4.4 Maai, Kiai, Zanshin, Metsuke and Mokuso

Maai (distance from the opponent)

The distance you maintain between yourself and your opponent is vitally important both for protection and to enable correct cutting. The various maai will be described to you in your training and they are:

  • To maai
  • Issoku itto no maai
  • Chika maai

The most commonly used maai is Issoku itto no maai.

Kiai (The Yell)

The kiai is the sound made by the kendoist prior to, and at the moment of cutting. It is a piercing yell emanating ( ideally ) from the hara and is used to mentally overcome the opponent prior to cutting and to add emphasis to the cut. The kiai brings together our mental and physical energy, our body movement and our cutting technique into an explosive force. By concentrating on the development and application of our kiai, we can improve our mental and physical strength and call upon reserves of energy when we would otherwise be exhausted.

Zanshin (Awareness)

At all  times in Kendo you must be aware of the environment around you. This is particularly important immediately after making the cut, as it is during that split second after the cut that you must assess if your cut was successful or not and take appropriate action. Zanshin is achieved by keeping the body relaxed, the mind clear and by maintaining correct posture at all times.

Metsuke (Vision)

Metsuke refers to the way we view our opponent. As stated earlier, we must avoid looking specifically at one point of our opponent’s body. Rather, we must look through him as if we were viewing a distant mountain. We can then be aware of not just our opponent, but also the immediate surroundings. Correct metsuke will allow us to detect clearly our opponent’s movements and respond swiftly to them.

Mokuso (Meditation)

Mokuso is a traditional Zen method of meditation. You should be sitting in zazen (seiza position with legs tucked underneath you and your buttocks resting on your heels). Straighten the back and relax the upper body. The head should be erect with the chin tucked in. The eyes should be almost shut with the gaze lowered to about 1 metre in front of you. Turn both palms up and cradle the left hand on top of the right hand making an “O” shape with the thumbs. The thumbs should be just lightly touching each other. Your breathing should be slow and controlled as this is to free the mind of any thoughts.

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