2015 times suburi

First off, a reminder: This Saturday, the 10th, will be Kikuta-sensei’s last class with our group. He will be moving to another country because of his work. Please join us at the potluck meal, to thank him and give him your best wishes and to celebrate the opening of the new year.

Last Sunday I was invited by Arjan of Kochokai in Haarlem for a hatsukeiko to celebrate the new year, where we struck the number of years while being encouraged by an ensemble of taiko drums. And as this year is the year 2015 we were going to make 2015 strikes with our bokken. Afterwards there would also be a little lunch but I didn’t attend that because I went to Leiden to see the Geisha exhibit with my dad (which is highly recommended by the way).

Many different disciplines come together
The especially nice thing about Kochokai is that it’s a kobudojo, which means they train a certain type of martial art there as it has been handed down from master to pupil for many generations, all the way back to medieval times and in some cases even earlier. Kochokai sometimes organizes these special events to celebrate something or to simply exchange martial arts with each other. And in this case it was no different, there were aikidoka, iaidoka, kendoka (me and one other, Tijs Dingerdis, coincidentally), mugai ryu practitioners, katori shinto ryu practitoners and probably many more that I don’t know of. So while we were doing the actual suburi you could see many different ways of doing it. Some strike over their shoulder, others from above their heads etc. It’s good to realize there never is 1 perfect or 1 proper way to do something. This thought obviously extends to life in general.

2015 strikes
So after mingling among the guests and participants for a while the counting of the strikes was explained, with 2015 strikes to go it’s evident there should be some kind of system to keep track. The method of counting proved simple enough, there were 10 people in the front row who would each count to 10 and Arjan would then pull down a paper tab from the 20 that were hung over the kamiza after the last of those 10 people had counted their strikes. All the people who wanted to count along were told to stand on the right side, probably so Arjan could hear the last people he was supposed to keep track of better. Motivation for completing the 2015 strikes was provided in the form of an ensemble of taiko drummers who would strike the rhythm that would always be constant but varied, as there were different types of drums.

During warm up for kendo there’s always a lot of suburi going on. But the number of strikes is usually limited to a few hundred in total, and after the entire training a practitioner would probably have made fewer than 300 strikes. So striking over 2000 times in less than half the time of one kendo training, let alone a whole week’s worth of training, becomes a whole different matter. At first I was striking like I did in kendo, which is actually quite intensive, as it’s meant to warm you up for the training to come. After a couple hundred this became too hard so I changed my strike to kote height instead of men height to make stopping my bokken easier on my arms. I also chose to use my bokken instead of my shinai because the center of weight is slightly closer to my hand and it’s slightly more aerodynamic which would also relieve some of the stresses on my arms.

After about 400 to 500 strikes I started to feel my muscles burning up. And it basically got worse after every 100 strikes or so. But the strangest thing is that sometimes the pain would go away for a while. I don’t understand why this happened, but after those first couple hundred strikes the pain would sort of oscillate up and down. Sometimes I would try to do a regular kendo type suburi in between my strikes where I stop the strike with my arms outstretched as far as proper, but that was completely impossible, the pain was too intense if I would try that. I also quickly stopped giving kakigoe the entire time because it was dry and too strenuous on my throat, although I did count along towards the end of every set of 100 strikes. The lack of kakigoe was made up for by the taiko drummers, as I could literally feel the sound of the drums vibrate throughout my body. I think this also helped me cope with the pain because it seems the drums combined with the endless rhythm of striking released a whole load of adrenaline to put me in a sort of trance. Afterwards my arms would prove to be all but dead, and they would remain this way for 3 days to come.

Almost there
Once all the paper tabs were pulled by Arjan we started the last 15 strikes. I did these strikes as best I could in the normal kendo warmup suburi way, and also gave my loudest kiai. The drums also intensified, and all the people around me started to shout louder and they started to make bigger strikes. By this time I had also developed a couple blisters in my hands, which I haven’t had since I began kendo more than 5 years ago. And then right after the last strike everybody froze and there was no sound. It was incredible.

I would like to express my gratitude to Arjan Tervoort for inviting me to this special hatsukeiko. And I would also like to thank him and all the others of Kochokai for their hospitality.

Kochokai can be found here.
Pictures were taken by Sophie from Sografie.

And again, don’t forget to attend the potluck party after Saturday’s training!

Kendo in Jakarta

With the slightly cold winter months upon us, I would like to share something I wrote back during the summer while I attended practice at the Jakarta Kendo Association in Indonesia. Both to warm ourselves from this admittedly not incredibly cold weather, and because the new season is almost starting! And just to remind you, next Saturday is the bring-your-own-boo..-uh..-dinner-party. I hope to see you all there!


