Relative Grip Strengths – in Detail (Part 3)

This is a detailed survey of teachings on the relative grip strengths of the hands and digits.  A measurement analysis of grip pressure over time during a strike by a kenshi is also mentioned.

  • Noma Hisashi (Kyoshi) addresses the way to hold the sword and shinai in detail in [Noma, PDF pp. 23-24] and also quotes portions of The Book of Five Rings.
  • According to Chikamoto sensei in the “grip” portion of  the video [Chikamoto _Lecture] from 0:15 to 3:26 in Japanese (with the main points summarized below and some comments added):
    • With regards to the digits:
      • Grip the shinai with the last three fingers of the left hand at the tsukagashira (at 0:40 min).  Likewise, grip the shinai with the last three fingers of the right hand (1:06).
      • Keep the thumb and index finger of the right hand relaxed.  Otherwise, the forearms and shoulders may become tight (1:19).  (I suspect that the same principle applies to the left hand, too.)
    • With the regards to the right hand:
      • The right hand does not grip or grasp (握る-nigiru) the shinai but rather sandwiches or fits snugly around (挟み込む – hasamikomu) the shinai – as if the shinai is inserted, put or tucked into the right hand (1:28).
    • On the change in grip power when striking (2:08):
      • For the left hand, there’s not much change in the power level.
      • For the right hand, the power level is at about a level of 3 beforehand and then at the maximum level at the instant of impact in a strike.  (I’ve been taught to release the power in the hands, arms and shoulders immediately after the instant of impact).
    • With regards to the right hand digits, at the moment of impact, keep the thumb and index finger relaxed (2:24).
      • This allows for full flexing of the wrist at the end of the shinai swing (2:24).  Imagine the shinai tip is falling at the point of impact (2:40).
        • If power is inserted in the thumb and index finger, then the wrist and shinai tip swing tends to become constrained (2:47 to 2:56).  (He demonstrates the limited shinai extension here and again at 3:08 to 3:10)
        • If you watch his right index finger carefully, at (2:57 to 2:58), he releases power from the two digits and demonstrates a fuller swing extension thereafter (2:58 to 3:07).
      • My thoughts.  I suspect that keeping the thumb and  index finger relaxed at the point of impact helps maintain the classic “V” shape (also referred to as the tiger-mouth 虎口 tora-guchi) between the two digits in the grip shape that he demonstrated earlier at (0:24) and also in the only figure in [KendoInfo_Tenouchi] just above the symbol “イ”.  Instead, if the two digits were tightened, the “V” shape could become more like a small “v” and the hands, more like tight fists.  Fist-like grips of the shinai would likely result in the aforementioned constrained swing with the shinai tip pointed more upwards than forward.
  • According to [Kendo-Practice_LeftHand],
    • For gripping the shinai between the two hands, allocate a power level of about 7 out of 10 to the left hand and the remaining 3 to the right hand. 「左手七分に右手三分」 – though technically it is supposed to be evenly distributed since:
      • Scientifically, it is said that it is desirable that the power be applied equally, in practice, to the left and right hands.  However, because of the ease of placing power in the right hand and the many kenshi who are right-handed, and  in placing more power in the right hand, the left hand is consciously emphasized and is taken as a rule [Kendo-Practice_LeftHand].
    • As a rough example of the roles of the left and right hands, the left hand controls the vertical movement of the shinai.  Preferably, have the mindset of swinging the shinai with the left hand only.  The right hand, lightly attached, is said to execute steering for changing of directions etc and fine control of the shinai in oji-waza etc. [Kendo-Practice_LeftHand].
  • According to [Hakudoh_RightHand],
    • Both hands are relaxed in kamae.  At the instant of a strike, the power is injected ideally with an even distribution of 5 and 5 (out of 10).
    • Rather than focusing on the right hand, the author recommends focusing on developing the left hand.
      • For example, he suggests as a first step to grip the shinai in kamae with the right hand only and with sufficient strength to prevent the shinai from falling.  Next, while the state (or, perhaps, strength) of the right hand remains fixed, the left hand is added to move the shinai tip.  All the while being conscious that swings (furikaburi) and uchikomi are performed with the left hand.
  • According to Kaku sensei from Nara in a lecture recounted by Salmon sensei [KendoInfo_LeftHand],
    • “You hold with your left (hand) and hit with your left.”  Hidari de motsu, hidari de utsu.
    • Correct cutting whether large or small relies on the left hand raising the shinai to a point where it can be brought down on the target. The right hand is very much the junior partner and follows the left hand on its upward path and only makes a real contribution by squeezing to make tenouchi after the point of impact.
    • Salmon sensei expands further on other common pitfalls when holding the shinai and ways to fix them in [KendoInfo_Holding].
  • According to a teaching from Miyazaki sensei with the Kanagawa Prefecture Police to RyotaOzawa2010 recounted in [Chiebukuro_RightHand]:
    • The condition that excessive power ends up in the the right hand is a result of the right arm facing outwards where it may be easily struck.  Rather than focusing on lessening the power in the right hand and increasing that in the left, shift the right arm towards the inside so that it does not face outwards.
  • An Interesting Grip Pressure Analysis
    • There is an interesting analysis presented in [Jeong].  The researchers developed a shinai grip pressure sensor and measured the progression of left and right hand grip pressure with time as an experienced kenshi (5th dan) struck kote from kamae.  The plot is shown in Fig. 7.  For this particular kenshi,  the pressure % during kamae was about 10% for both hands.  The pressure % before and at the moment of impact moved from from between 10%-45% to 90%-100% for the left hand and about 10% to 100% for the right.  After the moment of impact, the pressure % for both hands went down immediately back to about 10%.

 Continue to Part 4 – Exercises to Improve Shinai Control

Back to the Overview.

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