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  • Tsuki Taboo

    The Tsuki Taboo

    Opening another can of worms here…when do you think is a good time to learn tsuki? If you ask my sensei this question, he would simply say *When your kendo is good enough to be taught.*
    There are probably many kendokas out there, who would disagree or simply don’t understand what sensei means by this, what exactly after all, is good enough? In my opinion and this is just my opinion, my sensei would say the same thing if you ask him to teach you jodan or nito.

    Here’s another curveball, when your kendo gets to the level where sensei thinks you’re ready to make the transition to jodan or nito and you ask him to teach you, he would simply tell you *I only teach chudan, you need to find someone to teach you.* What the hell?

    This is *old school kendo* logic, the majority kamae in chudan, not too many people do jodan and it’s even less for nito, the fact is, unless you live in Japan, it’s hard to find good sensei’s to teach you jodan or nito. If you don’t have someone in the dojo to teach you, you need to visit a dojo that can teach you and some people just don’t have that luxury.

    So what’s my point? What’s does this have to do with tsuki? In my humble opinion, tsuki waza, jodan and nito was more or less considered taboo back in the day, you only saw very skillful kenshi do jodan and execute tsuki. I’ve never done jodan or nito, but I’ve executed tsuki, and to execute tsuki, you need to be deadly accurate because you can really hurt someone if you miss or *miss-time the strike.*
    Simply put, you need to have a good understanding of sen because tsuki is not a waza that you randomly execute…it’s just like you can’t randomly execute debana waza. If you’re a random striker, you’re simply not ready to execute tsuki especially against another random striker. This is the main reason tsuki is not allowed in shiai at lower levels. Thoughts?

    I’ve read somewhere that Toda sensei once said the elements/essence of chudan, jodan and nito are the same and I think Chiba sensei said the same thing…my take is this, since the majority learn kendo in chudan kamae, it only makes sense to learn the basics fundamentals of kendo through chudan since this is what the majority of senseis do.

    The question for some people is… what exactly is the definition of basic fundamentals for kendo? I feel I’m ready to be taught tsuki even though sensei says I’m not. From my own experience in kendo, I’ve been doing kendo for about seven or eight years before sensei taught me how to tsuki, I started kendo at 10 years old, so maybe sensei felt my kendo was mature enough to learn, I’m not sure, but if you take the age factor out of the equation, I’ve could’ve started kendo at age 20 and have a better understanding for the basics sooner in which it might have only taken me 5 years or less, who knows? The point is if your kendo matured enough to learn tsuki.

    Here’s another thing, even though I was a nidan, I wasn’t allowed to use it in shiai. The only time I was allowed to use it was against senseis or sempais during keiko and if I executed one which was rare, then at some point I knew I was going to be at the receiving end of one, that’s how it was back then, it was a code… If you got the balls to use it, then you got the balls to take it from kenshi who know how to execute it.
    My sensei is a big believer in finding your true kamae and striking from the tanden using natural body movement. This is the essence of kendo, once you have a decent understanding of this through chudan, this will make a smoother transition to jodan or nito, because the fact is, it’s difficult to find a sensei like Toda sensei or Chiba sensei to teach you. (R.I.P.) You basically have to teach yourself.

  • #2
    Just my personal take for what it's worth.

    Firstly, the taboo exists for good reasons that have been discussed extensively. Nevertheless, I think it would be useful to understand that not all kendo environments are the same and the taboo may or may not be useful depending on the environment. What I mean by environment is population of kendo practitioners and the general level of skill within that level.

    I think the taboo is justified in most Western adult kendo environments and all children's kendo environments. In both cases, the majority of practitioners are sandan or less and the degree of random attacks are high. The conditions for practicing tsuki safely in a jigeiko or shiai context are generally absent. Westerners are also somewhat prone to believing "f*ck the rules, I am too good for them", which doesn't mix well with tsuki (I say this as a cocky Westerner). The taboo serves a useful purpose in this context. It reigns in the immature kenshi's obsession with waza.

    I question however, whether the taboo is necessarily justified in the case of Japanese adult kendo environments. But I won't go into my cultural analysis of where this inhabition comes from as this would be too long winded and at the moment not relevant to most Westerners. Also it is possible that the taboo with the Japanese adult kendo environment is not all that it seems due to the cultural balancing act of group consensus and a culture of "aimai" (ambiguity) that unofficially gives space to unsanctioned behavior.

    Originally posted by G-CHAN View Post
    Simply put, you need to have a good understanding of sen because tsuki is not a waza that you randomly execute…it’s just like you can’t randomly execute debana waza. If you’re a random striker, you’re simply not ready to execute tsuki especially against another random striker. This is the main reason tsuki is not allowed in shiai at lower levels. Thoughts?
    This is the main origin for the taboo in my view. Executed randomly and without skill, tsuki is highly risky. But it is one of the four base techniques of kendo and actually an important one to remind us to keep center. Remove that technique and an effective deterent against poor center also disappears.

    Personally, I subscribe to the idea of mid-beginners practicing tsuki in controlled drills like uchikomi. To land tsuki consistently one has to learn to move/strike with the hips so it's a technique that readily shows faults in how one moves (or perhaps what you refer to as kamae). The whole body has to move forward rather than up and down as most beginners do. Tsuki is unforgiving if this forward motion isn't right.

