Synchronizing the Strike with the Hikitsuke (引き付け)

This article is intended for those, like me, who may find it difficult to strike, with power and consistency, the small men-uchi (小さい面打ち as demonstrated at 0:15 of [RemaKendo SmallMenUchi]).  It covers: some Background explaining the impetus of this article, Striking with the Hikitsuke, Teachings on Striking with Hikitsuke, Some Thoughts and an Experiment, a Wrap-up and Acknowledgements.

Background

As a beginner, I was taught to time the instant of a strike (when the ken-saki of the shinai hits the target) with the instant that the forward foot (the left foot for chuudan kamae) lands on the floor in fumikomi.  Since resuming practice after the COVID pandemic lock-down, the lack of power in my small men-uchi became quite evident.  A nice sae along with the pop sound on the men was hard to produce.  Moreover, this is something that I have struggled with in recent years.  In contrast, I noticed how some, like the individual in [RemaKendo SmallMenUchi], can generate significant power in their small men-uchi without having to raise the shinai much (for a small rotational angle) and certainly without having to perform the classic large men-uchi where the shinai is raised to above the head (for a large rotational angle) before striking.  So it is possible but how is this accomplished?

Striking with the Hikitsuke

I began experimenting and eventually remembered Salmon Sensei [KendoInfo Hikitsuke] and other Sensei‘s pointing out the importance of hikitsuke [KendoNotes Hikitsuke].  This is the quick pulling of the rear leg towards the forward leg at the instant the forward foot lands during fumikomi.  I then started timing the strike with the hikitsuke.  Hallelujah!  I started to feel power in the strikes and to notice the sae and a stronger “pop” sound in my strikes.

I suspect that I had unknowingly performed strikes timed with hikitsuke in the past, lost my way and may have forgotten that I had heard such teachings long ago.  This time, there is a firm, conscious awareness of this way of striking.

It is interesting to start noticing the footwork of people in keiko, shiai and shinsa.  In general, those with a fast hikitsuke tend to be able to strike with a nice sae and crisp pop sound – just as Salmon Sensei notes in [KendoInfo Hikitsuke].   Whereas, in contrast, those with a slow hikitsuke (where the rear foot lingers) tend not to be able to do so.

Teachings on Striking with Hikitsuke

Here are some teachings supporting this approach to striking.

  • According to Yamada Hironori (Hanshi 8 dan)*,
    • The right foot lands before the shinai catches (hits) the target.  One strikes the men which is timed with the power of the left foot follow-up (hikitsuke) [KendoNihon_Yamada, p.39].
      • 竹刀を打突部位をとらえる前に右足を着地。そうして、左足をつける力を合わせて面を打つ。
    • Note that I cannot say I understand the first sentence.  For me, the three actions:  the strike, the landing of the right foot and the left foot hikitsuke seem to happen simultaneously.
  • The following video is very helpful.  According to Yamauchi (8 dan) who apparently taught  Matsumoto Mizuki, Kunitomo Rentaro and many other well-known All-Japan Kendo Senshu’s [Bushizo Hikitsuke]:
    • From 0:02 to 0:06, Yamauchi Sensei describes and demonstrates how the average dojo teaches people to time the men-uchi with the landing of the right (forward) foot.  At his dojo, he teaches to time the men-uchi with the hikitsuke.
    • At 0:50: Most dojos teach men by telling kids to move their right and left foot one after another.  The follow up of the left is finished by the time of our fumikomi.  We don’t step out the right foot out by itself.
    • Incidentally, in this ~4 min. video, Yamauchi Sensei covers other related and interesting points such as:
      • How this footwork allows a strong strike over a range of distances (ma-ai)
        • If you can master this, you will be able to hit at any ma-ai. – at 1:09 min.
        • Even down to a distance of zero (no forward movement) – at the 0:20 min mark.
      • How this footwork applies to kote-men strikes as well at the 2:02 min mark.
  • According to [Kendobu_KiKenTaiIcchi]:
    • However, even if you say to fumikomi after the strike, one cannot strike with the correct posture.  Something needs to be matched with the strike.  Then, if it’s not the fumikomi, what is matched with the strike?  It is the hikitsuke with the left foot (the rear leg in chuudan).
      • しかし、打突の後に踏み込みなさいとただ言っても正しい姿勢で打突できません。何かに打突を合わせる必要があります。では踏み込みではなく何に合わせるのか。それは左足のひきつけです.
    • It (the strike) is not matched with the fumikomi. It is matched with the hikitsuke.
      • 足の踏み込みではなく引きつけに合わせるということ.
  • According to [Quora_Hikitsuke]
    • The strike and the right foot occurring at the same time is not the fundamentals. If you do this, the left leg is left behind. This is the so called “the hips were left behind” state. The fundamentals are that the strike and the left leg hikitsuke occur at the same time.
      • 打突と右足の着地が一致するのは基本ではありません。それだと打突した時に常に左足が残る、いわゆる「腰が残った」状態になってしまうからです。基本は打突と左足の引き付けが一致することです.