First Impression before the training:

The moment the cab drove up the driveway of the school I could tell the super typical shape of a Japanese school. And from all the nice architectural details I could tell this school had many facilities that most schools don’t. The school looks like something out of an anime and when I approached the actual auditorium/sports hall this feeling only increased. The school looks like as if someone had teleported a Japanese school from Japan into Indonesia.


Some numbers:

The hall where I practiced kendo has a stage on one end. Along the long walls there are many double doors that were opened as it was really hot and humid outside (35 degrees C, 100% humidity), so even the summer climate of Japan is the same. The floor is nice as well. Closely resembling that of the old Renshinjuku dojo, with the main differences being: it’s way way way larger even though the RSJ hall wasn’t exactly small either, and there are permanent shiaijo markings.

The composition of the kendoka at the JKA are roughly the same as at Renshinjuku as well with all generations and proficiency levels participating with roughly half of them being Japanese nationals. The number of kendoka was slightly higher than a regular training at Renshinjuku at around 30 people in total attending. The number of sensei was also higher than at Renshinjuku with 4 sensei attending instead of the regular 2 at RSJ. All sensei are of Japanese origin and I believe there were at least 2 ranked 7th dan, but I am not too sure about this right now.

The training roughly lasted from 9 am to 12 am, with the first half hour spent on kata (again like RSJ).



Similar to RSJ, the training seemed to be heavily focused on kihon. I was rather late due to “circumstances” (or “jam karet” as Indonesians would say) so after the warming up I was directed to the back room to get my bogu sorted. During this time I missed out on the first part of the training where I believe I heard the commands being given for Kirikaeshi and Men-uchi and such exercises. Once I was able to attend these types of kihon exercises continued.

What is that?

Some of the exercises were Hayai-men, Hayai-kote-men, and Men ni taisuru oji-waza with a focus on forcing the motodachi’s men through the shidachi’s seme.

Then it was on to uchikomi-geiko (4 techniques) with the sensei and after a short break ji-geiko also with the sensei.

During the ji-geiko Ban-sensei told me where my striking distance was. So when he told me from exactly what distance I should attack my men-strike suddenly became a lot better. This was a rather bizarre insight, that I hope to keep with me.


From what I have seen so far I could tell that the overall level of the kendoka of the Jakarta Kendo Association is quite similar to that of Renshinjuku with the exception that there doesn’t seem to be a core group of people who are disproportionately stronger like we have at Renshinjuku. At RSJ there seem to be a lot of beginners and a few very experienced kendoka with almost nobody in between, whereas at the JKA there’s also a sort of middle group i.e. the levels seem to be better proportioned at the JKA. As a result, the international shiai delegation of the JKA is of greatly varying proficiency. From what I’ve heard for example, some of the participants of the WKC from this dojo are only ikkyuu, and others 3rd dan.

On a more personal note, I was also told that my men is very nice. I tried to figure out why I had been told this as the type of training here is almost exactly the same as the training I receive at RSJ. I think it might have to do with my shiai experience which seems to be quite a bit higher than the average over here combined with my length which is exceptional for Indonesian/Japanese standards that makes it somewhat easier for me to score a nice men on a shorter person.

All in all the JKA seems to be like a larger, more Japanese version of Renshinjuku. Especially compared to the (small number of) dojo I have ever visited, which are all Dutch.

What am I supposed to do with this again?


At any rate, I’m incredibly thankful that I have been able to participate in kendo training in the country in which my mother is born. And I hope I can attend the training at the Jakarta Kendo Association twice more before I return to the Netherlands on the 24th of this month.




This was my account of my training in Japan. I had already published it back in September on my Facebook, but I thought it would be nice to share it here as well.

Please don’t forget to attend training on Saturday, January 10th for the opening of the new year practice and -party!

Inoue-sensei on kata

At the 3rd Kendo World Tokyo Keiko-kai held on Saturday August 2, 2014, H8-dan Inoue Yoshihiko-sensei spoke about the true meaning of the Nihon Kendo Kata, and a demonstration was given by two of his students. The talk was based on an article that Inoue-sensei had written for the September 2014 issue of Kendo Nihon. Below is the handout that was given to all participants.

The original article is posted on Kendo World. The Dutch translation can be read here, by clicking on the dutch flag at the top-right.

Etiquette reminders

The past few weeks, we have been paying extra attention to kendo etiquette.  As they say: “Rei ni hajimari, rei ni owari” (kendo begins with rei and ends with rei); without etiquette we might as well just whack each other with sticks.

There are many books and articles available on kendo etiquette and one can talk for hours about it. For now, these are some of the things that we have been reminded of recently.

