Here are some of the most basic elements that any Kendoka has to learn at the very beginning of hers of his Kendo training experience. All of these represent basic Kendo techniques.
Yelling! Yell, scream, shout or do anything else that’s loud & proud. Almost all kendo cuts, movements, and also the more complex techniques are, or at least should be accompanied by kiai. Of course, kiai is present in all Japanese martial arts, and this stylish battle cry is supposed to represent the inner strength, flow of energy and determination while in the same time demonstrating to everyone (most of all, to your opponent) that you’re in it to win it. Usually, beginners feel like idiots when they have to do this, but it usually disappears after a while.
It’s important to note that kiai should be perceived as a personal thing – there is no correct or unified way for everyone. In my experience, kiai evolves alongside his user – some become louder, others quieter. As long as it comes naturally, it’s all good.
Okuri-ashi is simply put, a sliding step. It’s usually very short and is used to maneuver between strikes. It’s believed that this movement technique originated from necessity – when warriors fought on unstable terrain where a slip or a fall meant death, they developed this super-safe probing way of walking so they could keep their eyes on the opponent.
Fumikomi-ashi is a kind of odd stomping step/leap (not a jump) that pushes the user into hers or his opponent. This motion is used when striking and/or attacking, and was probably created under the influence of general samurai offensive doctrine that called for a swift, deadly and simple reaction in every situation.
There are a few more, but these two technique of movement are essential in every aspect of Kendo.
Wielding a shinai
First of all, although shinai looks like a stick, it represents a sword. It is constructed from 4 elastic bamboo strips, has a hand grip, hand-guards, front side and a back side. Only the last third portion of shinai is used to strike, but the whole length can be used for paring or blocking.
All cutting/hitting techniques in Kendo are more or less based on one general downward cut – there were many fencing schools in Japan that developed their own styles during the centuries, but only a few proved worthy for actual combat in wartime. All of them are simple and straight-forward, and the same is true for modern Kendo offensive cuts. This means that the shinai is held by both hands and that strikes or cuts comprise of three elements: movement, strike and kiai. The movement starts from the lower abdomen and travels from there in two directions – to the upper-body, or the shoulders, elbows and wrists that will delivers the strike, and to the lower body that will drive the practitioner to his or hers target. The strikes can fall on the head, left or right side of the abdomen, wrists or the throat region. Of course, all of these areas are protected by bogu (armor). The cuts can be long or full, when the shinai is lifted above the practitioner’s head, or shortened, when the shinai travels the shortest possible distance, thus cutting the reaction time. The first option involves shoulders and elbows, while the second one uses mostly elbows and wrists of the practitioner.
Basic cuts are called Men-uchi (hit on the head), Kote-uchi (a hit on the wrist, usually the right one) a Do-uchi (a hit on the side of the abdomen).