New commands in class?

You may have noticed a small change during our seiretsu before and after class. When showing gratitude we used to hear the following two commands:

  • Sensei ni rei (先生に礼) Literally “thank your teacher“.
  • Otagai ni rei (御互いに礼) Literally “thank each other“. You thank your classmates.

You may notice that these have changed and thus we’re offering a short explanation here:

  • Sensei gata ni rei (先生方に礼) Literally “thank your teachers“, with “gata” being the honorific for a group of people. We still use the previous form if there’s only one teacher, but seeing how we now have multiple teachers you’ll often hear the new version.
  • Sougo ni rei (相互に礼) Literally “Show mutual thanks”. It’s quite the same as the previous command and seems like more of a grammatical and formal change.

Don’t forget! If you need help remembering all of the Japanese terms, we have a handy page with lots of study materials made by our own members!



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!

Class summary 28/09

In absence of Heeren-sensei, class was led by Kikuta-sensei.

As usual, class was opened with stretching, suburi, footwork practice and kihon. During the basic exercises and also during the more advanced training, Kikuta-sensei paid extra attention to the following topics.

Regarding fumikomi:

  • It was reiterated that one should not lift the right foot, but one should slide forwards close to the ground. Lifting your foot high, tells your opponent that you are making an attempt for men.
  • It was reiterated that one should lunge deeply, do not stop short with the right foot. Always attack from issoku-itto-maai, so step in if need be. Then make a long, deep thrust forward from the hips.
  • When you are in issoku-itto-maai, do not reposition your left foot when attacking. You are slowing yourself down tremendously. If you are in position, thrust forward from the left foot and trust that you were within the right maai. If you were not, next time you should either start a little closer or step in deeper with the right foot.

Regarding omote and ura:

  • We performed a number of exercises involving the omote and ura sides of the shinai. For explanations of the terms below, please refer to our article “Waza explained”.
  • We started out with osae men on omote side, as a continuation of our fumikomi exercises.
  • Sensei then discussed the matter that many kendoka will block your “standard” men attacks, by raising their shinai diagonally. This block however, opens one up to attacks through the ura side. Thus we practiced accordingly in three-man uchikomi geiko groups:
    • Osae men on omote
    • Osae men on ura
    • Seme to menura-men
    • Seme to men, ura-kote
    • Harai men on omote
    • Harai men on ura
    • Kote – Kaeshi kote
    • Kote – Kaeshi dou
    • Men-taiatari-dou, kote-men

After class, sensei reiterated Heeren-sensei‘s message from two weeks ago: the importance of correctly wearing your men.  It is not only for your own safety, it is also so one may properly use and guard the monomi: the looking-slit in the mengane. Sensei noticed a lot of people looking through other parts of the grill, too low or too high, which has two downsides. For starters the monomi is a weakness that should be guarded, and secondly you are lowering your field of vision by looking through a narrow part.

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.

Class summary 18/03

Last night, aside from another etiquette review, we focused on the center line.

I hope that by now it is very clear that the center line is where kendo all plays out. If you have the center, your opponent will have a harder time attacking you. If you have the center, you are more likely to have a good opening. If you attack through the center, you are more likely to land a proper blow. If you attack through the center, you may always attempt a thrust to tsuki.

Class was spent on kihon; no waza at all. And all exercises were meant to reinforce the basic attack through the center. Sjoer-sempai often sees our kendoka hunt for suki in kihon practice, which is superfluous and not the point of the exercise. In kihon practice, motodachi will provide an opening and it’s kakarite’s job to neatly attack straight through the center. So don’t do harai waza, or osae waza, or weird sweeping motions unless that is what we’re practicing.

We practiced the following:

  • Kirikaeshi, with motodachi both receiving on the men and on the shinai
  • Oki men, chisai men, oki kote-men, chisai kote-men
  • Tsuki
  • Hiki men, men taiatari hiki-men
  • Men passing motodachi then hiki men, kote-men passing motodachi then hiki men

This sequence culminated in uchikomi geiko, with all of these exercises in one long string of attacks. In each of these cases it was paramount that motodachi provide an opening and kakarite to neatly move through center.

