Sequential Breakdown of the Small Men-Uchi (小さい面打ち)

This article looks into the sequential breakdown of the small men-uchi (small strike to the head) – also referred to as chiisai men-uchi (小さい面打ち) or a sharp, fast men (鋭く早い面) [Ichiki_MenUchi].  Visual examples of this strike can be found in the following videos: [Remakendo_MenUchi]  [Koda_Sae] [Ichiki_MenUchi].   For those unfamiliar with the small men-uchi but familiar with the large men-uchi, the hands and arms are raised to about the height of the shoulders rather than to above the head – as described in the videos [Koda_Sae] [Furukawa_LargeMenUchi].

I have been studying how to develop a fast, sharp and consistent “small men-uchi” with sae (冴え – the snap) [KendoInfo_Sae] worthy of an ippon.  The article summarizes what I’ve learned from a number of articles, videos and discussions with teachers and friends on this topic.

Some preliminary notes:

  1. The sequential breakdown of the strike, presented below, is based largely on the teachings of high-level (mostly 8th dan) sensei’s and/or well-known kenshi.
  2. There are apparently a variety of ways of doing small men-uchi as Tsumura Morito (Hanshi 8 dan) recently mentioned to me.
  3. “Comments for Myself” are included as reminders and notes for myself.
  4. The chuudan kamae with the right foot forward is assumed.
  5. A comprehensive time-sequence analysis of the small men-uchi can be found in this technical study of ten 8 dan kenshi in this talk [Murase_ISBS20Video] and its associated conference paper [Murase_ISBS20Paper].
  6. Upon reflection, I see that there are many important ingredients which together contribute to produce a strong and sharp small men-uchi.
  7. This article may be updated with additional quotes and insights as they are discovered.

Acknowledgement:  I would like to acknowledge the many authors, teachers and friends, including those cited in the references below, for sharing their wisdom.  I have found their teachings invaluable.

May your small men-uchi be powerful! 🙂

Updates:  Aug 4, 2022 – added some additional “Comments for Myself” and a reference to [KendoNotes YamauchiHikitsuke].  Aug 22, 2022 – added Koda’s sensei’s comments on keeping the armpit area closed when striking, the right hand relaxed in kamae and when raising the shinai, raising the shinai with the left shoulder and back muscles and comments the Youshinkan dojo on the tenouchi.  Sept 21, 2022 – added two videos with Chikamoto Takumi (Kyoshi 7th dan).


