Very often kendo shiai spectators are puzzled why apparently accurate strikes to men kote or dou are not scored by the referees. The reason in most cases is that they lack “kime”.
Kime literally means to decide, so it is a broad term that encompasses sae, (the sharpness of the technique), zanshin (awareness after attacking), kiai and confidence. I have seen a number of examples where the receiver appeared totally convinced that a strike was successful, but the point was not given because the attacker looked surprised that he had made contact. This shows either a lack of self-belief or that there was no original intention to hit the target. Another potential reason for lack of success in concluding a technique is due to holding back and thinking about defending against counter attack. In this case the technique is judged to lack “sutemi”.
Sutemi is a term which is used widely in the martial arts, but is a concept dating back to feudal Japan which resonated throughout Japanese society. Sutemi is often interpreted as “sacrifice”, but literally it means to “throw away the seeds” and is taken from a poem that makes the point, that in a fast flowing river a seed would sink, but if the inner kernel was abandoned, the husk would float with the current. The relevance to kendo is that every attack should be totally committed and without thought for any possible repercussion.
Sae also relies on a compound of kendo elements, but by and large refers to the te-no-uchi applied to the strike at the point of impact. I have discussed te-no-uchi in earlier posts, but it is worth reflecting on the fact that hands need to be relaxed. The left hand should do most of the work and you should apply small squeeze from the little and ring fingers of each hand at the point of impact, or slightly after.
The final ingredient is zanshin. Maintaining the correct distance posture and awareness after the successful strike should ensure ippon.