The Nuts & Bolts of Kendo — Kote Waza
By Hanshi 9th Dan Nakano Yasoji — Translated by Alex Bennett
First published in Kendo World 1.4, 2002
Points to observe
As can be seen in the kendo kata, kote strikes can be big or small. What particular points should be given attention to when making a kote attack?
This is just my opinion, but I don’t think that a kote attack should be made from a distance further away than that of a men attack.
It would be different if the opponent’s shinai was completely immobilised, or there was an obvious opening, but other than that it is not advisable to strike from too far away. The distance between you and your opponent should be reduced before making a kote attack. So, I don’t think that a large distance should be compensated for by making a large cut in the case of kote. Rather, a kote strike should be small and sharp.
In the case of a men attack, it is comparatively difficult for the recipient to make a successful counter attack. However, many people are caught out and punished when trying to execute an inadequate kote attack through nuki-waza, and so on. This is because it easy to move the kote target out of the way. Thus, if you try to strike a highly mobile target from a long way out, it significantly diminishes the success rate. If your kote attack is unsuccessful, it is important to maintain stability and keep straight. Of course this is basic kihon, but how do you actually do it? Firstly, make sure that you don’t look at kote when you are striking it. Instead, look at your opponent’s eyes. By doing this, even if they succeed in avoiding the attack, at least you will be able to see where they have moved their shinai. Another point is being careful not to strike with all your weight centred on your right foot. Miyamoto Musashi also made reference to the importance of footwork, and it is important to snap your left foot up as well as you make the attack, rather than leave it lagging behind. Also endeavour to keep your kensen alive by thrusting at your opponent after the strike. Don’t kill it by pulling away. These are three points important when striking kote.
These are the basic principles to remember when striking kote. However, there are a number of different ways of striking kote such as katsugi-kote, and harai-kote. It is important to apply the most suitable waza depending on the situation.
The secret to striking kote
Kote is a difficult technique. What is the secret to striking it successfully?
I don’t go for kote much myself these days, but when I do I wait for my opponent to move in to attack,and then seize that opportunity by momentarily suppressing their shinai then following up with a quick strike to kote. This method seems to be the most effective. Because of the small distance to cover kote will always be quicker than a men strike.
Preparation to strike Kote
When striking kote, how high should you lift the shinai up in preparation to strike?
I learned from Takano Sasaburo sensei that you should lift the shinai up far enough to see the actual target. That also applies to men and do strikes. You should lift the shinai up far enough to just be able to see the target. However, you must take care not to actually look at the target before you strike.