Striking with the Legs and Near-Instant Hikitsuke (引き付け) for Sharp Strikes – Yamauchi Sensei

This article expands on an earlier article “Synchronizing the Strike with the hikitsuke (引き付け) [KendoNotes_SynchHikitsuke].  It is based on the teachings of Yamauchi Masayuki (Kyoshi 8 Dan) 山内 正幸 教士八段 and is intended for those interested in developing a sharp strong snap (sae 冴え) in their strikes – especially those strikes, such as the small men-uchi [KendoNotes_SmallMenUchi]), with more compact movements of the shinai.  This is something I needed to re-examine and re-learn due in part perhaps to the time-off during Covid and natural weakening with aging.

I first describe Yamauchi Sensei’s Teachings on hikitsuke and then present some observations and reflections from my experience of trying them out.


Yamauchi Sensei’s Teachings on Hikitsuke

The teachings of Yamauchi Sensei, in the following video produced by Bushizo TV, has helped incredibly in restoring the snap and power in my strikes:

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 TV, Jan. 26, 2021 (4:13 mins) with Closed Captioning in English and where Yamauchi’s instructions on hikitsuke are from 0:00 to the 3:28 min mark.

The main point of the teachings boil down to the development and use of a near-instantaneous hikitsuke (the follow-up action of the rear-foot back to its position just behind the forward-foot after the forward-foot is advanced forward [KendoNotes_Hikitsuke]).  In the video, which I highly recommend watching, Yamauchi Sensei demonstrates a form of hikutsuke that he teaches to his young students (many who have become well-known Kenshi and All Japan Kendo Champions).  Note that, in chuudan kamae as illustrated in the video, the forward foot is the right foot and the rear foot, the left foot – whereas in joudan kamae, they are reversed.

In the video,

  • He initially shows how he does NOT teach the footwork at his dojo at the 0:08 sec mark:
    • 1) Moving the forward foot forward, 2) landing the forward foot on the floor and 3) slowly bringing the rear foot forward towards the forward foot.
    • The movement, with a slow hikitsuke, appears weak and muted.
  • He then shows how he DOES teach the footwork from  0:13 to the 0:35 sec mark and later at 055:
    • In the above step 3), in contrast, the rear foot lands just behind the forward foot immediately after the forward foot lands.
      • It looks as if the forward and rear feet land at the same time.
      • However, if one looks carefully or slows down the video, the the forward foot lands a small fraction of a second ahead of time.
    • The movement, with the extremely fast hikitsuke, appears powerful and explosive.
  • For the movement, he also describes:
    • How the knee of the forward leg can be raised high when teaching this initially to beginners (1:14) and that, eventually, it doesn’t need to be raised much (1:27).
    • How the movement amounts to a quick stomp of the floor, an on-the-spot fumikomi (床を踏み割る 0:24, 1:27) as if trying to break the floor with the feet (3:02).
    • How there’s no need to move forward afterwards (0:33).
      • This is a stationary hikitsuke with no suri-ashi afterwards.
  • With respect to its applications and benefits, he points out:
    • How this can be applied to the kote-men strike (2:03)
    • How this can make the strike (datotsu) strong (2:30)
    • How one can strike from any maai (1:09) – even down to a distance of zero where the feet remain in the same place (0:20) and
    • How one can use this footwork to strike at the moment the opponent is about to come in (3:21).

Some Observations and Reflections

When I tried out his footwork, lo and behold, my small men-uchi became sharp, quick and strong even with a compact swing.  Eureka!

Some observations:

