Kenshi Journal

kendo musings


Three S and one Z


Endou sensei hanshi hachidan and Sone sensei kyoshi hachidan 

What do letters of the alphabet have to do with kendo? That was the same thing that I thought upon hearing three S and one Z.

It was a steamy summer afternoon in the middle of August, and I, along with a fellow non-Japanese kendoka partner in crime were invited to a weekend seminar of the Kokusai Shakaijin seminar, in Iwanuma city. This was going to be an incredible learning and training experience or so we imagined. Anticipation kept me from sleeping well, as I was filled with anxiety about arriving late to the budokan where Sone sensei, kyoshi hachidan would pick us up. The Japanese are notorious about punctuality. All went well and we were on our way. After sweating under the weight of our bogu for an afternoon of full practice, we soaked away the aches in a hot bath and proceeded to what would be the highlight of the entire seminar.

At the end of the first day we were treated to a lavish meal with endless cups of sake and beer. Anyone that hasn’t had the chance to dine with a group of kendo sensei and take advantage to the forthcoming knowledge that comes with each consumed glass is surely missing out. I was highly surprised when Sone sensei uttered something in English. Having known and trained with him for five years and never hearing him speak English before, I blanched. He said “three S and one Z”. What did three S and one Z mean I asked? He replied simply “Speed, Simple, Straight and Zanshin. ”

The essence of his approach to practice he explained, is to develop, through sustained effort, an ability to execute the techniques with speed, a straight and proper hasuji, in a natural way that exhibits elegance, and a simplicity of motion.

All should be enveloped in Zanshin.


Sone sensei


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Nukitsuke 抜き付け,(刀を抜く)


The term nukitsuke 抜き付け,(刀を抜く) refers to the action of simultaneously drawing the sword from it’s scabbard (saya) and cutting. The cutting arch may be horizontal, rising or any variations of these. The kanji nuku (抜く) means to pull out or draw and tsuke means the action or moving as such to forestall the opponent’s attack before it happens. Rather, it is the application (付ける) of the sword draw (抜く) to control an opponent. Nukiuchi on the other hand means to cut down an opponent. This is how nukitsuke differs from simply drawing the sword and striking.

Technically it begins in the mind, in stillness, and progresses through the grasping of the handle, releasing the koiguchi, proper sayabi, focusing of the ki in the hara followed by a crisp flash of steel like lightning on a clear sunny day. It concludes with the iaidoka once again in a picture of stillness. This is the timing I try have in my nukitsuke, not unfamiliar to many other budo. From stillness, action and then stillness without wasted energy.

However, if the term nukitsuke means to draw in order to forestall the opponent, then I question how this applies to the true opponent? Which is oneself. Perhaps with years of endless training one can truly come to understand what is meant by the following statement; victory is accomplished with the sword still in the scabbard. (Saya no uchi kachi).

I sure don’t know.

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Seme 攻め

There is often a mention of seme in every training in the dojo. I have heard it in every seminar and by a myriad of sensei. Seme first; Don’t forget to seme; At your next testing they will be looking for your ability to seme. The list goes on.
Recently at a seminar with Kato sensei, kyoshi hachidan, he spent a great deal of time trying to have people reflect of kizeme. I took it that we often focus on the physical demonstration of seme but do not spend enough time on the developing a strong spirit that can break the opponents’ kamae.

This motivated me to think back on the teachings and thoughts on seme by Endou Katsou Hanshi Hachidan:

“Seme is not just motion of the body, it is the ki (spirit) moving towards the opponent partially manifested by the movement of the body. Moreover, seme is the same for shikake or oji wazas. It is common to see people just enter and strike. This will never allow one to advance and pass 6 dan or higher. After initiating your seme, in that fraction of a second, the opponent will respond and based on their action, you will know what technique should be used. It is two-steps yet one motion.

We train our bodies over and over to allow it to react without conscious thought. This is what is meant by cutting away the self and reaching mushin 無心.”

Hopefully, being able to do this ever, if at all, comes with more time spent in training.


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Zanshin 残心

The description of Zanshin can be started by firmly stating that it is difficult to describe it in words. It is a part of yuko datotsu 有効打突 and I think people focus on displaying zanshin more that kime. However, they are both needed. Zanshin is not straight forward; it is a complex concept that includes technical skill, mental composure, and physical presence. It is somewhat like the Tao(道) as described by Lao Tzu, any attempt to describe it in words does not do it justice. Much more experienced scholars have described the concept as well, one of the best being the TED talk (Zanshin – The Lingering Mind in Budo: at TEDxMeieki) by Dr. Alex Bennett.

That being said, I’m am still going to try a poor attempt to do just that. Zanshin is a state of mental and physical alertness, where one is aware of all that transpires around them yet not attached to any particular thing. In kendo, it is a state of mind and body, after striking with sutemi, in which one ready to respond to any actions performed by the opponent. It can be further defined as a display of full intent to attack and to correctly follow through until one has established the proper distance between oneself and the opponent and then turns and faces them again with full commitment of mind and body.

The power of zanshin is not like a tsunami, that is a single wave that carries with it a tremendous force just for an instant; rather it is more like the ocean itself, alive and filled with infinite potential energy. Upon inspection of the radicals that make up the character one firsts finds zan (残) meaning lingering or remaining. It is often understood as gradually extinguishing. This is paired with shin(心), readily thought of as heart or mind. Hence, zanshin is the spirit that lingers on. Thus, the spirit of all kenshi of the past are still present when we continue to train and preserve the teachings they have past on, linking us in an eternal chain.


Suzuki sensei kyoshi 7dan