Several people picked up on the fact and commented that dropping the shinai point can in fact be a very effective way to make an opening in your opponents’ kamae, thereby giving you the opportunity to attack successfully. I agree one hundred percent. My last post was about the problem of inadvertently dropping your kensen because of either incorrect posture or too much tension in the way the shinai is held.
Kensen is of course moveable and the kissaki should not be fixed when you face your opponent. Many teachers talk about moving the kensen in a triangle from your adversaries’ throat to his dou mune to his left eye. By doing this you can encourage him or her to move in various ways. Dropping the point can encourage an attack to men or kote which gives the opportunity for debana or oji waza, but be aware that your tsuki is also exposed and that you become a target for uchiotoshi men.
Move the point up to your opponent’s left eye and he sees an opening for men, giving you the chance to take debana men or kaeshi dou. Aim at his right eye and he sees your kote and you may get the chance for kote nuki men or kote suriage men.
It is all about making your opponent move, and as we have talked about before, there are two fundamental ways to do this. We either push in and take his centre, or we make him come to us and take away the initiative. This second approach is referred to in kendo as hikidashi (drawing out).
Kamae like most things in kendo is taught to us in simplified form at the early stages of our learning process. Of course it is easier to think about pointing your shinai at the nodo than being given a variety of choices, but once our kamae becomes established, we can experiment with the areas at which we point the shinai and learn how by doing so, we encourage our opponent to move or discourage him from moving.
Kendo no kata teaches us a lot about kamae, and though we rarely use gedan-kamae, hasso-kamae and waki-kamae in shinai kendo, practising them in kata gives us a great lesson in flexibility and adaptability. Gohon me in the Tachi no Kata gives us a text book lesson in how to combat Jodan. Point to the kobushi and make him move.
So, sorry for any confusion last week, what I meant was don’t unintentionally signal your next move through the point of you shinai. On the other hand you should use every trick in the book to make your opponent move.
Posted in Kendo Technique | Tagged Jodan, kamae, Kendo kamae, kendo no kata, kensen, kissaki, oji-waza | Leave a Comment »
Many accomplished kenshi lose the opportunity to attack by dropping the point of their shinai as they make seme. I regularly experience situations where my opponent steps in with strong seme and takes control of my centre only to drop his kensen prior to making an attack, in the process allowing me to regain control of the centre.
Moving the point downwards often causes the attacker to lean forward so that their balance is on the right foot. If this happens he needs to readjust his posture so that there is sufficient pressure between the left foot and the floor to be able to push off and launch his attack. Dropping the point also alerts his opponent that he is about to move. It is almost tantamount to announcing “here I come”.
I have thought hard about the reasons why people do this and I believe that in most cases the action is involuntary. As we step in, we gear ourselves up to attack and as we do so we inadvertently tense our arms and shoulders. The result is that the tip of the shinai is forced down by this tension. This is not an easy habit to correct. Many people who fall into this trap are unable to correct their movement even though they are aware of the problem and its root cause
To repair this fault you have to relax and to focus your energy forward rather than down. To achieve this you need to go for overkill and think about making upward pressure. There are many ways to do this. You can imagine that you are pushing towards your opponent’s eye by angling your navel upwards as you step forward. You can also think about an imaginary string pulling the top of your head upwards; almost like a marionette being pulled up by a puppeteer.
Holding the shinai incorrectly is another reason why the point drops as you make your approach. If your grip is too tight, any tension in your body will result in the point either dropping or raising as you step forward. Your hands should of course be relaxed and you should grip the shinai lightly as we have discussed in previous posts.
In a perfect world the transition between stepping in to take the centre should be seamless and any unnecessary movement that signals intention should be avoided. Successful attacks in kendo depend on sharp footwork and light, relaxed kamae. The explosion on striking should come from good fumikomi, kiai and tenouchi and not upper body strength.
Posted in Seme | Tagged kamae, kennsen, kissaki, Seme, Tenouchi | 8 Comments »
Competitors in the children’s group.
I spent my Saturday as Shinpan-cho of the Mumeishi 3s Championship. It’s now the 5th time I have taken on this role in various competitions and whilst it is good to have a privileged view of all the courts, it feels a bit lonely sitting out there on your own.
As you know, shinpan-cho are responsible for making the standard of refereeing at any taikai is as good as it can be. They need to ensure that the allocation of referees to each shiai jo gives an even balance of refereeing skill, so that fighters have an equal chance wherever their match occurs. The shinpan-cho also sets the pace and nature of the competition by the instructions that he or she gives to the referees in a meeting before the opening ceremony. For instance, guidance to strictly enforce tsubazeriai rules and to penalise unfair pushing in the early matches results in cleaner faster kendo for the duration of the competition.
