Shinsa Preparation – a List of Things to Work on and Keep in Mind

Here is a list of things I worked on to prepare for the keiko portion ( 実技 jitsugi) of a past shinsa examination – some of which I continue to work on.  I wrote this to keep track of things for future reference and for others who might find this helpful.    The list is broken down into several sections in terms of things to work on:

  1. In General,
  2. Way Before the Shinsa (Months, Weeks and Days Beforehand),
  3. On the Day of the Shinsa and
  4. After the Shinsa.

References are provided at the end for further information.  Thanks to the sensei’s, senpai‘s and fellow members who have helped me develop this list over the years.

In General:

  1. Fundamentals:
    1. Kamae:  Ensure correct hand grips and hand positions, foot-to-foot width not too far apart, good posture of the spine, head and neck,  relaxed upper shoulders and arms, and power in the legs and hips.
    2. Hassei (kiai) at tachiai (initial rise to standing) and from safe quarters (See “On Kamae and Kiai for Shinsa – Components One Can Control” for more details).
    3. Ensure or develop good strikes with sae, tenouchi.
    4. Execute strikes starting with the legs and hips (koshi) and with the arms and hands later.   Keep the shoulder and arms relaxed as long as possible until they have to move.
  2. Higher level:
    1. Utsukikai:  learning and knowing when to strike and how to create such opportunities.
    2. Seme:  Practice reading the opponent’s intention with one’s eyes and shinai, hikidasu, pressing the opponent using kizeme, ma-ai and/or shinai, learning to assess, sense and understand an opponent (e.g. fast vs. slow, likes ouji-waza vs. shikake, aggressive vs. calm/patient vs. reactive).
  3. Mindset and Attitude:
    1. Fight “as usual” on auto-pilot during shinsa.
      1. Requires developing good habits and doing keiko beforehand as if in shinsa (See “Interview with Alex Bennett (Video)” by Hiro Imafuji Sensei after Bennett Sensei passed his 7th Dan Shinsa).
      2. It helps to do keiko in regular practices as if in shinsa mode.
    2. Practice fullness of spirit when striking and in general in keiko (Thanks to Shoraku Takao Sensei 7th Dan, Kyoshi, with the Costa Mesa Dojo for pointing this out).
      1. Practice uchikiru (打ち切る) with kihaku (気迫), omoikkiri (思い切り) which mean, respectively, “complete your strike with abandon”, “spirit” and “with all your strength” as described in “The Meaning of Uchikiru” at Kendo-Guide.
      2. Go all in, wholeheartedly, with all one’s strength and determination when striking.  However, make sure to relax the arms immediately after the strike.
      3. Even if you miss, go through with all your energy as if you had hit – until returning to kamae.  Do not do this halfheartedly or stop in between.
    3. Practice being in the zone (mushin), soft eyes, enzan-no-metsuke – especially as the other concepts (fundamentals, strikes, thought processes, state of fullness in spirit) become habits.  See “Open Focus, Mushin and Kendo,” for more details.
  4. Preparation of bogu, gi, hakama and extra shinai‘s
    1. Make sure your clothing and equipment are in good condition.
      1. For example, clean clothing of salt stains, check to make sure the men-himo and kote-strings are of proper length and sturdy (not frayed nor close to breaking), bring extra men-himo and do-himo (strings).
    2. Bring tape (e.g. blue painter’s tape) to cover any identifying marks (e.g. names) on your clothing or shinai‘s.
  5. There’s a nice summary of the main concepts of kendo to master and integrate into one’s kendo at:
    1. kenshi 24/7 “Kendo kotoba,” 2013 and
    2. kenshi 24/7, “Takano Shigeyoshi hanshi’s 50 pointers for kendo keiko, 2014.

Way before Shinsa (Things to do months, weeks and days beforehand):

  1. Read these quotes for inspiration Shinsa and Shiai – Quotes for Inspiration.”
  2. Practice shinsa kendo (hold off on shiai style kendo)
    1. Practice mock shinsas (e.g. 1 min) or keiko with the mindset of doing shinsa.
    2. Try practicing with people of varying heights (e.g. taller people), speeds, style and skill levels around your level – for familiarity with as many opponent types you may be paired with.
  3. Videotape and study your practices.
  4. Watch good shinsa videos (many on youTube and on DVDs like 剣道模擬審査 四・五段編 (DVD) (剣道日本) (Kendo Mock Shinsa for 4th and 5th Dan – in Japanese)).
  5. Ask sensei‘s and fellow dojo members for comments, observations.
  6. Visit other dojos.  Ask sensei’s for comments, advice.
  7. Condition the body for:
    1. Strength & quickness training:  cross-training, circuit-training (e.g. ‘insanity’ training), chin-ups, core training, sprints, jogging, plyometrics.
    2. Stretching, balance:  Yoga.
    3. Muscle loosening:  Massage therapy,  Deep-tissue self-massage therapy, stretching.
  8. Practice seme with those at equal, lower and higher levels.
  9. Practice with and prepare a set of nearly identical shinai‘s that you like.
  10. Practice suburi, tenouchi exercises with and without a dummy or tire.
  11. Make it a habit to check your equipment after donning them – to ensure that, for example:
    1. The lengths of the men-himo, behind the men, after tying them are equal.  The men-himo are flush against the left and right side of the men top.  The do-himo in the back are fastened tight and the end of those in the front are tucked in the small leather loop behind the do.
  12. Practice mindfulness, breathing exercises and/or meditation.
    1. It may help to become more in tune with the thoughts of the mind, more accepting of them and, when needed, to gently nudge them towards more encouraging, nourishing and empowering thoughts.
    2. Such a practice and habit can be particularly helpful if thoughts race through the mind prior to peak experiences.
    3. More information can be found in “Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai.
  13. Take care of the body especially as the day of the shinsa approaches e.g. by giving the body sufficient rest and taping parts of the body or skin to prevent injury.

On the Day of Shinsa:

  1. Warm-up the body and muscles (kiri-kaeshi, suburi).  Stay warm and loose.  It may help to have a coat or jacket for air-conditioned facilities or colder seasons.
  2. Meditate (e.g. simply focus on breathing or practice soft-eyes and open-focus), relax the shoulders and any part of the body that might be tight.
  3. Remember to be full in spirit in general and in shinsa.  Strike with fullness (omoikkiri) and do shinsa as you normally do keiko (heijoushin – as described earlier where keiko is done in the mindset of shinsa).
  4. Prepare a water bottle and drink water.  Stay hydrated.
  5. Eat well and avoid over-eating.  Have a snack ready (e.g. banana, protein bar) in case you get hungry.
  6. Ask if someone could videotape your shinsa.
  7. For those with stiffer muscles (like myself), do deep-tissue self-massage therapy and stretch the body muscles (e.g. shoulders, pecs, arms, glutes, calves, quads, IT bands).
  8. After donning your equipment, ask someone to check if everything is in order – especially those parts that you cannot see (e.g. men-himo).

After the Shinsa:

  1. Make sure to ask each of the judges for their comments – irrespective of passing or failing.  Find out what went well and what needs further work.
  2. Ask others, who may have watched, for comments.

References (for more information):



Copyright 2017

2 thoughts on “Shinsa Preparation – a List of Things to Work on and Keep in Mind

  1. patrickschultheis September 23, 2017 / 4:23 pm

    This ist most helpful. Thank you for posting this, Sensei.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s