Incorporating Practical Muscle Training into Kendo Practice
Muscle training (amongst other forms of cross-training) has struggled to become a regular part of kendo keiko. There is a traditional mindset that thinks you need only to work diligently at regular keiko, and also the thought that in kendo you do not need to rely on raw power in your striking. This sentiment is largely true, the best thing for your keiko is more keiko!
However, some strong schools that research sport science have seen some good success with the introduction of muscle training to their students’ regimens. Training your muscles for specifically towards the explosive movements in kendo leads to a more refined style and better match performances. Whilst refining your technique is crucial, improving your strength and muscle memory will raise your skill ceiling. To seize a short moment of opportunity and strike your opponent, you need strength in your lower body; and to perform your cuts with speed you need strength in your upper body.
Muscle Training for Explosive Strength
The explosive strength needed to invade maai (distance) successfully comes from your legs. To strike quickly when you see an opportunity, you need strength in your calf muscles, and you also need muscles in your thighs so you can lunge at your opponent at any moment.
Training your Calves
The calf muscles can be trained simply by standing on your toes. It seems easy, but repeating it slowly many times can be quite tiring. Imagine grabbing the floor with your toes. If you can get a good grip with your toes, it gives also gives you a stronger kick, so be mindful of that too during this training.
- Stand on the floor barefooted and open your feet to the width of your shoulders.
- Slowly stand on your toes. Imagine your head being pulled upwards.
- When you have stood on your toes, slowly lower your heels toward the floor.
- Don’t let your heels touch the floor. Just before they touch the floor, move up again.
- Usually this is repeated about 15-20 times, but you can either increase the number or use weights to train either stamina or power respectively.
Muscle Exercises to improve your Cuts
It is often said that you don’t swing the shinai withbrute force, but by effectively using your joints in unison. When you rely on muscular strength, you put in too much weight and you end up swinging the shinai downward with your right hand. This will not lead to improvement in kendo. This may be why muscle training has gained a bad reputation in kendo. However, well trained muscle in your back, shoulders and forearms are incredibly useful improving explosive speed when it comes to cuts. The muscles needed for swinging the shinai are the latissimus dorsi muscles, the triceps brachii muscles, and your grip strength. Being able to snap your wrists fluidly is also important. We will list a simple exercise to train each part, but don’t forget your form – temper your muscle training with plenty of suburi and uchikomi. Use these to work on the parts where you feel you lack muscles, just don’t overdo it!
Training your Lats
Training your latissimus dorsi muscles prevents you from swinging the shinai just with your arms. Your posture improves and you can swing the shinai with less swaying. Before you train your arms, try and get some muscles in your back.
- Lie face-down on a mat laid on the floor. Lock your arms behind your head.
- Slowly bend your back upwards. Place your stomach on the floor and only bend your back. If you bend your hips too it could lead to hip-pains. Keep your feet stable, keep your toes touching the ground too.
- Do this about 10-15 times. You can increase this number, or do 3 sets with breaks in-between according to your own stamina.
If you can, also do Pull-ups! These are fantastic for your upper body strength and require all of the key elements that good cut does as well!
Training your Triceps
You use your triceps brachii muscles to swing the shinai upward quickly. To strike the men without showing any lapses for your opponent to exploit, the speed you swing upward with is more important than the speed when you strike down. Every little bit of edge increases your chance of taking that ai or debana men. Tricep dips are your best friends here! The example we give starts on a box, but level it up to parallel bars for increased resistance.
- You face upward and perform a sort of “reverse push-up”.
- Sit on a bench (or a low chair) and place your hands on both sides.
- Stretch your legs and slide forward.
- As your hips move past the edge of the bench, bend your elbows to a 90 degree angle and lower your hips, then stretch your elbows to bring your hips back up.
- Aim for about 10 times. When you are comfortable, do 3 sets.
- It is dangerous if the bench or chair is not stable. Do it by the wall or stabilize the legs of the bench/chair.
Strengthening your Wrists and Your Grip
To attain high quality skills in kendo, you need a good snap in your wrist and flexibility. Also, if you do not have a good grip, even when you put in a good strike it may not be called “ippon”. To strengthen your wrists and your grip, we recommend using pet-bottles in training.
- Get two pet-bottles between 500ml～2L, and fill it with water to about a third of its capacity.
- Hold each of bottle by the lid with both hands, and hold them straight.
- Swing the bottles up and down while working the snap as you do with the shinai.
- Start by doing this 10 times. Giving too much pressure to your wrists can damage your joints. But gaining more muscle little by little, you are able to continue for a long time.
We have introduced some muscle training methods that can improve your explosive strength and also your cuts. There are many opinions, even regarding the most basic question: “Is muscle training necessary in kendo?” There are often cases where there is such a huge difference in muscular strength that no matter what you do you cannot gain an ippon. It is important to increase the amount of training and suburi, but sometimes you need training options that are simple and easy to continue with at your home. Keep working diligently in your routine practice, and on top of that, work you muscles! You will slowly gain the necessary explosive strength that can ensure you can win that ippon you have worked hard for. In most houses the ceiling is too low for doing suburi, so try and keep up your daily training by implementing simple muscle training that can be done indoors.