both mental and physical, with which you face adversary. If your kendo lacks kihaku, its empty.

SAN-SAPPO (三殺法)
KEN O KOROSU (剣を殺す)
WAZA O KOROSU (技を殺す)
KI O KOROSU (気を殺す)

An important teaching concerning three ways to overwhelm an opponent. The three ways are ‘killing the ki (spirit),’ ‘killing the sword,’ and ‘killing the waza.’ Killing the ki means that one’s ki overwhelms the opponents ki, thereby forestalling his/her attack. Killing the sword means that one controls the movement of the tip of the opponent’s sword by restraining or deflecting the sword. Killing the waza means that one anticipates the opponent, giving him/her no chance to attack.

The order of the terms in the ‘official’ description above is misleading, and the descriptions simplified. The order that my sensei wrote it shows a flow of progression to maturity. When kenshi are in an immature stage they tend to attack their opponents by hitting their sword away, pushing and/or slapping it up or down, left and right, and jumping suddenly in to attack. As they become more experienced they start luring in the opponents attack and defeating them as they attempt to strike. The final stage of this progression, of the truly mature kenshi, is when they are able to overwhelm and control their opponent through mental power alone. It sounds a little bit fantastic but, as any experienced kenshi knows, it happens.

SEME (攻め)
SEME-KOMU (込む)
SEME-KIRU (切る)
SEME-KATSU (勝つ)

To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent in full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents him/her from moving freely. This enables one to maintain a constant advantage over the opponent. In kendo its important to intentionally attack and strike, not to just strike by chance. The back and forth action of offense and defense involved in seme (attacks) and seme-kaesu (counterattacks) not only improves the skill of both players but also develops their minds and bodies. All of this leads to the mutual self-creation of both people and to the building of human character.

Here, my sensei has broken the act of seme into three parts. Seme-komu is the act of driving in for the attack. This can be in a physical or mental sense. Seme-kiru is the act of finalisation of the strike, and Seme-katsu refers to victory as consequence of the attack. Seme is not something singular but, rather, has its own progression. Seme without seme-kiru or seme-katsu leads to nothing.

KOKYU (呼吸)

The act of inhaling and exhaling. In kendo this term also means to predict the opponent’s movement and adjust one’s moves accordingly as part of the interaction with the opponent.

KI (気)

The basic energy which exists in all matter that is born, develops, and dies. In human beings, it is the source of the kinetic energy responsible for perception, sensation, and instinct. In kendo, it refers to the environment surrounding one’s self and one’s opponent, and it is the basic energy in making the functioning of one’s body and mind full and harmonious.

Breathing is taught little in modern kendo circles nowadays, mainly because even some of the most senior teachers aren’t schooled in the traditional breathing methods. AUN NO KOKYU is usually mentioned at this juncture. It is a method usually associated with zen meditation (and sometimes yoga) which refers to not only breathing, but a sort of mental harmony between you and your partner, with the goal being a unification with the entirety of existence.

Looking at the description of kokyu and ki above, you can see that kokyu’s function is to tap into ki. This results in gaining access to all the energy in the universe, becoming one with it. In other words, kendo is simply a physical activity (any activity would actually do) who’s purpose is to unite you with the universe. Your partner helps you with this… they are not the enemy, and winning/losing are irrelevant. Kendo’s final goal is revealed through kokyu.

UCHIKIRU (打ち切る)

Simply tapping or hitting your opponents armour is not good enough for ippon. It has to be a strong strike with good tenouchi. It should be strong enough that your opponent (and any watching shinpan or grading panel) can acknowledge the strike, but not so hard or heavy to cause injury or pain. The strike must be deliberate and definite.

ZANSHIN (残心)

The body posture and state of mind in which, even after striking, one is alert and ready to respond instantly to any counterattack by the opponent. Generally speaking, after striking one should put the proper distance between one’s self and the opponent and face him/her in the chudan posture in order to be ready for a possible counterattack. If one cannot move the proper distance from the opponent, one should put the tip of one’s shinai in the center or around the throat of the opponent to guard against a counterattack.

Zanshin is often mistakenly taken to be simply a physical state, as suggested in the description above. It also tends to be thought of something that comes after a strike. In actual fact, zanshin should exist in your kendo at all times, right from when you face your opponent and bow (ritsurei) until you finish. I might even go as far as to say that you should aim to be ‘switched on’ and aware at all times, whether that is in the dojo – you see a student looking tired and like they are about to collapse and make them sit out – or at the bar after keiko – you see your sempai is about to finish his beer and you quickly order the next one.


Minus the extra information I added in my additions, you can see that there is a logical progression from Hassei (kakegoe/kiai) through to Zanshin in the kanji shown above, from your first shout, through to pressure, attacking, and finally zanshin.

What we have described here then is, in the end, the act of hitting an ippon. I hope this extended definition of kendo terms is useful!!!

