Posture is an important ingredient of a strong and beautiful kamae – which, in turn, is a prerequisite for the “execution of correct technique (and thus ‘beautiful’ kendo) [Kenshi247_Kamae].” Indeed, a number of well-known swordsman and sensei‘s have commented on posture and its importance. 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 [Noma, p.14]. As summarized in the latter,
One must achieve a posture free from tension and strain and one from which complete freedom of movement is possible. – Noma Hisashi
In addition, 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].
As can be expected, there are a number of additional, 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
- For More Information
- Closing Words from [Hisashi, p. 14]
Please see the disclaimer below.*
By adopting a certain physical posture, a resonant chord is struck in spirit. – Bruce Lee
The Challenge in Maintaining “Good” Posture
It’s a challenge for myself, and probably for many, to maintain a natural posture in this day and age. There seems to be many more opportunities to slouch and adopt unnatural spine positions – while, for example, seated in chairs, vehicles, trains, planes or glued to computer screens or handheld devices. To re-instill a natural posture into those 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].
An Easy Way to Check One’s Posture – The Wall Check
There’s an easy way to check one’s posture. 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:
- “One Minute Posture Test & Exercise for Adults & Growing Children,” PhysicalTherapyVideo (1:47mins)
- “‘Wall Test’ to Achieve Perfect Posture / Fight Neck Pain, Headaches & Pinched Nerves / Dr. Mandell,” MotivationalDoc (1:23mins)
- “The Wall Test: Have Great Posture and Relieve Back Pain,” 1minuteHealthTips.com (0:48mins)
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 and curved his back. It did not look good. To convince me, he guided me through this 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 would do 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.
- Jump up and down briefly and loosen any tension in the body. This helps reset the posture as described in [Hakudoh_Posture] (in Japanese).
- 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 (back, top & side).
- A thorough session of this helps not only restore my natural posture but also remove tension from my muscles for easier movement and strikes.
- 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.
For More Information
- Some additional references with more tips:
- An interesting talk by Esther Gokhale at the Google campus [Gokhale_Google] which I found quite helpful.
- Incidentally, her posture looks amazing and seems perfect.
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.
[BreakingMuscle] Wall Test (JPEG image).
[healthdigezt] “Quick Test to Check Your Posture,” (JPEG image).
[KendoInfo_Kamae] Geoff Salmon, “The importance of good kamae”, Kendoinfo.net, Sept 2013.
[MusclePainSolutions] “Standing Postures” (JPEG image).
[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.
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