  • Perform a proper ritsu rei before and after each and every exercise, be it kihon or waza keiko, or jigeiko. Bow at the same time, ask to train (“Onegai shimasu“), do the exercise, then meet in the middle, osame-to, then step backwards simultaneously and again bow at the same time. Say your thanks (“Arigato gozaimashita“).
  • A bow is much more than just a quick nod or bend. Pay attention to whom you’re bowing to. Bow at least as long as he does, and do it at the same time. When you’re working with sensei, show extra care.
  • Be quiet in class. There is no room for needless chatter and you should focus on your own training. Don’t talk to your partner and explain what you think he’s doing wrong, unless you are actually in a position to do so.  In most cases you are not. Similarly, if sensei or sempai quickly tells you something, that is not an invitation to open dialogue. If you have any questions, save them until after class. If you have a question about an explanation in shugo, raise your hand.
  • If you would like to speak to a sempai after class in the seiretsu line-up, follow the same procedures as with sensei. Approach him/her from the shimoza side of the dojo, sit in seiza and wait until you have their attention.
  • When you sit down in seiza, do it correctly. Here’s an instructive video from Kendo World.
  • Keep your uniform and equipment tidy. Tie all himo properly, so you won’t have to pause your exercises.  Pay attention to details.
  • Speaking of retying your himo: if you have an equipment malfunction or an emergency during class, move towards the shimoza side. Do not sit down on the kamiza side!
  • Be on time for class. Or better yet, be early. Kouhai are supposed to help in cleaning and preparing the dojo before class. All others can start with stretching or warming up.

Living with shikai

Living with shikai: generalized anxiety disorder in kendo

Courtesy of Abigail Bullock

Courtesy of Abigail Bullock


To retain heijoshin (an even mind) is one of the greater goals in kendo.

Heijoshin reflects a calm state of mind, despite disturbing changes around you. [It] is the state of mind one has to strive for, in contrast to shikai, or the 4 states of mind to avoid:

  1. Kyo: surprise, wonder
  2. Ku: fear
  3. Gi: doubt
  4. Waku: confusion, perplexity

(Buyens, 2012)

In the following pages I would like to introduce you to generalized anxiety disorder, hereafter “GAD”. For sufferers of GAD every day is filled with two of these shikai: fear and doubt. While I am but a layman I do hope that my personal experiences will be of use to those dealing with anxiety disorders in the dojo. I will start off by explaining the medical background of GAD, followed by my personal experiences. I will finish the article by providing suggestions to students and teachers dealing with anxiety in the dojo.


Anxiety disorders: definition and treatment

All of us are familiar with anxiety and fear as they are basic functions of the human body. You are startled by a loud noise, you jump away from a snapping dog and you feel the pressure exuded by your opponent in shiai. They prepare your body for what is called the “fight or flight” reaction: either you run for your life, or you stand your ground and fight tooth and nail. These instincts become problematic if they emerge without any reasonable stimulus. The most famous type of such a disorder are phobias, the fear of specific objects or situations, which are suggested to occur in ~25% of the adult US population. (Rowney, Hermida, Malone, 2012)

Other types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder [GAD]
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder [OCD]
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]

For the remainder of this article I will focus on the disorder with which I have personal experience: generalized anxiety disorder.

Perhaps the easiest ways to describe GAD is to use an analogy: GAD is to worry, as depression is to “feeling down”. Just like a depressed person cannot “simply get over it” and is debilitated in his daily life, so does a person with GAD live with constant worry. As it was described by comic artist Mike Krahulik:

The medication I picked up today said it could cause dizziness. […] I had to obsess over it all afternoon: I drove to work today by myself, will I be able to drive home? What if I can’t? How will I know if I can’t? Should I call the doctor if I get dizzy? How dizzy is too dizzy? What if the doctor isn’t there? Will I need to go to the hospital? Should I get a ride home? I can’t leave my car here overnight. The garage closes at 6 what will I do with my car? What if Kara can’t come get me? Should I ask Kiko for a ride home? If I get dizzy does that mean it’s working? Does that mean it’s not working? What if it doesn’t work?” (Krahulik, 2008)

Paraphrased from DSM-IV-TR (footnote 1) and from Rowney, Hermida, Malone, criteria for GAD are that the person has trouble controlling worries and is anxious about a variety of events, more than 50% of the time, for a duration of at least 6 months. These worries must not be tied to a specific anxiety or phobia and must not be tied to substance abuse. The person exhibits at least three of the following symptoms: restlessness, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbance.

Thus the symptoms differ per person, as does the potency of an episode. In severe cases of GAD episodes will result in what is known as a panic attack, which you could describe as a ten-minute bout of super-fear. Effects of a panic attack may include palpitations, cold sweat, spasms and cramps, dizziness, confusion, aggressiveness and hyperventilation. Because of these effects, people having a panic attack may think they are having a heart attack or that they are going plain crazy.

