With the exception of mixed ability seminars, I do not often teach beginners, so it was interesting to find myself with the unexpected challenge of taking a class of newbies earlier this week. I arrived for a keiko session at a club that I occasionally visit, to find that the regular instructor and senior members had all been snowed in or had gone to Christmas parties. Under the circumstances, I decided that the best course of action was to lead a session of men and kote uchikomigeiko.
Watching everyone go through their paces, my first observation was that they all tended to make attacks from their right hand, using the left hand as a pivot. This is clearly wrong as the left hand should be the “power hand”. I remember sitting through a post-keiko lecture from Kaku sensei in Nara. The theme was “hidari de motsu, hidari de utsu”, (hold with the left, hit with the left). This was particularly memorable, as we all remained in seiza for the 45 minutes or so that sensei used to talk about the topic. I still associate overuse of the right hand with pain in my knees.
Quite simply, you should move into distance and when you see an opportunity to hit, push off from the left foot and at the same time raise and lower your left hand to strike the target as your right foot hits the ground and your left foot comes up to join it. The balance of strength should be 60:40 or even 70:30 in favour of the left hand. Instead many beginners tend to reverse this ratio, leaning forward and putting power into the right side of the body.
But why do we inherently find it so much easier to use our right hand and why does kendo insist that we use our left? The British monarch’s coat of arms proclaims “Dieu et mon droit” or “God and my right arm”, whereas “sinister” which originally meant left handed, has come to mean evil or threatening.
Presumably an argument can be made that the development of kendo comes from a two handed tradition whereas western fencing was usually right-handed. Having said that, the tendency to over use the right hand, is not a uniquely western problem, I was the only non-Japanese attendant at Kaku sensei’s memorable lecture.
In terms of correcting the mistake, kihon practice is the answer – suburi and uchikomigeiko concentrating on good posture and balance and of course, big arm movement, raising the left hand above the mengane.
If anyone can shed any light on why we instinctively favour the right hand, I would be keen to hear your theories. In the meantime best wishes to you all for the festive season.