Kenshi Journal

kendo musings

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Emptiness with emptiness, real with real

In regards to the use of the sword, the right hand is the jitsu, (実) real, the left hand is kyo,(虚) emptiness. They are both needed and exhibit the dichotic nature when expressed in balance. But when facing an opponent meet kyo, emptiness, with emptiness. If your foe strikes into the emptiness, become jitsu. Become real. The stance of emptiness can only be met with emptiness. Both opponents, neither moving nor moved. No temptation. But the real demands the real. Reality, striking into emptiness. When unequal opponents battle, that decides the victor. The powerful sees through his opponent’s emptiness and finds the opening. When both are evenly matched it cannot be, no opening to be found for either. And thus, both strike the stance of emptiness. Wait. Patience. Tempt. He who is tempted…dies. Harmonize with the opponent. Meet emptiness with emptiness, the real with the real. 虚虚実実.
-LW&C Vol.23


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Holding the shinai

The following was taken from a conversation in a kendo shop with Akira Ijima Sensei, Kendo Kyoshi Hachidan, and instructor at the International Budo university, that was also there to buy a couple of things.

The first thing to be aware of is the positioning of the little finger as it the hands grasps the handle. The location of the little finger is slightly different for holding a bokuto and a shinai. In the case of the bokuto, the bottom of the tsuka is at the same level as the lower edge of the little finger. While for the shinai, the bottom of the tsuka is located at the position of half the little finger. The reason for this position is to prevent the hand from sliding towards the front of the tsuka, when performing tsuka waza, especially katate tsuki. An additional reason is that it provides an added support in the strike and kamae position. One should ensure that the index fingers on either hands are not extended or separated from the other fingers. The index finder does, however, touch the tsuba at all times.


In order to execute a strike with the appropriate and correct tenouchi both hands grip in the same way. The method of grasping the handle is such that the right hand grips mostly with the two smallest fingers. The thumbs of both hands essentially are pointing towards the front. It is important to have the V that is formed by the skin between thumb and index finger aligned with the middle of the shinai at all times. It is also critical that the the right hand is not allowed to over rotate and end in a position that is on the top the tsuka.


A good quality handmade shinai always has 5 nodes (fushi). his is originated from the same source as the pleats in the hakama. The hakama has 5 pleats which represent the 5 virtues (五徳) of Confucianism of ( 仁 義 礼 忠 孝) not the virtues expressed in Bushido. Therefore, always try to acquire a shinai with 5 nodes, even if not top quality one. The first node is the strongest part of the monouchi. Depending on the position of the nodes, the shinai has a different balance and bending characteristics. One should study where one likes the node in the monouchi and take this in consideration every time when purchasing a shinai. This is ultimatelyIt a personal choice. The node location is not the only factor that should be evaluated, also consider the balance, type, and thickness of tsuka. As one increases in skill, there must be a adjoining increase in time spent enhancing the knowledge about the dogu and seek for higher quality correspondingly.

Ijima Sensei’s choice:
Ijima sensei personally likes a dobari shinai, as much as he likes chokuto. He says that both types feel like a shinai. He prefers a shinai with a well distributed weight, with regular thickness all the way. His favorite shinai is a  京都尚光 shinai, which he always uses independently of it being keiko or shiai.

Lastly, if all else fails, fall back on the sake cup method. Hold the shinai as if holding a sake cup.