I am back from yet another grading examination. As usual the 4th dan pass rate was reasonably slim and as usual the main reason was visible lack of seme and tame. This seems to be a common thread that runs through every grading.
I deliberately added the word visible because I did see a number of people who made numerous successful attacks, but who still failed the examination. They may or may not have broken their opponents guard to reach the target, but the creation of the opportunity to strike was not visible to the panel.
Seme and tame are inseparable. The ZNKR’s Japanese / English kendo dictionary defines semeru, (seme’s verb form) as “To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent with full spirit”. Likewise tame is described as “the condition of being composed both mentally and physically and maintaining a spiritually replete state despite the tense situation”. The two added together and put into plain language, equate to the act of aggressively penetrating your adversary’s kamae whilst maintaining a level state of mind and then being ready to strike the moment your opponent shows a weakness in his guard.
There are numerous examples of tame in the animal kingdom. The way a heron waits by the waterside ready to spear the fish below as soon as it moves, the way a cat watches a mouse, ready to take the chance to attack when it knows the direction it will take, the way a snake almost hypnotises and then strikes its prey; all make good tame role models.
If this is all starting to sound a little too metaphysical, let me remind you that you also need to make the correct physical actions to back up your kiryoku. As you make seme your left foot should snap into place to allow you to move at will. Your heel should continually be raised so that the sole of your foot forms a 15 degree angle with the floor and the back of your left knee should be tense. You should hold your breath in your abdomen so that you are ready to explode when you see the perfect opportunity to strike.
Throughout all this your upper body should be relaxed, allowing you to deliver a perfect ippon.
Apologies for constantly raising this subject, but lack of seme and tame really seem to be one of the major barriers to reaching the higher dan grades.