An important element to GAD is the vicious cycle or snowball effect. As my therapy workbook describes it (Boeijen, 2007), a sense of anxiety will lead to physical and mental expressions, which in turn will lead to anxious thinking. People with GAD will often fear the effects of anxiety, like fainting or throwing up. These anxious thoughts will create new anxiety, which may worsen the experienced effects, which in turn will feed more anxious thoughts. And so on. Thus, even the smallest worry could start an episode of anxiety, like a snowball rolling down a slope. What may get started with “The fish I had for lunch tasted a bit off.” may end up with “Oh no, I’m having a heart attack!“. If that doesn’t sound logical to you, you’re right! The vicious cycle feeds off of assumptions, worries and thoughts that get strung together. I’ll have two personal examples later.

Treatment of GAD occurs in different ways, often combined:

  • Medical treatment of pre-existing physical ailments or other disorders.
  • Medicinal treatment of the anxiety, with for example Prozac, Zoloft, Valium or Ativan.
  • Psychotherapy.
  • Support structures through the education of family and friends.

All sources agree that having proper support structures is imperative for those suffering from any anxiety disorder. Knowing that people understand what you are going through provides a base level of confidence, a foothold if you will. Knowing that these people will be able to catch you if you fall is a big comfort. Having someone to help you dispel illogical and runaway worries is invaluable.


My personal experiences with GAD

I am lucky that I suffer from mild GAD and that I have only experienced less than fifteen panic attacks in my life. Where others are harrowed by constant anxiety, I only have trouble in certain situations. I was never diagnosed as such, but in retrospect I have had GAD since my early childhood. At the time, the various symptoms were classified as “school sickness”, irritable bowel syndrome and work-related stress. It was only during a holiday abroad in 2010 that I realized something bigger was at hand, because I had a huge panic attack. I was extremely agitated, could not form a coherent strain of thought and was very argumentative. My conclusion at the time was that “I’m going crazy here, that has to be it. I really don’t want this, I need a pill to take this away right now!“. Oddly, I discounted the whole thing when we arrived home. It took a second, big panic attack for me to accept that I needed to talk to a professional.

This second panic attack progressed as follows:

  • 13:10: Go outside to run an errand in a part of town I’m not familiar with.
  • 13:11: “I wonder how my daughter is doing, with her gastric enteritis.
  • 13:12: My stomach rumbles noticeably.
  • 13:13: “Gee, it’d suck if I got infected with enteritis as well.
  • 13:15: “Wait, what if I already am? I wouldn’t want to getunwell on my errand!
  • 13:20: “Crap, this place is further than I thought. I thought it was close by!
  • 13:21: I start feeling apprehensive and queasy.
  • 13:22: “Maybe I should turn back. I think I’m panicking. No I need to conquer this!
  • 13:25: I get to the shop and place my order.
  • 13:27: My panic gets heavier as the order takes very long. I am now having stomach cramps.
  • 13:28: Being denied access to the shop’s lavatory I start hyperventilating. I crouch to feel safer.
  • 13:30: Having paid I quickly leave. The thud of the door takes a load of my shoulders.
  • 13:33: I’m feeling relieved, but still have cramps.
  • 13:50: I arrive back at the office and feel exhausted and shaky but the panic is over.”

(Sluyter, 2011)

This illustrates the aforementioned vicious cycle: an innocuous thought (“I wonder how my daughter is doing.“) leads to me worrying that I’m ill, which leads to me worrying about my errand, which gives me stomach cramps, which reinforces my fears about being ill, which makes me nauseous and dizzy, and so on. Worries express themselves, which creates anxiety, which in turn reinforces the earlier worries. It didn’t take my doctor long to refer me to a therapist for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, hereafter “CBT”.

CBT is one of many forms of therapy applicable to anxiety disorders and it is often cited as the most effective one. It is suggested (Rowney, Hermida, Malone, 2012) that CBT achieves “a 78% response rate in panic disorder patients who have committed to 12 to 15 weeks of therapy“. In my personal opinion CBT is successful because it is based on empowerment: the patient is educated about his disorder, showing him that it does not have actual power over him and how he can deal with it. As part of therapy, one learns to recognize the patterns that are involved in the disorder and how to pause or halt these cycles. Patients are given tools to prevent episodes, or to relax during an attack. CBT also relies upon the notion of ‘exposure’ wherein the patient is continuously challenged to overstep his own boundaries. The senses of self-worth and of confidence are improved by realizing that your world isn’t as small as you let your fears make it.

I have learned that the best way to deal with a runaway snowball of thoughts is to dispel the thoughts the moment they occur. Anxious thoughts often start out small and then spiral into nonsensical and unreasonable worries. By tackling each question when it comes, I maintain a feeling of control. Having someone with me to talk over all these worries is very useful, because they are an objective party: they can answer my questions from a grounded perspective. My wife has proven to be indispensable, simply by talking me down from the nonsense in my head.

