It’s very common for people to move to the side of their opponent in kendo. They either stand up from sonkyo and take a step to the right, or when they attack men or kote, they do so in a diagonal line, so that after striking they pass their opponent on the right. There is probably a biological reason for this. It might be because many of us feel that the right side of our body is stronger than the left, but that’s just speculation on my part.
There are however some obvious kendo specific reasons why people move this way. Those in the habit of veering to the side after hitting, usually do so because they fear a collision with their opponent, injuring either themselves or the other player. What they fail to take into account is that the other party will more often than not, automatically move out of the way after being hit. If he doesn’t they can always use taiatari to finish the forward movement safely.
When you stand from sonkyo, unless your opponent has a very weak kamae, it is unlikely that you will see an opening to attack. Many kendoka somewhat misguidedly think that by moving away from the centre they will have a side-on view of an exposed target. Unfortunately this does not happen as your opponent needs to turn only slightly to face you in your new position.
One of the key things that we have to do to move up the grade ladder is to learn to face and dominate our opponent. When we rise from sonkyo we need to firstly take the time to feel and read our opponent’s mind, then to take the appropriate action to make a striking opportunity. This can be done by pushing forward and breaking your partner’s kamae, by moving his shinai out of the centre with either a harai, osae or makiotoshi technique, or by forcing him to move by showing an opening and beating him to the punch with a debana waza.
This concept of drawing your opponent out is called hikidasu. This can be done in a number of ways. You can slightly raise the point of your shinai, or move your right foot forward, or just slightly bend your right knee. You can also use any of these in combination. Once he commits to an attack you respond with debana, or oji waza if his movement is more advanced.
So don’t be tempted to step to the side. Hold the centre and demonstrate courage and confidence.