Class summary 25/09

In absence of Bert Heeren-sensei, Mark Herbold-sensei of Museido graced us with his presence. While Ran-sempai directed class, Mark-sensei provided instruction. We continued our past few weeks’ focus on tenouchi and on interval training.

The usual 4×50 oki-men were followed by rounds of kirikaeshi around the dojo floor. Four rounds of men kirikaeshi were followed by another four of kote-men intervals and another four of double hiki-men intervals. Mark-sensei impressed upon us the following important points:

  • It’s not a race. Motodachi should not be tempted to run backwards as fast as possible. Our spacious dojo makes this tempting, but by running away you’re messing up shidachi’s exercise.
  • Shidachi should determine motodachi’s pace with his/her strikes. Each strike forces motodachi backwards, not the other way around with motodachi “pulling” shidachi around the room.
  • Strike correctly, targeting yokomen. Our target is not the opponent’s shinai, our target is to strike motodachi’s head and temple. If shidachi repeatedly strikes at the wrong spot, lower your shinai so he may target correctly.
  • The kote-men intervals should ideally have a 1-2 rhythm. If you cannot manage this yet it’s fine, as long as you strive for perfection in your exercise.
  • The double hiki-men intervals are still interval training! Do not spend lots of time in taiatari, trying to set up your attack. Go into taiatari, do the double hiki-men, perform zanshin, stop in a clear fashion. Then go into taiatari again immediately and proceed with your attack. Continue until the end of the room.

Class with continued with kihon practice and open jigeiko. At the end of class, Mark-sensei had a parting message: he would very much like everyone to practice with full focus and intent.

During class he often felt that many students were doing exercises by rote, instead of focusing on what they were doing. Things that are pointed out in class are details which you should pay attention to. However, the underlying assumption is that you already pay attention to everything else without having it pointed out to you.

In jigeiko a lack of focus and intent was often shown in kamae: the tip of the shinai is being moved about aimlessly (“we’re not making whipped cream here!“) instead of using it to sense your opponent. The tip of your sword is where the fight is being fought! At Museido the students have recently been studying a “quiet” kamae, minimizing the movements they make and cutting out anything that’s not needed. By aiming for efficiency you will improve your kendo, as your reaction times go down and you are focused fully on your opponent.

Finally, with regards to intent: if you aim for 100% and only achieve 60% that’s great and acceptable! But aiming for 60% and only getting 20% is not. Train to the fullest. Having success without intent also does not count for anything: wonderful, but accidental ippon might score you something but you’re not learning anything.

Class summary 10/9

Yesterday’s class in Amstelveen again put focus on te-no-uchi training and the left hand. After the usual suburi and warming-up, we were again instructed to practice men strikes with motodachi. Five repetitions of fifty shomen, followed by two repetitions of thirty doubleshomen. Heeren-sensei reminded us that it’s not just an exercise to make our arms tired, but that we’re really here to practice our left hand. Like before:

  • The left hand goes over the head pretty closely.
  • The left hand moves straight up and down through the center.
  • For the purpose of this exercise on should always tap the buttocks on the upswing.

When it comes to breathing, don’t try to stick to a rhythm of in-and-out breathing that attempts to match your striking pattern. Instead, take a deep breath and keep on breathing out until there’s no more. Then breathe in again. Heeren-sensei always tries to get in as many strikes with one breath as possible.

We were all reminded that breathing should not be done “high” in the lungs, but “low” and from the “hara“. In both Japanese and Chinese arts, the “hara” (or the “lower dantian“, 下丹田) is said to be the seat of your energy and to be the physical center of gravity of your body. (more here) By breathing from the hara one ensures at least two things:

  1. You are regulating your breathing and getting enough oxygen without hyperventilating.
  2. You are building force in both your body and your kiai/kakegoe.

A way to check that you’re breathing right, is to tie your hakama himo pretty tightly around the hara, which ensures that you feel yourhakama tightening when breathing in. A very clear difference was presented, between a “high” and a “low” kakegoe. The one produced from the hara was louder, solid and rolls over your opponent.

