What is a true Ippon ?

What is an Ippon ? Isn’t it just a point in shiai ?
I will analyze the meaning of Ippon as presented by Inoue-sensei in the above video rather than by a solely competitive perspective.

What is the philosophy behind Ippon, and how should that influence your practice ?

I really recommend watching the above video either now, or later. Every single video of Inoue-sensei I watched proved to be most insightful and enriching.

Before delving into the subject, I would like to point out that this is the second edition of this article. I had written it before, but I was unsatisfied with the end-result. Therefore, I decided to re-make it to improve its quality.


Inoue-sensei begins by reminding us that, ultimately the best victory would be to “win without physical combat, win without striking“.

This is Katsu Jin Ken (活人剣) ; the life-saving sword, first written in Heiho Kadensho  (1632) by Yagyu Munenori. It was written in a Japan that had just seen centuries of destructive conflict, and had just been pacified by the Tokugawa Shogunate.

As such, the sword was seen as a destructive tool, and a sword-hunt had been made by the precursor of the Tokugawa Shogun. The Shogun himself desired to see the sword as a tool for peace, not one for destruction.

Yagyu Munenori, following his father‘s footsteps, and influenced by the Shogun’s ideas wrote down the concept of the life-saving sword.

However in Kendo, determining who has won without a strike would be nigh impossible. This is the reason why we need Ippon in Kendo.

Nonetheless, Ippon should not only be a matter of hitting. A true Ippon is one where victory took place before the strike.

Strike after having won, don’t win after having struck

Takano Sasaburo (高野佐三郎 – 1862 – 1950)

Victory takes place through seme, and riai. Then, through the strike (yukodatotsu) it becomes Ippon.

Those concepts may sound esoteric some, at least, they did to me for the first five years I practiced Kendo. I will try to clarify those concepts through this example :

When I practice with my sensei, I find it exceedingly difficult to find an opening in his kamae. His mind remains calm, and focused no matter what I do. And, sometimes, I find myself attacking without seeing an opening.

I make an attack that had no chance of suceeding in the first place, and I find myself wondering why I attacked at all.

I attacked because of seme.

I was focused, ready to attack, and also afraid of being attacked myself. So, as soon as my sensei made an insignificant, tiny movement that had the sole purpose of creating a reaction, I over-reacted by attacking. In this example, that movement was seme.

Through seme, he controlled me. He started my attack. As such, he could do a perfect debana, or oji-waza without any problem. Seme was the method, and riai was the purpose behind his seme ; in a way his strategy.

I have seen occasions where one or two of these highly skilled kenshi have acknowledged “mairimashita” (I concede) to a point before it was made, because their experience tells them that their opponent’s seme was strong enough to make the following ippon inevitable.

Geoff Salmon, 7th dan (Source)

Through seme and riai, my sensei had defeated me. The Ippon was only the physical confirmation of this victory.

That is how Inoue-sensei distinguishes Yukodatotsu and Ippon.

A Yukodatotsu is a situation where the attacker manifested having advantage following the rules of Kendo. One of its elements is a valid cut, on the correct target, with proper sae and hasuji, kikentai, and kiai. It is easy to see, and is what tends to score in shiai .

Ippon as said previously, is the definitive confirmation of the victory explained previously, through a yukodatotsu.

Inoue-sensei expands on Ippon with the idea that it is an attack made with desperation, as if one’s life depends on it. I believe one should not imagine a dark, negative feeling when hearing desperation here.

Desperation involves lack of hesitation ; the act of, without fear, putting all of your energy, your heart and mind behind a single cut. In other words, an attack that involves Sutemi.

Sutemi (捨身) is a word quite commonly used in Judo. It is mostly translated to English as “sacrifice“, but its literal meaning is “to discard one’s life“.

Not caring about one’s own survival sounds very counter-productive, if not even suicidal. Yet, it means getting rid of your fear of being struck (or cut down). That fear is one of the main causes of hesitation.

Surprise, fear, doubt, hesitation (Shikai ; the four sicknesses) are what slow us down. A cut without shikai is more explosive, faster, therefore much harder to counter than one that involves hesitation.

Not only does lack of shikai make your attacks better, but it also transpires in your attitude. You will seem more confident, and fearless. That in turn is intimidating to your opponents, and will cause shikai in them.

Then, wouldn’t the best way to ensure victory be to accept death ?

Those willing to die will live, and those willing to live will die

Admiral Yi Sun Shin

Just, as Kenji Tokitsu (Karate 10th Dan) said in Budô :

To be effective in combat, we should not think about harming our opponent, we should not think about winning.

Combat requires deploying all of our trained skills, our full abilities ; for that, we have to free ourselves from unecessary thoughts, which stand as obstacles.

Kenji Tokitsu (Karate 10th dan)

3 Replies to “What is a true Ippon ?”

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