Archive for the ‘Technique’ Category


Following on from my post on debana men, I would like to add some thoughts on degote. Whilst not perhaps as spectacular as a good debana men, it is a great shiai technique.

It is more or less impossible to hit kote, when your opponent is in a strong, secure chudan kamae. You have to make him open the target, either by physically knocking his shinai to the right, or by making him show the kotebuton by lifting his shinai. Degote relies on this upward movement.

My preferred approach to this waza is as follows – From isoku ito ma, raise the point of your shinai to the right, in the direction of your opponent’s left eye. This should be only a slight movement. You need do no more than squeeze gently with the little finger of your left hand to make the point move. As you do this, it is likely, (although not guaranteed), that your opponent will see the chance to hit your men and start to lift his shinai.  As soon as he does this push off from your left foot and hit kote. The footwork and weight distribution should be the same as for debana men, but because kote is closer, you should not have to travel as far forward. Do not wait until his hand is in the air, you should strike at the beginning of his move so that although you now see the target, it should still be parallel with the ground.

Degote is a small technique, but do not make the mistake of just using your left hand as a pivot and pushing with your right. You should try to lift your left hand and throw it forward, taking your right hand with it. Do not have the feeling of chopping down. Instead think about flicking the point out and forward like a chameleon’s tongue catching a fly. Also your body should be square on to your opponent’s kote. It helps to move your right foot across the centre line as you attack so that you finish with the toes of your right foot in line with the toes of your opponent’s right  foot.

Finally your zanshin should be correct, either pointing your shinai to the opponents centre, or if one or both of you is moving forward quickly, stop in tsubazeriai. Do not spoil the technique by twisting or ducking. Keep your posture.

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Many people have read the theory of sansappo or sansatsuho – The threeways of making an opening:

  • Ki wo korosu – Kill the spirit / mind

    Thanks to Eurokendo

    Thanks to Eurokendo

  • Ken wo korosu – Kill the sword
  • Waza wo korosu – Kill the technique

For many of us this is a concept that is difficult to translate into physical action. At the recent seminar, Chiba sensei did a great job in demonstrating how this concept works as part of his instruction on seme. He did this in the following way:

  • Ki WO korosu – Take a deep step into you opponents distance with full spirit. The movement has to be deep and aggressive. Merely pushing in past the point of his shinai is not enough. The movement must be sufficiently strong to break his composure and force him to lose the centre. As soon as he does this, strike men.
  • Ken WO korosu – In essence this means to knock the shinai out of the centre, so harai, osae, uchiotoshi or makiotoshi can all justifiably claim to fit this purpose. The key point with these is that they should be accomplished in the same movement as the following strike. For example with harai men, you only make one step from approach to strike, knocking the shinai away as your right foot travels forward.
  • Waza wo korosu – This means to break the attack against you and counter, so debana, oji, kaeshi, nuki, suriage etc all fall into this category. The key point here is not to wait, but to aggressively force or invite your opponent to attack and take away and return his waza.

If you are an experienced kendoka, there should be nothing new or surprising in this description. I was however impressed how Chiba sensei made the theory understandable to students of every level, by a great practical demonstration.

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On target but not great shisei or ki-ken-tai-ichi.

On target but not great shisei or ki-ken-tai-ichi.

Kote should be one of the easiest techniques in the kendo repertoire, but it still baffles a lot of people. Like all waza it has its own timing and distance and these determine the most appropriate cutting action.


If your opponent has a strong chudan kamae, it is impossible to hit kote unless you break his or her centre. You can do this in three ways:

  1. Knock his shinai over to the right to open the kote by using harai or suriage to ura.
  2. Use osae to push the shinai over from omote and then hit the kote as it opens when he pushes back.
  3. Force him or her to attack men and then take degote as they start their technique.  This in my view is the easiest and most effective way to hit kote, but that is personal choice.

It is important to remember that kote is much closer than men, so there is no need to make a deep seme or to step in closely to strike.  Most people can make the distance easily from a point where the two kisaki are barely crossing. My own favourite approach to kote is to step into this distance and slightly squeeze the shinai so that the point moves up and to the right, prompting your opponent to attack men and then take kote.

In terms of the mechanics of cutting, you should remember that although kote is a small technique, your left hand should still do most of the work in lifting the shinai. You need to raise your point no higher than it takes to clear your opponent’s shinai. Logically, to hit the target it also needs to move only a shinai’s width to the left.  When you finish the technique the shinai should be parallel with the floor. The feeling should be of hitting forward rather than down, in a motion that Sumi sensei compared to a chameleon’s tongue flicking out to catch a fly.

