[BLOG POST] - Let's Talk About ‘Tame’, What Actually is It?!

I believe that one of the most difficult obstacles we have in Kendo is dealing with many of the advanced concepts, that are hard to understand when studied in their native Japanese language - and even further complicated when translated into English.

As you advance along the long, and not-so-winding road that it Kendo, you will start to hear the term ‘Tame’ - pronounced ‘Ta’, as in beginning of the word ‘Tambourine’, and ‘Me’ as in the beginning of the word ‘Metric’.

In Japanese the word is written 溜めand literally translates to ‘accumulate’, ‘to amass’ or ‘to store’. In the English speaking world we use this often to describe a build up of pressure between oneself and one’s opponent, before the actual action of a strike. Though I feel that it is often a little misunderstood, and even a little misleading. We first have to remember that Japanese Kendo words are part of the overall Japanese language, and are in some cases interchangeable. They are not hard and fast terms, rather they are tools to express concepts, that may also be expressed differently using different tools, or by different people.

Thus we often get in a muddle, especially when we talk about something like Tame. If Tame is the build up of pressure between two Kendoka, then what about Seme? and Kiai? or Riai? Well, these are not all mutually exclusive, and they all share a part to play in the overall bigger picture of Yuko-Datotsu. 

Personally, I don’t like to think of Tame as a build up of ‘pressure’ as I think that misleads us into just waiting, or trying to ‘show’ that we are building up some magical/mystical invisible spiritual pressure between ourselves and our opponent. However, it doesn’t work like that. For a start, for it to be about building up ‘pressure’ (whatever that is) between yourself and your opponent, then it would require your opponent to also participate/consent to adding to this hypothetical pressure. If they didn’t, then there would be nothing to ‘build up’. So that would mean that if your opponent doesn’t participate, say they just attack at you randomly for example, then you too could also not have Tame… but surely that’s not right, right?

The answer is no, it’s not right.

Well, those of you who know me, or have seen my videos will know that I like to make things simple, and easy to understand, so I’m going to try and do that right now, with the apparently complex concept of Tame.

Basically, here’s how it works. Having Tame is being in the position to be able to turn an opportunity (Datotsu no Kikai) into a valid strike (Yuko Datotsu). That’s it.

Wait! Surely, it can’t be that simple, can it?

Well, yes it can, but also no it’s not. The manifestation of Tame is actually somewhat more physical than it is mental or spiritual - though your mental composure is a key element to it’s overall application. Another, more practical way to put it would be having your left leg in a position where you are able to immediately launch your body into a strike when the opportunity (Datotsu no Kikai) arises. Further, your physical and mental composure must be steady, and as you push forward with your right foot, your hands do not raise to strike until the very final moment.

This is Tame. Creating a Kamae that is ALWAYS able to make a valid strike (Yuko Datotsu) when the opportunity (Datotsu no Kikai) arises.

Tame is not a kind of posturing, or some sort of display or performance - where you and your opponent simply shout at each other, and try to look like you are both invincible.

Here's a great demonstartion by Sakudo Sensei and Fujiwara Sensei at the Kyoto Taikai.

(Video from - HEECHUL YUN)

Of course, I can point to plenty of videos like this one above, featuring Hanshi Hachidan Kenshi who throughout a whole 2 or 3 minute encounter only attack once or twice, or even not at all. This is not because they both have Tame - I mean, they do have it - but it is not the reason that their attacks are scarce. Similarly, nor are they simply posturing at each other, or in cahoots to try and ‘build up’ some idea of ‘pressure’.

It should be remembered that Tame is a separate concept to creating opportunity, which is created through Seme, and also Seme-Ai. You must have Tame in order to make a valid strike, at the instant an opportunity is created through Seme. 

Two Hanshi may face off against each other, and as both of them are at such a level of experience, their Seme-Ai is at a matching level - neither party is able to create an opportunity with which they are satisfied. So few, or no attacks are made. Should an opportunity be created, they will seize on it immediately, because they have Tame.

OK, I *hope* I have made that somewhat simple to understand, and this is - of course - my understanding of the concept of Tame, based on my own experience, and my current understanding of Kendo and the Japanese language.

What do you think about Tame? Let me know!

See you in the Dojo!


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  • Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your explanation of Tame. It’s definitely helped me on this particular part of the journey.

    I really liked your point that “They are not hard and fast terms, rather they are tools to express concepts, that may also be expressed differently using different tools, or by different people.”

    I think we do the same in English (and probably any language).

    Tame has been described to me by my senseis as to “wait” or “hold”. So, as I experiment with this, I find that it’s becoming a process of:
    - move into issoku itto no maai with seme
    - wait for the opportunity to arise while being physically ready to strike at the right moment (tame)
    - strike with full commitment when I sense the weakness in the opponent

    I don’t see a conflict with your explanation – I think you’ve helped me confirm what I’ve been finding.

    Of course, the difficulty is to do each of these automatically without thinking. Because thinking kills the process.

    So, as with all training, one has to think through the steps and practice until they become automatic.

    One thing you said though: “It should be remembered that Tame is a separate concept to creating opportunity”

    I’ve been finding that tame (with seme) creates the opportunity. But, perhaps, it’s seme (with tame) that does it!?!

    Question: does tame exist (perhaps briefly) with sutemi waza? Or is that pure seme?

    Russell Robinson
  • Thanks Andy. Very helpful as my idea of what tame was about that I’d heard very little of was clearly misguided. I had this idea that tame had to do with being able to absord pressure from the opponent in order to maintain that composure to both continue to deliver seme and be able to strike. It sounds like there is at least some common ground in that but I definitely had a more “mental” concept in mind. Form example the opponent momentarily invites a men attack and rather than simply jumping at the men one keeps control to instead generate a chance of their own making thus creating fewer and smaller gaps in one’s own kamae. Thats why I suggested this as a topic when you asked as Ive only heard about tame briefly amongst high grades so I knew I didn’t really understand. Thanks again.


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