Metaphors and Visuals to Help Learn and Teach Kendo

This article is inspired by the challenge of learning and teaching kendo over on-line video calls in this era of COVID-19.  It is a collection of metaphors and visuals intended to help convey the mechanics of kendo in the absence (or presence) of in-person instruction.  It is based mostly on the instructions that I have received from sensei‘s over the years.  I use them for teaching kids and beginners kendo in a fun and memorable way.  Thank you to Scott Chang sensei for suggesting the article.

If you have any metaphors and/or visuals that you’d like to share, please feel free to add a comment below.  I may add others as I learn them.  Here is an overview of the sections:

  • Kamae
  • Shinai grip
  • Striking with the shinai
  • Fumikomi


Updates:  Oct 4, 2021 – Added the metaphor of “scooping up water” from Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Koda_Grip]


  • For the feet:
    • Feet parallel like a railroad track
      • For those whose feet may be pointed in different directions.
      • This is the first of four key elements that Saburo Iwatate (8 dan Hanshi) looks for as a judge during 8th dan examinations [Iwatate_FootAngle, 9:11 to 10:10 mins].  Angled feet diminish the ability to strike with speed, power and precision.
        • If the left foot points towards the outside, then when an attack is launched power can’t properly be transferred to the sword resulting in a weaker strike.  These attacks lack not only speed and power but also precision [Iwatate_FootAngle, 9:54 min mark].
    • A thin piece of paper between the heel and the ground
      • To help students with positioning the front foot with the weight on the front of the forward foot (paw) – rather than having the heel resting on the ground (being flat-footed) or having the heel too high off the ground.
  • For the knees, legs and feet:
    • Hop up and down like a bunny rabbit!
      • For those with locked knees, tight legs, ankles or feet, this is a way to loosen them and have them in a natural, relaxed and ready-to-move position.
      • One must achieve a posture free from tension and strain and one from which complete freedom of movement is possible. Noma Hisashi [Noma, p. 14]
  • For the arms and elbows
    • “Face the palms of your hands upwards.  As if you would scoop up water.” – Koda Kunihida (Kyoshi 8 dan)  at 0:36 of At 1:32 of [Koda_Grip].
      • Explaining how to hold the hands, elbow and arms in kamae.
    • Chicken wings [buk buuuk]”
      • For those whose shoulders and/or arms may be tense or whose elbows stick outwards or on to the body, this is a way to position the arms and elbows naturally and comfortably.
      • Move the elbows in and out like chicken wings and then let them rest so that they hang naturally and comfortably.
        • For a greater effect, one can vocalize the chicken sounds for kids 😉
  • For the shoulders:
    • The “I don’t know” shrug – moving the shoulders up and then back down
      • For those whose shoulders are tight, this is a way to relax them.   Incidentally, I have seen some during a shiai do a wave with the shoulders by first raising and lower one shoulder and then the other.
  • Posture [KendoNotes_Posture]:
    • Push the back of the head against a wall” or “Ears above the shoulders
      • For those whose head and neck is angled or sticking forward in front of the body (like a rooster), this can help them reposition their head above their torso back to a structurally natural posture.
    • Heart high, angel wings (on the back) low.” or “Stand in your sleeping bag and zip yourself up to the top” (From an acquaintance who teaches kids ballet)
      • For those with poor posture, this can help them visualize and shift to a natural posture.

Shinai Grip (in Kamae)

    • Cradling an egg in the right hand
      • For those who hold the shinai with a death grip, this image can help relax their grip.
      • When clasping the right hand we are taught that it should be as though holding a hen’s egg, though it is difficult to discover the knack of this; the individual should find this for himselfFrom Chap. 8 To-no-Mochikata (the way to hold the sword) [Noma, p. 18] which I’d strongly recommend reading to learn about the shinai grip,
    • Gunslinger ready to draw[KendoNotes_RightArm]
      • For those who arms and hands are tense, I suggest they imagine two gunslingers ready to draw in a duel:  one with relaxed hands, arms and shoulders and another with tight hands, arms and shoulders.  Then I ask “Which of the two would you expect to draw faster and win?”

Striking with the shinai

    • Men-uchi
      • Sharing my ice cream or microphone” – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi, 8 dan)
        • During an online seminar last year organized by Tamano Teruo sensei, Koda sensei described these hand positions at the end of the men-uchi.  He likened it to having an ice cream cone (or microphone) in the hand and lifting it towards someone to let him/her taste it (or sing into it).
    • Shibori
      • Squeezing a wet tea towel” (chakin shibori) [KendoInfo_Shibori] [KendoInfo_MatsumomotoShibori]
        • To help develop the snap at the instant of impact or strike when the hands tense momentarily.
        • When striking or when just holding the shinai we are taught also to clasp with a feeling of wringing or twisting in the hands as one would when wringing moisture from a wet tea towel.  …  something that need be discovered for oneself.  From Chap. 8 To-no-Mochikata (the way to hold the sword) [Noma, p. 18]
    • Sae
      • The whip or wet towel flick
        • For those who may be using excessive power in the shoulders and arms to swing.
        • To help them develop relaxed arms which tense at the moment of impact just as when one cracks a whip or flicks a wet towel.
        • Some think that when people make powerful strikes it is because they are physically strong.  This is not the reason.  It is because they are using their body efficiently, and making the wrist snap. …  Importantly, they only use the muscles that are needed while the other parts are relaxed.  There is no unnecessary power. – Muto Kazuhiro (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Shudokai_2016].


    • Hikitsuke [KendoNotes_Hikitsuke]
      • This one is an experiment:  “Snap back the legs together” (I just made this one up and look forward to trying it out.)
        • For those whose rear foot flies backward in the air or whose rear foot returns slowly forward back to the front foot for the hikitsuke, this is a way to help them bring the rear foot immediately back to the front foot.


[Iwatate_FootAngle] “Kendo 8th Dan Examination,” Video, Mar 11, 2018 (at  9:11 min mark).

[KendoInfo_Shibori] Geoff Salmon, “Whatever happened to, Oct. 24, 2011.

[KendoInfo_MatsumomotoShibori] “Toshio sensei on arms, wrists and tenouchi – Correction,”, Oct. 3, 2013.

[KendoNotes_Fumikomi] “Forward Heel Action for the ‘Stomp’ in Fumikomi,”, Jan 31, 2021.

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

[KendoNotes_RightArm]  “Relaxing the Right Arm – Benefits, Tips and Gunslingers,”

[KendoNotes_Posture] “Ways to Check and Improve One’s Posture for Kamae and Well-Being,”

[Koda_Grip] Kouda Kunide 8th Dan – Kendo Lessons, Basic Movements:  How to Grip the Shinai, Kendo Jidai International, Dec 8, 2019 (Second of Six Lessons).

[Koda_PostureKamae] Kouda Kunihide 8th Dan – Kendo Lessons, Basic Movements:  Posture and Kamae Kendo Jidai International, Dec. 4, 2019 (First of Six Lessons).

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

[Shudokai_2016] “The 2016 Shudokai Grading Gasshuku,” – Report and Translation by Michael Ishimatsu-Prime.


Copyright 2021

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s