Kendo lessons of Higashi Yoshimi

Take the Initiative and Win (Higashi Yoshimi)



Translation: Pepijn Boomgaard

“Kendo is about attacking, not defending. It’s important to always have the spirit of facing your opponent head-on.” These are the words of Higashi Yoshimi. In order to break down your opponent while constantly pushing them, it is important to exert pressure from a Kamae that uses the left side of the body and proactively create striking opportunities.

Higashi Yoshimi (Hanshi 8th Dan)

Born in Kagoshima prefecture in 1957. After graduating from Kagoshima Shoko High School and Hosei University, he joined the Aichi Prefectural Police. After serving as chief instructor, he retired from the police force. He currently is honorary instructor of the Aichi Prefectural Police, instructor at the Seijoh University and Seijoh High School kendo clubs, instructor at the Nagoya Toyopet Kendo club, and instructor at Sugiyama Jinshinkan Dojo. His achievements include winning the All Japan Invitational 8th Dan Tournament and participating in the All Japan Championship. He was the coach of the Japanese men’s team at the 19th World Kendo Championships.

If you’ve been practicing Kendo for a while, you’ve probably been told that “you are not taking the initiative” or “you are waiting.” As your Kendo improves, it becomes important to fight your opponent with invisible Ki and Seme. These elements are difficult to implement. However, they are very clear to a spectator watching your fight. This might be why Dan examinations are so difficult.  

I am currently teaching at the Kendo clubs of Seijoh University, Seijoh High School, and Nagoya Toyopet. I tell my students to always face their opponent with a strong spirit. However, a strong spirit can only be acquired through practice.

In Kendo, a good strike cannot be made unless you confront your opponent, gain the upper hand and break them down, and seize the opportunity to strike. This is where the underlying principle, or Riai, of Kendo lies. This Riai varies according to the level of a practitioner, and it is important that instructors have their students practice with this in mind.

To give an example, in order to strike Men, it is necessary to make the opponent lower or open their Kensen. Rather than waiting for your opponent to lower or open their Kensen, you have to actively pressure them and respond instantly to these opportunities. It is important to teach this principle according to the level of your students.

To proactively use Seme, you need a solid Kamae and be ready to strike at any moment. The most important parts of Kamae are the left hand, the left hip, and the left foot. Try to keep this Kamae as much as possible. The word “Kamae” is often associated with a static state, but it would be meaningless if your Kamae is not stable when you are in motion as well. 

If your Kamae is stable and dynamic, it fosters a feeling of authority and forward movement. This is where the opportunity to “win and strike” appears. This opportunity is not only created through a strong Kiai. You can also use your Kensen to move forward or lure in your opponent.

In the Textbook for AJKF Kendo Seminar, published by the All Japan Kendo Federation, it is written that when advancing, retreating, or separating from their opponent, in order to take the advantage, students should always be aware of the distance of a single step or a half step. This is exactly what is required of practitioners of 6th Dan and higher.

There are an infinite number of ways of taking the advantage, and everyone has to devise their own way of mastering it. The only way to learn this is by practicing with your teachers and seniors, and by observing strong practitioners. I will introduce what I pay attention to when practicing. 

Applying the teachings of the Kendo Kata to Shinai practice

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