Prior to the strike

  • Be ready to strike at any time.
    • When mastering the Men technique, the most important thing is to keep your left foot in a position which would enable you to strike Men at all times. …  I put my center of gravity on my left leg while keeping my right foot afloat slightly.  With the feeling of letting the right leg hang down from the hip joint, I maintain the preparation so I can strike at any time. – Nabeyama Takahiro (Kyoshi 8 dan) from [KendoJidai_PerfectMen]
    • In actuality, “good posture” in budo (martial arts) is the “natural posture”. Rather than a (tight) posture of “At Attention!” it should be a posture from which one can move at any time [Hakudoh_Posture].
  • Position the arms using the scooping of water metaphor and the left armpit closed.
    • Face the palms of your hands upwards.  As if you would scoop up water.  If you do this, your armpits will tighten up slightly. – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan)  at 0:36 of [Koda_Grip].
  • Place strength in the left hand and left side of the body.
    • I think that I’d like to try a kamae that is centered on the left hand, left hip and left leg. – Higashi Yoshimi (Hanshi 8 dan) [KendoJidai_Higashi]
    • When taking kamae, hold your shinai as if gently holding a sheet of paper under your left arm. This will solidify your left body properly and will make sure that your left fist is in front of your belly button. … Tighten your left side and don’t let your kensen move away from your opponent’s body at all costs. – Onda Kouji (Kyoshi 8 dan) [KendoJidai_Onda].
    • (T)he left hand, left hip, and left foot must be one. – Ishihara Kazuyuki, (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Kendojidai_Ishihara]
    • You hold with your left (hand) and hit with your left.  左で持つ、左で打つ– Kaku Sensei [KendoInfo_LeftHand]
    • When it comes to the upper body, stability of the left hand is very important. – Miyato Nobuyuki (Kyoshi 8 dan) [KendoJidai_Miyato].
    • The right hand lightly grips the shinai. – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) at the 18:17 min mark of [Koda_Seminario2021]
      • 右手は . .  .軽く挟むように(竹刀を)握る。
  • Interlock the left hand and right leg.
    • It is important to attack with the correct Kamae and in order to do so it is important to interlock the left hand and the right foot, not the right hand and the right foot. – Miyato Nobuyuki [Kyoshi 8 dan] [KendoJidai_Miyato]
  • Comments for myself
    • Regarding the Shoulders
      • Make sure that the shoulders are tension free (e.g., not raised).
      • The following action before striking, as kindly pointed out to me by W, his Hapkido teacher and Katsumi Chinen sensei, also seems to help.
        • I gently push the shoulders down, push the shoulder blades down and towards each other, repeat this and rest my left shoulder joint above the left rib.
        • The left shoulder joint moves slightly backwards and down – while making sure that the arms are tension free.
      • “Closing the left armpit area”, as taught by Koda sensei (described in more detail below), seems to capture the state of the shoulder compactly.
        • This seems to make a more solid strike.
    • Regarding the left side
      • Many 8 dan Sensei’s emphasize paying attention to the left side and, in particular, the left fist, left hip and left leg.
        • Interestingly, Onda Sensei’s words “Tighten your left side,” seems to work wonders.
          • My strike of the shinai on the men becomes more powerful.
      • My interpretation of the body mechanics
        • By having a firm left side where the left fist, left hip and left foot are one, the left side seems to become the foundation and starting point of the strike.
          • I also pay attention to Koda Sensei’s comment to hold the shinai as if scooping up water and having my left armpit closed.
          • This helps increase my awareness of the left side.
        • Furthermore, given that the left side has this “tightness” or “firmness”, I see a natural corollary to this.
          • The right side comprising the right arm and right leg can become more relaxed and free to move.
          • It is as if the left side rooted by the left ball of the foot becomes the push-off-point and base – which supports the right side to fly freely and quickly towards the opponent when desired.
        • Perhaps there’s another related principle behind Onda Sensei’s words and attention to the left shoulder, left ribs, left buttocks, left leg and left toes.
          • This may also produce a single locked rigid body at the instant of the strike to enable a clean transfer of power from the toes through the legs and hips to the arms and ultimately to the shinai.
          • Otherwise, the power transfer, for me, may be lossy (partial) and inconsistent.
      • On the other hand, freedom of movement and the lack of tension before and after that instant of the strike is likely also very important.
        • So, I may want to avoid making the left side “too” tight.
    • Regarding the lower torso,
      • Chinen Katsuo (7th dan) suggested tightening the two buttock cheeks together when in kamae.
        •  I get power in the hip area and can then sense my left hip better.
      • I have also found that a slight clock-wise rotation of the hips (when facing downwards), so that my hips face squarely face the opponent, helps me feel more power in the hips and my left hip.

