For 3.Dan-5.Dan: Seme from Kamae

There are an infinite number of methods of Seme in Kendo. Here attention is paid to the practical use of the right foot and some of the methods of Seme that include making your opponent strike or move back.

Traditionally in Kendo, the right foot is called ‘Seme-ashi (foot used for Seme)’ and the left foot is called ‘Jiku-ashi (foot used for supporting the body)’. You need to use the right foot softly, smoothly and freely to give pressure and invite the opponent to initiate an attack. You need to feel as if your left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of the body is connected by one line and you also need to make your left foot ready for following the right foot and Fumikiri anytime. If however the distance between your right foot and left foot is too wide from front to rear, or the centre of gravity moves forward and backward or from backward to forward, or your upper body leans forward and backward in the Kamae, whilst you are trying to give pressure to each other, inviting to initiate an attack, you will not be able to use both feet as described above. You will not then be able to see your opponent in a fixed position and the timing of your striking will be easily sensed, when the stance of the feet is too wide and movement of the centre of the gravity is also big.

It is important, therefore for practitioners at this level to understand how to use ‘Seme-ashi’ and ‘Jiku-ashi’ and develop their Kendo so that they give Seme with smaller and more effective movements. What follows is a description of some methods of Seme-ashi.
Firstly, it is important for you to be physically and mentally prepared to attack your opponent and to react to your opponent’s attack from the moment you take Kamae after standing up from Sonkyo. It is said that Kendo starts with Rei and finishes with Rei. I don’t think that this only refers to the matter of etiquette. From the moment you face your opponent and bow, your fight begins and it is important to remain focused until the final Rei with your opponent. If you attempt to do your Keiko with this attitude, you will discover the most suitable methods of putting your weight on the feet, taking the stance between the feet, keeping your Ken-sen, stretching your left leg, bending the right knee and so on. If your attitude to how you take Kamae changes, your footwork will change, your posture will change, your Seme will change and your Kendo will change.

Earlier I described the use of the right foot as Seme-ashi. The right foot is also used as a kind of radar that can detect the opponent’s intention. Ji-geiko, Shiai and grading examinations normally start with the two practitioners trying to ‘search out’ and discover each other’s type of Kendo and intention, as well as trying to give pressure with their own tactics. For this ‘searching’ and ‘pressurizing’, bring your right foot slightly (only slightly) forward, without leaning forward and losing the feeling that your left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of the body are connected. At the same time, try to give pressure together with invitations to your opponent to attack by using the Shinai in the following ways; Osae, Harai, straight in, raising the Ken-sen up or lowering it. In the situation when your opponent does not react to your Seme or you feel uncomfortable with the timing, distance and body balance, bring your left foot up and slide the right foot forward again, searching and pressuring or bring back your right foot and start over again. In addition to this, there are other ways of practical use of the right foot. For example, you stamp on the floor quickly and strongly with the right foot or bend your right knee quickly and slightly in order to get the opponent agitated or make the opponent initiate an attack.
If you would like to get closer to your opponent (especially when you fight against someone tall) without them knowing, bring your left foot up firstly to the right foot before sliding the right foot forward (Tsugi-ashi technique). As the result of or in the process of the above ‘searching’ and ‘pressurizing’, you find an opportunity, you must immediately go and strike. If your opponent feels strong pressure from you and moves back, you immediately follow and give your opponent bigger pressure or follow and strike. If your opponent begins to strike or strikes, use (Debana-waza) or counterattack (Oji-waza).

What you should be very careful of is the timing as you bring your left foot up. It is quite difficult to react if your opponent attacks at this point. In fact, top level kendo-ka are looking for this point and can score a wonderful Tobikomi-men. All of the top level Sensei that I know check that they are standing firmly by keeping a line between the left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of body and are in the position that they can attack and react to their opponent’s attacking at anytime. Moreover, their skilful use of the right foot and Shinai handling make their opponent’s initiate an attack (for example Men) enabling them to counterattack beautifully (for example Kaeshi-Do). Their skilful use of the right foot and Shinai handling also gives their opponent strong pressure and makes them move back. Then they are immediately followed and struck by a wonderful Men or Kote-Men.

In conclusion there are an infinite numbers of methods in the use of Seme in Kendo and the above methods are just some examples. I think, however, that these patterns of Seme are well worth while practicing in order to acquire a higher quality of Kendo and Kendo that you can continue throughout your life.

Article by Dr. Satori Honda-sensei, British National Kendo Team Coach