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

Here is a list of things to consider in preparing for the keiko portion (実技 jitsugi) of a shinsa (promotion examination).   It includes steps that I have followed for past shinsa and some new ones.  I wrote this to keep track of things for future reference and for others who might find this helpful.  Many of the same steps can be used for shiai preparation also.

The list is broken down into the following sections as “Things to work on …”

  1. Way Before the Shinsa (Years, Months, Weeks and Days Beforehand)
  2. On the Day of the Shinsa
  3. During Shinsa
  4. After Shinsa
  5. Other Aspects to Keep in Mind

Additional Resources (articles, guides, videos and more) can be found in “Shinsa (Promotional Exam) Resources.”  I am grateful to the sensei’s, senpai‘s and fellow members who have helped me develop this list over the years.

It’s not the will to win [pass] that matters – everyone has that.  It’s the will to prepare to win [pass] that matters. – Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Updates:  Dec 13, 2018 – Reorganized the list and added Koda sensei‘s DVD information.

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

  1. Program the Mind:
    1. Read these quotes for inspiration Shinsa and Shiai – Quotes for Inspiration.”
    2. Focus on the process and the results will come – as summarized in these two article “In Sports, Results Matter, But to Get Them, Ignore Them” by Jim Taylor, Ph.D. and “Focusing on the Process vs. Results for Shinsa and Shiai.
    3. Study and understand the requirements of the target kyu or dan level.
      1. Here are the AUSKF requirements under “Expectations of Rank”.
      2. Consult sensei‘s and senpai‘s.
    4. Study the kendo of people and shinsa videos at the targeted level to understand and visualize kendo at that level clearly.
      1. There’s excellent DVDs e.g. [Shinsa4/5Dan_DVD] [Koda_ShinsaDVD].
      2. There’s many on youTube, too.  Here’s a “Compilation of Shinsa Videos Identifying Those Who Passed” at various levels.
    5. Practice visualization.
      1. Create a self-image.  Visualize your kamae and keiko at the targeted level – as described in detail in “Sports Visualization”
      2. Program the mind and the subconscious so that you “are” at that level and identify yourself at that level.  Subsequently, your kendo can morph into that level of kendo more naturally.
    6. Practice managing the mind.
      1. Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind. – Zen Proverb.
      2. Become more aware of the mind and its thoughts as a first step.
        1. For example, practice mindfulness, deep breathing, mushin and/or meditation.
          1. This can be particularly helpful if thoughts race through the mind or if any of the four sicknesses “shikai (fear, doubt, hesitation, surprise) arise e.g. just before the tachiai, on the day of or in the days leading up to the shinsa.
      3. Cultivate and develop a calm unfettered mind, referred to as heijoushin 平常心 [Yaegaki-kai_Heijoshin] [Kendo-guide_Heijoshin] (also translated as a “normal mind” [BudoBum Heijoshin]).
      4. More information can be found in:
        1. “Resources on Meditation (黙想 mokusou).”
        2. “Resources on Mushin-no-shin (the Mind of No Mind).”
        3. “Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai (Part 1)
  2. Program the Body (and Mind):
    1. Practice correctly.
      1. It’s imperative to develop habits of movements, actions, behaviors, thoughts and responses that increase the likelihood of success in shinsa as reflected in the following quotes:
        1. Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes Perfect – Vince Lombardi.
        2. No matter who you are, we’re creatures of habit. The better your habits are, the better they will be in pressure situations. – Wayne Gretzky
        3. We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. – Will Durant
      2. This is essentially the key to success and is described in more detail in:
        1. Quotes on Habits – Shaping One’s Kendo and Life
        2. Resources on Habits – To Manage Them
        3. Focusing on the Process vs. Results for Shinsa and Shiai
    2. Do keiko with the mindset of being in a shinsaMake this a “habit.”
      1. This promotes the development of heijoushin mentioned above.
      2. Then on the “day of”, you would perform as you normally would.
      3. To cement this further, practice mock shinsas.  e.g.  Separate a keiko with a partner into multiple one-minute keikos.
      4. To develop greater familiarity of the various opponent types that you may encounter on the “day of”,
        1. Visit other dojos to practice shinsa keiko with those you may be less familiar with and/or
        2. Practice with people of varying heights, speeds, style, skill levels around your level.
      5. Bennett sensei (7th dan) describes this mindset further at the 25:08min mark of an “Interview with Alex Bennett (Video)” by Hiro Imafuji Sensei.
    3. Obtain feedback
      1. Videotape and study your practices.
      2. Ask sensei‘s and fellow dojo members for comments, observations.
      3. Visit other dojos.  Ask sensei’s for comments, advice.
    4. Master the requirements of the target grade level.
      1. Identify any areas that need work on based on the feedback from others and any differences you notice between your actual performance (via videos) vs. your image of the ideal performance at the target level (developed through the steps under “Program the Mind”).
      2. Aim to practice keiko in a way indicative and reflective of a person already at the target grading level.
  3. Additional Items:
    1. Condition the body for:
      1. Strength & quickness training:  cross-training, circuit-training (e.g. ‘insanity’ training), chin-ups, core training, sprints, jogging, plyometrics.
      2. Muscle loosening:
        1. Stretching, balance:  yoga, pole-stretching.
        2. Massage therapy,  Deep-tissue self-massage therapy, stretching.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Practice with and prepare a set of nearly identical shinai‘s that you like and that you will use on the day of the Shinsa.

