Tactics in Kendo Part 2

Tactics in Kendo Part 2


In the previous article, the relationship between Kendo and tactics, my personal experience of studying tactics, and the effectiveness of learning tactics were introduced. In this article and the next one, I would like to discuss the learning of tactics appropriate to the level of the individual practitioner. These two articles are to follow my two previous articles entitled “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 1 and 2″. Before getting started, I would like to reiterate that I never want you to think of this as “quick fix”, on how to win competitions by pushing the rules to the limit. My aim is to provide you with some ideas and explore of the opportunities to learn a great many of the technical aspects of Kendo and develop your understanding of Kendo by the process of thinking, learning, practicing and creating tactics. This article describes the learning of tactics for Kyu grade holders and 1st~2nd Dan grade holders.

1. Learning of Tactics for Kyu Grade Holders

It is quite often seen in Kyu grade holders Ji-geiko, Shiai and grading examination that they keep attacking big Men from the same distance and with the same timing. Similarly, their teachers are often seen giving advice to “Keep attacking” or “Give everything”. When one side starts moving and tries to attack big Men, the other side soon reacts and starts doing the same. As the result, they keep hitting each others Shinai before reaching their opponents Men and a successful strike does not happen for a long time. At this level, as described in Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 1, it is certainly important for them to try to use techniques they have learnt in Kihon-geiko without hesitating and being shy. This would be their first simple, but important tactic. However, you cannot learn opportunities for attacking by repeating the same techniques from the same distance and in the same timing. Typically in Kendo, there are four opportunities for striking, which are; when the opponent begins to strike; when the opponent blocks a strike; when the opponent finishes a strike; and when the opponent moves back. In these, “striking when the opponent finishes a strike” would be an important tactic for Kyu grade holders to learn and try during Ji-geiko with other Kyu grade holders. Taking a concrete example, many Kyu grade holders tend to go though either side of an opponent after attacking, exposing their back completely to their opponent just like they do in Kihon-geiko. When this happens to your opponent in Ji-geiko, you should immediately follow then and attack as the opponent turns around. An additional merit of learning this tactic is that it will make them realize the importance of trying always to keep an eye on their opponent whilst fighting as well as realizing that there is an opportunity to strike when an opponent takes their eyes off, loosing concentration

When Kyu grade holders have Ji-geiko with their seniors, they tend to feel, in many cases, difficulty in completing their attack and stop their attacking in the middle of an action or keep moving back. Then teachers and seniors shout, “Keep attacking” or “Give everything”. Unlike Kyu grade holders, their seniors do not expose their back during Ji-geiko (or at least they are not supposed to). In this instance, it is not easy for a Kyu grade holder to execute the tactic of “striking when the opponent finishes a strike”.

What is recommended for Kyu grade holders in Ji-geiko with their seniors is to try to kill their opponents Shinai before striking. This means that you do not just attack straight but try to deflect the tip of the seniors Shinai by using Osae-waza (pushing the opponents Shinai down) and Harai-waza before striking (knocking the opponents Shinai from right to left, from the left to right, from the lower right to the upper left, from the lower left to the upper right, from the upper right to the lower left or from the upper left to the lower right) (see also Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, pp. 30-31). Of course, it does not mean that you can definitely score on your seniors if you use these. You will still be blocked by them. At this stage however, starting to learn “how to break the opponents centre” which is the most basic and important tactic in Kendo, is quite important no matter how simple it is. This simple tactic of “breaking the opponents centre” develops into more complicated and effective ones as you develop your footwork, Fumikiri, Fumikomi, speed and Te-no-uchi (I will explain this in detail later). As I described in “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2 ”, Kyu grade holders should focus mainly on developing Shikake-waza. It is important not to be afraid of being dodged and counter attacked, and not to stop attacking in the middle of your action, but to try to complete your attack. In this article, I would like to suggest the use of “Osae-waza” and “Harai-waza” in your Ji-geiko (and of course you need to practice these in Waza-geiko as well).

