With the Easter holidays here and many of our kendo friends taking advantage of the school break to escape the British winter weather, attendance at keiko sessions has been a bit thin. This has led to the need for some creativity to ensure that the few people who have made the effort to get to the dojo enjoy their training as much as in busier times.
We had a grand total of five people at the dojo on Thursday and although it took a bit of extra effort to get psyched up at the start of such a practise, once we got going everyone agreed it was worth putting our bogu on.
The minimum number of people required for kendo training is two. I have been made aware of this on several occasions when I have visited Uegaki sensei in Yoshino and he has opened the dojo for just the two of us. There is something very rewarding and at the same time terrifying in having your own private eighth dan teacher for an hour. Come to think of it if you are prepared to settle for just suburi and footwork exercises then you can train alone, so in comparison five is quite a crowd.
Our Thursday sessions usually last for two hours and we normally spend at least half of that time on kihon and waza geiko allowing about 45 minutes for jigeiko. I believe that all keiko should be intense. If you spend too long in jigeiko with one partner you soon lose your focus and momentum, so on this occasion we cut the session down to just over an hour. We devoted forty minutes to kihon and twenty minutes to jigeiko with another ten or fifteen minutes for warm up and suburi. Both the kihon and jigeiko elements were practised as mawarigeiko and as we had an odd number, on every fifth turn we each got to take a break and watch the others.
Just through working on kirikaeshi and uchikomi-geiko, we put as much emphasis as possible on achieving our best technique. I tried to get people to consciously slow down the speed of their attacks so that they could concentrate of correct posture and cutting action. Only when this was achieved did we build back up to normal attacking speed. When we moved into the jigeiko session we also took special care not to compromise on the technical elements of our keiko.
So we came away with the feeling that we had put the evening to better use than we would have if we had just gone to the pub instead of training and then going to the pub and it was a lot less scary than an hour’s one on one with Uegaki sensei.
Posted in Kendo Training | Tagged Keiko for small numbers, Kendo sessions for limited numbers, Uegaki sensei | 10 Comments »
Tai-atari image from Kendo, a Comprehensive Guide
To mix a number of metaphors – The road to kendo satori is paved with conflicting advice. We have to choose, or more likely we are told, either to put our tenugui inside or outside our men before or after practice, to make our suburi bigger or smaller and to use or not use tai-atari as part of kirikaeshi.
The kirikaeshi question is an interesting one. For such a standardised, widely practised exercise, there is considerable variation between the ways it is taught in different dojo. Distance, speed and timing tend to vary, there are two schools of thought as to where the break in continuous breathing should be, but the key point of contention is whether or not to make tai-atari after the shomen strike, before starting on the yoko-men sequence.
If you are kendo student the chances are that you will have no say in how you do the drill. The way you go about it will be dictated by your instructor’s preference; having said that, a thoughtful instructor will take your experience and skill level into account.
Tai-atari in kirikaeshi replicates the situation in keiko or shiai when the opponent remains in front of you after your first attack. You need to move into tsubazeriai and push him backward and attack again either with a hikibana or hikiwaza technique. So it’s a useful thing to practice. On the other hand unless your posture is developed to a level where you can constantly keep your hips and centre engaged while relaxing your shoulders, making tai-atari immediately after a men attack causes you to lean forward and use your shoulders. This makes you unstable and therefore unable to move quickly to the next technique.
What I am trying to say in a rather long-winded way, is that if you can do tai-atari correctly, then do it. This means that your posture should be completely upright but when you make contact with your opponents’ hands you should lower your hips and push down lightly, not relying on upper body strength.
If on the other hand this is new to you, then the best way forward is not to push, but to remain in the position in which you hit men as your partner steps back into the correct distance for you to start the yoko-men sequence. In some dojo this is practised with an emphasis on motodachi creating as much distance as possible – to encourage kakarite to stretch to reach the target.
My personal view is that this no-touch approach will serve most people well up to 3rd dan level, but again, your instructor should know best.
Posted in Kendo Translation | Tagged hiki waza, Kendo instruction, Kendo Training, Kirikaeshi, Tai-atari | 5 Comments »
One of our newer members is a professional musician. His kendo is visibly improving from week to week, but like almost everyone who starts as an adult he tends to use more physical power than he needs to.
Trying to find an easy analogy, I thought about my experience as an incompetent bedroom guitarist and realised that the inability to relax was the major reason for my lack of progress. When you watch great musicians they seem able to chill completely and just come in on the beat with lightest of touches. Amateurs like me on the other hand can be seen staring intently at the fret-board with their tongues poking out as they manfully prod at the strings.
In kendo relaxation is equally if not more important. You have to relax in order to keep an effective kamae and to be able to move easily. Shoulders, elbows, wrists and your grip on the shinai must be loose and must remain so throughout the striking process. People are often confused by the instruction to apply pressure, or tension and relax. What is generally meant is that your legs, hips and abdomen should be braced, but that your chest, shoulders and arms should not be tense.