A. Bullock

Courtesy of Abigail Bullock

I first started kendo in January of 2011, half a year before I started CBT. In the week leading up to class I devoured online resources, just so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. In my mind I had this image that I would be under constant scrutiny as ‘the new guy’. I feared that any misstep would make my integration into the group a lot harder. I read up on basic class structures, on etiquette, on basic terminology and I even did my best to learn a few Japanese phrases in order to thank sensei for his hospitality. Even before taking a single class I already had a mental image of kendo as very strict, disciplined and unforgiving and I was making assumptions and having worries left and right.

I have now practiced kendo for little over two years and I have found that it is a great tool in conquering my anxiety disorder.

  1. I experience kendo as a physically tough activity. Seeing myself break through my limitations forces me to reassess what I am and am not capable of.
  2. The discipline in class feels like a solid wall holding me up and there is a sense of camaraderie. My sempai and sensei will not let me fail and I have a responsibility towards them to tough it out.
  3. Reading and learning about kendo provides me with confidence that I may one day grow into a sempai role.
  4. In kendo one aims for kigurai. As Geoff Salmon-sensei once wrote: “kigurai can mean confidence, grace, the ability to dominate your opponent through strength of character. Kigurai can also be seen as fearlessness or a high level of internal energy. What it is not, is posturing, self congratulating or show-boating“. (Salmon, 2009) Thus kigurai is a very empowering concept!
  5. Kendo is such an engaging activity that it grabs my full attention. Once we have started I no longer have time to worry about anything outside of the dojo. Or as one sempai says: “At tournaments I’m panicking all the way to the shiaijo, but once shiai starts I’m in the zone.

In the dojo I may forget about the outside world, but there are many reasons for anxiety in the training hall as well. For example, after a particularly heavy training I will feel nauseous and lightheaded, which has led to fears of fainting and hyperventilation. I have also worried about sensei’s expectations regarding my performance and attendance to tournaments (“What if I can’t attend? What will he say? Will he reproach me? Will he think less of me?“).

I have also felt anxious about training at our dojo’s main hall, simply because their level is so much higher than mine. I felt that I was imposing on them, that I was burdening them with my bad kendo and that I was making a fool of myself. I finally broke through this by exposure: by attending a national level training and sparring with 7-dan teachers I learned that a huge difference in skill levels is nothing to be ashamed of. All of a sudden I felt equal to my sempai, not as a kendoka but as a human being.

Another great example of exposure was a little trick pulled by the sensei of our main dojo who is aware of my GAD. He had noticed that I allow myself to bow out early if I start to get anxious. So what does he do? We started class using mawari geiko (where the whole group rotates to switch partners) and right before it’s my turn to move to the kakarite side he freezes the group’s rotation. So now I’m stuck in a position where I have responsibility towards my sempai, because without me in this spot the opposing kakarite would need to skip a round of practice! On the one hand I was starting to get anxious from physical exhaustion, but on the other hand I would not allow myself to stop because of this sense of responsibility. His trick worked and I pulled through with stronger confidence.

In the dojo I regularly use two of the tools taught to me during CBT (Boeijen, 2007):

  • Breathing exercises. They let me catch my breath and force me to focus my thoughts on one thing. You breathe in to the count of four, hold it for the two counts, and then breathe out to the count of five. Hold to the count of two and repeat. This exercise is also often used with hyperventilation issues. Various sources, including Paul Budden (Budden, 2007) suggest breathing through the nose instead of the mouth, to prevent over-breathing.
  • Relaxation exercises. I scan my whole body for tense muscles in order to release them. For different sections of your body you will tighten up all the muscles up for a few seconds and then release them, which is repeated three times. You start with the facial muscles, making a scrunched up face and releasing it. Then the muscles in the neck. Then the left arm. The right arm. The torso. The buttocks. The left leg. The right leg. When moving to a new section, the previously exercised sections should stay relaxed and in the end you should end up with a completely relaxed body. This exercise is best done while sitting on a chair or bench.


GAD in the dojo, for teachers

If one of your students approaches you about their anxiety disorder, please take them seriously. As I explained at the beginning of this article we all feel fear and have doubts, but an actual disorder is another kettle of fish. You will not be expected to be their therapist or their caretaker; all they need is your support. Simply knowing that you’ve got their back is a tremendous help to them!

In issue #5.2 of “Kendo World” magazine, Ben Sheppard in his article “Teaching kendo to children” (Sheppard, 2010) discusses the concept of duty of care. While the legal aspects of the article pertain to minors in certain countries, the general concept can be applied to any student who may require special care. It would be prudent to have some file containing relevant medical and emergency information. This should not be a medical file by any means, but having a list of known risks as well as emergency contact information would be a good idea.