Our left-hand training continued after seiza, with kirikaeshi interval training and normal kirikaeshi after jigeiko. In both exercises we were told to pay close attention to aite’s left hand. It should not be going sideways or wide, but through the center line. “Helicoptering” should be avoided at all costs. Even in kirikaeshi, strikes will be straight for the most part only swerving left or right close to the end. If you feel that aite’s left hand is straying, drop your shinai so he will hit your men thus alerting him of the problem.

Twenty minutes of jigeiko were had. Heeren-sensei impressed upon us the importance of practicing the lessons from kihon keiko injigeiko.

Class summary 27/08

The first two classes of the season were spent on rebuilding our physical condition after a few weeks of slacking off* and on improving tenouchi (手の内, lit. “the inside of your hand”). Tenouchi is the term used to describe a specific kind of grip or movement, made using your hands and wrists at the moment when a strike connects. Geoff Salmon-sensei has written a lot about it.

Heeren-sensei reminded us of the importance of training at home. Once or twice a week in the dojo isn’t enough if you want to make real progress! Doing suburi will keep you agile and will help with tenouchi. And making a striking dummy will even let you do basic kihonpractice! You can even do suburi inside, but making a suburito from old shinai parts.

After the usual warmup routing, we proceeded to bogu-less exercises. Motodachi receives and counts men strikes on his shinai, which is held in front of his face. Each person needs to do fifty strikes, totaled up to 150 by rotating three times. Last week we also included two times fifty hayai suburi. Heeren-sensei asked us to do these exercises with three things in mind:

  1. The upswing reaches all the way back, tapping your rear.
  2. The upswing has your left hand passing right over your head, almost combing through your hair.
  3. The strike should be made strongly, focusing on the left hand.

These three factors combined help you train tenouchi.

For similar reason we then proceed to interval training, with each couple doing kirikaeshi all ’round the perimeter of the dojo floor. Each person needs to make a minimum of four rounds. Heeren-sensei pointed out the following:

  • It is not a race. It’s not about speed, but about execution. Do kirikaeshi correctly.
  • Focus on using your left hand, the right hand is only used as ‘rudder’ (as it should be).
  • The left hand must go above your head on the upswing.
  • Keep on making kiai! Do NOT stop, because you will run out of breath if you do.

Class is finished with 10-15 minutes of free jigeiko and kirikaeshi.

Summary of class 04/05

Saturday’s class was great and started off with a nice surprise: our friend Sebastian, who departed for Germany a few months after I started kendo, came to visit for some jigeiko! In the absence of Ton-sensei and Hillen, Kris-fukushou led class with kihon and jigeiko.

Many things were said and done, some important pointers being:

  • During suburi he noticed that many people have a sub-optimal strike. After the upswing, there are many different movements shown ranging from a slow strike, from a jerk followed by a strike, to a wide arc straight down from jodan. The proper strike is of course hard to describe in words, but he demonstrated what he’d like to see from us.
  • In suburi he also admonished us for being so slow and messy on hayasuburi. Practice at home!
  • For the footwork practices he again warned us to not keep our feet too narrow. You keep your balance by keeping your feet at shoulder width. Anything narrower will make you wobble about.
  • For the suriage techniques he once more impressed upon us the need to stand our ground. Preferably one should move forward towards the opponent while deflecting and striking, but in the very least should you strike and fumikomi on the spot. But whatever you do, don’t move backwards. Stand your ground and be proud.
  • After class he warned all of us that we should not only listen to explanations and warnings, but that we should also integrate that message into our practice. More often then not he’ll explain something, which we will then do a little in the following exercise after which it’s completely gone again. Instead you really should be aware of your body: listen to what it’s doing, compare it to what it should be doing and adjust for it. Be aware of what you’re doing.

Ingmar-sempai also reminded us all of the upcoming, annual students kendo tournament in Utrecht. Next weekend Sakurakai are holding the annual kendo competition for all students from the Netherlands. If you’re in high school, college or university and if you train in bogu, please sign up! There are contestants of all levels and it’s always a fun day out. Sign-up is through the NKR website.