Initial Portion of the Strike

  • Drive the hips and body forward with the legs.
    • Focus on your feet (legs).  Drive yourself forward with your feet (legs)! – Nishimura Hidehisa (Multiple-time AJKF Champion) [Tozando_Nishimura2, 3:50 min mark].
    • When we are moving in to attack, we should move using our waist. It should feel like you are pushing forward with your entire body. – Onda Kouji (Kyoshi 8 dan) [KendoJidai_Onda].
    • This is about moving the center of gravity.  Imagine sending your spine forward. Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Koda_Fumikomi, 1:11 min mark]
      • これも重心の移動ですね。 これを背骨を前持ってくる気持ち
    • With regards to the upper torso, rather than hitting with the arms, I have the image of hitting strongly moving forward from the shoulder area, shoulder blades (scapula) and back (of the body). – Matsuzaki Kenshiro Senshu at the 2:56 min mark of  [Matsuzaki_TobikomiMen]
  • Maintain the hand positions initially.
    • Hold the hands in place until the forward foot begins to go downwards during the fumikomi – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Koda_ShinsaDVD].
    • Slide the right foot forward and hold back until the last possible moment before moving the hands. [Seiyukan_Hands]
    • This is illustrated
    • This is analyzed in detail in the study of ten 8th dan kenshi‘s in [Murase_ISBS20Paper] [Murase_ISBS20Video].
      • All ten of the kenshi started moving their hand positions to raise the shinai after the halfway mark between the initial movement and moment of impact of the shinai on the men.
      • This is shown in Fig. 2 of [Murase_ISBS20Paper] in the top two plots showing the mean and standard deviation of the angular movements of the hands and the shinai as a function of time across the ten kenshi.
    • Don’t strike with your arms.  Instead, strike from your back using this (pointing to his left side rib area). – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) at 1:32 of [Koda_Grip]. 腕で打つのじゃなくて、背中からこう使って打つわけですね。)
  • Comments for myself
    • Slide the ball and toes of the right foot along the floor – so that they are touching the floor – as I go in to do fumikomi.
    • Avoid the habit of pulling the right hand back (unless there is a good reason for doing this) and, instead, keep it forward as the body goes forward – as Ahn, Hogi and Kamata Sensei’s pointed out.

Middle Portion of the Strike (When the right foot starts to go down and the hands begin to move)

