Body Maintenance for Kendo – Deep-Tissue Self-Massage Therapy

When I was younger, I did not appreciate the value of stretching, warming up or massage therapy.  Now I do.  My muscles may remain tight for a day or more after a kendo practice.  And with the tightness and aging, the natural ease in movements and explosiveness in strikes of yesteryear has diminished.  To counter this, I have incorporated ways to relax and loosen the muscles while shortening the recovery time.  This helps me maintain a level of ease, agility and speed in striking – not only for regular practices but also for competitions, gasshuku and shinsa.  I also feel more light, relaxed and confident in kamae – a feeling which can spill into my everyday life.

This article is organized as follows:

  • Deep-Tissue Message Therapy
  • Deep-Tissue Self-Message Therapy
    • Example Videos and Exercises
  • Side Story

I hope that this article may be of value and help to those facing similar issues.  Please note the disclaimer below.*

Deep-Tissue Massage Therapy

So, what do I do?  I use sports or deep-tissue massage therapy [DeBusk] [Wong] and a battery of other techniques covered elsewhere in “Ways to Relax Tight Shoulders”.  By deep-tissue massage, I am referring to the sustained application of firm pressure to reach deep layers of muscle tissue and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles).  The claimed benefits are impressive.

[It can] assist the athlete in achieving his or her peak performance, prevent or reduce the risk of injury [and] help with injury recovery when needed [Cutler].

It can also help increase a person’s range of motion [Sutton], provide relief from painful trigger points [Hefferon] and heal the body [Bean75].  Indeed, it plays a growing role in the success of Olympic athletes [Cutler] and helped Dara Torres to become the oldest swimmer, at the age of 41, to win an Olympic medal [Weil].

If you already receive treatment from a sports massage therapist regularly or before and after each work-out, there’s probably no need to read any further.  Otherwise, you may be in luck.

Deep-Tissue Self-Massage Therapy

This approach – without a therapist – can effectively loosen tight muscles in many areas such as the neck, shoulder, rotator cuff area, glutes, quadriceps and calf.   It requires a ball (or similar device that can be used to apply pressure) and a wall or an open area on the floor.  Due to an initial sensitivity of certain muscle areas, I started with a tennis ball (and foam roller) and later moved to the lacrosse ball for increased pressure.  The lacrosse ball is also small enough to transport in my bogu bag or gym bag easily.

Self-applied massage therapy uses body weight to apply pressure with a ball (or other device) on a target area.  For example,  one can lie down on the ground facing upwards and place the ball behind the shoulder blade area or glutes (or, stand and lean against a wall with the ball).   This approach is passive in that body weight and gravity is used to do the work.  The first step is to find the area of tightness and an appropriate body pose (which can be tricky) to set a desired level of pressure – not too much nor too little but to the point where I can feel some pain and relief.  Once found, the next step is to relax the muscles in the area as much as possible, breathe and hold the position as long as desired.  After a while, I usually experience a melting away or release of the tightness in the muscles around the ball area.  This can feel wonderful and restorative.

Example Videos and Exercises

Here are some sample videos and exercises which describe the technique.  Many more can be found by searching with keywords such as “lacrosse ball therapy [muscle area].”

Some notes.  As explained in the videos and by therapists, it is important to be gentle with oneself, not over-do things, breathe deeply, relax the muscles around the target area and drink as much water as needed afterwards.   These techniques are quite related to trigger point therapy [Hefferon] and self myofascial release therapy [Pearlscott] [Sutton] [Keys] – though there are differences [Quora].  More details on the theory behind the release mechanism can be found in  [Keys, PDF p. 9] [Sutton].

Side Story

Many years ago, I witnessed massage therapy applied after a kendo practice at a local dojo at Nakano-Sakanoue near Shinjuku, Tokyo.  After completing our individual bows, a student knelt beside a revered sensei 小沼宏至 Onuma Kōji (Hanshi 8th Dan) and proceeded to knead his forearm muscles.   They looked quite strong and were probably painfully tight.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a therapist at the dojo to provide deep tissue massage relief before and after a practice?


[Bean75] Roy E. Bean, Helping Your Health with Pointed Pressure Therapy, Parker Publishing Co., 1975

[Cieslowski] David Cieslowski, “Trigger point therapy.  Is it effective for pain and improving patient function?”, Pacific University, School of Physical Therapy, 2011 (9 pages).

[Cutler] Nicole Cutler, “Sports Massage is an Integral Part of the Olympics,” Institute for Integrative Healthcare, Aug 2012.

[DeBusk] Christina DeBusk, “4 Benefits of a Deep Tissue Massage,” Massage Magazine, Aug 2015.

[Quora] “What’s the difference between deep tissue massage and myofascial release?”, 2016.

[Hefferon] Steven Hefferon, “Trigger Point Therapy – Information about Trigger Points,”, June 2017.

[Keys] Patrick M. Keys, The Effects of Myofascial Release vs. Static Stretching on Hamstrings Range of Motion, Master’s Research Paper, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Jan. 2014 (PDF, 22 pages).

[Pearlscott] Mark Pearlscott, “Self-care – Stretching versus self-myofascial release,”

[Sutton] Brian Sutton, “The Science of Self-Myofascial Release,”, Jan 2016.

[Weil] Elizabeth Weil, “A Swimmer of a Certain Age,” The New York Times Magazine, June 2008.

[Wong] Cathy Wong, ND, “Deep Tissue Massage:  Everything You Need to Know – Benefits and Tips,”, Aug 2017.

* Disclaimer:  the content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Copyright 2016



2 thoughts on “Body Maintenance for Kendo – Deep-Tissue Self-Massage Therapy

  1. Kento Oki February 16, 2019 / 6:55 am

    Thank you Yoon Sensei. I have tried this and I do feel better, lighter afterwards. I will plan to incorporate this into my routine. Thanks again!


    • kiai February 21, 2019 / 10:09 pm

      Wonderful! Welcome Oki-san and thank you for your feedback. Young


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