Kirikaeshi: (切り返し:きりかえし), literal meaning “cutting repeatedly”, is a kendo exercise, combining the practice of attacking and receiving strikes and is meant to develop physical strength, spirit, and vigor. Kirikaeshi is also known as uchikaeshi (打ち返し:うちかえし) “striking repeatedly”.
In my experience at Doshikai Kendo and Iaido Dojo, Kirikaeshi is performed at the beginning after warm-ups and at the end of practice. This underscores the importance of Kirikaeshi and hints to how the kendoka needs internalize the practice. Kirikaeshi is the beginning and end of kendo, and all that falls in the middle. To frame it in another form of eastern philosophy, Kirikaeshi is the yin and the yang of Kendo.
A simple internet search for “Kirikaeshi” will yield literally thousands of results, each with a small list of benefits that Kirikaeshi is supposed to provide. This list usually includes such physical benefits as developing strong ki-ai, breath control, grip, improved timing, and perception of distance, coordination, and footwork. I found this very helpful, but after some thought determined that all of these things could be learned through other forms of kendo practice, so why the emphasis on Kirikaeshi? Why is Kirikaeshi to be thought of as the beginning and end of kendo?
To fully understand how the practitioners will benefit from Kirikaeshi we have to understand that kendo is a practice that cannot be performed alone. One must have a partner to perform Kirikaeshi and to gain what it has to offer. In Kirikaeshi the two kendoka performing the drill must act in unison. The attacker and receiver have to act as a single unit. The drill simply does not work when either player attempts to lead or when either player tries to anticipate the actions of the other. Kirikaeshi seems to be a drill that requires each player to “feel” the others intention and react without excessive thought as to the proper outcome. This seems to be why Kirikaeshi is so hard to master and why it is so useful in kendo.
The attacker must perform sho-men, tai-atari, four yoko men forward followed by five yoko men in reverse then repeat the procedure. The receiver must mirror each step of the attacker to maintain proper distance and assist in keeping proper time, accepting the strikes as they come without reacting in any defensive way other than shifting the shinai from side to side to receive the blow. After the second sequence of advancing and retreating men strikes the roles of attacker and receiver are reversed and Kirikaeshi continues. Theoretically this can continue forever with the attacker and receiver each being simultaneously in opposition and in cooperation. Each player is both the attacker and receiver at once.
How is this interplay between the two participants supposed to benefit the individual who practices Kendo? The “do” in kendo identifies it as a “way.” The influence of Buddhism on the martial arts of Japan can easily be seen at play here and in the relationship between the two kendo players in Kirikaeshi. It is my understanding that Buddhism as an “ism’ really isn’t and “ism” so much as it is a way to change how the individual perceives themselves and the world around them. In its simplest form it has more in common with psychotherapy than any religion and is used as a method of personal development. The “way” from the Buddhist point of view would be to identify the self as not being separate from the whole of the universe. The beginning and the end become as one and the individual is able to achieve a state of oneness with the universe.
As it relates to Kirikaeshi this “way” can allow a player to perceive their partner without preconceived ideas, fears, confusion, or lust for result. The relationship that is cultivated through the practice of Kirikaeshi can be carried with us into each match allowing us to use to basic techniques we learn without overt intention or desire and allow us to see ourselves as not being separate from both the sword and our partner. In this way, Kirikaeshi embodies the “Concept of Kendo” as established by the All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975.
-The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the
application of the principles of the Katana (sword).