Please realize that you are helping your student cope with their anxieties simply by teaching him kendo. Brad Binder offers (Binder, 2007) that most studies agree that the regular participation in a martial art “cultivates decreases in hostility, anger, and feeling vulnerable to attack. They also lead to more easygoing and warmhearted individuals and increases in self-confidence, self-esteem and self-control.” This may in part be due to the fact that “Asian martial arts have traditionally emphasized self-knowledge, self-improvement, and self-control. Unlike Western sports, Asian martial arts usually: teach self-defense, involve philosophical and ethical teachings to be applied to life, have a high degree of ceremony and ritual, emphasize the integration of mind and body, and have a meditative component.

Should a student indicate that they are having a panic attack, take them aside. Remove them from class, but don’t leave them alone. Have them sit down on the floor and against a wall to prevent injuries should they faint. Guide them through a breathing exercise, like described in the previous paragraph. Reassure them that they are safe and that, while it feels scary, they will be just fine. Help them dispel illogical anxious thoughts. Funny kendo stories are always great as backup material.

Finally, I would suggest that you keep on challenging these students. Continued exposure, by drawing them outside of their comfort zone, will hopefully help them extend beyond their limitations. Having responsibilities and being physically exhausted can lead to anxiety in these people, but being exposed to them in a supportive environment can also be therapeutic.


GAD in the dojo, for students

If you have GAD, or another anxiety disorder, I think you should first and foremost extend your support structure into the dojo. Inform your sensei of your issues because he has a need to know. As was discussed in an earlier issue (“Kendo World” #5.2, Sheppard, 2010), dojo staff needs to be aware of medical conditions of their students, for the students’ safety. If there’s a chance of you hyperventilating, fainting or having a panic attack during class, they really need to know.

If you are on medication for your anxieties, please also inform your sensei. They don’t necessarily have to know which medication it is, but they need to be made aware of possible side effects. They should also be able to inform emergency personnel if something ever happens to you.

If you feel comfortable enough to do so, confide in at least one sempai about your anxieties. They don’t have to know everything about it, but talking about your thoughts and worries can help you calm down and put things into perspective. They can also take you aside during class if need be, so the rest of class can proceed undisturbed and so you won’t feel like the center of attention.

Being prepared can give you a lot of peace of mind. I bring a first aid kit with me to the dojo that includes a bag to breathe into (for hyperventilation) and some dextrose tablets. I also look up information about the dojo and tournament venues I will be visiting, to know about amenities, locations and such.

If you aren’t already in therapy, I would sincerely suggest CBT. CBT can help you understand your anxiety disorder and it can provide you with numerous tools to cope. Anxiety is not something you’re easily cured of, but by having the right skills under your belt you can definitely make life a lot easier for yourself!

And let me just say: kudos to you! You’ve already faced your anxieties and crossed your own boundaries by joining a kendo dojo! The toughest, loudest and smelliest martial art I know!


Footnotes and references

1: DSM-IV-TR is Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision. A document published by the American Psychiatric Association that attempts to standardize the documentation and classification of mental disorders.


Binder, B (1999,2007) “Psychosocial Benefits of the Martial Arts: Myth or Reality?”

Boeijen, C. van (2007) “Begeleide Zelfhulp – overwinnen van angstklachten”

Budden, P. (2007) “Buteyko and kendo: my personal experience, 2007”

Buyens, G. (2012) “Glossary related to BUDO and KOBUDO”

Krahulik, M. (2008) “Dear Diary”

Rowney, Hermida, Malone (2012) “Anxiety disorders”

Salmon, G. (2009) “Kigurai”

Sheppard, B (2010) “Teaching kendo to children” – Appeared in Kendo World 5.2

Sluyter, T. (2011) “Dissection of a panic attack”

This article appeared before in Kendo World magazine, vol 6-4, 2013 (eBook and print version on Amazon). The article is republished here with permission of the publisher.



Waza explained

Disclaimer: this article was written by a mudansha, for other mudansha. While I have learned a lot the past few years, I am by no means a kendo expert.

To many beginning kendoka, the many different waza we practice can become confusing. Good kihon is where it’s at of course, but if you’re asked to practice men-suriage-men, then you’d better know your suriage-men! I’ve always loved this particular explanation at Kendo Guide because of its simple summary of kendo techniques. Their picture gives an easy overview the most important techniques.

