With my recent exposure to both Sumi sensei’s renzoku waza drills and Inoue sensei’s take on kirikaeshi, I am starting to think more and more about the importance of being instantly ready to attack at any stage in our keiko.
There is a tendency, particularly amongst senior, older kendoka to walk away and start again after exchanging a single attack. Although this allows you to conserve energy, it is long way from the ideal of being “constantly in full spirit”. Keiko should be short, sharp and intense. Far better to do 30 minutes of full-on keiko than two hours of leisurely posing.
The key technical requirements are that your back foot needs to be in the right place for you to attack throughout the practice and you need to keep within attacking distance. When you attempt to strike men going forward and your movement takes you past your opponent, you should turn quickly, bringing your left foot into position with hikitsuke and attack again. If you make a failed attempt on kote, push off immediately while you are in front of your opponent and go for men.
With hiki-waza, there is even more of a tendency to reverse into the distance. You should work on learning to keep you balance between your feet so that if you take one step back you can instantly take one step forward, by pushing off from your back foot. That’s not to say that you should always do it, but if you see an opportunity, you should be able to take advantage of it even though it might mean a lightning fast change of direction.
To do this your left heel should at all times be slightly raised so that the sole of your foot forms a 15 degree angle with the floor. If it’s much higher that, you will lose traction as your left leg will slip out behind you when you try to move. If your heel is on the floor, you will stay firmly rooted to the spot.
Here’s the bad news. The best way to educate your left foot is through lots of kihon. Footwork drills, suburi, kiriaeshi, uchikomi geiko, kakarigeiko; they all play their part. Your objective when you do get into the short intense jigeiko sessions that we are talking about, is to become an effective kendo machine that can see it and hit it, all in a fraction of a second.
Read Full Post »
Inoue Shigeaki sensei has left the UK, leaving behind numerous exhausted but inspired kendoka. During his seminar he focused on a number of relatively basic points including:
- Fast and accurate cutting in suburi.
- Keeping keiko short and intense.
- Including uchikomi-geiko, kakarigeiko and kirkaeshi in each and every keiko with motodachi.
For me however the one point that really stood out was his view of the importance of kirikaeshi. He believes that by just practising kirikaeshi you could develop you kendo to a level where you could win major shiai.
Obviously to be beneficial kirikaeshi training has to be done correctly. Inoue sensei’s approach is as follows:
- You start practising slowly and accurately ensuring that distance is correct.
- You do this by taking just one step forward from the starting position and strike shomen with one step, one cut.
- You make taiatari keeping your hands low and ensuring that motodachi provides suitable resistance. Neither of you should use your upper body power, but should push from the tanden.
- You then concentrate on striking yoko men accurately with correct hasuji.
- After the last yoko men strike you take only one step back (in tsugiashi) so that you are ready to make the next shomen attack in one step, one strike distance, pushing off from the left foot.
Once you can do this correctly you add speed, concentrating initially on the speed of each strike, rather than the tempo of the whole exercise. Finally you start to work on correct breathing and kiai; breathing in deeply before the first strike, holding the air in your abdomen as you release part of it in kakegoe and then completing the whole kirikaeshi sequence in one breath with continuous kiai.
Inoue sensei asserts that from training with kirikaeshi in this way you learn about correct posture and footwork, timing and opportunity, striking action and hasuji, correct breathing for kendo and the ability to easily and smoothly deliver continuous attack renzoku waza.
If you include this with every keiko and also add uchikomi-geiko and kakarigeiko, it mirrors the training undertaken by the Japanese National Team under Inoue sensei and Kato sensei’s direction for the 14WKC in Sao Paulo.
For us mere mortals, the intensity and duration of training should take our age and physical condition into account and depends on motodachi’s intuition. Sensei did however make the point that you should be able to train in this way well into your 50’s. Hopefully by the time we hit 60 we should be kicked across the dojo into a motodachi position.
Read Full Post »
I have written about seme and tame several times since I started this blog and I feel motivated to do so again. These are difficult concepts for many people to understand and it is even more difficult to translate them into physical action.
