A story.

This was some four years ago at a taikai.  I remember overhearing a conversation between my Spokane Dojo’s Seth Denardi and C Dean DeJong Sensei.  Seth asked Sensei something about kamae.  The explanation drifted to a description of a stationary kamae where Dejong Sensei’s feet felt,

“…as is they were pushing the floorboards apart.”

He explained something along the lines of “Pushing your feet apart (even while you’re not physically moving forward or back) makes it quicker to move forward.  You’re always ready when you do this.” or something like that, but I obviously cant quote this precisely.  I don’t have Chris Ruiz level memory.

A cartoon of my shallow and one sided skepticism.

I imagined some cartoon with huge calves in a rigid kamae, too tense to move with an ounce of finesse, a divergent fault line forming in the flooring below him.

I was inadvertently making a mockery of something I didn’t understand.  If I just accepted the possibility that I had incomplete knowledge about kendo footwork, I probably wouldn’t be creating caricatures like these that would prove to be self defeating in the long run.

Pushing the floorboards apart in kendo, kamae footwork and stance.

My initial rejection of the idea of ‘pushing the floor apart’ was an obvious mistake.  How could I have such assurance that I understood more than a teacher with a wealth of experiential knowledge?  

I’m typically plagued by a wave of skepticism when I hear something that appears outlandish.  When it’s stated as an undisputed fact, the skepticism is often transformed to a challenge to falsify the claim.  This floor pushing sounded like a challenge to me at the time.

So.

Every time I see/hear some technique kendo that sounds incorrect or unusual, I try to accept that there is a chance I just don’t fully understand the complex benefits and reasoning behind the technique.  Sometimes the way a technique is explained in words doesn’t appear to line up with what a teacher physically shows as an example, so I guess this problem exists too.

Aaron's experience with creating floorboard fault lines.

The first try.

I tried standing this way, approx. four years ago.  I tried to push the floor apart, and it was the most awkward kamae I could remember.  My image of an ideal stationary kamae was the typically cited 50/50 weight distribution between the front and back foot. 

Geoff Salmon Sensei’s post linked here

features weight distribution descriptions from Matsumoto Toshio Hanshi 9th Dan who also uses this kind of ratio based explanation, “…the distribution of weight becomes 70:30…”.  This description of footwork appears to imply that the only forces of pressure on the floor are the downward force of gravity during stationary kamae.

A second.

A couple years later, I felt refreshed and revisited this description of stationary kamae footwork.  I understood more of the reasoning behind the counter-pressure.  If my feet were actively pushing apart, my only action to move forward was to release the connection between my front foot and the ground.  After a few weeks of drilling the kihon of ‘push the floor apart’ that lead into application in uchikomi and keiko, I wasn’t particularly impressed.  I found myself agreeing that there were certain comparative advantages with using that footwork in kamae, but I found maintaining that stance tiring.  Pushing my feet apart appeared to force me to become somewhat stationary, all the time.  I accepted that I might be lacking some prerequisite skill to make this footwork effective. I also accepted the chance that I’m just practicing some imagined ephemeral description.  I feel that I was finally able to give up part of my hubris in asserting that 50/50 was the only ‘correct’ kamae. I gave it up for a year.

The third try was worth it, 10/10.

About a year ago, I revisited pushing the floor apart for the third time.

By then, I had veered away from my predominantly normative view of kendo.  I didn’t want to be someone who shoots down a technique simply because I don’t agree with it (which often means that I simply don’t understand it).  Instead of filtering every suggestion and observation of kendo in a ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ classification, I had decided to allow for the significantly likely (or obviously true) chance that my knowledge of kendo is flawed (to a large extent, at least).

I saw that DeJong Sensei’s explanation might be the best way to stand in stationary kamae.  It might be completely wrong.  It might be partially correct.  Correctness no longer mattered, and all I wanted to do was explore what potential tradeoffs were available from pushing the floorboards apart.

Tradeoffs.  

Or mutually exclusive pros and pros.

Pros of pushing the floorboards apart in stationary kamae.

Option A.

  1. It appears to add to the propensity to accelerate the center of gravity forward, and back.
    1. There is a complex set of muscular contractions and shifting of skeletal position that takes place in an explosive movement of a strike.  Standing this way appears to add to the initial acceleration of the center of gravity forward in the beginning of an explosion forward in a strike.
    2. I first thought that this would slow me down and be a source of unnecessary tension, but counter-pressure in stationary footwork appears to have proven itself to be powerful and free of unnecessary tension (if mastered to some threshold).
  2. It appears to create consistent and controlled friction with the ground.
    1. The surface of the feet appear to stick to the floor’s surface in a more dynamic way than option 2.  For some miraculous reason, I still never get blisters on my feet.
  3. Habitually using this counter-pressure in moments of stationary kamae ensures that my bodily and psychological intentions remain forward oriented.
    1. The phrase ‘flat footed’ is often given to someone who stands in stationary kamae without any intention to commit to a genuine strike if the need arises.  Counter-pressure footwork in kamae may not guarantee a genuine strike intention, but it appears to guarantee a physical alertness and readiness to accelerate the center of gravity forward or back that appears to be a prerequisite in a genuine strike attempt.
  4. This way of standing in stationary kamae appears to give a sense of movement forward or back when there really is not.
    1. I can gradually increase the counter pressure when building ‘seme’ pressure in stationary kamae.
    2. It seems to add to my ‘bag of tricks’ in pressuring and inducing my opponent or training partner to respond or show me likely future responses to stimulus.
  5. Practicing this kind of footwork in itsself appears to have given me a deeper understanding of tai-sabaki and footwork in general.
    1. Even if I never use this counter-pressure at some point, the training was well worth it.

Pros of stationary kamae without counter-pressure between the feet.

Option B.

  1. It’s takes less muscular effort, I think.
    1. Counter pressure was really tiring at first.  Now It feels natural and easy, but it got my legs pretty sore at first.
  2. It’s probably distracting for newer students.
    1. From a teaching aspect, I don’t think I’d go teaching this to a group of shodan-nidan students.  It looks to be a technique that requires a certain foundation of external athleticism and skill.
  3. You can’t necessarily move to the right or left as you’re ‘counter-pressur-ing’.
    1. Really, counter-pressure is somewhat omnidirectional on the plane of the floor. You can counter-pressure from the left and the right to make accelerating to the left and right quicker, but that seems to throw off forward and back movement.  Counter-pressure is used so instinctively in keiko.  I’ve never felt some kind of internal conflict where I desired to accelerate to the right but my counter-pressure forward and back would refuse to allow me a quick movement.
  4. Unequal weight distribution is possible.
    1. Sometimes people like to describe weight distribution in ratios.  For example, they’ll say,” 50/50 front foot and back foot”.  Counter-pressure requires a 50/50 gravitational downward weight distribution due to a forward and backward force that must be matched by the gravitational force downward.  Otherwise, your feet will slide apart.  Or, one foot will end up pushing your GOG forward/back as the other foot slides.  So, if you want a 30/70 weight distribution, counter pressure in stationary kamae will appear physically impossible.

I think pushing the floor apart in counter-pressure has unexpected benefits.

It’s become enriching to my keiko application and training.

Although, I don’t require myself to rigidly practice counter-pressure.

Not in every moment of stationary kamae.

Also, most people won’t even notice you’re doing it. I think.