The initial division of techniques is into shikake waza and oji waza, respectively offensive and countering techniques. It’s a matter of initiative: who moves first. The Kendo Guide image can be summarized in the following table.


shikake (仕掛け) oji (応じ)
renzoku waza (連続) nuki waza (抜き)
harai waza (払い) suriage waza (刷り上げ)
debana waza (出鼻) kaeshi waza (返し)
hiki waza (引き) uchiotoshi waza (撃落シ)
katsugi waza (担ぐ)
maki waza (巻き)


The Kendo Guide article does a good job of explaining most of these techniques, but I thought we could add upon that. For example…


Nuki versus debana

What’s the difference between a nuki kote and a debana kote? On the floor, during keiko, they may feel the same to most beginners. They see sensei square up against a victim, the victim does an attack and sensei whacks him before the attack lands.

The table above should make the biggest difference clear: timing. Nuki kote, or more famously nuki dou, is performed by evading a strike that is already on its way to you. Debana kote and so on, are done before your opponent has even started attacking. Right before he attacks, you do. It’s a matter of sen (先), from “sen wo toru“, “to anticipate“.

Where debana waza are “sen no sen” (先の先), nuki waza are “go no sen” (後の先). With the prior you sense that your opponent is going to act and you counteract at the same time. With the latter you can still prevent your opponent’s action from succeeding by blocking and then attacking. Ai-men is also “sen no sen“. Many great teachers have written about the concept of sen, so I will leave it as an exercise for you to read up on the topic. Kendo World magazine has had a few articles on the concept and Salmon-sensei has also written about it.

The remaining oji waza are all “go no sen“: suriage, kaeshi and uchiotoshi. Which brings us to…


Kaeshi versus suriage

To many beginners, including myself, kaeshi waza and suriage waza can look very much alike in demonstrations: sensei faces his opponent, opponent attacks, sensei whacks the shinai out of the way and the counter attacks. But as before, these techniques are very different despite both being of the “go no sen” persuasion.

Kaeshi waza are demonstrated in kata #4, where shidachi catches uchidachi’s bokken and slides it away along his own bokken with a twist of the wrists. The counter attack is then made from the wrists as well. Suriage technique on the other hand is shown in kata #5 where shidachi counter attacks uchidachi, hitting the bokken out of the way on the upswing. In suriage techniques your own shinai stays on the center line, it does not move sideways.

But wait…


Suriage versus harai

Ivan stumbled upon this matter back in 2006: if both suriage and harai waza move your opponent’s shinai out of the way in an upwards or sideways motion, what’s the difference? Well, for starters there is timing: harai waza is shikake waza where you take the initiative, while suriage waza is oji waza i.e. reactive.

In suriage waza, your opponent’s shinai is caught by your upswing straight through the centerline. It is then moved aside by the curvature and the movement of your own shinai, as a setup of your own attack. In harai waza, you hit your opponent’s shinai upwards or downwards out of the way, before starting your own attack.


Seme versus osae versus harai

In all three cases you will see the attacker step in, while the defending shinai disappears off to the side. It’s just that the way in which the shinai moves aside is very different.

In seme waza it is your indomitable spirit that makes your opponent’s kamae collapse: you move in strongly and he is overwhelmed. That, or you misdirect his attention by putting force on one target, while truly attacking a second target. In osae waza (“pinning techniques“, like in judo) you hold your opponent’s shinai down and prevent it from moving effectively by moving your shinai over it, coming from the side. It is not a strike, push or shove! You’re merely holding him down. Finally, with harai waza, you make a small and strong strike against your opponent’s shinai thus smacking it out of center. This may be done in either direction, left/right, up/down, whichever is more useful to you.


One more sen: sen sen no sen

There are three forms of initiative: go no sen (block and act), sen no sen (act simultaneously) and sen sen no sen (act preemptively). All shikake waza, aside from debana, are classed as sen sen no sen: you are acting before your opponent does.

In other budo which traditionally ascribe to a non-antagonistic approach, sen sen no sen is described not as an act of aggression, but as ensuring that your opponent does not get the chance to attack you. Your opponent has already made up his mind to fully attack you, but he has not started yet. And by using sen sen no sen, you are not letting him. For example: an analysis through aikido and an explanation through karate.


A graphical summary

Based on all of the preceding, I have come to a new graphical representation of kendo waza. Below are a Venn diagram and a table that show the most important waza and their various characteristics.

