Tips for Beginners and Common Issues

Here’s some tips for the beginners at the dojo where I practice – based on commonly observed issues.  They may be useful for others new to kendo, too.  References are included for further information.

Main Tips

  1. Practice and acquire each new skill methodically and correctly.
    1. This is probably the most important tip – as bad habits tend to become progressively more entrenched and difficult to correct later [Kenshi247 BadHabits].*  Remember that:
      1. Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables. – Spanish Proverb.
      2. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. – Vince Lombardi.
  2. In the on-guard stance (kamae),
    1. Relax the upper body (e.g. the shoulders, elbows, arms and, to some extent, the grip) to be able to move or strike in an instant [KendoInfo_Relax].
      1. Some tend to be overly-tight in these areas  This tends to impede the swiftness of movements and tire the muscles.
      2. With regards to the grip, here’s a summary of the relative grip strengths for the hands and digits.
    2. Make sure the feet are parallel.
      1. Some tend to angle the rear foot making a “V” shape with the feet which tends to impede the forward body thrust as illustrated in the video Kendo 8th dan Examination 剣道八段の世界① at 9:21 min. (A ‘thank you’ to kenshi247 for recommending this video on the Mar 16, 2018 FB post).
  3. In striking with the bamboo sword (shinai),
    1. Make the left hand and arm the fulcrum instead of the right [KendoNotes LeftHand].
      1. Many tend to over-use the right  hand and arm – and under-use the left hand and arm [KendoInfo RightArm].
    2. Aim to apply maximum upper body power only at the instant of impact for strikes.  Be relaxed there both before and immediately after the strike.
      1. Some tend to apply most of their upper body strength from the start of a swing with a shinai until (or even after) the instant of impact.
  4. For the footwork (ashi-sabaki):
    1. In suri-ashi (sliding/gliding feet), make sure that the front soles of the feet (and not the heels) slide along the floor and that “the feet do not lose contact with the floor [Norwalk_Ashi]” (moving fairly quietly without any periodic footstep or thud sounds).  The “foot over a paper towel” exercise listed under the section “Footwork” can help develop this.
      1.  Some tend to use the heels or lift one or both feet above the floor.
    2. In fumikomi (the forward thrust or lunge), make sure to kick the rear leg (typically the left leg) forward immediately towards the front leg as soon as the front foot lands [KendoInfo_Footwork, last paragraph].
      1. This is referred to as hikitsukeThis chassé exercise can help develop it.
      2. Some tend to let the rear leg linger or kick the rear leg backwards and upwards.

* I, and probably many in kendo, can relate to this comment and cited article.  For example, I have struggled with the unconscious tendency to tighten my shoulders in matches for many years [KendoNotes TightShoulders].

Additional Tips

  1. For the grip,
    1. Master the “V” shape (also known as the Tiger mouth shape) of the hands [KendoInfo Tenouchi].
      1. Practicing the grip with a bokken or shinai having an oval handle helps.
      2. Some tend to lose that shape when they grip the shinai with tightened thumbs and index fingers in a clenched fist.
    2. Maintain power only in the last two to three digits of each hand [KendoNotes Grip].
      1. The thumbs and index fingers remain relaxed even at the instant of impact [Chikamoto Lecture, at 2:24min] [KendoNotes Grip].
  2. Take care of the hands and feet.
    1. Beginners often develop blisters initially in the palm of the hands and soles of the feet.  These typically arise from the new experience of gripping a bamboo sword and moving with bare-feet.
    2. Be mindful of them.  It may help to tape them up – as covered under “Self Care” in [KendoNotes Beginner Resources].


[Chikamoto_Lecture]  “Datotsu Points According to Chikamoto Sensei,” Aichi Prefecture Tokuren Police Kendo – Must See, Extra Edition, Let’s Kendo,  超必見!!【近本巧先生による打突の心得】愛知県警剣道特練 番外編, 剣道総合サイト LET’S KENDO, May 29, 2017 (11:47 mins, in Japanese)

[KendoInfo_Footwork] Geoff Salmon, “Kendo footwork for beginners,”, Oct. 28, 2010.

[KendoInfo_Relax] Geoff Salmon, “Apply tension and relax,”, Sept 30, 2013.

[KendoInfo RightArm] Geoff Salmon, “Right arm power,”, Dec. 20, 2010.

[KendoNotes_Beginner Resources] “Resources for Beginners,”, July 24, 2017.

[KendoNotes_LeftHand] “Relative Grip Strength – Why Emphasize the Left Hand? (Part 1)”,, Nov 1, 2017.

[KendoNotes Grip] “Relative Grip Strengths – in Brief (Part 2),”, Nov 1, 2017.

[KendoNotes_TightShoulders] “Ways to Relax Tight Shoulders (肩に力を抜いて!)”,, May 10, 2017.

[Kenshi247_BadHabits] George McCall, “Practise may ingrain bad habits,”, Dec 18, 2009.

[Norwalk_Ashi] “Basic Concepts (Kihon) – Ashi-Sabaki (Footwork),” Norwalk Kendo Dojo.


Copyright 2017


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