The Kensaki as a Floating Log (浮木)

This article is on how to manage the the shinai tip (kensaki 剣先) when in chuudan kamae against another in chuudan kamae.  It relates to how to “win” the center with the kensaki given that the kensaki of only one person (either myself or the other) can occupy the center at any given moment.

For quite some time, I hadn’t paid much attention to taking the center with my kensaki against an opponent.  Nor paying much attention to maneuvering my shinai and manipulating the opponent’s shinai by, for example, applying or releasing pressure with my kensaki against the kensaki of the other.  I had other means of creating openings.  However, recently, Matt Schultzel sensei reminded me of the importance of the center.  With the center, one can strike the men with the shortest possible route, the direct route – as if there were no shinai obstructing the route.  However, when the shinai of the other is in the center and “in the way”, the direct route is obstructed.  One would have to go around their shinai and take a circuitous, indirect route to strike the men.

It’s probably worth pointing out this related insight from [Hakudoh_Center].  “With regards to pressuring each other (seme-ai) at the sword tips, rather than taking the center and then striking, it is important to take the center when you strike.”  Editor’s translation of 「剣先の攻め合いというのは、中心を取って打ち込むのではなく、打ち込むときに中心を取っていることが大事です」

I pondered on what the optimum approach could be to have my kensaki take the center.  It seemed to me to be one of those games that no one could completely win.  If I were to apply pressure with my kensaki against the opponent’s kensaki, I could temporarily occupy the center.  However, the opponent could retake the center by either 1) resisting with their kensaki or 2) surrendering by moving their kensaki out of the way so that my kensaki would move too far (over-shooting the center).  On the other hand, if I didn’t apply pressure, the opponent could continue to occupy the center.  Alas, a quandary.

I asked Tamano Teruo sensei what the best approach was.  He kindly taught me about the metaphor of the floating log (浮木 – ukki or 浮き木 – ukigi) and to think of my kensaki as a floating log.  He explained that:

When someone tries to push down a round floating log under the water with a stick, the log goes down into the water momentarily.  However, it spins and quickly comes back up to the surface of the water.

Whenever an opponent pushes my kensaki to take the center, I can let the opponent momentarily take the center (as if my kensaki were a floating log pushed into the water).  No need to resist.  As described earlier, I can my move my kensaki above or below their kensaki, let their kensaki over-shoot the center and then move my kensaki back to the center.

There are a number of articles in Japanese which describe this metaphor.  However, I was unable to find any such article in English.  Here’s my translations of excerpts from a few of the articles in Japanese which provide more “colour” to this metaphor:

  • By Abeni1268 (アベニ1268) sensei [Abeni_FloatingLog]:
    • Try holding down a log floating on the surface of the water with a long pole.  Though the log sinks briefly, it quickly evades (the pole) and rises back to the surface of the water.  The tip of the sword (kensaki) must also be like this floating log.
    • If you apply pressure from your right to the left with the kensaki, feel the resistance in the opponent’s kensaki and releases the pressure, then the opponent’s kensaki moves to your right (omote) and their kote becomes open.  Similarly, if you apply pressure from your left to the right (ura) with your kensaki, feel the resistance and release the pressure, then their kensaki moves to the left and their men becomes open.
    • When you fight someone who instead does not resist the pressure of your kensaki and moves his or her kensaki down or up, be careful!  He or she understands this approach of the floating log.
  • From Nagai Nagamasa Sensei, Hanshi 8 Dan (長井長正範士八段) [Nagai_FloatingLog]
    • My shinai is this floating log.  Even if the opponent hits my shinai to the left or the right, I quickly use that energy and place my kensaki towards the center of the opponent (their throat or chest).  Or, I thrust (my shinai) in one beat, remove it with no particular concern and place it on top.  It is a technique (waza) to win without fighting. 
      • この浮木が自分の竹刀でありまして、相手が自分の竹刀を左右に叩いても、くるりとその力を利用して相手の中心(咽喉とか胸に)剣先をつけ、あるいは一拍子で突き、何のこだわることなく外しては上に乗り、争わずして勝つ技であります。
  • Nakajima Goro 9 dan (中島吾郎蔵範士九段は) from [Youshinkan_FloatingLog]
    • The sword that strikes is the sword that returns.  The sword that returns is the sword that strikes.
    • 「打つ太刀は返すたち、返す太刀は打つ太刀」
    • Editor’s note:
      • I can’t say I understand this and it must be important.
      • The Youshinkan website seems to have many writings (in Japanese) with incredible wisdom and value [Youshinkan_FloatingLog].
  • As taught by Sato Hironobu, Hanshi 8 dan (佐藤博信 範士八段) from [Youshinkan_FloatingLog]
    • Even the kensaki is the same (as the floating log).  If the opponent applies pressure to your kensaki, without trying to resist, smoothly escape (slip away) from it and return to the center.
      • 剣先も同じで、相手が剣先を押さえてきたら、逆らわないで、するりと抜けて中心に戻る。
    • By doing so, your kensaki is always at the center of the opponent, it becomes easier to attack (seme) and your feelings do not get caught there.  It does not weigh on the mind.  If you try to push back with your kensaki when the opponent applies pressure to your kensaki, your feelings will be trapped in that and this results in the loss of your freedom of mind.
      • そうする事で自分の剣先が何時でも相手の中心のあり、攻めが容易になり、気持ちがそこで引っかからない。気にならない。それを、相手が押してきた剣先を押し返えそうとすると、そこに気持ちが囚われ、心の自由を失う結果になる。

A “thank you” to Tamano sensei and Schultzel sensei for the helpful comments and to the cited authors for their articles.

May your kensaki be like a floating log  🙂


References

[Abeni_FloatingLog] Abeni1268, “浮き木の教え” (The Teaching of the Floating Log), Sept 26, 2009. 

[Hakudoh_Center] “How to take the center,” 中心の取り方, はくどー庵, Hakudoh.com

[Nagai_FloatingLog] ,  | 長井長正範士の遺文,”浮木(うっき)について(昭和62年10月29日)1/2″ 2018年01月05日

[Youshinkan_FloatingLog] “熊の武者修行伝 その1”, カナダヨウシンカン養心館道場Canada Youshinkan Dojo.

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