To get this feeling you should push your shoulders back as if you are trying to make your chest feel wider. Then you should check that there is space between your upper arms and the sides of your body. Elbows should be bent. There is no reason why your left arm should not rest on your dou. Your right arm should certainly not be straight, as some people believe that it should, as it would pull your right shoulder forward and spoil your kamae.
Your left wrist needs to be turned slightly outwards to support the shinai, but this does not mean that it should be tense. Your right wrist should be in a completely natural position. Your grip should be relaxed. You need to grip only with the little and ring fingers of each hand, with the other fingers following without making intentional contact with the tsuka of the shinai.. The points of contact for the gripping fingers are the finger tips and the opposing point of the palm. You should not apply pressure with the inside surface of the fingers. Finally your tenouchi on striking the target should amount to no more than a squeeze without changing your grip.
Of course with kendo and music and I imagine any other activity that requires physical dexterity, the more you practise the more relaxed you become. Maybe there is a chance that if I keep playing my scales I may become another Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton. At the current rate of progress it should only take another 120 years.
Posted in Kendo Training | Tagged Holding the shinai, Kendo kamae, Relaxation in Kendo, Tenouchi | 3 Comments »
If a passing genie or fairy godmother ever offers, one of the many things that I could usefully invest a wish in, is the instruction to “make me taller”. At 1.73 cm or 5’7” I am not particularly short, but I regularly have to stretch to hit the men of taller kenshi. To compensate I consciously try to maintain good posture throughout each kendo session; making myself as tall as I can with the limited height resources at my command.
Not all of myy tall kendo friends are as keen to get the most out of their precious feet and inches. I regularly see people waste their height advantage by making their kendo smaller than it should be.
There are numerous ways to do this. You can over -bend your knees. You can neglect to engage your hips, so that your backside sticks out, or you can forget to bring your left foot up in hikitsuke as soon as you move your right foot forward. Either way, you are unlikely to finish the attack with correct posture and timing or to be in a position where you can make the cut with strong sae and tenouchi.
Regardless of how tall you are, it is vital to maintain an effective posture for kendo. You should have the feeling of being pulled up to your full height. The left foot should form a 15 degree angle with the floor. The left leg should be straight with a feeling of tension behind the knee and the right knee should be slightly bent. Buttocks should have a feeling of tension and hips should be pushed forward. Confusing as it may sound at first; this should be done in a way that feels relaxed and natural. Most importantly, the left foot should be pulled up to its correct position whenever you move the right foot, whatever the reason.
The result of following these rules is that your posture will now allow you to move forward instantly, as soon as you see an opportunity. You will also be in the correct position when you finish each cut so that you can make effective tenouchi and zanshin. Of course these suggestions do not only apply to tall people, it is just more obvious when they ignore them.
I believe that many tall people consciously or unconsciously stoop to become smaller. Often this is done from the best of intentions, so as not to overshadow their shorter friends. In kendo however it is essential to use your full height to maximise your posture and ability to move forwards. So tall kenshi, now is the time to be “loud and proud” about your height advantage. National Tall Pride Day here we come.
Posted in Kendo and height | Tagged Height in kendo, Kendo for tall people | 4 Comments »
The past weekend I had a very enjoyable two and a half days in Dublin. Together with Terry Holt of London’s Mumeishi dojo, Yoshi Inoue from Kenyu in Paris and Steve Bishop of Edinburgh University, I went to help the Irish Association run a kendo seminar and grading. The weekend format should be familiar to most kendoka – keiko on Friday night, seminar on Saturday and grading examination on Sunday. Activities were of course separated by evenings of Guinness and craic to give the event a truly Irish flavour.
Unusually, the weekend attracted people with a wide range of experience levels from beginner to fifth dan, so we separated the seminar into groups, reinforcing the basics for the junior members and working on more technical elements with the seniors.
The grading examination included an “open kyu” session to give the less experienced attendees the opportunity to be assessed by instructors from outside their usual dojo group. For the newest members, this meant taking a test without wearing bogu where the objective was to demonstrate a number of kihon waza and kirikaeshi against armoured motodachi.
It has been a while since I was involved in a grading of this type and I found it interesting to see how much more relaxed and uninhibited candidates were when they did not have to worry about what their opponents were doing. People with only weeks or months of experience were able to deliver waza to a level that a dan grade would be proud of. As the examination moved to the next group it was obvious that it becomes much more difficult to execute techniques in keiko when you have the complexities of distance and timing of an opponent.
