The Importance Placed on the Men Technique
In kendō, the men technique (particularly shōmen-uchi) is held in high regard. For instance, of the various types of suburi the most commonly conducted strike is that of shōmen-uchi. Furthermore, it is common practice in kirikaeshi to include a shōmen-uchi at the beginning, middle, and end of the exercise. It is even common to see a men-uchi as the final strike in gokaku-geiko. How was it that so much importance came to be placed on the men technique?
According to the regulations of modern shiai, there is no special ranking placed on any of the four targets of men, kote, dō, or tsuki. However, as far as the shimpan of the early Shōwa period were concerned, men techniques were more highly regarded than the other targets. In 1929, the text Budō hōkan, published in commemoration of the tenran-shiai (a competitionheld in the presence of the emperor), makes reference to the “mind-set for kendō refereeing” according to the three masters Takano Sasaburō, Nakayama Hakudō, and Saimura Gorō. It declares, “We consider even a light tobikomi-men to be adequate”, “when one strikes at dō, and the other makes clear contact with his men an instant later, this is near enough to ai-uchi (simultaneous strikes)”. These words are similar to those mentioned by the Dai-Nippon Butokukai’s (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society, Yamagata division) 1910 publication, the Kendō yōran by Koseki Norimasa. This was probably a common sentiment in all of the Butokukai branches from the end of the Meiji period until the beginning of the Shōwa period.
However until the middle of the Edo period, it was not typical for any particular value to be placed on attacking men (the head). In the text Kenroku (volume 11) authored by Ogyū Sorai in the twelfth year of Kyōhō (1727), he states “Schools in which the main intent is to attack the opponent’s head are suitable for peaceful times. However, one should realise that although strikes can be made at the kabuto (helmet), too much focus on this type of training may not be useful in actual battle.” Within the switch from the kenjutsu of the Warring States period to the unarmoured kenjutsu of the peaceful era, more schools focusing more on striking at the head (men) began to emerge. However, as this passage indicates, their methods were very different to times when armour was required in combat.
Following this, the use of trainingarmour in sword schools (particularly men and kote) continued to disseminate until the late 1700s, and with prohibition of taryū-jiai lifted from the Tempō era, exchanges and interactions between different schools increased. It was through this progression that, as men techniques were considered more difficult compared to other techniques, consideration to the value of mastering this difficult technique became more widespread.
In the text “撃剣難波之楳” (1858) written by Tenshin Shirai-ryū exponent, Tsutsui Rokuhana, it states “one should attack men from jōdan clearly”, and “striking men from jōdan is ideal, yet in a difficult situation, one may also attack from seigan or gedan.” Further, when Shindō Munen-ryū student, Ono Junzō, was queried by anopponent why he does not attack tsuki or dō, he answered “both tsuki and dō are simple attacks, whereas men and kote are harder. For this reason, it is important to attempt to master difficult techniques over easier ones.” (“Shindō Munen-ryū kenjutsu menkyo benkai” (1867), contained in Kuki-shi shi). This is an extension of Naitō Takaharu hanshi’s words “the hardest thing to strike is an opponent’s men”.
Kubota Seion of the Tamiya-ryū, and chief of the bakufu’s military academy the Kōbusho, talked about the importance of striking men from the viewpoint of instructing novices. In the Kenhō ryakki (1839), Kubota suggests that at the “beginning” stages “one should attack men and kote many times. Men attacks should make up seventy percent, and kote thirty percent of training”. Without this emphasis “one’s techniques will become unbalanced.” Furthermore, it is also advised that one strive to execute the techniques obediently maintaining
In the AJKF’s seminar textbook in the section regarding teaching men strikes to beginners, it is also written that “shōmen uchi forms the basis for every technique, and it is essential that a great deal of time is dedicated to its detailed instruction.” Shōmen-uchi came to be viewed as an important part of kendō technique due to the idea “because it is difficult, it has value”, and “by executing many dedicated attacks at men with correct posture, it is possible to encourage beginner’s to maintain correct form for other techniques.”