This article is for the beginners at the dojo who are learning fumikomi and, of course, anyone who might benefit from it (including myself). It is inspired by the teachings of both Komeda Toshiro (Kyoshi 8 dan) during his recent “AUSKF 8 Dan Tour” visit to Los Angeles on February 10-11, 2023 (his bio is listed in [KendoJidai_Komeda]) and Nakamura Sensei* in Part 3 of his “Healing Kendo” article in Japanese [KendoNotes_HealingKendoJapanese] translated to English with his permission in [KendoNotes_HealingKendo3]. I use the term “forward foot” to represent the right foot in chuudan kamae and the left foot in joudan kamae and the term “rear foot” to represent the left foot in chuudan kamae and the right foot in joudan kamae.
Updates: Mar 1, 2023 – Added a new section tying “Ssssss-Tong” to the snap (sae) in punching and the whipping action with wet-towels.
“Ssssss-Tong” and Nakamura Sensei’s Teachings
The basic idea is to use the sound effect (or onomatopoeia) “Ssssss-Tong” (スーッドン)** as a guide to learn and teach the timing of the movements in fumikomi. Nakamura Sensei uses this expression to describe how he performs strikes in his article [KendoNotes_HealingKendo3] which he also demonstrates in this brief video [Nakayuki1952_Video]. It may help to watch in slow motion the full body and shinai movement which begins at the 0:47 min mark.
- The “Ssssss” portion represents the movement of the forward foot as it glides forward – propelled by the rear. The movement of the forward foot can be shorter (“Ss”) or longer (“Sssssssss”) duration-wise and/or distance-wise depending on the situation. It’s helpful to keep the duration longer and the distance covered shorter initially.
- The “Tong” represents the instant when many things happen at once in one fell swoop. The forward foot moves downward near-instantaneously towards the floor, the rear foot follows up near-instantaneously towards the forward foot (immediately after the forward foot lands) for the quick hikitsuke and the arms fly forward to strike, for example, the men or kote.
- To make things easier initially and to focus on the footwork, it helps to put aside the shinai and hold an imaginary shinai in the hands.
“Ssssss-Tong” and Komeda Sensei’s Teachings
One of the main themes of Komeda Sensei’s teachings was the attention to developing a crisp sharpness in the strike (sae). He demonstrated this in a number of ways, as described shortly, which to me seems nicely summarized by the “Ssssss-Tong” sound-effect.
- He emphasized the importance of the hikitsuke encouraging everyone to kick the rear leg forward as fast as possible to help make a strong sae (to the point of imagining that we kick the opponent with the knee of our rear leg during the hikitsuke).
- He showed how the shinai needs to move the fastest at the last moment just before making the strike.
- He observed that some people were moving the shinai quickly at the start of the swing and recommended that people instead save that burst of speed towards the tail end of the strike.
- He suggested that we maintain our kamae position with the hands and shinai as the forward foot moves forward and only move the hands and shinai out of the kamae position at the last moment when the forward foot moved downwards towards the floor (just as Nakamura Sensei demonstrates in his video).
- Part of the reason for this holding of the kamae position is to minimize telegraphing our intention to strike as much as possible (or as Komeda Sensei stated: “起こりを見せないように”).
- He also suggested making this into a challenge game for children.
- For the haya-suburi, he demonstrated another form that he teaches his students. Normally, one would rhythmically step backward (while swinging the shinai backwards) and step forward (while swinging the shinai forward). However, in the alternate form, we maximize the time maintaining the position just after a strike and minimize the time going backward and back forward.
- That is, 1) We freeze the hands, shinai, feet and body for a second after making a strike, 2) Thereafter, we move backward and then forward as fast as possible (while swinging the shinai backward and then forward) until we make the strike – at which we point we freeze again. 3) This is repeated – so that we can make the shinai move as fast possible at the instant of the strike to realize the nice clean and crisp snap or sae.
- This way, we perform the footwork and swing very quickly.
