Ways to Check and Improve Your Posture for Kamae and Well-Being

Posture is an important ingredient of a strong and beautiful kamae – which, in turn, is a prerequisite for beautiful kendo [Kenshi247_Kamae].  Indeed, a number of well-known swordsman and sensei‘s have commented on posture.  For example, Miyamoto Musashi and Noma Hisashi address it, respectively, in the section “Stance in Strategy” of The Book of Five Rings [Musashi, p. 14] and in Section 6 “Shisei” (Posture) in The Kendo Reader [Hisashi, p.14].  Yano Nobuhiro sensei and Morishima Tateo (Hanshi, 8 dan) comment on its importance, respectively, in “My Route to hachidan” [Kenshi247 YanoNobuhiro] (in several areas of his short essay) and in [Kenshi247_Morishima3].

Moreover, there are a number of related benefits of a good posture.  It can help a person look (and feel) taller, stronger and more confident [NYTimes Posture], reduce tension in the neck, shoulder and back area [BackMD] [Clark] and increase lung capacity [Oregon Posture].  More benefits are described in [DrAxe Posture] and elsewhere.

This article covers:

  • The Challenge in Maintaining “Good” Posture
  • An Easy Way to Check One’s Posture – The Wall Check
  • Tips to Help Improve One’s Posture
  • Closing Words from [Hisashi, p. 14]
  • References

Please see the disclaimer below.*  Wishing you and all a good posture and strong kamae!

A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind. – Morihei Ueshiba


The Challenge in Maintaining “Good” Posture

The challenge for myself, and probably for many, to maintain a natural posture in this day and age is the greater time dedicated to unnatural spine positions.  For example, while seated at desks, tables or in transportation vehicles or while staring downwards at a handheld device with a tilted neck and head.   To re-instill a natural posture into beginners with hunched shoulders or a neck projected forward, you have probably witnessed a sensei instructing them to stand straight in kamae. 

Interestingly, the same instruction can apply to those at higher levels.  In an instructional video for 4th and 5th dan shinsa candidates, the sensei’s call out certain candidates to correct their posture in the upper torso and the area around the head and neck [DVD08].

Examples of common postural problems are shown in this image [MusclePainSolutions] and in the first minute of this video [CalisthenicMovement].

An Easy Way to Check One’s Posture – The Wall Check

As explained to me by my chiropractor and a massage therapist, one can perform a “Wall Check”.  This involves finding a wall and standing with one’s back against it with the following body parts (ideally) touching it:  the buttocks, the shoulder blades and the back of the head (with the chin tucked down towards one’s chest).  For those familiar with yoga, this is essentially a vertical version of shavasana – also known as the “dead man’s pose” – where one is standing instead of lying down.

Here’s a few images and videos which describe the check:

Side story.  I learned the wall check when my chiropractor imitated my posture one day.  To my horror and disbelief, he projected his neck and hips forward.  To convince me, he guided me through the wall check.  I was shocked to discover how far the back of my head was from the wall while my chin was tucked downwards and how much effort I required to close the gap.  Thereafter, I worked on adopting some of the tips, described later, to improve my posture and doing the wall check periodically.  Thank goodness, my posture and kamae have improved.

Tips to Help Improve One’s Posture

If an aforementioned part of the body cannot touch the wall or one’s posture needs tweaks, here’s a list of tips to improve it – learned over the years thanks to massage therapists, my chiropractor, yoga instructors, colleagues, friends, videos and articles.