  • For this portion, it is probably best to watch this video by Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Koda_Sae]
    • It is in Japanese.  However, I have translated into English some of the main points with their time-markings below.
    • In the first two minutes, Koda Sensei
      • Initially describes the difference between large and small men-uchi (and kote-uchi) and
      • From 0:56 min, describes the left and right hand actions which are essential for tenouchi and sae in the strike.
    • At 1:51 min.
      • From ancient times, it is said that:  The right hand is the pushing hand, the left hand is the pulling hand. – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Koda_Sae]
        • 昔から右手は押し手、左手は引き手と言われていますが、それを僅かに使うだけですね。あんまり引っ張ってはだめです。
    • At 2:00 min.
      • To strike small men-uchi, the arms are raised (from chuudan kamae) to here (to the height of about the shoulder).
        • (面打ちは)ここからここまで(この位置まで)肩を上げます。
    • At 2:06 min.
      • After that, do not lower the arms.
        • その後は肩はもう降ろさない。
    • At 2:12 min.
      • Instead, if one uses fumikomi and soft wrists, (the shinai) lowers naturally.
        • そして降ろす時に、手首を柔らかく踏み込みを使えば自然に降りて行く。
      • Raising the shinai with the left hand and left shoulder with a relaxed right hand and right side
        • When striking, push your right hand up with the left hand – without pulling the shinai with the right hand. – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) at the 5:35 min mark of [Koda_KamaePosture]
        • Don’t strike with your arms.  Instead, strike from your back using this (pointing to his left side rib area). – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) at 1:32 of [Koda_Grip]. 腕で打つのじゃなくて、背中からこう使って打つわけですね。)
  • Raising the shinai with the left shoulder (rather than with the arms)
  • Additional Teachings
    • Extend your left hand straight from chuudan kamae.  However, at the moment of striking, you must hit with your right hand using the left hand as a fulcrum. – Ichiki Yougen (8 Dan) at the 1:42 min mark of [Ichiki_MenUchi]
      • 構えた位置の左手を打った時の位置までまっすぐ伸ばす。左手は伸ばすだけ。でも、打つ瞬間には右手で打たれなければならないので左手を支店にして.
    • When you strike, use your left hand to push your right hand up.   Do not pull (the shinai) up with your right hand. – Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) [Koda_KamaePosture, 5:40 min mark]
      • 打つ時は、左手で右手を押し上げているわけですね。右手で引っ張るんじゃなくで。
  • Comments for myself
    • Lower torso
      • Push forward hard with the left foot at the moment the right foot goes down and the hands shoot out – as illustrated at the 0:24 min. mark of [Remakendo_MenUchi].
        • This hard pushing with the left foot is in contrast to another approach where there is no hard left foot push and instead only a quick pull in off the left foot towards the right foot [KendoNotes_ShinkansenFumikomi].
      • Tagawa Sensei recommends practicing suri-ashi with oomph to go in towards the opponent with power.
    • In general
      • Physics-wise, imagine applying a force vector purely in the forward direction – by pushing the hands, arms and body in the forward direction – rather than introducing any force vector with a vertical (up or down) component.  Despite the force vector in only the horizontal, forward-only direction, a solid downward strike of the shinai on the men is nonetheless produced (as the right hand pushes forward and the left hand goes up at the instant of the strike).
    • Upper body and arms
      • An observation:  for me, rather than consciously pulling the left hand, the sense is more of a forward and upward punch with the left hand – which resembles a pull.
        • To reinforce this and help build left arm strength, I find it helps to practice the strike with either the left hand only (片手 – kata-te) or the right hand shifted closer down towards the left hand with varying degrees of separation (for practice purposes only).
      • As Koda Sensei teaches, I find the keeping the right hand relaxed as the shinai is raised and using the left hand and left shoulder to raise the shinai very helpful.
        • I need to be wary of this as some times the right hand tenses if I want to speed up the raising up of the shinai (to time its start with the downward motion of the right foot) and/or reach a further away opponent.
          • At times, I inadvertently pull the shinai up with the right hand when I want to go faster or reach further.
            • The introduction of that tension before striking seems to hinder the quality of my strike.
        • Interestingly, keeping the right hand and fist relaxed as the shinai is raised (and the tightening only at the end) helps me strike with sae an opponent further away.
          • The quality of my strikes seems to improve with this.
            • This way there is an explosive punch with the right hand at the instant of the strike where the right hand state switches momentarily to a clenched state.
            • However, this introduces more strain on my left hand and wrist.
        • In addition, raising the shinai with my left shoulder rather than with my left elbow or arm seems to make raising the shinai easier and to promote strikes with sae.
          • I think that this is important.
          • Koda sensei describes a nice exercise which promotes this in these videos [Koda_Grip] starting from 1:02 min and in [Koda_Seminario2021] at 35:30 min.
          • I do the scooping of the water with my hands and arms exercise while performing a slow fumikomi to get a sense of the back and shoulder muscles raising my arms.   This seems to help improve the quality of my strike, too.
      • Yokoyama Naoya (7 dan) described to me an alternate “lever” approach where there is a slight recoil of the shinai first before the strike where:
        • Initially, the left hand moves forward and right hand moves slightly backwards (towards the body) to recoil the shinai as the arms are going up and
        • The left hand moves upwards and the right hand moves forward for the strike.
        • This seems to introduce speed in the strike and more power.  However, it is important not to over-do it, to do it slightly and to start only when the right foot is coming down for the fumikomi as this may otherwise expose the right kote and alert the opponent prematurely of your coming in.

At the Moment of Impact (When the Shinai strikes the Men)