Footwork is much the same as men, just push off from your left foot and make fumikomi with your right. The only difference is that at the point of striking your right foot should be in line with your opponent’s right foot rather than his left.

Finally zanshin should as always be in the centre, but because moving forward you are in danger of making an inadvertent tsuki, you should raise your shinai above you opponents shoulder and move forward quickly into taiatari position, so if you miss you are still in a safe distance.


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Does size matter?


Stretching for men

Stretching for men

I enjoy kendo in Japan. One of the reasons being that at the modest height of  1.73 m or 5 feet 7 inches I can hit men, at least with my own pre-McDonalds generation.

Back home, I more and more frequently have to revert to kote and dou against kendoka who are a good 20cm taller than me. There is nothing as disappointing as the clack of shinai against mengane when you expect the satisfying smack sound when you hit the top cushion.

It is of course possible to strike men correctly against taller opponents. I have seen this demonstrated beautifully several times by Saito sensei of Shibuya dojo in Tokyo. Saito sensei is very small, probably not much taller than 1.30m. When he takes men it almost looks as if he levitates or ascends in an invisible elevator to a height where he can make the maximum impact. He then smacks the cut in and then gently descends. This may all sound a little too metaphysical, but really comes back to posture and correct cutting.

Chiba sensei continually urges people to hit with relaxed hands and wrists and to make the tenouchi after striking, not on or before the cut. Even then tenouchi should be a gentle squeeze with the last two fingers of each hand, not the shibori wringing or chicken strangling motion that used to be taught some years back. This causes the shinai to stand at too steep an angle so that you cannot hit the menbuton.

Even when stretching for the most stratospheric men, the left hand should not come up above the right or you lose control of the shinai. On a few occasions I have seen this sort of grip result in hansoku for a dropped shinai. Soft hands and wrists, correct grip and tenouchi have to be the way to hit men at any height.

Of course not every technique works on everyone. It is extremely difficult to make kaeshi men or suriage men on the ura side of a taller opponent and likewise some dou techniques are harder to effect on someone much smaller than you.

In shiai you owe it to yourself and your team mates to pick the most effective waza against each opponent, but in keiko you should try men against everyone. It is the key target in kendo and I believe as long as your fundamental technique and handwork is correct it is purely a matter of timing and opportunity


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Tokui waza

Maybe too Tokui

Maybe too Tokui

Experienced kendoka are expected to have a “Tokui waza” It translates as “Unique Technique” , although it is generally thought of as favourite technique. Think of Eiga san’s tsuki and you have the kendo definition of tokui waza. Most strong shiai players have a technique that continually wins their matches; but of course, it is not their only technique. It is the one at which they excel and that which beats their opponent no matter how much it is expected.

Tokui waza as a concept, probably came from Judo, where your favourite technique was dictated by your physique. A tall long legged person might excel at uchimata and a short stocky player might prefer seotoshi. There is an element of this in kendo – tall guys favour men, shorter people kote, but there are no rules.

I am not sure if I really have a tokui waza. There are two possible candidates at the moment suriage men and kaeshi dou. Both have been equally effective in keiko and shiai, but they work best in different situations against different types of opponent. My own tokui waza have changed over time from hiki men to degote to debana men to the current favourites.

How do you develop tokui waza? You need to try as many techniques as possible and find the one that suits you. But there are two serious caveats. Do not try overly complicated waza until your basic ki-ken-tai-ichi and cutting technique is correctly established and do not continually over use any technique with the same people in jigeiko. For example a katsugi men or gyaku dou, every blue moon, may startle the strongest opponent, but try it several times in the same keiko and watch the bored expression on your opponents face.

So the answer in my view is to practice new techniques as drills – a few at a time and keep going unti you can do them well. When you feel something really works, try it now and then in keiko against different types of opponent. Another caveat; be careful about using techniques like tsuki on venerable hanshi unless you know them well. When you are comfortable that your tokui waza works and you can make it happen at will, then it’s time to use it to win shiai.

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Big or Small?

Big Furikaburi

Big Furikaburi

I am frequently asked by people in the early stages of their kendo career – “Why do you tell me to cut big when you cut small”. The non diplomatic answer is “because I can and you can’t”. Of course, I am a lot more polite and encouraging than that, but to make successful small attacks, you need good ki-ken-tai-ichi and tenouchi.