  • Positioning related tips:
    • Imagine the top of the head pulled upwards with a string when in kamae, standing or seated.
    • Position the ears above the shoulders (rather than in front of them) with the chin tucked in.
    • From an acquaintance who teaches kids ballet:
      • “Heart high.  Angel wings (on the back) low.”
      • “(Stand in your sleeping bag and) zip yourself up to the top.”
    • Move the edge of the shoulder blades in the back together (towards the spine) and rest the shoulder blades on the rear portion of the rib cage.
    • Tighten the abdomen and rectum muscles towards each other.
      • Some yoga instructors suggest tightening the ab muscles toward the spine.
    • Sense the tailbone and direct it towards the rear instead of the front when in kamae, standing or seated.  Or, imagine a tail and wag it towards the back.
      • This teaching, courtesy of Keita Kasahara-san, though somewhat bizarre, seems effective as it helps pivot the pelvis away from a tucked forward position towards a straightened one that supports the spine.
  • Activity-related tips:
    • Breathe in and out deeply such that the lungs are filled completely, held for a while, emptied as completely as possible and then repeated.
    • Do chin-ups (pull-ups) with a chin-up bar or hang on to the bar with the hands while letting gravity stretch the spine and body muscles.
    • Do deep-tissue self-massage therapy around the shoulders and rotator cuffs.
    • Stand or walk with the arms extended, palms facing forward and the thumbs pointed outwards away from the body [Gainesville14].
    • Hold the shavasana (wall check) posture in a horizontal (or vertical) position.
    • Sleep on a firm but comfortable surface.
      • Indeed, there are some who advocate sleeping on a firm surface without a mattress [Paleo].
  • For more serious issues, seeing a specialist may help.  Seeing my chiropractor and massage therapist helped get me started.
  • Here’s additional references with more tips [McKay16] [Greenfield13] [WikiHow_Posture].

Closing Words from [Hisashi, p. 14]

Kendo posture is not a subject fraught with particular complexity; on the contrary the essentials may be summed up by saying it comprises of that which is normal and natural.  This is true not only of posture but of all aspects of kendo.  Through training we are trying to evolve [to] a situation where we are in mind and body devoid of all fixation, stagnation or rigidity.  It is said that one must be free of all intention, striving, attachment or self.  In outward posture the highest level to attain is one that is free and unhindered or in other words possessed of that which is normal and natural.

References

[BackMD] “The Importance of Good Posture,” Back and Posture MD, 2014.

[BreakingMuscle] Wall Test (JPEG image).

[CalisthenicMovement] “Improve Your Posture | 3 Exercises Only!” Oct 20, 2017 (6:32 mins).

[Clark] Shannon Clark, “The Importance of Maintaining Good Posture,” LifeHack,org.

[DVD08] 剣道模擬審査 四・五段編 DVD, スキージャナル株式会社 (Ski Journal, Japan), ISBN 978-4-7899-5535-5、2008.

[DrAxe Posture] “Harder to be Happy with Forward Head Posture?  It’s True,”  DrAxe.com.

[Gainesville14] Gainesville Physical Therapy, “Posture Check”, youtube video, 1:24 mins, Oct 2014.

[Greenfield13] Ben Greenfield, “Top 10 Posture Mistakes and 17 Tips to Get Better Posture,” HuffingtonPost.com, Jul 2013.

[healthdigezt] “Quick Test to Check Your Posture,” (JPEG image).

[Hisashi] Noma Hisashi (1910-1939), The Kendo Reader (PDF, 55 pages)

[KendoInfo_Kamae] Geoff Salmon, “The importance of good kamae”, Kendoinfo.net, Sept 2013.

[Kenshi247_Kamae] George McCall, “Kamae equation,” Kenshi247.net, Nov 2011.

[Kenshi247_Morishima3] George Mcall, “From “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 3),” Kenshi247.net, March 30, 2011.

[Kenshi247_YanoNobuhiro] Yano Nobuhiro (8 dan), “My route to hachidan,” (Translated by George McCall), Jan 11, 2018. 剣道 昇段への道筋(上巻)。剣道時代編集部編。平成28年発行。

[McKay16] Brett and kate McKay, “The Ultimate Guide to Improving Your Posture,” LifeHacker.com.au, Apr 2016.

[Musashi] Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go-Rin-no-Sho), Translation by HolyBooks.com, 1644.

[MusclePainSolutions] “Standing Postures” (JPEG image).

[NYTimes Posture] Jane E. Brody, “Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind,” NY Times, Dec 28, 2015.

[Oregon Posture] “How Posture Affects Lung Capacity,” OregonExerciseTherapy.com Dec 30, 2015.

[Paleo] CaveManGreg, “Sleep – Which Surface is Best?  Paleo Diet and Living (Blog), May 2011.

[WikiHow_Posture] “How to Improve Your Posture,” WikiHow.

* 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 KendoNotes.com

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2 thoughts on “Ways to Check and Improve Your Posture for Kamae and Well-Being

    • kiai June 26, 2018 / 4:06 pm

      Hi George, Absolutely, I am fan of kenshi 24/7 and thank you for letting me know about “The Kendo Reader”. It seems like a “must read.” I will be placing an order for a copy.

      Like

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