Kendo Timing

Sen means ‘before’ and these techniques apply to attacks made just before the opponent’s

stroke is delivered. In Kendo it is impossible to cut without exposing the body to attack, since

the act of lifting the Shinai opens the attack line.

Men-senno-do is to attack the Do as the opponent strikes down to the Men, this normally

takes the form of Nuki Do (drawing Do) and the side-step avoids the cut as the counter attack

is made.

Men-senno-men can be made by attacking directly forward as the left hand passes down

below the attacker’s face and is taken to the right. Men Senno Dzuki is performed by dropping

the point and thrusting upwards but this is very dangerous unless both the attacker and attacked

have a good idea of what is happening.

Kote-senno-gote or Kote-senno-do can also be taken but the timing is more difficult. Dosenno-

gote is easier since the attacker’s Kote is entirely open as his Shinai swings inwards.

Do-senno-men is shown in plate 147 and as the attacking Shinai swings across to the left

the Men is exposed. The illustration shows clearly the method of carrying the Shinai off after

cutting and dashing past to the left.

In these techniques it must be remembered that the opponent is himself leaping forward

and our own attack is very short, often a mere quarter step. This idea of distance is essential to

keep the delivery within the Dage-kibu (striking base).


De means ‘at the outset’ and Hana ‘coming out’. This is similar to Senno-waza but in this

case the attack is made just as the opponent starts to move. The most common form is a cut to

the Kote, just as the blade thrusts forward to begin the attack and this is known by the short form

of Degote.

Dehana-do is taken just as the opponent raises his arms and clears the Do and of course

any combination of attack against any movement may be made as appropriate. The reverse of

Dehana is Oi or ‘following’ in which an attack is launched to follow a retiring opponent. It is

common practice to step backwards and forwards rhythmically in practice or contest and attacks

made on the advancing step are classified as Dehana whilst those on the retiring step are

classified as Oi-waza.


This literally means ‘before-before’ and whilst this may sound strange it forms the best

opportunity in Kendo. Sen-senno-waza means the attack is made just in the instant before a

movement is made. This is done just before the opponent’s point stirs and whilst his mind is

occupied with the decision to attack. In this split second he can neither defend, nor perceive our

own attack.

In my own experience with high ranking teachers nothing will happen until the student

decides to attack. But as the thought arises it is suddenly too late, since the teacher has just

stepped forward and struck. As with most Kendo the observer will note nothing other than one

side has struck. But to those concerned a very definite and skilful technique has been employed.

Whilst the lower Dan grade students may catch this timing occasionally it is a permanent factor

with skilled teachers and is again a question of sense and intuition. There are said to be such

techniques as Sen-Sen-Senno Waza but I must confess this is beyond me at present!

The Oji-waza or reply techniques are often designated as Go-no-senno-waza or techniques

‘after-before’, since they occur after the crucial time. The above techniques of Sen-Sen, Dehana

and Senno-waza are regarded as the most important since they illustrate the real heart and spirit

of Kendo. ‘As your opponent attacks … you attack’ this is often said and no thought of defence

should occur if Kendo is to be understood fully. In olden times it was necessary to dispose of

the enemy and the loss of one’s own life was regarded as a fair bargain if no other alternative

was possible.

When practising with a highly graded Master the blows are either not seen at all or appear

to be merely ‘lucky hits’ taken just because we were not prepared. It is only when this happens

again and again that the student realises that this is in fact the real essence of the technique. In

a case where the teacher is seen to step forward very casually and strike, whilst we just do not

move, or react far too late, this means the attach time at the turning of the breath has been taken.

As the breathing changes and turns, so the consciousness lapses for an instant. This timing can

be taken accidentally but in reality the opponent’s breathing cycle is sensed and one’s own breath

keyed in to compliment this so that any attack made to our breathing phase will be timed exactly.

This other sense is vital to proper Kendo but cannot be developed properly unless practice

is made every day. During a period when this is possible the student will find he can sense the

attack before it begins, know the place of attack, or even the nature of the combination to be

employed and this is before his opponent has moved. This is termed Senken (seeing before) or

precognition and the instant of attack can be felt building up, even when watching. The spiritual

build up of the time of the attack can be caught even by relative novices providing it is pointed

out to them. The flow between the opponents can be strongly felt almost as a physical force. This

is necessary to take advantage of the five basic times of attack:

1. A moment of distraction, breath change, a blink or outside disturbance or thought (Sensen-


2. Immediately prior to the beginning of any action (Sen-senno-waza).

3. As the mind is involved in beginning the action (Dehana Waza and Senno-waza).

4. As the mind is involved ni the finish of the action (Renzoku and Oji-waza).

5. As the mind relaxes just after the completion of the action (Hiki-waza).

Each of these points is known as a Suki or ‘mind stopping’ and it is only at these times

that it is possible to strike. It is impossible to be so fast as to hit even a novice, providing he has

normal reflexes and a basic knowledge of Kendo. Speed is of importance but of no use unless

timed correctly. The crucial moment which will decide whether or not the attack is a success is

not the moment at which the blow lands but the moment at which the blow starts. Since we can

hit many times, even in the early days this aspect is often not fully understood and since the

above five moments are constantly occurring and re-occurring there are plenty of opportunities.

The idea is to take them as definite applications rather than merely by luck.

Returning to the aspect of ‘mind stopping’ it is obvious that in the vast majority of cases

we are struck merely because the blow was not seen in time, and this because our mind was held

at another point. The idea of non-stopping of the mind is expressed in the Zanshin or ‘lingering

of the heart’ in that awareness should be maintained even after cutting and the mind is not

stopped at that point.

Providing the opponent is practising seriously it is possible either to draw him forward

to attack, or to make it very difficult merely by our own spiritual condition. If we take a positive

mind and press our spirit forward the opponent will reciprocate and a pressing feeling arises

which feels like two opposing magnetic poles. If the opponents are both very strong willed, it

may even appear that the tips of the Shinai or swords are clamped together. If one side suddenly

draws his spirit inwards the opponent is forced to attack without his own volition and although

he may not be aware of this he will be completely under the control of his opponent. This is a

little difficult for the average Westerner to grasp but is easily demonstrated by causing a student

with closed eyes to sway forward or backward at will merely by suggestion.

In olden times it was the Samurai custom to look into the eyes of other passing

swordsmen and test their spirit. If the fighting mind is suddenly taken off and replaced with a

vacuum the other’s spirit is taken away and a peculiar feeling is felt in the stomach. In this way

the Samurai could assess his rival and it was not necessary to draw swords to discover who

would win unless the loser could not understand this factor. More of this timing or spiritual

feeling can develop without dedicated training and it develops quite naturally of itself so the

student should concentrate on his exercise but also train this other side from time to time.