This document describes the standard drills one is likely to perform in the course of Kendo training. The fine details
of these drills vary from dojo to dojo. Nevertheless, one will see some form of these basic practice drills in many, if not
most, Kendo dojo. I divide the drills into three areas, based upon my own experience: Basic drills, core drills, and technique
Basic drills are not used by some instructors, who instead choose to teach the core drills from the start. Other teachers
feel that a gentler introduction than the core drills is beneficial to novices. Technical drills examine specific elements
of attack and counterattack. Technical drills help bridge the gap between the core drills and free-sparring. The core drills
are the fundamental training elements of Kendo.
The Kihon, or basic drills, are typically taught to beginners before the core training drills are introduced. By simplifying
the practice, one can individually reinforce the basic elements of swinging the shinai, movement, timing, and distance. Once
basic drills are mastered, the student moves on to the core drills as the staple of Kendo training.
San-Kyo-Do Striking (three step striking of men, kote, do)
This drill provides a basis for coordinating posture, footwork, and swing by breaking a strike into three stages. It can
be done with or without a partner. For each of the three target areas, each blow is divided into preparation, strike, and
a return to fighting posture (kamae).
• ICHI: Beginning from ai chudan no kamae, attacker raises to jodan no kamae. Receiver slightly lowers the sword
tip, and moves it to his right, to open the men target.
• MEN: Both sides step forward, attacker delivers the men blow.
• SAN: Both sides step back to ai chudan no kamae.
• ICHI: Beginning from chudan no kamae, attacker raises to jodan no kamae. Receiver slightly raises the sword
tip, and moves it slightly to his left, to open the kote target.
• KOTE: Attacker steps forward, and delivers the kote blow.
• SAN: Attacker steps back to ai chudan no kamae. Receiver's sword crosses underneath.
• ICHI: Beginning from chudan no kamae, attacker and receiver both raise to jodan no kamae.
• DO: Both sides step forward, and attacker delivers the do strike.
• SAN: Both sides step back to ai chudan no kamae.
It is important for the receiver to provide a good target. It is also important to pause at each step, so that kamae,
and contact posture, can be corrected.
I-Kyo-Do Striking (one step striking of men, kote, do)
Once the student can perform the three-step (San-Kyo-Do) strikes, the entire strike and return to issoku-itto-no-kamae
can be done with a single count. The attacker should pause at the end of each strike, and check contact position before returning
When transitioning from three-step to one-step practice, do not forget the fundamentals. To initiate the strike, the attacker
must push strongly from the floor with the left foot while raising the arms to jodan-no-kamae. The stomach and chest muscles
relax, and the back muscles tighten, causing the chest to bow outward toward the receiver. To finish the strike, the arms
come down, the elbows and wrists extend, and the chest and stomach muscles tighten, straightening the back.
In a following drill, students are paired. It is helpful to pair by height. Students assume the ai chudan posture, and
the leading side can move forward, back, and side to side. The following side must mirror the leader's motions so that the
ai chudan position is maintained. The leader must be sure to move smoothly, and not too quickly. Make certain that proper
eye contact is maintained, and discourage the follower from looking at the leader's feet.
I like to introduce the following drill to beginners early, and give them plenty of time to practice. For many beginners,
it is their first exercise in keeping their attention focused unwaveringly for an extended period of time, and some will be
surprised at how quickly they become mentally fatigued. It is important for beginners to realize that maintaining control
over one's attention is a crucial part of Kendo, and requires a great deal of effort and practice.
In this drill, the student performs a prearranged series of attacks on a receiver. The choice of attack sequence can be
geared to the student's ability.
Suburi is an individual practice. It is simply a smooth swing coordinated with forward and backward motion. The swing
can be to any target, but usually it is to the men. A mirror is a very helpful tool in suburi practice.
Suburi can also be performed with a jumping motion. Usually this type of suburi (haya-suburi, or choyaku-suburi) makes
a leap forward coordinated with a men strike, and a jump backward while withdrawing the sword to jodan no kamae. When performing
haya-suburi, let the feet glide, and do not let the feet leave the floor.
Suburi is often used as a warm-up as well as a core drill.
Kirikaeshi is a partner drill that combines repeated strokes with forward and backward motion. Different dojo have variations
on the basic theme, but most use a sequence like this:
1. Starting at ai chudan, attacker takes a small okuri-ashi step forward, entering the opponent's space (seme). The attacker
proceeds directly to deliver a strike to the center of the receiver's men. The attacker follows through after the strike,
and makes body contact (tai atari) with the receiver. The receiver absorbs the contact, and steps back to striking distance.
2. The attacker performs a series of sayu-men strikes beginning on his right (striking the men above the opponent's left
eye) and alternating to the left. Attacker makes four sayu-men strikes while moving forward, one step per strike, using okuri-ashi
3. After the fourth sayu-men blow is completed, the attacker performs five sayu-men blows while retreating. Thus the total
number of sayu-men strikes is nine.
