Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kendo Footwork

Here is a treatise on footwork in Kendo. Notice any similarities between this and Taekwondo? Sometimes, it's best to outmaneuver your opponent.

  In Kendo, the Japanese martial art of sword-fighting, the most important thing to know is not how to swing your sword, but how to move your feet.  Good footwork offers more to kenshi that just being able to smoothly maneuver across the dojo floor. It can also bring you into your proper attacking distance with a step, carry you out of danger, or shift your position for the most advantageous strike, all while keeping your body balanced. Good footwork also allows you to put pressure, or seme, on your opponent, and proper footwork is a vital part of achieving zanshin, a state in which your mind and body are working together to put pressure on your opponent while retaining enough flexibility to counterattack.

Footwork begins and ends with the most basic stance in kendo, chudan no kamae. In this stance, the feet are both facing forward, about two fists apart. Slide the left foot back, keeping the leg straight,  until the big toe of the left foot is at the edge of the right foot’s heel. Bring up the heel of your left foot until the ball of your foot is supporting your weight, then bend the right leg slightly.

In order to move, kick off with the left foot, sliding the right foot forward, then bring your left foot back into the starting position. This step is called okuri-ashi, and it is the most basic step in kendo. Taking a step back requires you to push back with your right foot. In all cases, you want to slide your feet along the ground. This deceptively simple step is the basis for the rest of kendo, and kenshi will spend the rest of their kendo career learning how to do it right.

Here is a video of a 5th dan kenshi demonstrating proper okuri-ashi

Beginning kenshi will often get blisters on their feet as they are getting used to sliding their feet across the floor. This can be painful, but it is also a good learning tool. If a blister forms, make sure it is on the center of the ball of your foot, between the second and third toes. If the blister is closer to your big toe, you need to adjust your stance.

Kendo footwork is a good example of the linear footwork found in Japanese martial arts, including Karate and Judo. The emphasis is on advancing quickly in order to attack, not to mention being able to retreat quickly if you need to. In fact, kendo’s footwork provides a common link between hand-to-hand martial arts and European fencing. In fact, fencing as a sport offers the clearest example of linear footwork since the two opponents only advance and retreat.

When fighting with a sword, nothing is more important than speed, decisiveness, flexibility and balance. With practice, kendo footwork provides the key to all four of these traits. 

Chris Gottschalk is a freelance writer and kendo practitioner. He runs a website at http://chrisgottschalk.info/

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