Hassokamae figure of eight posture

Hasso-kamae is not illustrated but the Shinai is carried almost vertically at either shoulder, so that in combination the two complimentary sides are likened to the Japanese figure eight, or Hachi. These are sometimes referred to as Yo-no-kamae and Inno-kamae, Yo-in being the positive/negative principle (Yinyang in Chinese). Hasso has variations in the Jodan and Chudan positions, the former high above the head and the latter low at the hip and canted backwards. As a minor point Waki-gamae takes what would be the Gedan position of Hasso, except that the blade is reversed.

Hasso-kamae is also a Sutemi Waza and has little use in modern Kendo but with Waki-gamae, Gedan, Chudan and Jodan, completes the five fundamental postures.

There are literally dozens of other postures - many very ancient. Some better known ones are the Kasumi-kamae found in low, middle, and high positions in which the arms are crossed over so as to partly conceal the technique; Kasumi means 'mountain mist'. Another variation is the Kongo-kamae in which the blade is held vertically in front of the face. There is a particular phase during which such postures appear attractive to the student but he should not become involved in them. It is, however, as well to learn by experience and it will soon be found that such postures are too restrictive under modern conditions.

The essential posture to concentrate on is the Seigan (natural posture) and this is absolutely essential as a basis for anything else. To enable the hands to grip as naturally as possible it will be noted that the elbows are slightly sprung outwards. The Shinai is exactly in the centre line and the posture should be relaxed and comfortable. An amount of stiffness and awkwardness is inevitable at first but if no effort is made the position cannot be achieved with ease at a later date.

Nigiri (the hand grip)

The method of gripping the hilt is the foundation of the cut and the movement of the Shinai. If the hands are incorrectly placed it is impossible to deliver a correct stroke, especially with regard to the left hand. Because of the gloves, this is difficult to see clearly but the position is the same as in the plate.

The left hand is always at the very end of the hilt, regardless of whether the student is left, or right-handed. The hilt lies transversely across the palm of the hand along the line of life, crossing under the base of the index finger and the butt lies in the heel of the hand. The three smallest fingers curl back over the hilt to point back at an angle of forty-five degrees to its length, and tighten firmly to pull the butt into the inner palm which we call Tenno-uchi (inside hand). The fore-finger and thumb just curl about the hilt in a comfortable position.

The Tuska-gawa (hilt leather) of modern Shinai are constructed with more length and the right hand is placed with an inch or so clearance below the guard. This is to avoid the excessive wear of the glove constantly rubbing against the guard.

The wrists are snapped well inwards so the hands lie along the top of the hilt and the knuckles of each fore-finger should be aligned with the edges. The Shinai should form a natural extension of the arms and the hands be in the ideal position for maximum control. The correct grip will only be possible if the wrists are supple and again this is a question of practice.

The Tenno-uchi (inner palm) of the left hand is the main cutting source and the placing of the left hand most important. The right hand does almost nothing, merely supporting the Shinai and guiding direction. Once the correct grip is understood the left hand is aligned with the Chushin (body centre) and thrust about four inches forward.

Students should avoid grasping squarely since this stiffens the arms and shoulders, or allowing the hands to slip around the sides of the hilt. In this case it is impossible to control the cutting and movements of the Shinai.

Shintai Dosa (basic footwork)

If it is understood that Shisei (fundamental posture) is the foundation of all techniques it will be equally clear that the only way to preserve this position is by footwork. All footwork is designed to preserve Shisei and generally speaking to maintain the advanced position of the right foot to facilitate instant attack at any moment. The basic aim is to step forward and strike the opponent in a special way and the only method of closing this distance without loss of Shisei or balance is by the correct step.

In the basic waiting position the left heel is lifted clear of the floor and the right knee slightly bent so that the body is inclined forward and some seventy per cent of the total body weight falls on to the ball of the right foot. In Kendo we are not concerned with attacks from the side or rear. There is only a single opponent who will always approach from the front. The basic posture is rather weak to the sides and backward movement is also less efficient but the whole body is poised for forward attack when required.

The right foot is advanced about the distance of its own length. There is just sufficient room for the left leg to pass in front of the right if necessary and the toes of both feet point directly forward. If the left toes are allowed to point sideways (a common fault) or if there is too much lateral distance between the feet, the thrusting action of the left foot will tend to throw the body over to the right and balance will be lost. The left foot should be as close to the centre-line as possible, but not so much as to cause loss of balance or awkwardness. Balance is greatly aided by turning the toes slightly inwards, which has the effect of steadying the body inwards to the centre-line, rather similar to the result of Shibori, as will be seen later.

