This post is an audio podcast btw.

Define what it is, first.

David Pan Sensei gave me the kanji for sutemi and shishin below:

捨て身        &        止心

 

Geoff Salmon Sensei tells it like it is.

 

“…sutemi means committing yourself one hundred percent to an attack without fearing the consequences.”

 

‘Sutemi’ is referred to as 100% commitment to a strike.  Shishin is the opposite.   A lack of confidence and a sense of being preoccupied in something that could go wrong is my definition of shishin.

We all know the classic symptoms of shishin:  ‘Stopping’ in the middle of a strike.  Making contact with the target, but lacking kiai.  I think it’s impossible to score an amazing point or create great yuko-datotsu when you’re under shishin.

Here’s an embarrassing story of shishin.

I was pushed out of bounds 4 times in my first tournament.  Actually, I stepped out of the court four (4) consecutive times.  At least I didn’t catch on fire.  So, it wont surprise you that this 13 year-old was determined not to step out of bounds ever again.  My second tournament rolls around. I didn’t fall off of the court.  But, I was so preoccupied with coloring within the lines that I was easily two-pointed and lost these matches within seconds.  I didn’t care much about connecting and dominating the kid in front of me with the best kendo I had.  The results aren’t surprising.

I’m sure we’ve all been preoccupied with what could go wrong during a strike.  In tournament shiai, we fear getting our kote hit when go for a simple uchikomi men.  We fear getting impaled in the soft tissues of the neck during a failed tsuki.  We fear losing the match when our team is counting on the win.  Maybe you’re just preoccupied with a throbbing blister on the base of your left hand.  There are tons of things that can preoccupy us each strike.  I’m sure I could make a never ending list right now.

I’ve been taught not to fear things and have confidence.

But, this advice was frustrating to hear from my Sensei.  For many years, I didn’t see the benefit of being 100% committed to each strike.  Other students would get praise for their display of sutemi as they won matches and placed highly in tournaments with confidence.  Every time I would commit, I’d get my kote picked off and lose the match.  I thought there must be some secret sauce that they had, and it wasn’t sutemi.  When you feel like you’ve done exactly as your Sensei has taught you and you don’t get immediate results, I hope you don’t feel robbed the way I did.

Was my Sensei wrong?

Was this classic advice from generations of kendo experience a farce?

Years passed, and my other skills developed.  I still lacked sutemi in many ways, but my waza were physically stronger and more rich in context.  I understood how to connect to the person in front of me and gain control of the keiko.  I came around to practicing commitment to the strike again. I finally hit sutemi hard, and everything seemed to fit in place.  Keiko and shiai was exiting again as I exemplified full commitment to each potential yuko-datotsu without the fear of limitless unwanted outcomes.  Sutemi uncovered all that I had developed over the years.  I realized that full commitment had never failed me.  I just expected it to bring forth ideal results that require far more improvement in my kendo as a whole.

Sensei was telling me this for a reason.

I’m now confident that confident kendo is always a good thing.  Also, I’m certain that a prolonged frustration from a lack of tournament results is painful, awkward to watch, and isn’t the best motivator.