Although this may not be directly related to the tactics, here I would like to add something about defence in Kendo, which I briefly mentioned in “Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 1″ . As a term “Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi (no defence just for defence)” basically says that, in Kendo, defence is supposed to be done in order to promote the next attack and one has to make an action of attacking immediately after defending. This is also called “Ko-bo-icchi” in traditional Kendo terminology. As described earlier however, even if Kyu grade holders try to attack immediately after defending their seniors attacking, the seniors should not show their back to them and so Kyu grade holders will not be skilful and fast enough to counterattack with Oji-waza or Kaeshi-waza. I suppose, on the contrary, that they have not learnt and acquired the basic skills of how to defend an opponents attack. Strangely enough, methods of defence are seldom taught but left to a practitioners” self-learning and by experience in many clubs. Because of this, I think that many Kyu grade holders try to defend in their own (uneconomical) ways when they are attacked by their seniors and they have no opportunity to learn the idea of “Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi”. Okajima (1992) points out that beginners” anxiety and fear of opponents” attacking would prevent them from finding opportunities for a strike. I suggest, therefore, that teachers show basic defence techniques to beginners before they are allowed to join Ji-geiko. Here what I mean by basic defence techniques is not to defend by only blocking an opponents Shinai by just using ones own Shinai. What one has to be learnt are “Metsuke (positioning of the eyes)” and “defence with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi”. Beginners tend to stand and gaze only at their opponents Shinai and their hands tend to move as the opponent moves their Shinai. Therefore, they are quite often easily caught by a feint action such as “pretending to attack Men by lifting the arms up and actually attack Do”. According to the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (2000, p. 62), Metsuke is explained as “The act of paying attention to the opponents whole body while looking into their eyes.” In addition, there is also another term to teach us the positioning of the eyes called “Enzan-no-metsuke (looking at a far away mountain)”. The Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (2000, p. 24) explains, “It is important to look at the figure of the opponent as a whole rather than at a particular point, as if looking at a far away mountain.” As for “defence with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi”, when one defends, one needs to try to defend by keeping a positive mind and using the Shinai, footwork and body movement. The term “Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi” is normally used for expressing the striking action, but its concept should also be applied to defence. It is not easy for beginners to do this. However, it is in your best interest, that you develop your Kendo through being struck over and over again, keeping proper posture and effective defence position, which will not necessarily be effective at first. In the future you will develop the skill to make a defence in the most efficient way. Okajima (1992) argues that strong defence is an important element in performance in Kendo. If that is so, then learning defence techniques with an understanding of “Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi” at this stage will be quite useful towards helping execute high-level tactics in the future.

2. Learning of Tactics for 1st-2nd Dan Grade Holders

It is assumed that practitioners at this level can make a sharp strike with small and quick hands and body movement and powerful Fumikiri and Fumikomi. I suggest therefore, that practitioners develop the simple tactics of Osae-waza and Harai-waza and try to attack with feint actions. As the practitioners at this level probably already know, even if you try to strike Men after Osae against someone at the same level or senior, in most instances their Shinai will be blocking the target before your Shinai reaches it, unless your attacking speed is very fast. The same thing will usually happen when you try to strike Kote after Harai from left to right. This suggests that using feint actions before striking are an important tactic. Of course, learning feint actions progress from simple ones to complicated ones. What I would like to introduce here for the practitioners at this level are quite simple feint actions and a slightly complicated one. Some examples of simple ones are, “pretend to attack Men after using Osae -> make the opponent defend Men -> then actually attack Kote or Do” and “pretend to attack Kote after using Harai from left to right -> make the opponent defend Kote -> then actually attack Men”. This develops into slightly complicated ones such as “pretend to attack Kote-Men after using Harai from left to right -> make the opponent defend Men -> then actually attack Do”. What has to be remembered in trying to use these feint actions at this level is act first! Outwit the opponent properly and then strike”. For example, in the case of “pretend to attack Men after using Osae -> make the opponent defend Men -> then actually attack Do”, you need to lift up your Shinai with a big movement after using Osae to make your opponent believe that you are coming to strike Men and it is easy to defend it.