CT: shiai/shinpan

Today was hard work! Over sixty people traveled to Sporthallen Zuid in Amsterdam for the national level ‘central training’. This month’s edition focused on shiai and shinpan skills, meaning both the fighting and the referreeing of competitions. Today, Renshinjuku’s turnup was also impressive with a dozen members attending. Excellent :)

It was a lot to take in! Before lunch, Mark Herbold-sensei took us through kihon in order to practice legwork and speed. He impressed upon us the importance of moving from the legs and hips, with 80% of your effort coming from there. The remaining effort is 10% stomach to retain posture, then 8% and 2% left/right hands for the strike. By properly using your hips and legs you assure that you close in quickly and that you retain control of the situation.

Exercises included kirikaeshioki-menoki-kote-menhayai kote-men and then a number of hayai variations of kote-menkote-men-menkote-kote-menkote-men-kote-men and so on. In each of these, the connection and distance between both kendoka was key:kakarite needs to move in fast enough to pressure motodachi backwards. Motodachi needs to be surprised and should not dance backwards before the attach. Learning this speed and pressure is what will help you overwhelm your opponent in shiai.

After lunch Vitalis-sensei went over a few basics regarding referreeing: valid strikes and hansoku (violations).

A valid point only has the following five requirements:

  1. Using the kensen, the top 1/3 of your blade.
  2. Using the hasuji, the cutting edge of the blade.
  3. On the datotsu-bui, the proper part of the target.
  4. With fighting spirit.
  5. With proper zanshin.

Salmon-sensei has written a little more about what makes a valid ippon. Vitalis-sensei remarked that many things that we learn are important for a strike (like ki-ken-tai-ichi) are NOT in the rulebook. This means they are NOT required for ippon. He also impressed upon us that there are two common mistakes that beginning shinpan make:

  • They do not grade kendoka according to their level. They grade every kendoka as if they’re 3rd dan or higher.
  • They treat the list of five points above as a checklist. Scoring ippon is very much a grey area and you can bet that a strike will always be missing something. If you are only looking for things that a strike is missing, then a scoring strike will never be made.

After Louis’ introduction the sixty kendoka were divided across three shiaijo, each led by a high ranking sensei. I was assigned to Mark Herbold-sensei’s shiaijo. He led the session with clear instructions and a pleasant amount of humor. He explained so many things, it’s hard to remember them all. The following will simply be a stream of conciousness, trying to recall as much as possible of what was said.

  • As kendoka you focus on the fight. Don’t think about the shinpan until you hear commands. Fight! Don’t acknowledge strikes made by your opponent, don’t indicate your own strikes, don’t communicate with anybody.
  • Many kendoka left a lot of points untaken by missing out on followups. If your opponent doesn’t react to something, you take the chance and make another attempt immediately.
  • If your opponent’s shinai gets stuck, like for example under your arm or against your do that is NOT a bad thing for you. Right at that moment you have him stuck and you can take the chance to swat away his shinai to open him up for a valid strike. Do NOT strike when his shinai is still stuck as that is not a valid point.
  • Shinpan should maintain a triangle, eyeing both the fight as well as their colleagues.
  • Shinpan should have proper posture: straight back, active posture, no slouching, no cocked head, etc.
  • The two flags should be held properly against your body, with your index fingers controling them. They shouldn’t be waving about, as it may distract the fighters.
  • Flag signals are handled in chronological order. For example, say that A strikes B’s men and then in zanshin rushes outside of the shiaijo’s boundary. What we saw was one shinpan flagging the point, while another flagged for yame because of thehansoku. What shold have happened was that the three shinpan reach quorum regardin the point and indicate their opinion, then followed by the yame signal to deal with the violation.
  • With regards to violations, the process is: call yame, assume positions at the center, move both flags to one hand, indicate with one/two fingers (first or second violation) to the violating kendoka, “hansoku ikkai/nikai“. If it’s the second violation: “hansoku nikai“, then flag for the other kendoka “ippon ari“.
  • When flagging and announcing an outcome, you don’t have to keep the flags high up throughout the whole thing.

The last hour of the day was free jigeiko.