The overall construction of modern kendo

The following is a presentation of a couple of charts found in the book ‘Nihon kendo no rekishi’ (The History of Japanese Kendo) that I found interesting and my commentary on them (apart from the charts themselves, this is not a translation).

To read more about whats discussed here in more detail, including the background of the discussion and the the original authors comments and insights (which are far better than mine!), please read the original book.


Chart 1: The overall construction of modern kendo (The reciprocal and complementary aspects of kendo)

The overall construction of modern kendo

CONCEPT OF KENDO and SHUGYO NO KOKOROGAMAE

Technical aim (objective) 1
SHIAI
* The contrary nature of the 5 minutes x 3 points match
* The unclearness of yuko-datotsu criteria
(+ problem of shiai-jo size)

Technical aim (objective) 2
SHINSA (grading)
* Correct posture, kamae, technical ability and the unclearness of evaluating the standard for this based on age

Technical aim (subjective) 3
KEIKO
* applying your own subjective standards/understandings, bring your shiai keiko and shinsa keiko together as one thing. As a result of this, the means and purpose of training will become more fluid and change towards the process of ‘shugyo.’

I think that this will be the first time for most kenshi247 readers to see this chart, but I imagine that most people can understand most of whats being alluded to here: the problem that we as kendo practitioners have in combing two of the main aspects of kendo – competition and gradings – into a single process of ‘shugyo’, the expressed aim of which is set out in the Concept of Kendo (see below). ‘Shugyo’ is a term almost all budo practitioners learn quickly and refers to the pursuit of a sometimes nebulous ‘knowledge’ gained through hard physical and mental discipline.

In both the Shiai and Shinsa boxes you you see the terms ‘contrary,’ ‘unclearness,’ and ‘problem’ which need further explanation. First, let me tackle the ‘unclearness’ points as every experienced kendoka knows what the problems are.

The ZNKR publishes the criteria for grading at different levels. This criteria is worded ambiguously and due to this the understanding of the criteria is highly subjective, especially as you go towards kodansha grades (6dan+). Passing 8dan is so ambiguous it almost seems mysterious at times, and I’ve even heard people hint that sometimes passes are preordained. Everybody has experienced puzzle at gradings, be it at a pass or at a fail, and knows what I am talking about.

The unclearness of the criteria of awarding yuko-datotsu (a valid ippon) is found in the wording of the rules: that strikes must be done in ‘sufficient’ spirit, with a ‘correct’ posture, and must ‘express zanshin.’ Not to mention that you must hit the right spot of your opponents bogu with the correct part of your shinai at the right angle (at top level competition this is often too fast to see). If you need evidence at the difficulty of judging valid strikes (objectively that is) all you need to is check you-tube for the mens-team final of the 2012 World Kendo Championships between Japan and Korea.

The ‘contrary nature of the 5 minutes x 3 points match’ may be new to some people (this has started to be address at top level shiai here in Japan – the 8dan invitational and from the 1/4 finals of the All-Japans). Basically, if you look at the top shiai in Japan (the males All-Japan championships) from the 1950s until today, you can see that the number of shiai decided by ippon in encho has sky rocketed (see the original evidence in the source). The number of points scored has plummeted and the average shiai time has increased. In other words the style of kendo favoured nowadays by elite competition-orientated people (in Japan) is such that getting 2 ippon in a 5 minute match is rare. Of-course, this is partially due to the yuko-datotsu problem mentioned above.

Many people might think that the ‘contrary’ problem above doesn’t really affect them, but the kendo community across the world (including, of course, Japan) looks to the All-Japans as a source of inspiration and young people aim to copy those kenshi’s style, and obviously their style of kendo has changed dramatically over the years.

(I will leave the chat about shiai-jo size for a further article)

What a minute!

‘Hey, my sensei told me to do shinsa like my shiai and shiai like my shinsa!’

Fair point. I don’t think, however, many people actually do this. When shiai-mode is on posture often goes out the door in favour of hitting your opponent in any way possible; during a grading many people are often overly-concerned with being in the correct shape that they miss opportunities to strike or stand still and unmoving. I personally know of many people on both sides of the fence – those that disfavour shiai and aim to have beautiful kendo (in reality some end up with a kind of spiritless, ’empty’ kendo) and those that think kendo is simply about hitting the other person with the shinai in anyway possible (some end up attacking randomly, like rabid monkeys!).

A good example of this subjective difficulty between shiai and shinsa kendo can be seen in 6-time All-Japan champion Miyazaki Masahiro sensei’s 8dan grading video (this also ties in nicely with the grading unclearness described above). Did he pass because his kendo was brilliant on the day, because who he was, or because he deserved it based on his shiai results?