This made me think about the optimum period for beginners to train before they put on armour. If it is too short, they start to develop bad habits by becoming competitive before they build good kihon foundations. Do it for too long and they become bored and quit. I have heard stories of beginners left to do suburi on their own for a year before being brought into the group. I also know of clubs where newbies are allowed to wear bogu after 2 weeks. Typically the induction period varies from 6 to 12 weeks in UK clubs.
An added complexity is that many newbies who seem to enjoy learning the basic techniques lose their enthusiasm when they join the main class. This may be because the reality of training in uncomfortable, heavy bogu and being hit instead of just hitting makes them realise that the kendo path becomes increasing steep and difficult.
I would be interested to know how you structure beginner’s courses. What do you think is the ideal period before introducing them to bogu and how do you structure the transition from one stage to another.
Posted in Teaching kendo beginners | Tagged Kendo Beginners, kendo grading examinations, Kendo in Ireland, Teaching kendo | 14 Comments »
I like blogging on WordPress. They have a useful stats page that not only tells me who is looking at my blog but how they found it.
Last Monday I happened to glance at the list of search terms used to find me and the one that stood out was “what’s the point of being a kendo referee?” Fresh back from two days on a busy shiai-jo in Paris, this struck me as being a very good question. It is not always advisable to read search strings literally, but I perhaps uncharitably took the meaning to be “refereeing, what’s in it for me?” which is indeed worth exploring.
I have been a referee for quite a few years now, originally at domestic level then subsequently at European and World Championship level. My original motivation was simply that “if I don’t do it and everyone else feels the same, we can’t have a taikai.” As time has gone on however, I see it as very much an integral part of my kendo training and try as hard to improve my refereeing skills as I do my ability in keiko.
Looking at the question from another angle, we know that the requirement for a kendo referee is that he or she needs to regularly practice kendo and be at a technical level at least equivalent to the players. If you can’t do a technique yourself, then how can you judge it when it is done by others? Given that a referee meets these criteria, refereeing can teach you a lot.
- It teaches you to anticipate movement, as you need to think ahead of the players and be able to position yourself in the right part of the court before they move there.
- It teaches you about enzan no metsuke, as you need to be aware of the players, your fellow referees and the court boundaries at all times.
- It teaches you about distance, timing and opportunity as these are the key elements of successful yuko-datotsu.
- It teaches you about ki-haku, kiai and zanshin – without which a point is not valid.
- Finally it teaches you to keep a still mind. You need to be able to react instantly to a strike, foul or signal from another referee or the timekeeper, but only after you have evaluated all the information. To do this without premeditation or bias, your mind has to be clear, like the proverbial kendo mirror.
I find that after refereeing at a tournament I try techniques that impressed me at the time and try to correct faults I saw that prevented the competitors from making successful attacks.
My advice to anyone above third dan is to attend your next local referee seminar. If nothing else you should have a good laugh at some of your mistakes and those of your colleagues. Who knows? you may decide that you get as much as you give by becoming a referee.
Posted in Kendo refereeing | Tagged Kendo referee, Kendo refereeing | 4 Comments »
I returned last night from the French Open Championship in Paris where I was acting as a referee. This is a very big and popular taikai with Individual and team matches held over two days. As well as competitors from all over France I saw players from Sweden, Italy, the UK and from Japan
Events like this are great opportunities to catch up with old friends, and in Paris there is the added bonus of good food and wine to finish each day.
From a referee’s perspective, it is interesting to work in different environments with referees from other countries. Although of course, wherever you are, the basics of judging yuko-datotsu do not change.
Referees on my court were from France, Belgium, Japan and the UK. Over the two days we raised our flags for hundreds of men and kote and quite a few tsuki ari. We also saw numerous attempts at dou for which we gave only one ippon. Talking this over with my colleagues, the reasons for not awarding a point to most dou attacks, is that they do not have correct hasuji, or they hit with the wrong part of the shinai.
As with men and kote, it is essential that the datotsu bu of the shinai strikes the correct part of the target. That is to say the top third of the jinbu should hit the right side of the dou with the bottom take making contact. Most of the unsuccessful attempts we saw were “hira uchi”, where the side of the shinai hits the dou. There were also a number of occasions where the front of the dou became the target. Normally this is not intentional, but happens because the cut is made as the opponent is coming forward and there is not sufficient distance between you.
My pet theory as to why so few dou succeed is that most people view kaeshi dou or nuki dou as a reactive technique. If your opponent has already launched his attack and you attempt dou, you will be too close to complete the technique successfully. If on the other hand you force him to attack men and then hit dou just as he starts his attack, you should be able to hit the correct part of the dou with the right part of the shinai.
It helps to think about punching forward with your right hand while directly in front of your opponent and in turning your right wrist in so that the bottom take connects. Then you can move elegantly past your opponent and watch all three flags go up.
Posted in oji-waza | Tagged Dou, French Open Championship, Kaeshi-dou, Nuki-dou, Open de France | Leave a Comment »