Quotes on Seme (攻め)

Here’s some quotes on seme by various authors, Oya Minoru (Kyoshi 7 dan), Noma Hisashi and Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan).  The set will likely grow as I discover more.

Updates:  Dec 17, 2018 – Added quotes from Koda sensei.

Various Authors

  • Move the shadow (of the other) 「陰(かげ)を動かす。」 – Miyamoto Musashi from the Book of Five Rings.
    • As explained in [Hakudoh_Seme], the “shadow” here refers to the unconscious or subconscious part of the opponent’s mind.  For example,
    • It is necessary to enter in such a way as to move the other’s heart (the subconscious). – Hakudoh.com [Hakudoh_Seme]
      • 「相手の心(潜在意識)を動かすような入り込み方が必要です。」
  • In kendo we talk about shikai, the four sicknesses of surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation. It is to prompt one of these conditions that we make seme. – Geoff Salmon sensei [Kendoinfo_Bigger]
  • (Chiba sensei’s) main thoughts on seme were that you should keep a relaxed and natural posture and use seme to force your opponent to react to make the chance for debana or oji waza. – Summary of Masashi Chiba sensei’s comments by Geoff Salmon sensei [Kendoinfo_Chiba]
  • The state in which an unrelenting, determined position of advantage is maintained on the opponent. – Lorenzo Zago [Zago_SemeTame]
  • Seme is like water, a fluid that penetrates into a material permeating it, till it changes its consistency. K. Hasegawa Sensei as quoted by Lorenzo Zago in [Zago_Seme Tame]

Oya Minoru [Oya_Seme]:

  • Put plainly, seme is the process of searching for a means to break the deadlock of kamae in order to put yourself in the advantageous situation where an opportunity to execute a valid strike presents itself.
  • Passively watching for an opponent’s shortcomings or movements is not enough, but rather seme is an active, progressive process of creating openings and striking opportunities.
  • If the opponent’s kamae is steadfast and strong without any openings, then executing an attack will be futile. 
  • The opponent’s kamae must first be broken or unsettled, creating the opening for attack.  In other words, the opponent must be beaten before being struck.

Noma Hisashi from [Noma, pp. 54-55]

  • While attacking one also watches and waits, and  while  waiting  and  watching  one  is  on  the  verge  of  attacking.  When  this  is achieved it is known as Ken-Tai-Ichi (attack and defence as one).
    • The  words  Ken  and  Tai  mean  literally  to  attack  and  wait,  but  they  are  more  readily understandable as attack and defence.
  • …the  aim  is  to  induce the opponent to make the first move and defeat him.
  • Quoting Itto-ryu Densho:
    • In nature, a one sidedness of either Yang or Yin does not exist. At the extreme of Yang, there emerges Yin.  … attacking is one of Yang and stopping is one of Yin. … When I am trying to strike the opponent I watch the colour of his sword and react accordingly, not merely trying to initiate the first blow is to take a position called tai.  Induce  the  opponent  to  make  the  first  move  and  react  accordingly.  When  you  advance in trying to make the initial attack in a one sided attitude of Yang and without the aid on Yin, you will find great difficulty in opposing a strong opponent. Therefore try to combine the attitudes of  Yang and Yin during combat.

  • There should be an extreme of neither Ken nor Tai.

Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) from [Koda_ShinsaDVD, Episodes 13, 14]

These are loose translations of his words in Japanese.

  • Even though ki-ken-tai-ichi is fundamental in kendo, you really need “ki-ken-tai-ichi plus seme-kata” for shiai, shinsa to strike an opponent.
  • If you try to start seme from a close distance, you and/or the other will start flinching and trying to block.  Instead, start from a further distance apart with a sense of spaciousness (yoyuu) rather than tightness.
  • Though there are occasions of a clean separation of seme and then the strike, typically the two are done together, not separately.  If you apply seme and then later strike, there is a gap where an opponent may potentially strike you.
  • The point is to use not only your hands but also your legs when applying seme.


[Hakudoh_Seme] Seme in Kendo (剣道の攻め, はくどー庵) (in Japanese).

[Oya_Seme] Oya Minoru, “The Act of Seme” (PDF, 1 page).

[Kendoinfo_Chiba] Geoff Salmon, “Pearls from Chiba sensei!” Kendoinfo.net, July 6, 2007.

[Kendoinfo_Bigger] Geoff Salmon, “Getting Bigger,” Kendoinfo.net, April 18, 2016.

[Koda_ShinsaDVD] Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan), “Kendo Promotion Shinsa – Program” (剣道昇段審査・対策プログラム【教士八段 香田郡秀監修】) (in Japanese with no subtitles)

[Noma] Noma Hisashi (1910-1939), The Kendo Reader (PDF, 55 pages)

[Zago_SemeTame] Lorenzo Zago (Renshi 7th Dan), “About the meaning of Seme and Tame – Seme? Tame?,” (Translated by Emmanuele Levi).





2 thoughts on “Quotes on Seme (攻め)

  1. Erich Bennett December 16, 2018 / 12:28 am

    Thank you Sensei for this forum, I now feel a better understanding of seme and will try to apply it with my next keiko Arrigato


    • kiai December 17, 2018 / 7:13 am

      Glad to hear that. Welcome and thank you for your comment Erich!


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