Here is a poster of these graphics, that can be printed for the dojo.

kendo waza table


kendo waza



The leftovers, what hasn’t been discussed yet

  • Renzoku waza is something we practice in kihon every class: two or three consecutive strikes. Kote-men, kote-men-dou, etc.
  • Hiki waza are a favourite of many youngsters. It’s flashy! Who doesn’t like a shove, a jump, a strike and a cool pose? ;)
  • Katsugi waza are sometimes mentioned by Roelof-sensei: they are intended to surprise your opponent by coming in from an odd angle. You raise your shinai over your shoulder, instead of high over your head.
  • Maki waza are famous for making someone lose their shinai. It’s a hard technique, where you spin your opponent’s shinai out of the way by using a small and supple movement from the wrist. Makiotoshi (巻落し, “spin downward”) is the same technique but in the other direction, where the shinai is flung downward.
  • Like suriage and kaeshi, uchiotoshi is an oji waza that happens in “go no sen“. But unlike these two, uchiotoshi consists of two separate movements: one to knock your opponent’s shinai downwards and one to make ippon.
  • Katate techniques are not listed in the table. They are one-handed techniques, often used to surprise your opponent from a larger distance. For example, at the january CT Louis-sensei had us do katate-yoko-men.
  • Kiriotoshi (切り落し) is a “go no sen” timing technique like nuki waza. While your opponent is making his attack, you cut straight down the center line thus not only deflecting his attack but also making ippon. It is demonstrated here and here.
  • Osae waza, familiar in judo, are a form of “hold”. You push your opponent’s shinai downwards (push, not hit!) offering him no escape.
  • Hikibana has been explained to me as grasping the chance offered when your opponent gives in to your seme and is forced backwards.
  • Seme waza involves confusing your opponent, by making him think you’re going for a specific target. Ben Sheppard-sensei explains it over here.

I’m told there are more techniques. Maybe we’ll learn about them some day :)


Closing words

To end this essay, I would like to quote Salmon-sensei:

The one thing that I am sure was obvious to most people is that in kendo, as in the rest of life, you have to “make it happen”. Shikake waza does not work unless you break your opponents centre and oji waza is effective only if you control your opponents timing and pull him into your counter attack.

We are reminded of this in class, if not every week! What ever you do, you need to have an acting role in it. Simply waiting does not work!

I would like to thank both Heeren-sensei and Salmon-sensei for their explanations through email. They helped me a lot in figuring this stuff out.

DIY: training dummies

KendoDummyLast night Davin pondered how cool it would be to have a striking post in the backyard. Something to do suburi and kihon practice with, outside the dojo. The most obvious choice would be to simply ram a pole into the ground and put a men on it. But there are upscale options too!

For example, Ryan Matthew Johnson of Milwaukee Kendo made a sparring dummy from various pieces of PVC tubing. And if that isn’t cool enough for you, there’s the Best Kendo training dummy which Ton-sensei has built for the Almere dojo. It’s pictured above. With strike zones for men, kote and dou, a movable arm and a way to put a shinai in there it really is the best option we’ve seen :)

Writing, sharing, teaching

One of the things I love about the international kendo community is that we’re a pretty friendly and open bunch. Newbies are quickly welcomed in the midst of the lower-ranked kendoka, with kind words and support. Most teachers and sempai I have met are eager to share their experiences. And despite Renshinjuku not having a ‘second dojo’ / nomikai tradition, there’s plenty of open discussion.

Another way of sharing information with other kendoka, both locally and internationally, is by writing.

Recently, Jack Tacke of the Zanshin crew, sent out a call for papers. Like him, I heartily recommend writing something to share knowledge with your fellow students.  The Kendo World magazine is an indispensable resource for kendoka outside Japan (an article of mine appears in #6.4) and of course us dutchies cannot go without the NKR’s Zanshin. We also try to make our own website a nice resource for (beginning) students, with a growing number of essays available.

If you have something to share, please do so! Is there a topic you’d like to discuss? Did you visit a cool kendo event? Did you buy some awesome new gear you’d like to review? Send it in to the publication of your choice and help out your fellow kendoka :)

Path to excellence 2


Continuing where we last left off regarding the requirements of hard work and perseverance…

American TV and radio producer Ira Glass once said the following. While his quote pertains to creative work I find that it applies equally to other activities, including martial arts. The image above is part of a wonderful comic by Zen Pencils (a source of great, inspiring comics!).

All of us who do creative work, like, y’know we get into it and we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap. That for the first couple of years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase and a lot of people at that point they quit.

I would just like to say to you—with all my heart—is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have the special thing that we wanted to have… Everybody goes through that… You’ve got to know that it’s totally normal.

The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

It takes a while. It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?

For kendo it’s the same, isn’t it? Many of recognize good kendo and we admire those in whom we perceive excellence. We know that our own kendo is lacking and we know where we want to go with it. It’s just that it will take a lot of hard work.

This page has a video of mr Glass’ speech.


Map of all dutch dojo

While our friends of the NKR are working out their new website, we have gone ahead and created something they may find useful. We’ve put together a Google Maps project that puts every kendo dojo from the Netherlands on the map. That way new students can easily find a dojo close to their homes.

Did you know there are 22 kendo dojo in the Netherlands? And that they have a total of 26 locations?

View Kendo dojo Nederland in a larger map