A member of the dojo where I practice at asked me to teach her a particular form of fumikomi and seme that I sometimes use. Where my right foot and body slides forward very slowly like a snail initially. The technique is described in detail by Nakamura sensei in Healing Kendo (癒しの剣道) [KendoNotes HealingKendo3]. Here’s a partial summary:
- With regards to one’s speed going forward, please imagine the shinkansen (Japan’s high-speed bullet train) starting to move. One starts moving quietly (with stealth) to the extent that one cannot sense or feel oneself starting to move.
- With this kind of movement, one semes in while sliding the right foot (forward). … With this seme, along with a quiet (stealthy) initial movement and hands which are not raised, the opponent will be unaware initially (of the movement). …
- Rather than pushing the body forward quickly and strongly with the left leg, the sensation is a slight push where the extended right leg (at the instant it lands) pulls the body’s center of gravity forward. The point is, rather than jumping to strike at the instant to strike, the feeling is as if the right leg pulls the body forward. … Like a “ssssss-Tong” (sound effect).
There’s at least two benefits with this technique. First, “the Achilles tendon (of the rear foot) is unburdened [KendoNotes HealingKendo3].” Second, it can help one develop, perhaps counter-intuitively, a faster men-uchi for two reasons. As noted by Nishimura Hidehisa (Multiple-time AJKF Champion) on Takanabe Susumu sensei – renowned for the speed of his men strike [Tozando_Nishimura2, 3:11 min. mark]:
The fastest men can be done only if you can close in the distance without getting your move noticed. … he (Takanabe sensei) doesn’t get his move noticed easily when he hits men and so you feel it’s fast.
The technique can provide a “head-start” to deliver a faster men-uchi. One can already be in motion – albeit in slow motion – by the time the opponent only begins to move from standstill.*
This article focuses on the fumikomi portion of the technique and describes an exercise to help develop it.
Update: Added a comment from S. Kamata (Kyoshi, 8 dan) on Feb. 6, 2020. Added a note on the forward foot action of the fumikomi with a reference to Koda Kunihide (Hanshi, 9th dan) on July 10, 2019.
The Shinkansen Fumikomi
Using the above imagery of Nakamura sensei, let’s refer to this form of fumikomi as the “shinkansen” fumikomi. It may initially be awkward for those used to advancing the forward foot as fast as possible when striking. She experienced that and I had, too. The shinkansen fumikomi, in contrast, requires, for the first “ssssss” portion, an extremely-slow-motion advancement of the forward foot and hips. And, for the second “Tong” portion, it requires an all-in-one-instant explosiveness in movement in two parts: the instant dropping of the forward foot to the ground and, simultaneously, the instant pulling forward of the rear foot and body towards the forward foot. Some notes follow:
- During the “ssssss” portion, it is imperative that the shoulders and arms remain relaxed.
- Kunihide Koda (Hanshi, 9th dan) sensei‘s explanation of how to “strike” the floor with the forward foot is summarized in [KendoNotes_Hikitsuke].
- Some teachers have suggested keeping the paw (or sole) of the forward foot very close to the floor while sliding it forward for added stealth and efficiency.
- The instantaneous pulling forward of the rear foot and body towards the forward foot, referred to as hikitsuke, is explained in detail in [KendoNotes_Hikitsuke] [KendoInfo_Hikitsuke].
A Way of Walking to Develop the Shinkansen Fumikomi
The slow and stealth-like advancement of the forward foot in the first portion seems to require the strengthening of lesser-used muscle groups. In the back of the mind, I wondered what kind of exercise could help my fellow dojo member develop the first portion of the fumikomi. Then it dawned on me. During a guided tour of a local state park – the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – a mellow and nature-loving docent suggested that we walk very slowly and quoted a Vietnamese Buddhist monk:
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. – Thich Nhat Hanh**
When I began walking in this more slow and deliberate manner, a light bulb clicked. I noticed its resemblance to the first portion of the shinkansen fumikomi. Moreover, I could feel the activation of different muscle groups, including the core, to execute this walk. Here’s some videos showing this form of walking – where one may walk as slow as desired (Note: it is apparently also part of a hip hop dance move according to the second video):
- Walking Meditation: Instructions and Benefits Explained (from 1:04 onwards)
- How to Slow Motion Walk (Hip Hop Dance Moves Tutorial) | Mihran Kirakosian (from 0:20 to 0:30 mins, 2:00 to 2:16 mins and later).
For the second portion of the fumikomi with the hikitsuke, one could combine the above way of walking with the chassé exercise [KendoNotes_Chassé] which can help strengthen the hikitsuke. The key is to feel “as if the right (forward) leg pulls the body (and the rear leg) forward“ as fast as possible as noted by Nakamura sensei earlier. The combination of the two would probably serve as an effective way to develop this shinkansen fumikomi.
Incidentally, there are some side benefits associated with this “kissing-the-earth” way of walking. It can be meditative and calming.** * And it can be a fun and challenging way to walk with someone who needs to move slowly (e.g. a child, elderly, injured, handicapped or pet).
Finally, I thank Nakamura sensei and Toshi Hogi sensei for teaching me this technique.
Wishing you peace.
* Thank you to Shigetaka (Shane) Kamata sensei (Kyoshi, 8 dan) for pointing this out.
** I once had the opportunity to see Thich Nhat Hanh and many of his fellow monks and nuns over a decade ago. I remember being astonished at how slowly they would walk and eat. As if in slow-motion. A mindful vs. mindless approach to walking, eating, living, folding the hakama and to potentially other areas of kendo, too 😉
*** Post comment: At a recent tournament, I tried out this way of meditation before the first match as a way to calm the mind and body. It seemed effective.
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