We played the Canadian Women’s Team at the U of T Tournament last weekend. In one of the matches, our biggest, tallest player was matched up against the smallest player on the women’s team. She stepped out of bounds once. If he’d played a more physical game (i.e. more pushing), he might have been able to get her to step out of bounds again. That would have resulted in a point for us. All other things being the same, we would have won the team match.
I talked with my student later about why he didn’t do that. His response reminded me of words I’d uttered myself in U of T tournaments past. “I didn’t want to be known as THAT guy who won by pushing out a smaller opponent.”
It was interesting to hear that. I’d lost a match in overtime years earlier because “I didn’t think it was a proper way to win” the match. I backed off slightly and my opponent promptly took advantage of that and scored a point, winning the match. A former sensei said to me after the match that I should have pushed my opponent out because, after all, it’s a tournament. You lose, you’re done.
Pushing in keiko is generally a waste of energy and time. In tournament, there’s a different dynamic to pushing. When there are clear rules about how points are scored, it’s important to know what they are. If you can avoid taking penalties and get your opponent to take one or two, you’re closer to winning.
Is it “perfect world Kendo”? Of course not. Ideally we’d win because we did our best Kendo. The reality is if you win by making your opponent take two penalties, you still win.
Obviously, Kendo isn’t sumo. Only scoring points by pushing your opponents out of the ring isn’t good Kendo. However, if there’s a reasonable opportunity to “push your opponent off a cliff” (the metaphor I like to use for stepping out of bounds), I think it’s warranted.
I should also point out it’s absolutely fine if you make your opponent step out because they’re backing up in response to pressure from you. If they step off the cliff because they’re not aware of the edge of the ring, well, that’s their problem, isn’t it? Same result, different method – a push with spirit vs a physical push.