Ways to Check and Improve One’s Posture for Kamae and Well-Being

Posture (shisei 姿勢) 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].

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 [Noma, p. 14]
  • References

Updates:  Added Tamano Sensei’s tip on May 9, 2022.  Added “Mewing” on June 21, 2020.  Added on Feb 13, 2020 pushing the knees together while seated tip, on Dec 4, 2019 the “Whispered Ah” exercise, on July 3, 2019 the towel between the head and wall exercise and on May 5, 2019 the pectoralis stretch.

Of all the things you wear, your posture is most important. – Janet Lane

Please see the disclaimer below.*

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].

Examples of common postural problems are shown in these images [WikiHow PostureImage] [Freemont Chiropractic] [MusclePain Solutions]  and in the first minute of this video [Calisthenic Movement].

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:

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 (with my chin 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 the buttocks, shoulder blades or the back of the head cannot touch the wall in the Wall Check or if 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.
    • Place your awareness and attention on the abs or the core area below the belly button referred to as the tanden [Kenshi247_BudoBreathing].
    • 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.  As further refinements:
      • As also mentioned above, place your attention on the core area below the belly button referred to as the tanden.”  This approach to breathing with the tanden is detailed in [Kenshi247_BudoBreathing].
      • Tighten the abdomen and rectum muscles towards each other.
      • Or, as suggested by some yoga instructors, tighten the ab muscles toward the spine.
    • Jump up and down briefly and loosen any tension in the body.  This helps reset the posture as described in [Hakudoh_Posture] (in Japanese):
      • The natural posture of the body arises when one jumps up lightly, lands and stands up.   自然体の姿勢は、ちょうど軽くジャンプして着地し、スッと立ったときの姿勢です。
    • 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.
    • Hang on to a chip-up or horizontal bar with the hands while letting gravity stretch the spine and body muscles.  (Editor’s note:  This does wonders for my posture, shoulders and hand grips)
      • If inclined, add chin-ups (pull-ups).
    • Stretch the pectoralis muscles (pecs) with a pole or shinai by grabbing both ends and placing the pole behind the back as shown in [Collins].
    • Do the “Whispered Ah” exercise [KendoNotes_WhisperedAh].
    • This one was explained to me by Tamano Teruo Sensei.
      • Have someone touch the center portion of your back along the spine (with a finger or the handle end of the shinai).  When he did this to me, it felt right and my posture naturally corrected itself.
    • Stand with the back towards a wall and place a folded towel (or other fabric) between the back of the head and the wall.  Have only that back of the head (and no other part of the body) pressed on the wall.
      • This is to help strength the neck muscles to ensure that the head and neck are vertical rather than extended forward from the upper torso.
    • 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].
    • In a seated position (on a chair or sofa), squeeze the knees toward each other and engage the core.  This seems to naturally straighten the posture.
    • Do “Mewing” – pushing and resting the tongue tip to the top of the mouth.
      • This seems to help straighten my neck and posture and bring calmness.
  • For more serious issues, seeing a specialist may help.
    • Seeing my chiropractor and massage therapist helped get me started.

For More Information

Closing Words from [Noma, 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.

Wishing you and all a good posture and strong kamae!


[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.

[Collins] Cavan Collins, “Shoulder Arm Chest Stretch with Pole,” YouTube.com, (1:57 mins) June 6, 2014.

[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.

[FreemontChiropractic]  http://fremontchiropractic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/poor-posture-relief-at-Seattle-chiropractic.jpg 

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

[Gokhale_Google] Esther Gokhale, “Talks at Google,” (53:45mins), Feb 27, 2008.

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

[Hakudoh_Posture] Posture in Kendo (剣道の姿勢, はくどー庵) hakudoh.com

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

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

[KendoNotes_WhisperedAh] “The ‘Whispered Ah’ – for Calmness, Muscle Relaxation and the Posture,” KendoNotes.com, Dec. 4, 2019.

[Kenshi247_BudoBreathing] Eric Spinelli, “Budo and Breathing,” Kenshi247.net, Jan 6, 2014.

[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。

[Lecky_Posture] Clare Wright, “Posture, How It Develops and Why Standing is Important,” (PDF, 19 pages), Lecky.com, October 2011.

[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).

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

[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.

[WikiHow_PostureImage] http://www.wikihow.com/images/a/a5/Improve-Your-Posture-Step-1-Version-6.jpg 

* 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

2 thoughts on “Ways to Check and Improve One’s 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.


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