4 Easy Muscle Training for Winning Ippon

Kendo player with polygon framents image

Practical Training to Incorporate in Kendo Practice

Muscle Training has struggled to become a regular part of kendo training. There is a traditional mindset that thinks you only need to work diligently on your regular training, and also the thought that in kendo you do not need to rely on raw power in your striking. But some strong schools that research sport science have seen some good success with the introduction of Muscle Training. Training your soma and building the necessary muscles for explosive moves leads to a more refined kendo style and better match performances. You cannot win simply by working on your technique; you must have the muscles to accompany the technique. To seize a short moment of opportunity to strike into your opponent, you need strength in your lower body; and to output your skills with speed you need strength in your upper body.

Muscle Training for Explosive Strength

The explosive strength needed in kendo comes from your legs’ kicking power. To strike quickly when you see an opportunity, you need strength in your calf muscles, and your also need muscles in your thigh so you can lunge at your opponent at any moment.

 Training up your Calf

Calf raise exercise for KendoThe calf muscles can be trained up 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.

  1. Stand on the floor barefooted and open your feet to the width of your shoulders.
  2. Slowly stand on your toes. Imagine your head being pulled upwards.
  3. When you have stood on your toes, slowly lower your heels toward the floor.
  4. Don’t let your heels touch the floor. Just before it touches the floor, move up again.
  5. Usually this is repeated about 15-20 times, but you can either increase the number or use weights for greater training effect. 

Tokuren - Supreme Madake Koto Shinai

Muscle Exercise to Training your Shinai Swing

Kendo Shinai hitting MenIt is often said that you don’t just swing the shinai with your muscular strength, but by effectively using your joints. 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 not gained much popularity in kendo. Yes still you cannot win matches without muscular strength. If there is too big a difference between you and your opponent, you cannot stop the advancing shinai and will lose. The muscles needed for swinging the shinai are the latissimus dorsi muscle, the triceps brachii muscle, and gripping strength. Being able to snap your wrists is also important. I will list the ways to train each part, but too much Muscle Training can ruin your form in kendo. Use these to work on the parts where you feel you lack muscles, and don’t overdo it! 

Training your Lat

Training your latissimus dorsi muscle prevents you from swinging the shinai just with your arms. You posture improves and you can swing the shinai with less swaying. Before you train your arms, try and get some muscles at your back.

  1. Lie face-down on a mat laid on the floor. Lock your arms behind your head.
  2. 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.
  3. Do this about 10-15 times. You can increase this number, or do 3 sets with breaks in-between according to your own stamina. 

Training your Triceps

You use your triceps brachii muscle to swing the shinai upward quickly. To strike the men without showing any lapses for your opponent to exploit, the speed to swing upward is more important than the speed when you strike down. If you can beat your opponent in the speed to swing up, you can win an ai-men ippon. Reverse push-up image for triceps training in Kendo

  1. You face upward and perform a sort of “reverse push-up”.
  2. Sit on a bench (or a low chair) and place your hands on both sides.
  3. Stretch your legs and slide forward.
  4. 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.
  5. Aim for about 10 times. When you are comfortable, do 3 sets.
  6. 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 Wrist Snap 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, I recommend using pet-bottles in training.

  1. Get two pet-bottles between 500ml~2L, and fill it with water to about a third of its capacity.
  2. Hold each of bottle by the lid with both hands, and hold them straight.
  3. Swing the bottles up and down while working the snap as you do with the shinai.
  4. 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.

Raiden - 26mm Ultimate Dobari Shinai

Summary

I have introduced some Muscle Training methods that can improve your explosive strength and also the shinai swing. There are many opinions, even regarding the most basic question: “Is Muscle Training necessary in kendo?” But 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 air-swings, but sometimes you need Muscle Trainings 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 Muscle Training. You will gain the necessary explosive strength that can ensure you to win that ippon your have worked hard for. In most houses the ceiling is too low for doing air-swings, so try and keep up your daily training by implementing Muscle Training that can be done indoors.