The principle in most martial arts is that you use your opponent’s force to defeat him. In Judo or Aikido you make him push and then use minimal effort to break his balance and throw him. Many people seem to forget that this also applies to kendo.
Because in kendo we set out to strike our opponent, we think about using footwork that gets us to the target as quickly as possible. This for many people means one thing – big steps. What many people often ignore is that there are two of you involved in keiko or shiai and you need to adapt your distance and timing to reflect that of your partner and that you can take advantage of his effort to beat him.
This was demonstrated very clearly in a seminar last year by Chiba sensei and is something that I have become increasingly conscious of. I have noticed however that a number of people seem to take a “one size fits all” approach to footwork.
If your opponent is static or going backwards, you need to first move into your own attacking distance and then take a further step as you make the technique. If he retreats as you make your initial seme, you may well need to cover a distance of up to a metre before making contact. On the other hand if he is moving forward, he is doing most of the work in getting to a distance where you can make a useful attack. To take advantage you need to make only a slight forward movement.
It all seems fairly straightforward and logicall but I see many situations where both players take big steps towards each other at the same time, resulting in an invalid strike made towards the tsuba end of the shinai, which as we all know, is invalid.
By stepping in, not only is your opponent supplying most of the forward motion for your technique, he his supplying much of the forward energy, so typically your technique needs less force than an attack against an immobile partner.
Typically you would use debana or oji waza in this situation. Using debana men as an example, you need to be ready to move with pressure on the ball of your left foot. As your opponent steps into distance, you just push off from your back foot and make a small crisp men cut. In these circumstances, your step probably needs to cover a distance of no more than 15cm. The force of the attack can stand to be 50% lighter than a shikake attack, as your opponent is supplying the forward movement. As long as your technique is finished cleanly with good tenouchi, it should be judged as ippon.
For degote, distances are even closer and you may need to make fumikomi on the spot without moving, to maintain the correct distance.