At any rate, what we have here are 2 aspects of kendo that have their own specific problem areas, and most people tend to keep these aspects somewhat separate. Both of these aspects are objective, i.e. our performance is judged by a third person or persons. Whether we think we have made a good strike in shiai, or whether we think we have shown our best kendo in a shinsa is irrelevant.

This brings us to the box in the center: technical aim 3 (subjective).

When your sensei told you to do ‘shiai like your shinsa, and shinsa like your shiai’ he or she was of course telling you shouldn’t split your kendo into compartments. The 3rd box describes this by saying that by finally merging these aspects together and approaching ‘kendo’ as simply ‘shugyo’ then you will finally be going in the right direction. Concentration on shiai without attempting to acquire ‘correct’ kendo’ (that is, manifesting it in shiai) or emphasis on ‘correct’ kendo without actually fighting like you mean it (to much emphasis on shape) leads to an imbalance. This merging/balancing of these 2 aspects is of course purely subjective; this subjectivity is partly based on your understandings and experienced of the objective arena of the shiai-jo and the opinions of the grading panel (as well as your sensei and sempai). This subjective understanding is acquired through – and for the ultimate benefit of – the process of shugyo. At the end of the day, however, you can only do kendo for yourself and must find a balance that satisfies yourself.

What I have attempted (badly as always!!!) to verbalise here is only for the dedicated kenshi: those that strive hard in their training over years and seek both spiritual as well as physical improvement (and grade advancement). It doesn’t apply to those that don’t care about gradings, who have no competitive interest (even among dojo-mates), nor those that do kendo as a hobby on the weekends or for their health. That isn’t to say that those people shouldn’t do kendo or aren’t real kendoka (I’d like to think kendo is large enough to accept many types of practitioner), only that the expressed purpose (and thus end point) of the more dedicated kenshi is necessarily different.

* Please note: by ‘competition’ or ‘shiai’ above, I don’t necessarily mean official competitions, it could just as much be serious ippon-shobu between dojo mates, students, etc. The competitive nature of kendo is in-built: having a weak, or even no competitive inklings at all probably doesn’t bode well for the progress of your kendo. In my own case I barely compete in official competition anymore. I don’t actually have so much interest in those, but I do go all out in the dojo with my sempai and kohai on a regular basis. When writing the above, however, I did notice that I am imbalanced in my practise of kendo.


The following chart show the general flow of what is a valid strike, from the past to the potential future, and is an adjunct to the above section.

Chart 2: The yuko-datotsu criteria axis

The yuko-datotsu evaluation criteria

4 – Realistic/Combat: what we call kendo now evolved out of real fighting with weapons. Using a sword to attack someone would obviously cause injury and/or death and the results was immediate and apparent.

1 – Kata – over time, weapon practice changed into a more abstract form using wooden or blunted weaponry and techniques were practised in set forms. Original warrior skills were passed down from generation to generation, changing over time (potentially drastically), and the expression of technique became more artistic, even beautiful (e.g. iaido, koryu). Any ‘results’ are purely subjective (as far as judging is concerned, iaido/kendo-no-kata competition differs little from synchronized swimming or ice-skating).

2 – Grading/current sportive kendo – the ‘katana’ in kendo nowadays exists only abstractly, and shiai and shinsa have quite a few unclear aspects and contradictions. Due to this results are somewhat subjective and can even cause controversy.

3 – Bunka (‘cultural’)- a potential future of kendo whereby shiai and shinsa rules are revised to be concrete and unified, while respecting kendo’s long historical tradition and the Japanese culture that is embedded therein.


Summary / personal comment

This is just a short piece based on the charts above and the book they came from. Recently there has been a lot of chat about shinpan problems relating to the last World Kendo Championships. I don’t think any problem is with the judges, but with the subjectivity that is mentioned above (and perhaps some competitors lack of the kendo ‘balance’). Personally, I don’t mind subjectivity: as long as enough people are on more or less the right track then there are no problems. Its part of what makes kendo interesting.

If we occasionally lose a shiai due to (what you subjectively perceive as) a less than accurate call – who cares? You didn’t die. Any feeling of wrong-doing is surely just pride. Many people on this planet live in war zones, receive no education, or don’t have enough food to eat on a daily basis… the fact that we can afford to buy expensive equipment, pay dojo fees, and go for post-keiko beers afterwards shouldn’t be forgotten.


Source

日本剣道の歴史(p249-254)。大塚忠義。株式会社窓社。1995発行


Appendix

The Concept of Kendo

The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).

The purpose of practicing Kendo is:

To mold the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.

This will make one be able:

To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

(The Concept of Kendo was established by All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.)

Seme #2: Sakudo Masao

Already well known in Japan, Osaka sports universities Sakudo sensei is becoming more and more well known outside of the country nowadays, so I thought I’d dig out a piece of kendo literature by him to share with kenshi247 readers. Here is a translation of a short description of ‘seme’ that was originally published in a Kendo Jidai article series called “Mei senshu, renma no hibi” (originally serialised in 1983-84). The series was published in a two book format called “renma no hibi” in 1989. At the time Sakudo sensei was still only kyoshi 7dan (now he is hanshi 8dan).