  • Perform hikitsuke (the fast follow-up action of the left-foot back to its position just behind the right-foot after the right-foot lands on the floor [KendoNotes_Hikitsuke]) at the moment the shinai strikes the men.
    • One strikes the men which is timed with the power of the left foot follow-up (hikitsuke) – Yamada Hironori (Hanshi 8 dan), [KendoNihon_Yamada, p. 39].
    • そうして、左足をつける力を合わせて面を打つ。
  • Close the left armpit area
    • Close the left armpit. People who can’t hit straight tend to have their armpit open. –  Koda Kunihide (Kyoshi 8 dan) at the 26:45 min mark of [Koda_Seminario2021] 脇を占める
    • Koda sensei recommends this when doing suburi in general and appears to be recommending this even at the start when in kamae according to the vide).
  • Perform the tenouchi with the hands and wrists
    • There seems to be some variations in the following descriptions.
    • According to [KendoInfo_Shibori],
      • Chiba sensei teaches us to cut through the men to the level of the opponent’s chin and to gently squeeze with the little and ring fingers at this point. In so doing we continue the cut with the flexibility to hit the men cleanly on top of the datotsu bui (top padded strike area of the men) rather than choke the shinai’s movement and strike the mengane (metal grill).
    • According to [Youshinkan_StudyRoom],
      • When swinging down the shinai, people often misunderstand the instruction to “squeeze your hands!” and squeeze both thumbs, but this is a mistake. 
      • Squeezing means putting the ball of the little finger of both hands on the bamboo sword, squeezing the little finger, and sticking the thumb slightly forward.
    • According to Tsumura Morito (8 dan Hanshi) during a visit to Toronto in Sept. 2022,
      • He extends his right arm and has the right fist drop downwards by using the wrist joint (as most people teach and do I believe).
      • However, he emphasized that he doesn’t squeeze the last three fingers – to avoid tightening his right arm and to be able to hit again readily.*
  • Comments to Myself
    • Footwork
      • Upon further study as described in [KendoNotes_YamauchiHkitsuke], the fast hikitsuke seems extremely important and helpful in producing a strong and sharp strike.
    • Grip
      • Following the Youshinkan dojo comments, I have been tightening only my last three fingers of both hands at the instant of impact.
        • This seems to promote a sharp and strong strike.
        • I practice this with momentarily and quickly gripping my stationary shinai while in kamae with the last three fingers only – to check that I am not tightening my thumb also.
      • Given Tsumura sensei’s recent comments, I’ll be practicing his approach.
    • Why the tightening of so many body parts at the instant of impact?
      • I get the impression that part of the purpose of the shibori and tenouchi as well as the closing of the left armpit and hikitsuke is to create a solid and rigid body “only” at the instant of impact (and where the arms are more relaxed immediately before and after this instant).
        • Why?  To transfer the significantly larger power of the legs starting from the left toes to the torso, then to the arms, hands and then to the shinai – just as in tsuki.  As if at that instant, the body is one solid rigid mass.
        • This is consistent with Koda Sensei’s teaching to keep the left armpit area closed which seems to promote the power transfer.
    • As Tamano Terao Sensei clarified for me, it is chakin shibori rather than zoukin shibori 雑巾絞り (house-cleaning cloth wringing).

After the Strike

  • Follow-through and hold the kiai until one has returned to kamae and faces the opponent.
    • This is probably best shown with a beautiful example of the 8 dan Shinsa candidate (101C) on the right who passes in this video [StudyingKendo_8DanShinsa].
    • After turning around to face the opponent, don’t forget to take a small step forward. – Ichiki Yougen (8 Dan) at the 1:42 min mark of [Ichiki_MenUchi]
      • 振り返えたら,一歩出るのを忘れないように。一木庸玄 八段
  • Comments to Myself
    • Make the above holding of the kiai and Ichiki Sensei’s teaching a habit in basic practice and keiko.
      • This practice seems to help allow me to immediately strike a second, third or fourth hit without interruption, promote zanshin and become more conscious of the breathing.
    • Make sure the shoulders and arms are tension-free after the strike.  For example, if the shoulders are tense and/or raised, pushing the shoulders down helps.

* In fact, Tsumura sensei uses his right thumb and index finger.

References

[Chikamoto_SwingingShinai] Chikamoto Takumi, “KIPPON – How to swing your shinai faster” (1:12 mins)

[Chikamoto_LiftingShinai] Chikamoto Takumi, “KIPPON – How to lift your shinai for swinging,” (1:16 mins)

[Chikamoto_Patience] Chikamoto Takumi “KIPPON – How to be patient until you strike” (1:09 mins)

[Furukawa_MenUchi] KENDO 【KIHON PRACTICE】Furukawa Kazuo 8th dan Hanshi⎪ 剣道【基本稽古】古川和男範士足で攻めて腰で打つ – YouTube (6:00 mins).

[Hakudoh_Posture] Posture in Kendo (剣道の姿勢, はくどー庵) hakudoh.com.

