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 [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].” 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.
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 kicking off strongly from the left leg, the sensation is one of pushing off a little where the advanced right leg 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].
An Experimental Note on Teaching Hikitsuke
When I try to teach hikitsuke to beginners and kids, I have noticed that they naturally and immediately seem to grasp the concept when they skip sideways as shown in this 9 sec. video [Speedstrengthtv Side Skipping]. So, I have recently started to have them: skip sideways initially, then gradually rotate and angle their body and feet forward by ~45 degrees as they skip in the same direction and then eventually 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 way for them to start learning the concept.
I get a “kick” from practicing hikitsuke and the above helpful pointers 😉 from time-to-time when walking. 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.
[Koda_SkillDVD] Koda Kunihide, “Kendo Skill Revolution,” 剣道上達革命 (with English subtitles), TrendAqua DVD.
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