  1. The transformation was rather instantaneous and surprisingly simple.
    1. It seems that the movement of the shinai naturally becomes fast and accelerated to match the movement of the feet – since the moment of impact of the shinai is synchronized to the landing of the rear foot.
      1. It is as if the hands and arms naturally whip out forward for the strike.
    2. I sense a natural quick tension in the abs when I do this.
  2. My small men-uchi with this footwork has a consistent sae, tenouchi and pop sound.
    1. The sae and tenouchi (手の内) [KendoInfo_Tenouchi] seems to transpire naturally without any need to pay attention to the hands.
  3. My men-uchi seems much faster with the on-the-spot hikitsuke (compared to the one where the body moves forward)
  4. When I do this footwork for the initial kote strike in kote-men, the kote-men in general and the men-strike (the second strike) becomes powerful.
  5. This form of hikitsuke is quite different than that which I normally use for the small men-uchi.
    1. Rather than staying stationary after the strike, the body moves forward quickly with suri-ashi (which I believe is how I was taught to strike men).
      1. I had been pulling my rear leg towards the forward leg after the forward leg landed – to help propel the body forward and perform suri-ashi after the hikitsuke.
      2. This pulling action tends to slow the speed of my hikitsuke – especially in comparison to the speed of the stationary hikitsuke that Yamauchi Sensei teaches.
      3. More importantly, perhaps, the stationary hikitsuke, for me, seems limited to striking a person from a close range whereas the hikitsuke with the forward suri-ashi seems to happen naturally when striking a person from a farther range.
  6. On the other hand, practicing the small men-uchi with this stationary fumikomi footwork seems to improve the way I would normally strike men with suri-ashi after the strike.
    1. This practice helps foster a faster hikitsuke in spite of the forward motion afterwards as well as a consistent sae and a faster suri-ashi.

Some reflections:

  1. I remembered that I had done this type of foot movement for kote-uchi in the past and hadn’t realized that it could be applied to the men-uchi, too.
    1. I think most of my teachers had taught me to go forward after striking and don’t recall ever being taught this footwork for small men-uchi.
    2. Because of that, Yamauchi Sensei’s instructions on this form of hikitsuke is all the more eye-opening and liberating for me.
  2. I have often heard the expression from teachers:  Strike with the feet (legs), not with the hands (arms) [KendoNotes_Proverbs] (手で打つな、足で打て as described in more depth in Japanese in [Tanaka_HitWithLegs] and [Uriwarikendoukai_Striking]).
    1. Yamauchi Sensei’s teachings helps me understand the expression clearly.
    2. The strike becomes very sharp and strong with this footwork.
    3. By using this form of hikitsuke, my need to pay attention to the hands and arm action disappears.  That action happens naturally.
  3. This footwork and the associated sae, that comes about naturally with it, reminds me of Geoff Salmon Sensei’s article on “The Importance of Hikitsuke” where he writes
    1. The one single element that made the difference between achieving ippon and failing was hikitsuke [KendoInfo Hikitsuke].
    2. This hikitsuke is that important as Salmon Sensei had written and with this video it is all the more clear to me now.
  4. In teaching this to others who may not be used to this footwork, it helps to
    1. Start without the shinai so that the hands are free and they can focus on the legs
    2. Start jumping stomping with both feet simultaneously in the same place (before having the right foot hit the floor just before the left foot)
    3. Say, as Yamauchi Sensei says, “Try to break the floor.”
    4. Raise the right foot hight initially (for the stomp with the right foot slight before the left foot) and then gradually reducing the right foot hight until only the right heel is raised.
    5. Adding a kiai at the moment of impact e.g., “Men!”

Wrap-up

Thank you Yamauchi Sensei for your teachings and Bushizo TV for producing and sharing the video.  This has helped me immensely.

May your strikes be sharp and powerful!


References

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

[KendoInfo_Tenouchi] Geoff Salmon, “Tenouchi,” KendoInfo.net, Nov. 5, 2009.

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

[KendoNotes_Proverbs] “Kendo Sayings (Proverbs),” KendoNotes.com, Nov. 8, 2017.

[KendoNotes_SynchHikitsuke] “Synchronizing the Strike with the Hikitsuke (引き付け),” KendoNotes.com, Nov. 16, 2021.

[KendoNotes_SmallMenUchi] “Sequential Breakdown of the Small Men-Uchi (小さい面打ち),” KendoNotes.com, May 16, 2022.

[Tanaka_HitWithLegs] Tanaka Sensei, “手で打つな、足で打て… “, 

[Uriwarikendoukai_Striking] “手で打つな足で打て,” 瓜破剣道会, Oct 6, 2018, 08:32.

[Yamauchi_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 TV, Jan. 26, 2021 (4:13 mins)

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