Shinpan-cho also act as ombudsman and have the final jurisdiction over “Igi” objections from managers or players if the shinpan-shunin for the court in which the dispute happened, is not able to resolve it. Just to make it clear, Igi can apply to procedure, but not to the judgment of points. Even if the man in the middle disagrees with the referees on what is and what is not ippon, their decision stands.
The one element of the shinpan-cho’s job that I don’t quite understand, is that he is responsible for keeping the league table up-to-date as the matches progress. This means that while he is looking at the performance of referees on a number of courts at the same time, he is also has to record the results of all matches. Personally, I am not sure if this is really essential, because detailed information is kept by the officials on each court and is then transferred to a central sign board.
On Saturday, because of court layout signboards for the three courts were on my side of the hall. I had to rely on messengers to bring me the results. Obviously they had other things to do without me demanding their time. And I found it quite difficult to watch all courts at the same time and to fill in the league table. Of course keeping an eye on three shiai-jo was comparatively easy, when you consider that some competitions have up to eight courts running simultaneously.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a great believer that the traditional elements of kendo are there for a good reason and I am sure that there must be one in this case. I would welcome suggestions or guidance as to why this duty goes with the role. It may well be that it is an essential part of the job and it is just my well known inability to multi-task that makes it seem incongruous.
Posted in Kendo refereeing | Tagged Igi, Kendo refereeing, Mumeishi 3's, Shinpan-cho, Shinpan-shunin | 5 Comments »
I was asked to write an introduction for the programme for next weekend’s 41st Mumeishi Threes competition. This must be the oldest privately hosted kendo taikai in Europe and I started to ponder the reasons for its continued success.
This event is for three person teams with a minimum of one kyu grade in the line-up. It not only gives more experienced kenshi a chance to demonstrate their skills, but by including teams with a mix of levels, it emphasises the co-dependence of juniors and seniors that is central to kendo. It is an opportunity to strive to do our personal best while supporting our team mates. There are also Ladies’ and children’s individual competitions, with younger competitors judged on “hantei” to encourage their best kendo.
The Mumeishi Threes has continued to grow. Over the years it has attracted kenshi from across Europe, the USA and Japan, with over seventy teams competing in some more recent events. This year, at the time of writing, we have registrations from 60 teams, 61 ladies and 40 juniors.
Not content with one action packed day of kendo, an after match party on Saturday evening and an exhausting three hour keiko session that runs throughout Sunday morning completes a family friendly weekend and allows participants to meet old friends and make new ones. In spite of current economic conditions and an increasingly crowded international kendo calendar, the Mumeishi Threes becomes more popular every year.
The “Threes” could not survive without an army of willing volunteers. Court teams, referees and sponsors are drawn from the club itself and its friends from around the world. Last year Sumi Masatake sensei made the trip from Japan to act as shinpan-cho for the 40th anniversary event.
Of course the one ingredient that guarantees the on-going success of the Mumeishi Threes is the untiring effort of Terry Holt sensei, who as soon as each year’s event finishes, promptly thinks about the next one.
I am sure that this year’s event will help brighten a dull November and serve as a celebration of all the hard work we put into our kendo. For competitors and officials alike, there is an expectation that we should do our very best on the day. At the same time, we should not forget to enjoy ourselves and to make the most of being together for a very special weekend’s kendo.
Posted in Mumeishi 3's | Tagged Mumeishi 3's, Mumeishi Dojo, Sumi Masatake, Terry Holt | 1 Comment »
I was told many years ago by a Japanese 7th dan in his 60’s that he found kendo increasingly challenging, particularly from the perspective of producing kendo that set a good example for his juniors. At the time, I was surprised to hear that someone who had reached his level still had concerns about his ability. I foolishly imagined that on reaching the kodansha ranks it was simply a matter of enjoying the benefits of past hard training.
Kendo continues to provide a challenge throughout our kendo lives, from learning to move our hands and feet together as beginners, to trying to gain some semblance of jiri-itchi when we reach the higher dans. As we progress, we face a series of barriers that we must overcome before we move to the next level. These often reflect the requirements for our next grading examination, such as renzoku waza for nidan and seme and tame for 4th and 5th dan, but they would still exist with or without a formal grading system.
Unfortunately these barriers have a way of getting higher and taking longer to overcome as we progress. It is often during these periods when people decide that it is easier to quit than to continue to strive. Kendo very quickly polarises those who appreciate the value we gain is from the journey itself and those who expect instant mastery. The latter tend to leave at the end of each beginners course, but even for the most dedicated kenshi, long periods without tangible improvement can be frustrating and disheartening. On the other hand it seems that higher the “wall”, the greater the improvement you make when you eventually climb over it.
