One of the most famous aspects of Japanese culture is that of the “Samurai”. In one of our previous articles, we introduced Japanese history. That article referred to Samurai, in particular during the Heian Era up until the Edo era.
Of course, nowadays, one will very rarely see Samurai holding a Katana with a “Chonmage”. However, there are many aspects of the Samurai that are reflected in the Japanese culture of today.
One of the key remnants of Samurai culture is “Kendo”. In our previous article, we introduced Japanese martial arts briefly, but part 1 of the article delved deeper into the history of Kendo as well as the importance of “Rei” or “etiquette”. In part 2 of this article, we will look further into the details of the fighting moves in Kendo as well as the rules that make up the sport.
Stances in Kendo
There are 5 types of stance in Kendo known as the "poised to fight stance", "upper stance" "Lower stance", "upper sword wielding stance" and "lower sword wielding stance". These are the basic stances used in Kendo, and below we outline the "poised to fight stance" known as "chuudan gamae" in Japanese.
1) Firstly, release tension in the shoulders and straighten the back, facing directly forwards while standing.
2) Next, hold the sword by taking the sword guard with your right hand close to the guard section of the sword between the blade and handle, and hold with the left hand at the end part of the handle (called the pommel). One should hold firmly with the three outer fingers, gently with the index finger and placing the thumb lightly on the handle.
3) The sword should be held at a height just below the opponent's throat.
4) The timing of the sword strikes is influenced by the footwork. With any Kendo leg stance, the right leg is always further forward. When bringing the right leg forward, it allows free movement with the left heel. The feet should also be kept parallel in order to step out freely.
5) The centre of gravity should be kept at a point between both legs and centring the weight at this point.
6) The distance kept between oneself and an opponent should always be at a distance where one can just strike an opponent with the sword.
7) One's line of sight should be with the opponent's eyes. By looking at the opponent's eyes, one is able to read their movements and see the movement of their whole body. This outlines the fundamental stance of Kendo.
Kendo fighting move①: Frontal strike "Shomen-uchi(正面打ち)"
Next we will introduce what you've been waiting for, Kendo fighting moves!
When one looks at the areas to strike in Kendo, there is the "face" "hands", "torso" and thrust, but the most important is the "frontal strike" that strikes the face. This is normally made from the poised to fight stance as described above, using the left leg to kick downwards and moving out the right leg to strike the sword forwards. Let's look at the steps of this move below.
1) Firstly, approach the opponent and raise the sword just above forehead level.
2) Then, with bring the sword down from the centre and strike the face with the end of the sword. The hit will be effective if you hold the sword tightly at the point if striking.
3) If you cannot get a strike I'm and the opponent, you can bring the left arm in and continue to try to strike the face.
Kendo fighting move②: Wrist strike "Kote-uchi(小手打ち)"
Next, we will introduce the “wrist strike” technique, which hits the back of the opponent’s hand. This technique is more challenging that striking the face as the hands are closer and also in a lower position in comparison to the head. Below are the steps required to master the technique.
1) Hold your arms forward with the sword and quickly wave the sword.
2) With continual movement, move your right leg forward and strike the opponent’s hand by extending both of your arms hen striking.
3) Then, at the same time quickly move your left leg backwards and pass straight through towards your opponent.
Kendo fighting move③: Torso strike "Do-uchi(胴打ち)"
The third move this article will introduce is the “torso strike”. Unlike the two previous moves introduced, this involves a diagonal and downward strike of the sword, and the grip technique and wrist movement are more challenging to master. Below we describe the steps for the “right torso strike”, which as it suggests, is for striking the right hand side of the opponent’s torso.
1) Hold your arms with the sword forward and strike with large movements. When striking, flick your wrists towards the left to strike from the right and from overhead.
2) Kick firmly forward with your left leg and move your right leg forward. While moving your left leg back to stabilize your posture, strike the right hand side of your opponent. When striking, dropping the position of your waist slightly by bending your legs, and keeping a stable posture are important for an effective strike.
3) When striking it is important to continue to move forward and then back out of the opponent’s reach. It is also an important part of this move that you are out of the opponent’s line of sight.
The Kendo mentality – “Vigilance”
The final aspect of Kendo to introduce is not a fighting move in itself, but is an important part of the Kendo mentality which is the idea of “Zanshin” or “vigilance”. This is the idea that even when after hitting an opponent, one must not let their guard up for one second and must be ready to anticipate a strike from an opponent at any second. There is also the practice of becoming at one with the sword, by shouting “ya” or “men”, with the ideal of this vocalization being at the exact same timing of the strike, to symbolize the strike being part of an extension of one’s body. Below shows the steps of this being in action.
1) After striking the opponent, one most not let up or lose sight of the opponent.
2) Quickly slip past the opponent with the back leg.
3) Without losing balance, strike back facing towards your opponent with the sword.
Deciding the winner
Generally a Kendo battle lasts five minutes, for both men and women. Normally the winner is decided by a best of three matches with the winner the first to win two matches. If one wins a match and then the following match reaches the end of the time limit without a winner, the one that won the previous match is deemed to win the match where the time limit ran out. Where there is no clear winner within the time limit, the winner can be decided by extending the match time, a judge’s decision or by a game of random chance.
We hope you enjoyed this article.
Part1 of this article introduced the history of Kendo as well as the importance of discipline in Kendo. Part 2 introduced the rules and techniques used in Kendo. We hope that these articles familiarized you with Kendo and piqued your interest.