Some Thoughts and an Experiment

Here is how I interpret how this approach to striking helps.  The pulling forward of the rear foot in hikitsuke and slight downward motion of the arms seems, to me, like an ab crunch.  As illustrated in Fig. 1, this observation may be more apparent if one were to imagine the body rotated and resting horizontally on a bench with the torso (spine) supported and both the legs and arms not supported.

Fig. 1.  Doesn’t the strike with the hikitsuke resemble an ab crunch?

The rear leg and arms would rotate inwards towards each other as if performing the ab crunch.  The core appears to be the source of the power.  In the absence of the hikitsuke where the legs and abs are not used, I cannot imagine much power being generated based on this imagery.  Furthermore, the use of the abs seems in line with teachings from Sensei’s who emphasize the importance of the tanden or hara (belly area).

It is interesting to note some parallels with the mechanics of walking and running.  When I pay attention to how I do those, I notice that my left arm rotates downwards and towards the back as my left leg moves forward.  I also notice a slight tension in the abs when walking and much stronger tension in the abs when running.

An Experiment

With the shinai in both hands, I lay the body on the floor with the eyes looking upwards and perform the small men-uchi with no power or contraction in the abs.  When using only my arms, the strike seems weak.  Then I contract the ab muscles and repeat the strikes.  Lo and behold, I can feel a significant change.  Now there is power in the small men-uchi.  Engagement of the abs appears to be a key ingredient which perhaps is aided or complemented by the hikitsuke.

Wrap-up & Acknowledgements

This has helped breath new life in my endeavor to be able to perform the small men-uchi with more power and consistency. 

May your small men-uchi get stronger!

* I’d like to acknowledge Imoto Sensei for discussions related to the striking of the small men-uchi, Tamano Sensei for confirming the timing of the strike with the hikitsuke and sending me the article with Yamada Sensei’s teachings and, of course, those who I’ve talked with since then or who are cited in the articles in the references.


References

[Bushizo_Hikitsuke] “名門・今宿少年剣道部 山内八段のご指導【左足の引きつけ】” Bushizo (4:13 mins)

[Kendobu_KiKenTaiIcchi] “気剣体の一致をやめる?踏み込みは同時ではない理由,” Kendobu.com.

[KendoInfo_Hikitsuke] Geoff Salmon, “The importance of hikitsuke,” Kendoinfo.net, June 22, 2011.

[KendoNihon_Yamada] 「山田範士の跳び込み面」、剣道日本, p。39、3、2020.

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

[Quora_Hikitsuke] “剣道の踏み込みですが。基本は打突と右足の着地が一致するのが基本だと思うのですが、左足の引きつけと打突を一致させる基本を教えているのは、どんな効果があるのでしょうか?” Quora.com.

 

Keywords:  Sashi-men, Chiisai-men, furikaburi, swing

 

Copyright 2021 KendoNotes.com

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