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Monday, July 26, 2010

Improving zanshin

Zanshin in kendo can be defined in many ways. Alertness, preparedness, completion of one’s technique; the last “ingredient “needed for a point to be considered during a competitive match.

Have you ever watched high school kendo matches on TV? In those matches you will notice that young kendoka are quick, ferocious, and almost cruel and they will strike their opponent as many times as possible to weaken them and take them to the ground.  But strikes do not necessarily mean points and points are only established when zanshin is indisputably there.

During regular practice sensei will surely tell you to “turn around” after finishing a technique. For example, you don’t do kote-men and then prance away with your shinai down, giving your back to your partner.  Sensei must have mentioned to you that as soon as you finish your technique you must quickly turn around and face your opponent. Why? Because your opponent will take advantage of any and all opportunities to attack you and you are at your most vulnerable when you're not looking directly at your opponent.

High school kendo matches are a perfect example because to the untrained eye 90% of all hits should obviously be counted as legitimate points, but experienced kendoka know they’re not considered legitimate points due to lack of zanshin. Even people on the stands know the difference and they boo and hiss when a point is called without considering if zanshin was present or not.

Zanshin is not something that you develop overnight.  It’s like brushing your teeth every morning; you can do it even half-awake, right? But it took you awhile to get used to it. Same in kendo, once you learn to finish all techniques appropriately you’ll be able to execute zanshin effortlessly and it will become a natural part of your personal training program.

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