Kendo Sayings (Proverbs)

Here’s some sayings in kendo (also referred to as kotowaza 諺) that I have learned from sensei‘s and fellow kenshi over the years.  They are categorized as follows:

  • Sayings related to Etiquette and Learning
  • Sayings related to Dueling
  • Sayings related to Technique, Mechanics
  • Additional Sayings (from External Sites)

Some notes:  Cited references, where present, provide more color to the quotes.  This set will likely grow as I remember old ones or discover new ones.  The translations may be imperfect.  My approach to the translations, rather than being literal, is to convey the sense or intention of the original texts.  Enjoy!

Sayings related to Etiquette and Learning

Sayings related to Dueling

  • The three “No’s” of the sword:  No unreasonableness*, no wastefulness and no absence of principles.**  – Haruo Momoi (19th century swordsman).
    • * no over-doing things, ** no absence of rationality or justification.
    • 三無の剣 「無理なく、無駄なく、無法なし。」(San mu no ken, muri naku, muda naku, muhou nashi.) [Weblio_三無の剣].
    • The above shortened version is how it is often stated.  The full version is:
  • (Do) keiko as if in shiai and shiai as if in keiko.  [KendoInfo KeikoShiai]
  • Make the first strike count. Also stated as Take the first strike.
  • Maintain a calm surface and a fighting spirit within. 
    • A saying from the 16th century according to Yagyu Munenori from [Yagyu_SwordMind, p. 71] with the following explanation:
      • This is to be apparently quiet, unfluttered, and calm on the outside and to keep a fighting, alert mind on the inside.  …  And if you continue your training in this fashion, the mind inside and the outside will melt into one, and the distinction between the two will disappear.  To attain this state is the ultimate of the ultimate.
  • For him it is far, for myself it is close [Noma].
    • Also as, To the opponent, I am far.  To me, the opponent is close.
    • 遠近之事 (enkin no koto) Item #3 in Itto-ryu’s Twelve Article Scroll (十二ヶ条目録 which is expanded as  敵の為には打つ間が遠くなり、自分の為には打つ間が近くなること in [Tessyuu KatsuNinKen].
    • Explained in more detail in [KendoNotes_KyoJitsu].

Sayings Related to Technique, Mechanics

  • Steal the distance (間) with the left foot and seme with the right foot. [Seiyukan_Feet]
    • 左足で間を盗み、右足で攻める.
  • Imaginary (empty) upper and real (full) lower [Hatena_JyokyouKajitsu] (in Japanese)
    • The upper body is relaxed and the lower body (legs, hips) is solid.
    • 上虚下実 (Jyoukyou Kajitsu)
    • Thank you to Tamano Sensei for teaching me this one.

Additional Sayings (from External Sites)


[Hatena_JyokyouKajitsu] (in Japanese) “上虚下実“, 桃の里剣術雑録, Hatena Blog, Apr. 7, 2018.

[Hatena_ShiaiKeiko] 稽古は試合のように,試合は稽古のように,, Jan 17, 2012.

[Kendo-Guide_Hikitategeiko] Masahiro Imafuji, “Comments for What is Hikitate geiko?”

[Kendo-Guide_Looking] Masahiro Imafuji, “Enzan no Metsuke:  Looking at Distant Mountains,”

[Kendo-Guide_Rei] Masahiro Imafuji. “How to bow in standing position and sitting position,”

[Kendo-Guide_Teachings] Masahiro Imafuji. “Kendo Wisdom:  Teachings from Ancient Samurai,”

[Kendo-Guide_IchiGan] Masahiro Imafuji, “Important Body Parts:  Ichi Gan Ni Soku San Tan Shi Riki,”,

[Kendo-Guide_ShuHaRi] Masahiro Imafuji, “Shu Ha Ri: Level of Training Phases,”

[KendoInfo_Enzan] Geoff Salmon, “Enzan no metsuke,”, Oct 13, 2010.

[KendoInfo_KeikoShiai] Geoff Salmon, “Keiko and Shiai – are they related?”, Nov. 22, 2010.

[KendoInfo_Shodachi] Geoff Salmon, “All together now,”, Dec 28, 2015.

[KendoInfo_ShuHaRi] Geoff Salmon, “Explain shu ha ri,”, Aug 12, 2008.

[Kendoinfo_utarete-kanshya] Geoff Salmon, “Utarete Kanshya,”, June 23, 2014.

[Kendojidai_Iwao] “Interview with Yukuo Iwao sensei on Passing 8th Dan,” By Kobayashi Hideo (translated by Kazuyo Matsuda), Kendojidai 3.2010.

[KendoJyoutatu] 勝つ為の技の仕掛け方, 剣道上達革命DVD 香田郡秀 コツ 練習.

[KendoNotes_KyoJitsu] “Kyo (虚) and Jitsu (実) in Seme – Quotes and Resources”, June 27, 2020.

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

[Seiyukan_Feet] “Kendo – My Recent Keiko 5 – Stealing the Distance with the Left Foot and Seme with the Right Foot,”, Feb. 14, 2017.  剣道 最近の自分の稽古5 左足で間を盗み、右足で攻めること.

[Tessyuu_KatsuNinKen] 北川 宏廸「活人剣(かつにんけん)」と「殺人刀(せつにんとう)」──「必勝の剣法」はある、それが《武士道》だ, 2011年10月19日

[Weblio_三無の剣] 剣道用語辞典 三無の剣.

[Wiki_ShuHaRi] Wikipedia, “Shuhari.”

[Yagyu_SwordMind] Yagyu Munenori, The Sword and the Mind (Heiho Kaden Sho), Translated by Hiroaki Sato, Fall River Press, 1985.

[Youshinkan_Shodachi] kuma, “初太刀,” Canada Youshinkan Kendo Dojo, Mar 3, 2008.

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