Posted in Kendo drills, tagged Debana Men, Hikitsuke, kakarite, kakegoe, Kigamae, Motodachi, Seme, Tame, uchima on June 17, 2013 |
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Following last week’s post, several people asked if I knew of any specific drills to help develop debana men. There are two that are worth trying. Which you use depends on your level of kendo experience. Both should be practised against a partner who acts as motodachi.
The first is for less experienced kendoka. You should start by taking chudan kamae and move into your own uchima striking distance. Motodachi then takes one hand of his shinai and pushes the palm of his kote against the tip of you shinai. You should ensure that your feet are in the correct position, paying particular attention to quickly drawing up your left foot. Make sure that your left heel is slightly raised off the ground and that there is a feeling of tension behind your left knee. You should have taken a breath before your step into distance and as we discussed last week, let half of it out as kakegoe. Keeping the remaining air in your abdomen and making sure that hands and arms relaxed, you should push against motodachi’s hand using the pressure of your hips and back. When motodachi decides that the time is right, he pulls his hand away. You should be able to strike instantly by pushing off from your back foot.
This exercise will help some people understand the feeling of pressure even if they are not quite ready to appreciate the force exuded by a strong opponent’s kigamae. For more experienced kenshi a similar drill can be used, but motodachi should not physically touch kakarite’s shinai. Instead kakarite observes the same precautions about breathing, posture and hikitsuke, but this time it is the force of motodachi’s kamae that holds them at bay. Motodachi makes the chance to strike, obviously breaking the tension by slightly raising the shinai and inclining his head forward. He should pay particular attention to vary the timing of each striking opportunity. If this is done correctly motodachi gets as much out of it as does kakarite, as he can experience the “feeling” of the opportunity as he makes and breaks “mind contact” with kakarite.
The third drill in this series is where motodachi picks the opportunity to strike men and commits to making the attack. Kakarite responds with debana men. I would not recommend this for anyone but the most experienced, as there is a tendency for motodachi to change the timing of the attack to beat kakarite’s strike. No-one does this intentionally, but our competitive inner selves have a tendency to take over.
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I was asked to give some advice on performance at shiai training in preparation for this weekend’s London cup. I won’t say at which dojo or on which day this took place, otherwise I might give away the secrets of their shiai preparation. During most of the shiai, the one single element that made the difference between achieving ippon and failing was hikitsuke. So in the interests of fairness, I will share some advice on this with all prospective competitors; well at least those who read my blog.
In kendo hikitsuke means to pull the left foot up to the correct position (left toes in line with the right heel), in readiness to make an instant strike. In everyday Japanese it can also mean to attract or fascinate, but that is another story.
Coming back to the point, when you move forward in kendo your left heel should be off the ground so that your foot is at a 15 degree angle with the floor. 70% of your weight should be on the left foot and 70% of that weight concentrated on the ball of the foot. You push from this foot to move, sliding the right foot forward and instantly bringing the left foot into position to repeat the action.
When you attack, you should use this action to push off instantly and strike as soon as you see or make an opportunity. In theory simple, but most people at shiai practice were not doing this; instead either their left leg trailed impotently behind, because the left foot angle was too high, or the left foot was flat on the floor so the left leg remained in place as the right foot moved forward. The repercussions for both of these mistakes was that it was not possible to make sufficient forward distance to hit men cleanly with the datotsu-bu of the shinai, or because of the need to compensate by leaning forward or turning the body to make distance, the attacker was not able to strike with good posture and zanshin. End result – no ippon.
This lack of left foot traction was also evident when some fighters stepped back, allowing the heel to sink down to the ground. This action mades them an obvious victim to hikibana man.
As I have repeatedly been told, successful shiai depends on good basics. Good basics depend on lots of keiko, so that when you see the golden opportunity to hit the target that wins your shiai, you do not have to think about it. You just let your left foot decide.
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I do not often teach beginners, but I do notice from time to time that individuals who are now well past the first stages of learning kendo, still have problems in making correct fumikomi.
Teaching at the last seminar in Ireland was illuminating as there were a number of new kendoka who were working very hard to establish the basis of good kendo foot movement. This made me reflect on how important it is to perfect the basics before you can move on to learn more complex kendo technique.
Certainly from a western perspective the concept of suri ashi, (sliding feet) and okuri ashi, (moving the foot facing the direction you move in) is alien: We learn to walk heel- toe, lifting the leg from the knee and transferring the weight from the back to the front of the foot. Kendo foot movement developed in Japan at a time when people were used to wearing geta and zori and needed to slide their feet forward.
The repercussions of heel toe walking are still obvious, with many beginners instinctively pulling from the front foot rather than pushing from the back foot.
The key points to remember are that the back leg should be tense with the heel only slightly raised, (just 15 degrees). The knee of the front leg should be slightly bent and the foot should be parallel to the ground, as if a thin sheet of paper were between it and the floor. In the words of Matsumoto Toshio sensei, the movement should be, “like a cat walking”.
Everyone is taught that the toes of the left foot should be in line with the heel of the right and that there should be a fist’s distance in width between them. I think that this can vary. If you have sufficient leg power, then there is no reason why your feet should not be further apart. The width between them should also depend on your own body shape and size. What I am trying to say is that your feet should be in a position that feels comfortable and stable.
In my view, the most important element is hikitsuke, the process of drawing the back foot to its relative position with the front foot as soon as you move forward or make fumikomi to strike. In this way you maintain balance and the ability to move forward instantly.
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