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Zanshin

Kote Uchi ZanshinEvery kendo technique ends with zanshin. It is that piece at the end of an attack where we move clear of our opponent to regain the initiative to attack again if the first attempt was not successful. In the old days of mortal combat it would be a matter of moving yourself to a safe position to check that either the job was successful or that you still needed to finish your opponent off.

Zanshin is still an integral part of scoring in kendo. The instructions for making or judging a successful yuko- datotsu always end with “followed by zanshin”. The concept is quite simple – you hit the target, take three or four steps past your opponent and turn forwards as you assume kamae and the readiness to strike again if necessary. This is by and large the formula.

There are of course exceptions. If your zanshin follows a technique where you move to a diagonal position with your opponent, it may be sufficient to stay on the spot, regain your kamae and simply look confident. I regularly see people try to adopt the 3 steps though approach at the cost of compromising their posture.

There is a common tendency for new kendo students to attack, raise the shinai, move past their opponent and then retake chudan whilst stepping backwards. This is incorrect. You should always turn forwards into chudan, in doing so both protecting yourself and regaining the initiative. As you go through the shinai should remain in the same position as your cut, so for instance at men height. It should not be raised in celebration or the outcome could be tori-keshi.

Even folk who make correct zanshin on forward technique fall into the habit of raising the shinai as they step back from hiki-waza. In my view this is dangerous. If the hiki waza didn’t work and your opponent is quicker than you, you are a sitting duck for a tsuki attack

The attitude of good zanshin should be one of kigurai and not boastfulness. You make your initial attack with 100 per cent commitment. Survey the results from a safe distance whilst retaining your physical and mental readiness to attack again if it is needed. It is definitely not the opportunity for celebration or show-boating.

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