The Nuts & Bolts of Kendo
By Hanshi 9th Dan Nakano Yasoji — Translated by Alex Bennett
First published in Kendo World 1.4, 2002
What is the most basic method of executing tsuki?
Of course, the most basic method for tsuki is to go straight in and thrust, but this is difficult to achieve if the opponent has a strong kamae. There are many other methods you can employ such as suriage as they lift their kensen up, or applying pressure from the omote side, and then making the thrust from the opposite side (ura) of the shinai. However, I find the most effective way is to move in and sweep their shinai down in a sharp motion (suri-otoshi) before executing the thrust. When attempting tsuki with both hands (morote-tsuki) you need to be quite close otherwise you stand the risk of having your thrust stopped and your momentum turned against you. I think that katate-tsuki (one-handed) is more effective in shiai. Both two handed and one-handed tsuki should never be attempted when your opponent is coming in for an attack, but is extremely effective against opponents who are moving back.
What points should we watch out for when attempting tsuki?
From chudan-no-kamae, lunge forward off your left foot making sure that you are thrusting the shinai out with your left hand. If you have power in your right hand, the shinai will veer over to the left, and the thrust will not be as accurate. In general, tsuki is not effective against opponents who keep moving in, but it is very effective against those who are retreating. In this case follow them up as they move back, and let fire with a tsuki. It is important, especially with morote-tsuki, to make sure you use your hips well, and move forward with resolve and vigour.
What are the overall points which should be considered which apply to all waza?
1. When lifting the shinai overhead in preparation to strike, swing it out and over your head as if you were thrusting the kensen in your opponent’s face, making sure you are pushing out with your left hand.
2. Movement should be hip-centric, making sure that you are not leaning too far forward, or your backside is sticking out.
3. When you make an attack, always snap your back foot up. Not to do so will make the strike weak, and leave you unbalanced.
4. In principle, all techniques are usually executed from issoku-itto-no-ma. However, be careful not to break the strike up into two moves. i.e. once you have reached the correct attacking range furikaburi (lifting the shinai up) and the strike in one smooth movement.
5. Seme is continued right up to the point where you lift the shinai up ready to strike. You should always try and maintain a balanced posture enabling swift striking.
6. Aim to strike your opponent front on. This will balance out the power required on both sides of the body, and enable you to manoeuvre in any way that is appropriate. If you strike always twisted to one side, you will be less free of movement, and your opponent will easily be able to discern your weaknesses.
7. You should hold the shinai lightly with most of the power coming from the left hand. Your body should move from the hips.
8. When striking lower target areas, make sure that you avoid looking down or pulling back after striking. This will make the overall attack weak. Always focus your gaze on your opponent’s face, and stretch your arms out after making the attack thrusting the kensen toward their body.
What are the factors that need to be heeded when teaching basic striking?
There are many books which explain the finer details of striking in kendo, but there is nothing which explains an over all principle which will give the techniques a sense of life. This is something which the kendo world needs to consider carefully. For example, in the Go Rin no Sho, Miyamoto Musashi goes into great detail not only about the technical characteristics of swordsmanship in the Book of Water and the Book of Fire, but all talks about the mental requirements, and ties each chapter up with all encompassing principles to give the techniques relevance in arenas away from combat. However, modern treatises of budo or kendo go no further than offering detail on technical information. This point needs to be looked at when instructing. In other words, it is important to know how to teach the mechanics of kendo, but it is just as important to explain why exactly we do something. “Why?” is an important basis to instruct kendo to others.