Practically, the solution is wherever possible, to go back to basics and increase the amount of kihon geiko in our training schedules. This should be done in a way that focuses on, or reflects the elements that we need to change. It helps to share and to have the guidance of your teacher or seniors when you are working on correcting faults or developing new skills. Sometimes however this is not possible and you need to collaborate with your peers rather than try by yourself. You may well find that they are facing the same difficulties and that working together provides a win-win solution.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now appreciate the point that sensei was trying to make. The biggest improvement you can make is to reach a level where you become conscious of how much you have to learn.
Posted in Kendo kihon, Kendo Training | Tagged kendo grading system, Kendo kihon, Kendo Training | 5 Comments »
There was some interesting feedback on last week’s post, most of it on the meaning of jiri itchi. As ever, George did a great job in providing the precise definition.
I would like to take the discussion forward one more step, and look at what we need to do to achieve jiri itchi. The answer is fairly obvious. Practice until the technique, the timing and the opportunity become second nature. Only then will you be able to launch that waza “on demand”, without giving it conscious thought.
When on the few occasions senior Japanese sensei compliment anyone’s kendo, they often do so by saying that “you have done lots of keiko”. Not ” your kendo is good”. It is as if the hours of training you put in at the dojo automatically equate to merit. This runs through to formal evaluation at grading exams where, the pass criteria for almost every grade are subject to the caveat, “must be seen to have done an appropriate amount of keiko”.
It is true also of the requirement for referees who must be active in their own keiko schedules and not just involved as referees and teachers. The view is that if you are not regularly polishing your own repertoire of techniques, you will not be in a position to judge those of others.
Of course it is not just a matter of putting in the time in the dojo. Training has to be correct and strenuous to be of value. I have forgotten who said it, but whoever it was said “the more I do of what I do, the more I get of what I’ve got”. Thinking about this in a kendo context it means that if you spend hours training to do a technique incorrectly, you will master the art of doing it wrong.
Obviously it pays to build step by step on technique training. Start with suburi, practice the timing and distance in uchikomi geiko, learn how to get the technique past your opponent’s centre with kakarigeiko and only then incorporate it into jigeiko.
Chiba sensei when speaking about his training before winning the All Japan Champioships talks about doing 3000 suburi in a single session. This is as a police tokuren who already had extensive high level keiko and shiai experience. Of course the concept of improvement through constant repetition is as old as kendo itself and was most famously promoted by Yamaoka Tesshu.
None of us will ever achieve perfection in our kendo, but trying to do so should be a source of satisfaction in itself.
Posted in Kendo keiko, Kendo Technique | Tagged Chiba Sensei, Jiri, jiri itchi, Yamaoka Tesshu | 4 Comments »
I was recently asked about my thoughts on what was required to pass the 6th and 7th dan grading examinations. Over the years I have heard various theories. One of my favourites was from a successful Japanese candidate for 6th dan, who explained that throughout your tachiai you should have the feeling that you are writing the hiragana character “no” の with a writing brush held between your buttocks.
In the EKF’s grading guidelines we get the slightly less fun but arguably more relevant interpretation as follows:
Like many of the guidelines for passing grading examinations, the meaning becomes clear once you have reached the required level, but appears as if it is designed to confuse those preparing for the next stage.
To the best of my understanding, “Jiri “ or “Jiri itchi” means the unity of technique and theory, so you not only need to deploy successful techniques, but you also need to look like you know why you are deploying them. To put it another way, you should do nothing that has no purpose.
Techniques should correspond with real opportunities to strike, but whereas with 4th and 5th dan the focus is on breaking through the centre with seme, you now need to add the more subtle principle of “hikidasu”, or pulling your opponent in, so that you can respond with debana waza or ojiwaza.
Many people are given over simplistic advice, such as “wait 30 seconds, give a loud kiai and make two good attacks”. This sounds ideal, but it is perhaps too simple a way of saying that as you stand from sonkyo you must make strong mind contact with your opponent and then strive to make opportunities to attack. If you can only make one strike in the brief time available, so be it. On the other hand, if you make or are given 20 clear opportunities to strike you must take advantage of them. The rule is don’t attack when there is no opportunity, but do when there is.
This should be overlaid on all the things you had to get right for the previous gradings – correct footwork, posture, kamae, tenouchi etc. and of course don’t drop the writing brush.
Posted in Grading Examinations | Tagged Grading, Hikidasu, kendo grading examinations, Seme, Tachiai | 7 Comments »