What is ki-ken-tai-ichi?

Recently, I passed my Kendo shodan examination in Detroit. As part of the exam, I had to write an essay on the meaning of ki-ken-tai-ichi (気剣体一). Here is my essay.

Essay Question: Describe ki-ken-tai-ichi

Ki-ken-tai-ichi means the unity of mind, sword and body in Kendo. It is essential to making ippon or valid strikes, and to practicing Kendo that is correct and beautiful.

Ki (“Energy”)

When we strike, we must simultaneously kiai our target’s name. Our kiai expresses our intent at hitting the target. It gives ki and power to our strike.

Without a good kiai, our strike stays weak. Moreover, we show a lack of commitment to our attack. It is no better than swinging randomly at our opponents.

The kiai should be loud and sharp. It must not sputtter. Rather, it must go up in volume and end in a crescendo.

Ken (“Sword”)

We must strike with the correct part of our shinai’s monouchi.

Since the shinai represents the katana, the bamboo monouchi is a substitute for the steel monouchi. As kendo is part of swordsmanship training, we should always remember to strike correctly.

But “Ken” means more than just our shinai or sword. It means our kamae and waza, too.

With our sword, we maintain a good kamae, leaving no openings to our opponents. With our sword, we parry and riposte. We execute good waza and make ippon.

Tai (“Body”)

We must coordinate our strike with our footwork — while keeping good posture.

We keep our hand grip relaxed until the shinai hits its target. Then, our grip tightens for a moment and relaxes again. By using proper tenouchi, our strike becomes sharp and strong.

Almost simultaneously, our foot makes fumikomi. The fumikomi — like the kiai — strengthens our strike, and expresses our intent to strike.

We must keep a good posture during and after the strike. This keeps us physically and mentally ready to respond to our opponents. It is good zanshin.


“Ichi” means oneness or unity. All three elements — ki-ken-tai — must be present for ippon.

If our kamae looks dignified, but we can’t kiai or strike correctly, then our Kendo is lifeless like a statue.

If our kiai is loud, but we can’t strike correctly, then we are “all bark and no bite.”

If we have poor posture and clumsy footwork, then our Kendo becomes ugly and disjointed.

To improve our Kendo, we must train with ki-ken-tai in mind. To make our kiai strong, our strike sharp, our posture proper, and our movement graceful. Thus, we can practice beautiful and correct Kendo.