[Ichiki_MenUchi] 木鶏の基本【その三】面打ち – YouTube (6:50 mins)

[KendoInfo_Sae] Geoff Salmon, “Sae,” KendoInfo.net, Oct 29, 2012.

[KendoInfo_Shibori] Geoff Salmon, “Whatever happened to Shibori?” KendoInfo.net, Oct 24, 2011.

[Kendojidai_Higashi] Higashi Yoshimi Sensei’s Kendo Lesson|東良美の剣道授業, KendoJidai [1/2] (8:01 mins and at the 2:54 min mark)

[KendoJidai_Miyato] Miyato Nobuyuki, “The role of legs in Yūkōdatotsu,” KendoJidai, May 18, 2020.

[KendoJidai_Onda] Kouji Onda, “The essence of kamae that leads to seme and tame,” KendoJidai, Feb. 1, 2019.

[KendoJidai_PerfectMen] Nabeyama Takahiro (Kyoshi 8 dan) “How to Hit the Perfect Men,” KendoJidai, July 1, 2018.

[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.

[KendoNotes_KendoQuotes] “Kendo-Related Quotes,” KendoNotes.com, Nov 8, 2017.

[KendoNotes_ShinkansenFumikomi] “Walking as if Kissing the Earth –  for a Shinkansen-like Fumimkomi and Seme,” KendoNotes.com, May 10, 2018.

[KendoNotes_YamauchiHikitsuke] “Striking with the Legs and Near-Instant Hikitsuke (引き付け) for Sharp Strikes – Yamauchi Sensei,” KendoNotes.com, July 25, 2022.

[Koda_Fumikomi] Kendo Basics【FUMIKOMI】Kouda Kunihide 8th Dan // 基本動作【踏み込み足】香田郡秀八段 ・剣道授業 – YouTube (2:41 mins)

[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_KamaePosture] Kendo Basics 【KAMAE・POSTURE】 Kouda Kunihide 8th Dan // 基本動作【構え・姿勢】 香田郡秀八段 – 剣道授業 – YouTube (6:01 mins).

[Koda_Sae] 香田郡秀範士のひとり稽古 指導③ 手の内 冴えのある打ち – YouTube (3:21 mins)

[Koda_Seminario2021] Seminário de Kendô para Instrutores com Koda Kunihide Sensei, Streamed live on Nov 27, 2021 (2:12:47 hours)

[Matsuzaki_TobikomiMen] 【第68回 全日本剣道選手権出場記念】松﨑賢士郎選手の飛び込み面講座(茨城県代表)#10  (8:47 mins)

[Murase_ISBS20Paper] Naoki Murase et al., “Kinematics of Men Striking Motion in Eighth Dan Kendo Players,” 38th International Society of Biomechanics in Sport Conference (ISBS) July 20-24, 2020, Paper (PDF 4 pages)

[Murase_ISBS20Video] Naoki Murase et al., “Kinematics of Men Striking Motion in Eighth Dan Kendo Players,” 38th International Society of Biomechanics in Sport Conference (ISBS) July 20-24, 2020, Video on YouTube  – (9:55 mins)

[Remakendo_MenUchi]【剣道 kendo】メン打ちのポイント3点解説(Basic strike ‘Men’ [ three important points ])YouTube (2:01 mins).

[Seiyukan_Hands]  “Kendo – My Recent Keiko 6 – Slip the Right Leg Forward and Wait Until the Last Possible Moment to Move the Hands.” Seiyukan.com, Feb. 14, 2017.  剣道 最近の自分の稽古6 右足を滑らせ入り、ぎりぎりまで手の動きを我慢すること.

[StudyingKendo_8DanShinsa] 剣道八段審査二次審査合格者の立合い – Kendo 8th dan examination secondary exam. passer – YouTube (9:14 mins).

[Youshinkan_StudyRoom] “熊の子剣道教室” (Kendo Classroom for Bear cubs), Youshinkan.

Copyright 2022 KendoNotes.com

Keywords:  chronological, sequence, components, How to strike men uchi, How to hit men-uchi

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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