See Seme #1 published in 2008.


SEME

You must face your opponent with the feeling that ‘ki’ is crystalized in and emitted from your body. Your hands must be soft. The softness of the inside of your right hand is especially important. Lightly touch the tip of your sword against your opponents sword; don’t especially strike or push their shinai in any way. During this time your body should be soft and flexible and your heart/spirit firm. To get the knack of this you must constantly think about this ‘firmness.’

While keeping this ‘fullness’ of feeling in your body you must project the feeling of ‘come and strike me!’ at your opponent, and – at the same time – while abandoning yourself to their strike, slowly close distance. Depending on your opponents movements you may sometimes close in relatively quickly and largely, but in any case the most important aspect you must keep in mind is your breathing as you move: it is essential that you unify your body movement and your breathing. That is to say, you must not move as you breathe out in a large/long blow, but execute movement as you are breathing out rhythmically in short, slow blows. This is so that your opponent cannot read your intentions easily.

While you are moving your body in this manner, the tip of your shinai should be soft and flexible. If your shinai tip is stiff then in the instant where an attacking movement occurs it will not be able to stay in the center, and all your strikes will be incomplete. Please be careful about this point.

To conclude, keeping this ‘fullness’ of feeling in your body and spirit you must begin to ‘seme’ and – whilst this is happening – you must study from where the intention of your opponent appears: is it from their shinai top? their right hand? their eyes? When your opponent doesn’t begin to move/react to your pressure but you see an opening and attack, then this is called ‘kakari no sen’ and if they move because of your pressure and you strike them this is called ‘go no sen.’ When you strike, do so straight from your kamae.

About the author

Sakudo Masao hanshi is a professor at Osaka sports university (specialising in Budo) and the leader of the kendo club. He is a graduate of Tokyo University of Education, earlier called Tokyo-shihan-gakko, the school that was home to Takano Sasaburo. There he was taught kendo by such famed sensei as Nakano Yasoji hanshi and Yuno Masanori hanshi. Upon moving to Osaka he did kendo under various sensei including Ikeda Yuji hanshi. He had competition success at university level and has taken part in the 8dan taikai. Outside of university life he holds several kendo related posts both in Japan and abroad.


Source

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。

Two points for daily practise

1. By the time you are in sonkyo you should already have your strategy in place:

‘As soon as you stand up, 1 – seme, 2 – seme, 3 – seme… pressure, pressure, pressure.’

‘If you want to strike me men go ahead, do it! When you attempt to I will strike your dou.’

‘Just as your partner attempts to strike have the feeling of thrusting his left eye, this will cause a disturbance in his heart/will.’

‘Pressure the omote and strike the ura.’

etc etc. Whichever strategy you have decided on stand up silently from sonkyo and with full vigor face your opponent – if you do this and manage to take an ippon within 20 seconds it will be a mark that your kendo is improving.

Its very common for teachers to say ‘do shiai with mushin’ but this advice is for experts who have already forged their technique. If inexperienced people whose technique is far from polished try to do this they will simply be struck.

In order to stand up and take an ippon in under 20 seconds you have to concentrate on taking the ippon at shotachi (the initial strike). Shinken-shobu is often called ‘the fight for shotachi.’

2. While pressuring your opponent, or when their body-shape is in disarray after execution of an attack – when their heart/will is in a state of confusion – you should immediately attack without giving them time to breathe. If you are too late in taking the chance it will not come again.

Your mental state should be the same as an athlete who is waiting at the starting block of a 100m race: ‘ready, set, go!’ If the strike isn’t an ippon you must cultivate the practise of striking multiple times in one breath (until you hit a good strike). If you don’t do this in your daily keiko then your body won’t be able to keep up (during shiai or against other opponents).

This isn’t about striking with your head. Your legs should move of their own volition. Only when you have reached this state can it be said that you have mastered technique.


About the author

SAKUMA SABURO sensei was born in 1912 in Fukushima prefecture. He started kendo at around 10/11 years old in Fukushima Butokuden. After graduating from what is now Fukushima University he started teaching kendo at various high schools. In 1939 he began to work in Mitsubushi’s mining operation and taught kendo throughout the country whilst visiting various mines. After the war, he became a student of Mochida Seiji hanshi and – while running his own kendo club – began working as a director in the Tokyo Kendo Renmei amongst other things. He died at 84 in 1997. He was hanshi hachidan.


Source

平成・剣道 地木水火風空 読本(下)。佐久間三郎。平成9年発行。

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:

我以外皆師
‘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.


Source

剣道選手の打突のしくみ。今福一寿。剣道日本。2009発行。


Bonus

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