4. After the last hiki men strike is delivered, the attacker retreats to issoku itto no kamae. The cycle finishes with
a blow delivered directly to the center of the receiver's men. The attacker follows through on the last men strike.
Often, the cycle is repeated several times with the same partner.
Proper performance of the kiri kaeshi drill requires many years of effort. Here are some basic pointers to proper execution:
• Begin and end in ai chudan, issoku itto no kamae.
• Each blow delivered from issoku itto no kamae is preceded by a small step forward (seme). The seme step represents
applying pressure to the opponent by achieving an advantageous position on him, creating the chance for you to strike.
• Maintain the proper distance for each blow. Both the attacking and receiving sides must take care to ensure
• Each men blow must land exactly in the proper place: Sayu men strikes must come in at an angle, landing just
above the receiver's eye.
• Angled cuts (sayu men) require that the sword blade be rotated, so that the cutting edge is perpendicular
to the plane described by the arc of the blade.
• Every blow begins by taking a full upswing to jodan no kamae. Short upswings are incorrect. Take care to ensure
that each upswing goes straight back over the head. Do not let the upswing become angled like the down-swing when performing
sayu-men strikes, a problem known as "helicoptering".
• Every strike must be accompanied by either advancing or retreating footwork. None of the blows is delivered
• The synchronization of foot and sword is crucial. Okuri-ashi footwork should be completed at the instant the
shinai hits the target. The toe of the left foot should be even with heel of the right foot at the moment of contact.
• Whenever separating from the opponent (disengaging from tsuba zeriai) bring your kissaki (sword tip) down
to the opponent's tsuki as quickly as possible. To disengage at close quarters with one's sword tip pointing upward invites
• The attacker's footwork must be okuri-ashi. The receiver may use ayumi-ashi.
• The footwork performed with the sayu-men strikes must be smooth, with no leaping or fumikomi (stamping). Only
the first and last strikes to the center of the receiver's men should be done with fumi-komi.
• The receiver may block the sayu-men strikes by holding his shinai vertically, and pushing out at a 45-degree
angle toward the strike. Usually, attackers who are not yet wearing armor are allowed to strike the men, while those wearing
armor (who presumably have more skill) are blocked.
Uchikomi geiko is a partner drill the allows the student to make a realistic attack on an opponent. Both sides begin in
chudan no kamae, and issoku-itto no kamae distance. The attacking side performs a specified attack (either men, kote, or do)
and follows through. Combinations (usually kote-men, and kote-do) are also practiced.
An effective attack must demonstrate three basic elements: Correct target, proper body position, and the smooth application
• The receiver must present the proper target. Beginning students will require a more obvious target. More advanced
students need very little opening.
• The attacker must begin at the proper distance, with the sword tips at chudan no kamae, just about touching
the tip of the receiver's shinai. The attacker then takes small step in (seme), to establish an advantageous position. It
is important to proceed directly to the attack, and avoid hesitation once the seme step has been taken. Do not take the seme
step until you're completely prepared, with your mind, body, and spirit at a high level of readiness and motivation.
• Each blow must be powerful. Power emanates from a smooth, relaxed swing where the tip travels a broad arc.
During the upswing, relax your chest and stomach muscles, allowing your back to arch. As you make your upswing, you are pushing
with your left foot to drive yourself forward. The combination of arching your back and pushing from the ground causes you
to lead with your chest, just like a major-league baseball pitcher does when throwing a fastball. During the down swing, contract
your chest and stomach muscles, straightening the back. The muscles of the anterior thorax provide much of the power of the
sword stroke. The shoulders do not play an active role in powering the stroke, but are used for stabilization, to clamp the
arms tightly to the chest. You should be able to hold a pebble in your armpit when you are in the proper men contact position.
• The follow-through after the blow must be in a straight line. The receiver must move to the side after the
blow is struck, to let the attacker go by. The receiver must not move to the side until after the blow has landed. The attacker
should follow through quickly, with clean and correct okuri-ashi footwork, and then turn around quickly, ready for anything.
A fast follow-through and sharp turnaround minimizes the opportunity for the opponent to deliver a counterblow.
• Each blow must be accompanied by a strong kiai, and sustained mental focus (zanshin).
Kakari geiko, or continuous attack practice, is another partner drill. The principle is simple: The receiver presents
a target, and the attacker strikes the target as soon as the opportunity is perceived. The attacker follows through with each
blow, recovering as quickly as possible to begin the next attack.
To perform kakari geiko properly, the receiver must be a skilled Kendoist. The receiver must watch the attacker with the
utmost scrutiny, suppressing those attacks that lack proper technique, and allowing those attacks that are properly performed
to succeed. Thus, in a split second, the receiver must judge the attacker's Kendo, and act accordingly. Kakari geiko is one
of the most effective drills in Kendo, because it rewards proper attacks, while discouraging improper ones.