When trying to use “feint action then strike”, many practitioners tend to try to do it too quickly. This will result in not being able to act properly and your opponent will not defend as you wish. The practitioners at this level should remember that what is important for them is not to move fast, but by skilful and slightly exaggerated acts, to make their opponent judge that he / she can defend the target easily by using only their Shinai.

It is also assumed that practitioners at this level have some Tokui-waza (waza that they are good at and use with confidence to score). In addition to tactics with feint actions, what practitioners at this level are recommended to try is to develop their Ji-geiko with thoughts of when or in what situation they should use their Tokui-waza. Here I would like to ask you to stop reading for a while and think:

1 How long after the start of Ji-geiko or Shiai do you attempt your Tokui-waza?

2 What are the conditions of attempting your Tokui-waza? e.g. distance, timing

I would also like you to think about what type of opponent you think that you can / cannot score by your Tokui-waza.

Can you have a picture(s) of a particular situation(s) and type(s) of opponent(s)? How much you know in your Kendo depends on how clearly you can bring picture(s) in your mind. Even if you do not think that you have any Tokui-waza, I would suppose that at least you have your favorite Waza and I suggest that you start thinking of your tactics and how you can use your favorite Waza effectively in Ji-geiko and Shiai. If you cannot bring any picture of a situation and type of opponent, then use your Tokui-waza in your mind; I also suggest that you start reflecting how you fight after each Ji-geiko. As described in the previous article, thinking about the above things will not only help you develop your tactical ability, but also help you develop greater scope in your Kendo and deepen your understanding of the technical and psychological structure, the mechanism of each Waza and its interaction with others.

As well as using feint actions, there are “Sute-waza” or “Mise-waza” that you can use to develop your Ji-geiko and Shiai. Literary “Sute” means to “throw away” and “Mise” means to “show”. The meanings of these words here as tactics in Kendo are “Waza that are used for the purpose not of scoring but planting different Waza in your opponents mind so that you can make your Tokui-waza work more effectively in later attacking”. Taking easy examples, to score your Tokui-waza, Kote-Do, you can attack simple Kote-Men a couple of times, make your opponent think that your Kote-Men is easy to defend and make the opponent defend by using only hands (then attack Kote-Do). You attack a powerful and sharp Kote a couple of times to score by Katsugi-Men later. An important point is that you should not attack by using only your hands but should attack with your whole body even if the Waza that you use is “Sute-waza” or “Mise-waza”. Otherwise you will not be able to plant in your opponents mind the fact that you are attacking and you may get counterattacked easily. Here again, you need to show “realistic acting”. Your Sute-waza or Mise-waza may reach a target even if you didn”t intend it. In that case, of course, you need to make it Ippon, so you need to use your Sute-waza” or “Mise-waza with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi.


As you gain experience, you are expected not only to develop your Tokui-waza and favorite techniques, but also to improve the Waza that you are not good at and to become able to deal with people whose type of Kendo is hard for you to fence. For this, as described in “Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 2″, continuing to avoid practicing with people who are hard for you to deal with is not a solution. It will remain your weak point. You should try to do Ji-geiko with them more often than with anyone else. Your attempt will fail and you will be struck again and again, but you cannot overcome this unless you keep trying. Learning through being struck is the way of developing Kendo. Of course, it is also important to try new techniques. However, do not try to do too many things in one Ji-geiko, but have appropriate task(s), considering your current ability and referring to your teachers teaching and advice.

The next article will discuss learning of tactics for 3~5th Dan grade holders, and 6th Dan grade holders and above.


The All Japan Kendo Federation (Zennihon Kendo Renmei). (2000) Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, Tokyo: Sato-Inshokan Inc.

Okajima, H. (1992) “Kosei-teki na Waza-zukuri no Sido-ho (Teaching that aims to develop pupils” favorite techniques)”, in Zenkoku Kyoiku-Kei Digaku Kendo Renmei (the National Kendo Federation of Universities with Education Faculties). Zemina-ru Gendai Kendo (The Seminar on Modern Kendo), pp. 140-148. Tokyo: Madosya Ltd.

Honda, S. (2004) “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 1″

Honda, S. (2004) “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2″

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