Spend any time at all in a To-Shin Do dojo, or watch any of our NinjaSelfDefense.com courses, and you’ll hear us talk about kamae all the time. Without the proper structure to our body, techniques don’t work the way they should and we open ourselves up to more dangers. Without good kamae, we create more potential problems instead of creating more potential solutions.
“Knees bent, back straight, hands up,” are words that echo in every training space. Those are the essential points of good kamae, and we want to be constantly aware of them. There are also some other important ways of training with kamae, so here we’ll explore that concept a little further.
The sixth of our twelve keys is:
KAMAE 構 BASE
“Good flexed-knee foundation for balance and mobility – Head over shoulders, …over hips, …over feet? Face safe? Hands cover targets? Legs ready to protect”
-An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, To-Shin Do Official Curriculum
The first step in studying kamae is finding our body in the correct position to use our skeleton for strength and balance, instead of muscles alone. In general terms this means shoulders over hip, hips over ankles, and the spine in a straight alignment. We want to constantly check to be sure we are not out of place or out of balance. Without proper kamae we have lost our own balance control, have a much harder time controlling the opponent’s balance, our ma-ai timing, our coordination, all of these other skills within our twelve keys fall apart quickly. Good kamae also means we are able to effectively use our tools when and where we need them. If our strike or kick feels slow or weak or clunky, one of the first things to check is whether or not we started in good kamae.
As we get more comfortable with proper posture, another level of practice is to be aware of all the advantages within each kamae we use. Whether it is unarmed, sword, bo, or any tool whatsoever, how we hold ourselves and the weapon creates certain openings, and takes away certain openings. Hold our hands one way and it is more likely we’ll get punched in the stomach rather than the face, for example. It also can change which strike or cut we would ourselves use. There are natural ways to attack with a sword from daijodan no kamae, for example, and there are ways that are more awkward and easier to see the cut coming.
Another level of this concept has us examine kamae from the inside. If our body is trying to charge forward with fire energy, but our mind and spirit want the space and comfort of water distancing, then our body might be in perfect kamae, but we are out of kamae on the inside. Our kokoro-gamae, the kamae of our heart or spirit is not where it should be. Having the right intention and focus of spirit is just as much kamae, and just as important, as the alignment of our spine, just as important as our mi-gamae or kamae of our body. If the spirit is in the right place, often the body will find its way into kamae.
We can also start looking at our attacker’s kamae, which will lead to the key we will explore next month, controlling balance. Kamae is a rich and important concept to explore. Having one of these ideas as a focus of training on a regular basis is vital for taking our taijutsu skills to the next level … no matter what that next level is.