Thinking about it, ki-ken-tai-ichi is integral to everything we do in kendo and I have talked about it in other posts, but tenouchi is particularly relevant to making small waza work. Personally, I do not have a preference between big and small techniques. I believe that you should have both in your kendo armoury and use them to fit the opportunity. Kote is by definition a small technique as distance is closer than for men and you simply need to lift over your opponent’s chudan to strike. So the choice of big or small techniques is primarily for men.

Nuki men is a great example of big technique. You have to lift your hands up above your opponent’s kensen to avoid his attack. Tobikomi men too can benefit from a big furikaburi, lifting your hands above your mengane and taking your kissaki back 45% degrees or so behind your forehead. I find that this works against opponents with strong chudan kamae, particularly if you make the attack with a feeling of sutemi.

However whether we are talking about big or small techniques, none of them will work without correct tenouchi and wrist action. If your wrists are flexible, (see my post from July last year on holding the shinai), you should be able to strike men cleanly on top. If your wrists are stiff, either because your kamae is incorrect or because you are gripping the shinai too tightly, the shinai will land at the wrong angle and either strike the mengane or slide off the side of the men.

Chiba sensei showed us a great series of drills to overcome this problem. At first, he explained that for speed and flexibility, the cutting motion should be elliptical, with your hands coming down towards the top of your head as you start the downswing. He emphasized that in suburi, bringing the shinai back against your buttocks, as in the illustration above serves two purposes, it acts as a warm up, and it teaches beginners how to find centre. It is not the way to hit men. He demonstrated that the strike should be through to the chin and that the squeeze from the right hand should be just after the hit not on or before. Above all, he stressed that arms shoulders and hands should be free from tension.

At his recent UK seminar, he prepared the ground by telling how he practiced 4000 continuous suburi everyday, he then asked everyone to do a mere 200 using an opponents shinai, held at head height as a target. The psychology is simple, people were relieved at having to do only 200, but as this was more than the standard set 20 or 30 they relaxed from the start, saving energy for the last few. The drills moved on through a series of large and small techniques, both shikake and oji waza. By and large even people with particularly stiff kendo were able to be much more flexible and were successful with a far wider range of waza.

I think this is the key. If your shoulders, elbows and especially wrists are relaxed enough to do big techniques correctly, then it is equally simple to do small techniques. The choice is simply to find the most appropriate technique for the opportunity. In fact if you do enough kihon practice, the choice should make itself, but that is another subject.

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Eiga tsuki

Eiga tsuki

With the increase in recent interest in jodan and nitou, tsuki is becoming an important part of the kendo toolkit. Unfortunately, most of us are not particularly good at tsuki. This is probably due to the fact that we do not practise the technique often enough.

Reasons for not doing so are plentiful. You are advised not to try if you are a junior or kyu grade. If you are a dan grade holder, it is standard practice not to use tsuki on junior or inexperienced players. On the other hand it is considered disrespectful to try tsuki against a senior teacher, so targets for tsuki in keiko are, depending on your level, limited to kendoka of your own grade and slightly above or below.

You also see very little tsuki practice within kihon geiko and of course its use within kakarigeiko is a no no. Even teachers who are experts at tsuki do not always teach it; perhaps they rightly assume that most of us are not to be trusted to use it correctly. Tsuki is certainly my weakest technique, which is logical when I realise that of my total lifetime kendo practice, probably less than 2 or 3 percent has been devoted to tsuki.

I have however, in the spirit of better late than never, started to include tsuki in my own kihon practice and I can’t confidently say, teach it, but I include it in basic drills for my students.

In terms of technique, there is the choice of kotatetsuki and morotetsuki. The former gives you more reach, but needs work to ensure that you do not compromise your posture and that you keep your body square. Simultaneously pulling your right hand back to your hip as you strike is perhaps the best way to maintain your body line.

With two handed tsuki, the challenge is to ensure that you hit with ki-ken-tai ichi and do not just push out with your arms. With either version it is important to make the technique sharp and hit and instantly pull the point of the shinai back. The cardinal sin is to make tsuki as your opponent comes towards you. This is known as mukaetsuki, which is dangerous and regarded as disrespectful.

Certainly, tsuki is a valuable technique, not only is it effective against jodan and nitou, but it works against strong chudan, where it is difficult to make a successful men or kote attack. Done correctly it is also a beautiful technique. If you are lucky enough to see Eiga san’s tsuki or that of Arima sensei, I am sure you will agree with me.

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