Fumikomi (diagram I) shows the actual attack step and in all illustrations the starting position is shown as shaded whilst the number refers to the sequence of steps. Fumikomi means 'jumping in' and this is the only occasion when the feet leave the floor. By studying diagrams 1 and 2 this may be clearly followed. The left foot thrusts the body forward and the right knee punches upwards, the right foot strikes vigorously into the floor as the cut lands. This is followed almost simultaneously by the left foot, which is drawn up into its original position. As the cut lands the body is virtually travelling forward in the original Shisei position. At this moment the direction of body-weight is direct forwards and downwards at an angle of forty-five degrees to assist balance. There is a very brief pause as the cut lands. Then a series of smaller steps are made until the forward momentum is dissipated. This follow-through, or Tsuzukete, continues to maintain the right foot in advance whilst the left foot constantly pushes. The result should be that the feet slide smoothly across the floor in a fast 'shuffling' action.

As will be seen later, a full Fumikomi (attack step) means that some three feet to three feet six inches must be covered and so the Tsuzukete not only aids balance but also gives a smooth finish to the technique. It also has the extra function of avoiding any retaliation by the opponent. For clarity the Tsuzukete is shown in a direct line but in actual fact it is necessary to sidestep to avoid crashing into the opponent.

The method of keeping the right foot advanced is termed Tsugu-ashi (following feet) and is the method of stepping employed at any time when the opponent is at Ma Ai distance or attack range. When stepping backwards the right foot pushes back and is drawn back afterwards. A single Tsugu-ashi step is two separate movements of the feet made almost simultaneously, ie, 'one-two", 'one-two' and so on.

Nami Ashi (diagram 2) are normal 'pace' steps in which one foot is advanced from the rear. Nami-ashi means 'succeeding feet'. As the left foot advances in Nami-ashi any attack action is very difficult and because of this, Nami-ashi is avoided altogether except when well out of range. In Nami-ashi the feet are still slid smoothly along the floor, without lifting up, so that constant contact is maintained.

Diagram 3 shows a combination of Nami-ashi and Fumikomi in a method of attack from long distance, often used in competition. To cover the extra distance the left foot comes forward in advance of the right and the right foot is then advanced in normal Fumikomi style. In this specific case the advance of the left foot does not inhibit the attack since it is contained within the actual process of attack as the initial phase. With this type of attack it is possible to cover double the distance or more.

Ugoki (side steps) are mainly employed to pass by the opponent after attack and normally comprise the first of the Tsuzukete (follow through) steps. Diagram 4a shows the Mae-migi Ugoki (forward right) and Ushiro-hidari-ugoki (rear left) diagonal and by definition these are Tsugu-ashi

(following feet). Diagram 4b shows the Mae-hidari-ugoki (forward left) and Ushiro-migi-ugoki (rear right) and to prevent the feet crossing over and to avoid tripping, these are technically in Nami-ashi (succeeding feet) style. Because of this, movement along this latter diagonal is avoided where possible. The Ugoki step has the effect of taking the body out of line whilst maintaining the shoulder and hips square to the direction of movement. If the body is allowed to swing sideways in passing, balance will be very easily lost.

Mawashi (turning steps), mainly used when meeting an attack, shift the body out of the attack line and turn the receiver's own centre-line inwards, to allow for a counter stroke. Since the opponent is attacking, the distance is rapidly decreasing and thus, although vigorous, the Mawashi step is very short and balance to the side is not threatened. Diagram 5 shows merely the basic side movements of Mawashi and in the case of movement along either diagonals the sequence of steps will be as for Ugoki. Where possible it is better that the first foot be placed directly in the new line to avoid spinning on the feet. Only a relatively short step is necessary to clear the attack line and if the feet stamp down properly the balance is better preserved.

Almost any combination of step may be made, according to circumstance and diagram 6 shows one in which a Mae-hidari Ugoki (forward left) side-step is changed to a Migi-mawashi (right) swinging step by turning on the sole of the foot. The circumstances in which this type of step might occur would be in attacking the right wrist or Kote or in performing certain counter techniques to this left hand side.

Generally speaking, footwork should be as smooth and precise as possible, so as to avoid 'Rocking' the body backwards and forwards. No mater what direction the step takes the action is always that of thrusting with the rear foot; if retiring the right foot becomes the 'rear' foot in the context. The Tsuzukete (follow-through) will be found difficult but must be concentrated upon. The Fumikomi is very vigorous and all other steps smooth, so that the body glides over the floor and the feet are constantly in contact, ready to leap forward as an opportunity occurs.

Another very important aspect of footwork is the distance factor, since only the top portion of the blade is used to strike and thus the distance and range of each attack step must be requlated with the appropriate footwork. As the opponent attacks the length of our own attack step shortens proportionately. This is similar to the 'deflection' factor in shooting against a moving target and whilst this stepping, in relation to where the opponent will be, is difficult, it comes with experience.

It is necessary to make a definite step when cutting, or if the distance does happen to be just correct, then the motion of a step or a stamp is made and co-ordinated precisely with the cut. Cuts to the front are very much easier than cuts made whilst reversing and thus a forward sidestep or diagonal will often provide just that little extra space necessary to cut forward rather than backwards. Backward cuts are quite valid if correctly performed but the student should concentrate on forward attacks as much as possible since constant retreating and backward strokes result in a negative style and make it impossible to understand Kendo.

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