Beginners starting out in the practice of kendo must go through basic training. Otherwise, new techniques can be too challenging and therefore demoralizing going forward. Skipping basics is the reason for many people dropping out of this wonderful sport at an early stage.
Here are the general steps for beginners from entering to leaving the dojo.
Step 1: Bow when you enter
Bowing when you enter the dojo is both a remnant of the time when the shrine of a martial god would be placed at the shrine, as well as a way to slip into the special mindset that you need for kendo.
Step 2: Line-up & Mokuso
The typical next step is for all the participants to line up in a straight line. When the instructor gives the command for “Mokuso“, it is the signal to close your eyes, place the left hand on the right, palms up, thumbs making a circle, and breathing in a controlled way. The command “Yame” means to stop.
Step 3: Bow to the sensei and each other
Bow to the teacher as well as to your training partners to show appreciation and respect.
Step 4: Training
Depending on whether or not you train with your bogu on, you’ll be given the command by your leader to put it on. Sit in seiza when you have nothing to do. Your teacher will give you instructions through the training session.
Beginners typically start with Tandoku Dosa for the first four months or so. Tandoku Dosa means “training along”. Basic movements are taught without a partner during this time. These include:
- etiquette or Reigi-Saho,
- posture or Shizentai,
- how to wear your sword Taito,
- sitting in Seiza,
- types of footwork,
- Men Uchi,
- Kote Uchi,
- Do Uchi,
- Ni Dan Uchi,
- Sayu Men Uchi,
- Fumikomi and
- Chohyaku Shomen Uchi
After this solo practice, participants move on to Sohtai Dosa or paired training. In pairs, participants then go on to practice changing directions, different men-strikes (men-uchi) like Shomen uchi. This is followed by different wrist (kote) and waist (do) strikes, or kote-uchi and do-uchi.
Most students should be able to learn the basics with six months of practice.
Step 5: After Training
After training is over, participants usually line up again in a straight line. At the seiza command, everyone sits in seiza. There will also be a command to remove the men, if you have it on.
Step 6: Mokuso
Training is followed by another meditation session with breathing techniques. This is a good time to think about the areas where you think you should improve the next time.
Step 7: Bowing
After Mokuso, bow to sensei, followed by the Shomen or figurine or shrine, and then each other.
Your sensei may give you a little talk at this stage, about training. If the instructor begins this talk before you have received the command to remove your bogu or armor, keep it on and stay in position. Don’t begin packing while the instructor speaks, as it would be seen as rude.