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 steps can also be used for shiai preparation.

The list is broken down into several sections in terms of things to work on:

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

Additional Resources (articles and videos) are provided at the end for further information.  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.

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. 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).
      2. There’s many on youTube.  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. e.g. practice mindfulness, deep breathing and/or meditation.
        2. 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. on the day of or the days leading up to the shinsa.
      3. More information can be found in:
        1. “Resources on Meditation (黙想 mokusou).”
        2. “Ways to Calm the Mind and Body for Shinsa and Shiai (Part 1).
  2. 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.
  3. Practice Correctly
    1. Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes Perfect – Vince Lombardi.
    2. Practice shinsa kendo at the target level.  Make it a “habit.”
      1. Practice keiko in a way that is already indicative of a person at the target level and as if in the keiko portion of a shinsa – as described in “Focusing on the Process vs. Results for Shinsa and Shiai.
      2. Practice mock shinsas (e.g. 1 min) or keiko with the mindset of doing shinsa.
      3. 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. 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, pole-stretching.
      3. Muscle loosening:  Massage therapy,  Deep-tissue self-massage therapy, stretching.
    4. Practice with and prepare a set of nearly identical shinai‘s that you like.
    5. Practice suburi, tenouchi exercises with and without a dummy or tire.
    6. 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.
    7. 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. focusing one’s awareness on breathing), practice soft-eyes and open-focus) and/or relax the shoulders and any part of the body that might be tight.
    1. These suggestions are explained in more detail below.
  3. Remember to be full of 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.

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. 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, 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).
  3. Mindset and Attitude:
    1. Fight “as usual” on auto-pilot during shinsa.
      1. Requires developing good habits and doing keiko beforehand during regular practices as if in shinsa mode
        1. See “Interview with Alex Bennett (Video)” by Hiro Imafuji Sensei (~25:08 min mark) after Bennett Sensei passed his 7th Dan Shinsa.
    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 keep the shoulders and arms relaxed before and 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 (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)” and “Open Focus, Mushin and Kendo,” for more details.
    4. Meditate.
      1. For more information, see “Resources on Meditation (黙想 mokusou).”
  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.

Additional Resources (for more information):




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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