Kendo Lessons of Iguchi Kiyoshi

Take the Initiative and Win (Iguchi Kiyoshi)



Photography: Nishiguchi Kunihiko
Translation: Pepijn Boomgaard

Iguchi Kiyoshi, a successful Kenshi ever since his younger days, passed 8th Dan in 2016. While preparing for his examination, he realized the importance of taking the initiative. 

Iguchi Kiyoshi (Kyoshi 8th Dan)

Born in Hidaka, Saitama prefecture in 1969. Went to Minano High School and Ryutsu Keizai University. After graduation, he joined the Saitama Prefectural Police. He has participated in 10 All Japan Championships, won the World Championship team title twice, and won the All Japan Police individual title. Since 2022, he has been a teacher at Ryutsu Keizai University and the director of the university’s Kendo club.

There are a number of thoughts on initiative. When teaching children, we often tell them that it means “to strike first.” This is not wrong, but as the level of proficiency increases, the meaning of “initiative” changes slightly. 

In Kendo, we can divide initiative in Sen and Go No Sen. Sen is when you strike first. Go No Sen is striking after the opponent attacks.

There is also the teaching of Mittsu No Sen*. Of these, Ken No Sen and Tai No Sen are the same as the aforementioned Sen and Go No Sen. Tai Tai No Sen is about engaging your opponent and approaching each other, finding an opening, and using your sword, body, feet, or mind to take the initiative and win. There is also the teaching of Sen Sen No Sen, in which you strike as a sign of your opponent’s intention to move appears.

I believe that taking the initiative is about facing the opponent, taking the upper hand, and reacting quickly to their movements in order to score. Even if you do not make the first move, you gain the upper hand through your spirit or your Kensen, and you are able to react immediately the moment your opponent moves. I think that this image is important. 

However, the moment when you are about to strike is called Okori, which provides your opponent with an opening. Your opponent will be aiming for moments such as these, so it’s important to read your opponent. If you can understand what your opponent is aiming for and respond accordingly, maintain your superior position, and apply your techniques, it could be said that you have taken the initiative. 

As you get better, you will be able to perform these actions unconsciously. In addition, you will be able to make the right decisions and naturally take the initiative in tense situations such as matches or examinations. I already mentioned that in order to take the initiative, the ability to read your opponents is necessary. In Kendo, the opportunities to strike are: (1) at the start of your opponent’s movement (Okori), (2) after your opponent blocks an attack, (3) after your opponent finishes their attack, (4) when your opponent stops moving, (5) when your opponent steps back, (6) when your opponent’s mind is disturbed, and (7) when your opponent has lost the essence of reality and has become empty (when your opponent loses focus or becomes careless). I believe that out of these, the moment your opponent is about to move is the most important. Whenever someone moves forward, moves back, tries to do something and stops, or tries to make their next movement, openings appear.

If you push forward on the assumption that your opponent will fall back, but the opponent does not feel threatened and instead takes over, it is just selfish Seme on your part. This is not taking the initiative. Instead, you lost it.

Based on the flow of the match, movements, and feelings, you can read how the opponent reacts to your movements, and choose your own techniques based on accurate judgment. Therefore, it is necessary to take these points into consideration when practicing. Don’t just strike. The ability to read your opponent will allow you to take the initiative. It will also lead to  Kendo based on ”principles*.”

Practice applying pressure from a closer distance than usual

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