This article highlights some pointers and videos on a fundamental component of fumikomi known as hikitsuke (引付) – courtesy of a number of sensei’s. An experimental note on teaching it is also included.
Hikitsuke is the fast follow-up action of the rear-foot back to its position just behind the forward-foot after the forward-foot is advanced forward [KendoInfo Hikitsuke] [KendoInfo Footwork]. Those who have yet to master this tend to fall into one of two camps: 1) those whose rear-foot may linger and follow-up slowly and 2) those whose rear-foot may kick upwards and backwards.
The importance of hikitsuke cannot be understated. Geoff Salmon sensei notes that during most of the shiai matches of one major tournament, “the one single element that made the difference between achieving ippon and failing was hikitsuke [KendoInfo Hikitsuke].” It helps ensure that a sharp, decisive strike is made with the hips (koshi, rather than with the upper body leaning forward) and with a nice snap (sae). Yano Nobuhiro sensei mentions that he would periodically check his hikitsuke during his preparation for the 8th dan examination,
When I was commuting between home and work I’d sometimes get off the train a stop earlier and walk, or even run to my destination. While walking I’d pay attention to where my center of balance was located as well as pulling up my left leg/foot (hikitsuke). – Yano Nobuhiro (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Kenshi247 YanoNobuhiro]
It’s an aspect that I continually work on to maintain and improve my footwork. Along with relaxed shoulders and arms (outside the moment of the strike and fumikommi), the resulting strikes and the footwork after the strikes seem more crisp.
The remainder of this article is organized as follows:
- Experimental Notes
Revision History: Added a “Post-Script” on Nov 6, 2021. Updated on Nov 25, 2020 with an additional experimental note incorporating sloping surfaces.
Here are some pointers which I have found very helpful – from, in sequence, Nakamura sensei [KendoNotes Healing Kendo3], Michael Espinosa sensei with the Oakland Kendo Dojo, Koda Kunihide (8 dan, Kyoshi) in Episodes 6 and 12 of his recent DVD [Koda_DVD], Jim Vahl sensei with the San Diego Kendo Bu (SDKB), Alex Bennett sensei (7 dan) with Kendo World and John Yamamoto sensei with SDKB.
- 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). [KendoNotes Healing Kendo3]
- Feel as if the front-foot grabs the earth and pulls the body forward.
- Like the small instantaneous bounce when a drumstick strikes a drum or a shinai strikes the men in men-uchi with a crisp sae, bounce the heel portion of the forward foot away from the ground – by a little amount instantly after the heel makes contact with the ground during fumikomi.* This quick release of the heel naturally facilitates hikitsuke.
- Feel as if the rear-foot advances forward (back to its position just behind the forward foot), instantaneously, as soon as the forward-foot lands.
- Keep the shoulders relaxed and strike with your lower body (as also noted later).
- Practice the chassé exercise and the additional tips (e.g. leading and striking with the hips) as described in [KendoNotes_Chassé].
Here’s a couple of videos which should help crystallize the concept:
- A 20 sec. video starting at 0:06 [Someya_Fumikomi] showing Roberto Someya sensei‘s crisp hikitsuke and footwork and
- A more in-depth video by Bennett sensei with comments on hikitsuke from 2:29 mins to 3:30 mins primarily [KendoWorld_Fumikomi] who also notes:
- “…feel the tension in your lower abdomen. … you don’t want the tension to come into your shoulders. You want to be striking with your lower body (5:10 to 5:16mins).”
- “…rather than lifting it (your front foot) up high, try and feel you’re moving forward as if your right foot is like a stealth fighter just hugging the ground avoiding radar detection (1:30 min).”
For an excellent review of fumikomi, I’d recommend watching the entire 6:37 mins. of Bennett sensei‘s video and the fumikomi-related sections in Episodes 6 and 12 of Koda sensei‘s recent DVD [Koda_SkillDVD].
Experimental Notes on Teaching Hikitsuke
Note 1. When I teach hikitsuke to beginners and kids, they naturally and immediately seem to grasp the concept when they skip (or hop) sideways as shown in this 9 sec. video [Speedstrengthtv Side Skipping]. So, I sometimes have them skip in a manner that gradually morphs into a forward form of skipping in three stages by having them: 1) Skip sideways initially as in the video a couple lengths of the dojo, 2) Rotate and angle the body and feet diagonally forward (by about 45 degrees) while skipping in the same direction a few lengths and finally 3) Rotate a full 90 degrees facing forward as they skip – the way a consecutive set of fumikomi-ashi would typically be done. This seems to be an easier and fun way for them to start learning the concept.
Note 2. To increase the difficulty level, perform the exercise on a surface that is gently sloping upwards. The greater the slope, the great the difficulty level. This can help strengthen the explosive power of the hikitsuke.
I get a “kick” from practicing hikitsuke and the above helpful pointers 😉 from time-to-time while walking. People probably wonder “What is that guy doing?” Thanks again to each of the sensei’s for their teachings.
* Koda sensei notes how this quick release or sae of the heel is equivalent to the sae of tenouchi in the shinai strike. In trying this, it seems that this technique fosters in the fumikomi an explosiveness (the instantaneous tightening and release of the muscles) in the legs – akin to that experienced in the hands and core when striking with a whip or shinai with a nice sae.
Post Script (An Important Note to Myself)
Nov 6, 2021. It is imperative that the rear foot follows-up instantly to meet the forward foot (the hikitsuke) when the forward foot lands on the floor during fumikomi. As if the two actions are simultaneous and as if they are one action. After resuming kendo as dojo’s began re-opening, I discovered that my rear foot lingered for a half-second after the forward foot landed in fumikomi before doing the hikitsuke. This affected the quality of my strikes (as the instant of my strike coincided with the forward foot fumikomi rather than with the hikitsuke). Fixing this helped immensely.
[Koda_SkillDVD] Koda Kunihide, “Kendo Skill Revolution,” 剣道上達革命 (with English subtitles), TrendAqua DVD.
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