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There are five basic kamae, or stances, in the Japanese sport of Kendo. These are, in order of decreasing utility, chuudan-no-kamae, joudan-no-kamae, gedan-no-kamae, hassou-no-kamae, and waki-gamae. Collectively, they are known as itsutsu-no-kamae, or "the five postures."

Chuudan-no-kamae


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"The center position." The most basic position of kendo, the one from which most waza begin, and the most commonly used in shiai. In this position the feet are about one fist's width apart from one another, with the right foot advanced so that its heel is on a line with or just in front of the toes of the left foot. The spine is held straight and vertical, but relaxed. The shinai is held with the left hand at the base of the hilt, with the fingers curling around the handle and away from the body and the pinky almost falling off the end. The right hand is at the top of the hilt, with the fingers in the same fashion as the left, and the index finger touching the back of the tsuba. With both hands the grip is firm in the pinky, ring finger, and the middle finger, and light in the index finger and thumb. The shinai is held straight in front of the center of the body, with the left hand one fist's width from the lower abdomen and the right hand forward away from the body, in such a manner that the tip of the sword would threaten the throat of an opponent. This position allows swift and even movement, as well as easy performance of men, kote, and do strikes, without leaving the user's own striking zones overly vulnerable. It is the most versatile of the five postures. Standing and moving comfortably in this position is one of the foundations of good kendo.

Joudan-no-kamae

                                                   

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"The upper position." A slightly higher-level position, an aggressive stance aimed at targeting the head, and the second most commonly used in shiai. Joudan is similar to chuudan, except that the sword is raised over the head as if beginning a men strike. The hands hold the shinai in the usual manner, and the left hand is placed one fist's width above and in front of the forehead, with the right hand placed in such a manner that the sword makes a 45-degree angle with the body. The left hand may grip slightly tighter than usual. This position continues to allow swift movement, if somewhat less swift than that afforded by chuudan. The stance allows greater striking speed and reach than chuudan does, and is focused on striking the opponent's men before the opponent can initiate an offense against the user. It leaves the user's kote and do open to attack, but compensates for this with its strong offense and intimidating appearance. As kendoka approach their first black belt (shodan) they typically begin to learn this stance. It has three variations: hidari-joudan, in which the left foot is put forward and the sword is tilted slightly to the right; hidari-katate-joudan, in which the left foot is forward and only the left hand holds the shinai; and migi-katate-joudan, in which the right foot is put forward and only the right hand holds the shinai. The first of these variations sacrifices striking speed for striking range; it is even more aggressive than standard joudan. The other two are used primarily in two-sword techniques, which are not covered here.

Gedan-no-kamae

                                                   
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"The lower position." A slightly higher-level position of kendo, a defensive stance aimed at targeting the hands, rarely used in shiai. Gedan is identical to chuudan, except that the right hand is lowered until the tip of the sword is on a level with the knees. This position allows swift, smooth movement, and puts the sword in a good position to intercept the opponent's attacks and perform counterattacks, especially against the kote and tsuki. Gedan appears to leave the user's men and kote open to attack, but they are not so open as they appear. It encourages rash attacks which can then be countered. Due to the likelihood of an opponent penetrating its defenses and scoring against the user, gedan is rarely seen in competitive matches, and then only for short periods of time.

Hassou-no-kamae

                                     

                                                               
                                                                                                    
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                               ...     .  .                                                         

"The starting/forward position." This position is similar to hidari-jodan in that the left foot is forward and the right is turned slightly outwards. The sword is held, without changing the grip, at the right shoulder. The right hand is a fist's width to the right of the head, with its index finger at the level of the corner of the mouth. The left hand is below the right and a little forward, in such a place that the sword is held vertically, with a very slight tilt backwards over the shoulder. This position exposes the user's head and left arm, and is rather awkward to begin waza from. It is used primarily as a "fake" from joudan. Due to its lack of advantages over other positions, this stance is almost never used in shiai. It appears in kata number four.

Waki-gamae

                                                   

                                                 
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"The side position." This position is similar to hassou-no-kamae in that the left foot is forward and the right is turned slightly outwards. The sword is held without changing the grip, with the left hand at the right hip and the right hand slightly below and behind. The sword points backwards, away from the opponent, and its edge faces the ground. The blade should be completely behind the user's body. This stance is aimed at concealing the length of the user's sword from the opponent, and bringing the sword around in a large arc to strike. Note that the sword in the picture above is hidden from anyone standing in front of the user. Because of the long time it takes to strike from this position, as well as the standardized length of modern kendo swords it is almost never used in shiai. Waki-gamae appears in kata number four.


P.S.: If anyone can think of a prominent character from fiction who used gedan-no-kamae, please let me know.

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