On the Day of Shinsa:

  1. Take care of the Body:
    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.
      1. 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).
    2. Prepare a water bottle and drink water.  Stay hydrated.
    3. Eat well and avoid over-eating.  Have a snack ready (e.g. banana, protein bar) in case you get hungry.
  2. Take care of the Mind and Body
    1. Meditate (e.g. focusing one’s awareness on breathing), practice “Soft eyes” (which I find particularly helpful)  and/or relax the shoulders and any part of the body that might be tight.
  3. Additional Items:
    1. Ask if someone could videotape your shinsa.
    2. After donning your equipment, ask someone to check if everything is in order – especially those parts that you cannot see (e.g. men-himo).

During Shinsa:

  1. Do as you normally do.  Do shinsa as you would do keiko.
    1. That is, be in a state of heijoushin (as described above) where you perform keiko and carry yourself ‘as usual’ as if on auto-pilot.  Nothing new or different.  Just as you normally do.
    2. This requires the preparation beforehand as detailed above and the mindset and habit of doing keiko during the practices beforehand as if in shinsa.

… I wasn’t thinking:  “Oh, 7th dan, I have to do my best kendo to pass.”  I just went in there and did the kendo that I always do. – Alex Bennett (7th dan)

After Shinsa:

  1. Make sure to ask for feedback from
    1. Each of the judges – irrespective of passing or failing.  Find out what went well and what needs further work.
    2. Others, who may have watched, for comments.

Other Aspects to Keep in Mind:

  1. Fundamentals:
    1. Kamae:  Ensure correct hand grips and hand positions, a 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. Develop and/or maintain good hikitsuke and strikes with sae and tenouchi.
      1. Suburi exercises with and without a dummy or tire helps.
    4. Execute strikes starting with the legs and hips (koshi) and with the arms and hands later.   Keep the upper body (shoulder and arms) relaxed before and after the instant of the strike (datotsu).
  2. Mindset and Attitude:
    1. Practice fullness of spirit in keiko (Thanks to Shoraku Takao Sensei 7th Dan, Kyoshi, with the Costa Mesa Dojo for pointing this out).
      1. After initiating a strike, strike with decisiveness and a fullness of spirit and energy.
        1. This is a translation of omoikkiri uchikiruyouni(思い切り打ち切るように)with kihaku(気迫) as also described in “The Meaning of Uchikiru” at Kendo-Guide.
        2. Once you initiate a strike, go all in, wholeheartedly, with all one’s energy when striking.  Let it flow.
          1. While making sure to keep the shoulders and arms relaxed before and immediately after the strike.
      2. Even if you miss, go through with all your energy as if you had hit – until you return back to kamae.
        1. Avoid stopping mid-way through a strike or dropping your energy level even if you miss..
    2. Practice being in the zone (mushin), soft eyes (open-focus), enzan-no-metsuke – especially as the other concepts (fundamentals, strikes, thought processes, state of fullness in spirit) become habits.
      1. See “Resources on Mushin-no-shin (the Mind of No Mind)”, “Open Focus, Mushin and Kendo,” and/or “Resources on Meditation (黙想 mokusou)” for more details.
  3. Here’s a brief summary of aspects distinguishing candidates who pass vs. those who fail in Episode 18 of [Koda_ShinsaDVD] – which I highly recommend viewing.  Note that some of these aspects are associated with grading at higher levels.
    1. Having a good sae in strikes,
    2. Striking decisively and fully from the start to end of a strike (おもいきって打ち切るように omikitte uchikiruyouni) with no stoppage mid-way,
    3. Creating and seizing opportunities to strike,
    4. Taking leadership and initiative (主導権 shudouken),
    5. Displaying characteristics and appearance of a person at the target grading level (風格 huukaku) and
    6. Making the first strike (初太刀 shodachi) count.
  4. Here’s a 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.
    3. For example, for higher levels:
      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, tight vs. relaxed).
        1. When practicing with those at lower-levels, it’s an opportunity to practice seme (Thank you to Shoraku Takao sensei (7 Dan Kyoshi), Costa Mesa, for pointing this out).
  5. 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.


[BudoBum_Heijoshin] Peter Boylan, “States of Mind:  Heijoshin,” The Budo Bum, Nov 3, 2015.

[Kendo-guide_Heijoshin] Hiro Imafuji “Kendo Terminology: Heijoshin,”

[Koda_ShinsaDVD] Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan), “Kendo Promotion Shinsa – Program” (剣道昇段審査・対策プログラム【教士八段 香田郡秀監修】) (in Japanese with no subtitles)

[Shinsa4/5Dan_DVD] 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 with no subtitles).

[Yaegaki-kai_Heijoshin] Heijoshin 平常心, Brussels Yaegaki-kai, Feb 22, 2010. 

Keywords:  Grading, Testing

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.


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