Once begun, kakari geiko practice continues until the teacher is satisfied, and stops. Usually, one or two minutes of
kakari geiko is enough to wear out even the most energetic student.
In Kendo, we work very hard to bring our awareness to a peak as we mount an attack. It is natural that our attention relaxes
from that peak immediately after we deliver the strike. That natural lapse in our attention provides our opponent with a good
opportunity to attack us. Therefore we must work especially hard to retain a strong sense of awareness after the strike is
completed (zanshin). This is an advanced drill that helps the student become aware of that crucial moment just after the completion
of a strike, and it instills the habit of immediately returning to a strong, centered, position.
1. Attacker and receiver are in issoku itto no kamae
2. Attacker enters (seme), and delivers a strike to the receiver's men
3. Attacker follows through, and collides with the receiver (tai atari)
4. Attacker steps back and performs a men strike with retreating footwork (hiki men). At this point it is crucial that
the attacker is lined up squarely on the receiver's center line.
5. Receiver steps forward and strikes attacker's men
6. Attacker stays in position, and extending the arms from chudan no kamae, forestalls the receiver's attack with a thrust
to the center of the receiver's do.
7. Attacker and receiver return to issoku itto no kamae
To make the centering drill work correctly there are some important points to watch for:
• Both sides must be able to perform tai atari correctly. If the student cannot perform tai atari correctly,
the centering drill is not appropriate practice. In tai-atari, both sides must be completely square, and both sides should
make a circular motion with the hands so that jo-dan no kamae is achieved very quickly as you separate.
• Do not rush. Perform the drill slowly enough so that one can check for correct basic technique. As one gets
better, the speed can be increased.
• In step 5, the receiver must take care to step straight in when striking the attacker's men, and keep the
shoulders square. If the receiver's body is off center or turned, even a correct thrust will slide off the receiver's do mune.
• In step 6 the tip of the attacker's shinai should make contact with the upper part of the receiver's do (do
mune). The attacker must apply the proper pressure with the hands (te no uchi) to prevent the shinai tip from slipping upward,
underneath the receiver's tsuki.
• When thrusting to the receiver's chest in step 6, the attacker should not attempt to step forward. Instead,
the attacker should extend and lock the arms, and push the left heel a little lower toward the floor to brace for the impact.
• Neither side should blink or alter their gaze when performing the drill. One's attention is strongly linked
to vision, and any variation in the gaze will result in a loss of posture, and a loss of control of the center.
As one becomes more advanced in rank, tsuki (thrust to the throat) becomes a more important and dominant technique. Anyone
who has been hit by a strong tsuki attack knows how intimidating it can be. More than once I've been on the receiving end
of a tsuki attack that rocked me like a straight punch to the chin. Any time one relinquishes control of the center, one becomes
vulnerable to tsuki attack. My feeling is that the centering drill is important training to prepare the beginning student
for the transition to the more intense, less forgiving, world of dan-level Kendo.
Waza (technique) Drills
Suriage involves deflection of the attacking opponent's strike with an upward motion of the sword. Having raised the sword,
the receiver can quickly strike the attacker. A classic application of suriage waza is Kote-Suriage-Men. Starting at issoku-itto-no-maai
with both sides in chudan-no-kamae, the attacker attempts to strike the receiver's kote. The receiver deflects the kote strike
with an upward motion of the sword, then strikes the attacker's men.
Nuki-waza begins by avoiding the attacker's blow by simply moving the target. Once the attacker's strike falls on empty
air, the receiver can proceed to strike. A classic application of nuki-waza is Kote-Nuki-Men. Starting at issoku-itto-no-maai
with both sides in chudan-no-kamae, the attacker attempts to strike the receiver's kote. The receiver avoids the kote strike
by pulling the hands back and upward to jodan no kamae. Depending on the depth of the attacker's penetration, the receiver
may also take a small okuri-ashi step backward. Once the attacker's strike misses, the receiver can proceed directly to attack
Debana-waza is a difficult technique that requires the receiver to anticipate the attack, and beat the attacker to the
punch. When a person takes the initiative to attack, he or she is vulnerable right at the very start of the attack. At the
very earliest stage in the attack, the attacker has committed to a course of action, but has not yet developed overwhelming
power. The receiver must anticipate that moment, and deliver the strike before the attacker has developed his or her power.
A classic application of debana-waza is Debana-kote. Starting at issoku-itto-no-maai with both sides in chudan-no-kamae, the
attacker attempts to strike the receiver's men. Just as the tip of the attacker's sword rises, the opportunity to strike kote
presents itself. The receiver must enter without hesitation and strike the kote before the attacker's men strike arrives.
Debana kote works partly because of the chudan-no-kamae stance. Your opponent's kote is slightly closer to you than your
men is to him. Thus, his kote comes into your range slightly before your men comes into his range. A more advanced form of
debana-waza is Debana-men. Since you are attacking men, there is no distance-to-target advantage. To strike debana men requires
a very high ability to read the opponent's intentions. The window of opportunity for debana-men is very small.