I was asked to suggest a theme for this weekend’s Watchet seminar and I decided on braking and acceleration. No I have not started giving driving lessons, but based on observation of high quality keiko compared with the kendo of less experienced kenshi, I am convinced that what sets the two apart is the ability explode into action from a standing start and to stop in a similarly short interval.
Shiai are won in the blink of an eye. As soon as an opportunity is created, we need to push-off and hit in the timing of one. Once we have achieved ippon we need to stop our forward movement and assume correct zanshin equally instantly. For many people in the early stages of their kendo career the pattern of their attack is along the lines of – lift the shinai, step forward, hit and run through, building momentum only after the strike. Most people have heard the expression ichi-byoshi , this means to lift and hit in one smooth motion. The ability to achieve this relies not only on correct footwork and posture, but also on accurate breath control.
The ideal sequence is to take a deep breath whilst still in safe distance, release some of it as kakegoe whilst retaining the remainder in your abdomen as you step into you own preferred striking distance. Only when you see the opportunity to attack should you expel the rest of your breath by way of kiai as you strike the target. Your furikaburi and strike should be in one smooth motion as you push off from the left foot and make fumikomi with your right, smartly bringing up your left foot in hikitsuke. In the case of a men attack, where your opponent obliges by stepping aside after you hit, the explosion of your waza should allow you to smartly move through to a safe distance to turn and assume zanshin.
With kote or tsuki this is not always possible; you need to stop in front of your opponent in a strong kamae, without “running on” and potentially putting him or her in danger. This is where the brake comes into play. Stopping when you are in full spirit depends on good balance and posture. You need to ensure that your weight is between your feet and that you have a straight back and a low centre of balance. If you lean forward you will lose all control.
Get these two elements right and you move from being the kendo equivalent of a three wheeler van to shaping up like a sparkling new Lamborghini.