The reason for fixed stances and handedness

by Jason Ng

Dear Imafuji-sensei,

From the few dojos I have seen and in the majority of competition videos, kendo practitioners always stick to the usual stance of having the left foot be the rear foot in the stance, and the left hand to be the back hand for the sword grip.

In many martial arts, adaptability and flexibility are important, and I see no reason as to why the stances cannot be reversed, or at least taught so that either left or right can be used. I also feel that by utilising both sides of the body well, the body becomes more coordinated and the muscles trained become more balanced.

Is it because of tradition?
While I don't mean to sound disrespectful, I feel that if tradition is the reason why things are taught this way, it is not a good enough reason. Additionally, while there are no rules directly banning the use of a mirrored stance, a few other senseis and kendo practitioners have told me that because they have been trained and taught that way, shinpan/judges tend to be biased towards the usual stance and techniques.

Is respect for tradition more important than adaptability and more flexible training? If techniques are executed with skill, spirit and proper use of the body (ki ken tai ichi), why shouldn't it be considered even with the use of unorthodox stances? With the right show of discipline and spirit, is an ippon not an ippon?

In many other martial arts, there is no fixed handedness, it would depend on the individual and his or her preferences. Why is this not practised in kendo?

I would be very grateful for you answer and guidance.

Many thanks.

Answer: Thank you for your question and it is a very good question. It is more like a historical reason. Kendo is derived from samurai swordsmanships.
So it follows the way we used to use the sword as Concept of Kendo defined by International Kendo Federation.

The samurai used to carry their swords on their left hip. I think it is because back in old days their main fight was on horses and they used their left hand to hold the rein. Why left hand? I have no idea. Maybe there were more right handed people so they used the right hand for pulling the arrow and using the sword. You can read why we have the left side is on top.

So they decided to hear their sword on their left side of their body. They considered their own sword as a more important object than their own life, they wouldn’t have let anyone touch their sword. If someone touched, they would kill him/her. So that also determined which way of the street and how they walked on the street.

For this reasons, everyone had to follow one rule; Have your sword on your left side.

Anyway that means they needed to use the right hand to pull out their sword and with the left hand they pulled the saya as it is seen in Iaido. This makes the right hand at the tsuba and the left hand at the bottom of the tsuka.

In old days, APPARENTLY the switched stance was seen as a “cheat” because of the reasons mentioned above.

So in the kendo world, we don’t switch the hands position.

Having said all this, I also add that there are no regulations on the stitched hands. So technically you can switch your hands. As long as you do kendo as determined in Concept of Kendo, I don’t see any problem with the switched stance. But almost no one does that, I don’t think many can teach how to do it.

Hope this helps.

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