Tips for Beginners and Common Issues

Here’s some tips for the beginners at the dojo where I practice in two parts on:  1) Mindset and Self-care and 2) The Mechanics of Kendo.  They are based on commonly observed issues and may be useful for others new to kendo, too.  A comprehensive set of pointers can be found at [KendoNotes_Beginner Resources].

Mindset and Self-Care Related 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.
      3. If you can’t do it slow you can’t do it fast. – Unknown.
  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 (shinai) and shuffling around in bare-feet.
    2. As covered under “Self Care” in [KendoNotes Beginner Resources], there’s a number of ways to prevent blisters and maintain healthy hands and feet.

* 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 right arm and shoulders in matches for many years [KendoNotes TightShoulders].

Mechanics of Kendo Related Tips

  1. 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. Unconscious tightening there tends to diminish the explosiveness of the strikes, impede the easy movement of the arms and tire the muscles.
      2. This is probably the toughest hurdle to overcome for many who start or started kendo later in life (e.g. at university age or later).
    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).
  2. 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.
    3. It helps to ingrain and ensure the above by practicing the swinging of the shinai in slow motion initially and from time to time.
  3. For the footwork (ashi-sabaki):
    1. In suri-ashi (sliding/gliding feet), avoid using the heels and make sure that the front soles (or paws) of the feet slide smoothly along the floor.
      1. “(T)he feet do not lose contact with the floor [Norwalk_Ashi].”
        1. Some tend to use the heel, lift the paws above the floor or experience a “sticky” floor that prevents a smooth sliding of the feet as mentioned in [KendoNotes_Suri-Ashi].
        2. Thuds on the floor are a give-away that a person is using the heel or lifting the feet.
      2. The initial use of a paper towel under the front sole(s) can facilitate the feel of this footwork – as explained in [KendoNotes_Suri-Ashi].
    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 hikitsuke.  Here’s some pointers and a video to help develop it [KendoNotes_Hikitsuke].
      2. Some tend to let the rear leg linger or kick the rear leg backwards and upwards.
  4. 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 tight thumbs and index fingers and with 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].


[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.

[KendoInfo Tenouchi] Geoff Salmon, “Tenouchi,”, Nov. 5, 2009.

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

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

[KendoNotes_Hikitsuke] “Hikitsuke (the Quick Follow-up of the Rear Foot) in Fumikomi – Some Pointers and a Video,” Oct 12. 2018

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

[KendoNotes_Suri-Ashi] “A Neat Way to Teach and Learn Suri-Ashi – For Beginners and Kids,”, July 29, 2018.

[KendoNotes_TightShoulders] “Ways to Relax Tight Shoulders (肩の力を抜いて!)”,, 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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