    A kendo dummy is good for feedback regarding force of tsuki. Too much force will result in the dummy rocking back and forth violently and noisely. The right about of force will not cause the base of the dummy to lift off the floor causing the noisy rocking motion.

    In iaido, there are a number of tsuki techniques. The ones practiced in ZNKR seitei, MSR, and MJER are relatively shallow tsuki (although I am aware of a deep thrust technique in at least other one koryu). The rationale is efficiency: impaling the teki and potentially getting the sword stuck in them when there may be other opponents is a bad idea.

    I presume the kendo requirement to bring the tip back after landing the tsuki serves the same rationale as well as makes the technique safer (by discouraging too much power). I think this point often gets overlooked.

    Originally posted by G-CHAN View Post
    My sensei is a big believer in finding your true kamae and striking from the tanden using natural body movement. This is the essence of kendo, once you have a decent understanding of this through chudan, this will make a smoother transition to jodan or nito, because the fact is, it’s difficult to find a sensei like Toda sensei or Chiba sensei to teach you. (R.I.P.) You basically have to teach yourself.
    A Keishicho kendo instructor told me that nito is banned in Keishicho (but not necessarily so in other prefectural police forces). Jodan is allowed (Chiba-sensei was a case in point) but is not actively taught within Keishicho. I asked how the jodan players learn. He said that a sensei can only teach four techniques: men, kote, do, tsuki. The rest is "nusumu", stealing the techniques from observation. Polemical but I get the message.

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    • #3
      Thanks for the reply Dillon

      Again you make some great points, I just want to clarify that I have nothing against tsuki per se, I just wanted to share my own experience with tsuki waza and maybe shed some light on why some senseis hold back on teaching tsuki until they feel it’s time. With my sensei, certain criteria’s must be met before you can be taught; it’s not necessarily based on rank. That’s just my sensei’s way of teaching waza and at our dojo; tsuki is the last waza you’re taught of the four targets.

      When I was taught tsuki, I first practiced on the uchikomidai (practice dummy). I think when you’re learning how to execute tsuki, you should practice executing from various distances to get a good feel for it. This is true for all waza, but you need a good understanding for maai when you tsuki. For me, I don’t want to over-extend my arms because it affects my accuracy and feel. I need to be in my happy zone in order to be really accurate.

      In my dojo, we were always told to point your kensen at the opponents tsuki, that how we centered ourselves in kamae. It’s true what you say about the importance of executing from the hips when you tsuki, however, that’s one of my sensei’s most important criteria, you need to be doing that before my sensei will teach you tsuki.

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      • #4
        Tsuki should be taught early. Whether or not you use it in jigeiko or shiai is another issue. However, the practice of it is good for your overall kendo.

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        • #5
          Hi Neil sensei, what exactly do you consider early? For me anyway, I think if you teach tsuki to a kid who is at least 16 or older would be okay if they have some experience. I don’t exactly remember, but for my own experience with tsuki 6 or 7 years really isn’t that long even for people starting kendo as an adult.

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          • #6
            Hi,


            If you need to ask then you are not ready.

            When they ask you need to be ready.


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            • #7
              Originally posted by G-CHAN View Post
              Hi Neil sensei, what exactly do you consider early? For me anyway, I think if you teach tsuki to a kid who is at least 16 or older would be okay if they have some experience. I don’t exactly remember, but for my own experience with tsuki 6 or 7 years really isn’t that long even for people starting kendo as an adult.
              As far as I'm concerned if people are ready to start practising in bogu they are ready to start practising tsuki. We don't teach any young kids in our club, I think it's fine for teenagers. Again I distinguish between practising it and using it in jigeiko or shiai. In our club we don't practice tsuki all that often but when we do we don't make any distinction in rank. We are usually teaching it in a very basic way: very little hand action, just good footwork and a centred kamae.

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              • #8
                Hi Neil, I guess that’s where our dojo differs…it’s like what Dillon said; situations are different from dojo to dojo. It’s just my opinion of course, but for me tsuki is considered *advanced waza* maybe it’s a generational way of thinking…the question is, is this thinking outdated for today’s kendo?

                Of the four targets in kendo, the margin of error executing tsuki is very small and has the greatest consequence if you miss, your aim must be true and your timing almost impeccable, tsuki must be executed with the mind free of doubt. This is not an easy thing to do even for the most seasoned kenshi.

                With that said, I’m fine with kenshi who disagree with me, that’s part of kendo, however, if you’re going to practice executing tsuki in jigeiko and you don’t have a lot of experience, you should tell your partner. It’s never a good idea to execute tsuki against anyone not familiar with it. Don’t treat them like guinea pigs, you should always asked them first.

                My 2 cents.

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                • #9
                  fyi, by the inspiration from George McCall, I've started using basic tsuki as a teaching tool for beginners. I find that it helps with keeping a centred kamae. Drills I have people do are: long distance and just walking up to motodachi, so that the tip connects with do mune. The other is from a close distance, one step and connect with do-mune / tsuki , motodachi step back => men.

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