- For suri-ashi, he demonstrated another form that he teaches his students. Normally, one would rhythmically move slide the feet forward. In this alternate form, we place most of our weight on the rear foot and lightly tap the forward foot on the ground. It almost feels like I am performing suri-ashi with only my rear foot. We spend more time on the back foot and minimal time on the forward foot. This helps make my hikitsuke faster. Later, we combined this with kote-men-uchi and I found that this helped make my two strikes faster – probably due to the faster footwork.
That’s a lot of valuable pointers from Komeda Sensei to produce a nice strong sae. To help the beginners in the dojo learn these teachings with respect to fumikomi and sae, I think that Nakamura Sensei’s expression “Ssssss-Tong” nicely summarizes the essence of the movement as a simple and easy-to-remember sound-effect. That is, to perform the explosive and near-instantaneous movements of the legs, shinai and arms at the last possible moment during the instant of the “Tong” sound during the fumikomi – to produce the decisive sae that Komeda Sensei had emphasized.
An Aside – “Ssssss-Tong” and the Snap
While watching this video by “Kendo Step Up Channel” [KendoStepUp_Sae] on how to strike men or kote with sae, I noticed how the teacher describes two motions of the hand similar to the “Ssssss-Tong” at the 4:37 min mark. The first involves pulling down quickly the arm and hand from above the head to hip-level (as if celebrating by pumping the fists) and the second, throwing a punch. In both cases, he describes the optimum way to move: without tension initially (akin to “Ssssss”) and then inserting tension momentarily at an instant of time (akin to “Tong”). The alternate approach is to insert power right from the start – which does not result in much snap at the end of the movement or the punch. Moreover, when I try it, it seems inefficient and awkward. The optimum approach, to me, relates to how one would perform the “wet towel” snap or crack a whip with maximum snap as described in this video with slow-motion footage [MythBusters_Snap]. This principle of minimal initial tension (“Ssssss”) and maximum tension at an instant of time (“Tong”) likely applies to performing an effective and powerful fumikomi, too.
The use of this sound-effect seems to help some of the beginners at the dojo learn how to perform this style of the fumikomi. For me, the “Ssssss-Tong” also serves as reminder to hold the hands in the kamae position during the “Ssssss” portion until everything happens at once at the “Tong” as described earlier when my arms and shinai then fly forward as in Nakamura Sensei’s video [Nakayuki1952_Video]. Otherwise, I may move my hands earlier during the “Ssssss” phase.
May “Ssssss-Tong” and the teachings of Komeda Sensei and Nakamura Sensei be of use to you! 🙂
* In his articles (no longer online) and in my correspondences with Nakamura Sensei, only his last name is used. Hence, the absence of his first name throughout this article.
** According to the original article in Japanese [KendoNotes_HealingKendoJapanese], Nakamura Sensei uses the expression スーッドン. This, more faithfully, translates to “Ssss-ut-Dōng” with a sharp stop of the “Ssss” before “Dōng” due to the “ッ”. As that looks somewhat awkward, I use “Ssssss-Tong” as an easier representation.
[KendoJidai_Komeda] “Komeda Toshiro Passing the most difficult Kendo exam: 8th Dan Learning and progressing with students,” KendoJidai, May 3, 2021.
[KendoNotes_HealingKendo3] Healing Kendo (癒しの剣道) by Nakamura Sensei – Part 3, KendoNotes.com, Oct 9, 2016.
[KendoNotes_HealingKendoJapanese] Healing Kendo (癒しの剣道) by Nakamura Sensei – The Original Article in Japanese.
[KendoStepUp_Sae] 【一撃】冴えある小手や面を打てるようになる方法 by全国経験者 -Kendo Step Up Channel, May 7, 2022 (13:11 mins).
[MythBusters_Snap] Science Behind Wet Towel Snaps | MythBusters, Jan 16, 2015, (1:44 mins)
[Nakayuki1952_Video] 鏡の前で癒しの剣道-2-攻めからの面打_WMV V9.wmv, July 17, 2011 (1:15 mins).