We have had numerous conversations about seme at my local dojo and before writing this I scanned some of the comments on the web relating to this subject. I came across a very interesting thread on Kendo World Forums that started with a post about making seme and waiting for the opponent to react and how this did not work against more experienced opponents. Obviously the poster is on the right track but perhaps the clue to why it’s not working is in the word “waiting”. The missing ingredient is “tame”. If you step into striking distance without maintaining the spirit to attack then it is more than likely that you will be the loser in the encounter.
Thinking through the whole process, you should take a big breath in and let half of the air out as kakegoe before stepping into your opponent’s space. Your attitude should be confident and aggressive with the aim of breaking his physical and mental defence (migamae and kigamae). Posture needs to be correct with your hips engaged and you should swiftly pull your left foot up as soon as you step forward with your right. The left heel should be slightly off the ground throughout and there should be a feeling of tension at the back of the left knee. The right knee should be slightly bent. If while doing this your opponents kamae breaks under the pressure, don’t wait, just attack.
If on the other hand your opponent maintains his guard, you need to take further action to create an opportunity. This is done by keeping an attacking mind and centring your breath in your abdomen. You maintain the pressure in your left foot and knee and by moving the tip of your shinai very slighty invite him to attack. As soon as he starts an attacking movement, you can push off from your left foot and make a small sharp strike to whichever target he shows .Use the remainder of the air in your tanden to make a big kiai as you strike either kote or men. Welcome to the world of debana waza.
The Kendo World thread went on to say that it was difficult to make effective seme against more experienced kenshi. Duh, why wouldn’t it be! They have been doing it better and for a longer time. You will also find it difficult against beginners who not yet refined their basic technique to a level where they can make “mind contact”.
With these less experienced players you can practise tame by building pressure then relaxing it for them to attack you. With seniors if all else fails, do kakarigeiko.
Read Full Post »
Motodachi illustration by Katsuya Masagaki from my new book
My local dojo is looking at ways to help new kendoka make the transition from beginner’s course to taking part in regular keiko sessions. To this end I am running several motodachi training sessions for the more experience members so they can help and encourage their newer colleagues.
Many people who start kendo do so through structured beginners’ courses where they have the comfort of learning new skills as a group and where they are are not expected to go one-on-one in competition with experienced players. After graduation from a brief period of learning basics they are trussed up in unfamiliar bogu and left to take their chance in jigeiko, often with inexperienced motodachi, who are more concerned about improving their own technique than helping the newbie.
This invariably results in loss of confidence and adds to kendo’s exceptionally high attrition rate. The kendo diary of many aspiring kenshi runs along the lines of: week 1 -start beginners course, week 6 – buy bogu, week 7- decide not to go to dojo, week 8 –advertise bogu on Ebay.
Thinking about the effort involved in starting such a challenging hobby as kendo it seems a shame that we lose so many students through our own lack of empathy or knowledge of how to best develop them. Traditionally in Japan, most kendoka started as children and there is a natural progression through the school system. Teaching adult beginners is a relatively new aspect of kendo, but it is particularly important in the west where people begin kendo at all ages.
For new kendoka kihon drills in or out of bogu are not particularly threatening. It is when they begin to line up for motodachi geiko against their more experienced dojo mates that the experience can make or break them. One of the biggest problems is that most of us are not taught to be motodachi and we learn through trial and error. There are correct ways to receive kirikaeshi, uchikomi geiko and kakarigeiko and we need to learn these to get the best out of students. Most importantly we need to learn that jigeiko is not a “one size fits all” activity and that we can break it down into gokakugeiko, which takes place between partners of equal level and hikitategeiko, where a senior leads a junior .
Here are a few simple motodachi tips:
- For kirikaeshi make sure that you receive the strikes close to your men. This way you encourage kakarite to attack the correct target.
- In uchikomigeiko wait until kakarite enters the correct distance and try to build “mind pressure” before making the opening. If you show the target when he is out of distance he will develop the habit of running in, rather than learning to make one step one cut.
- In kakarigeiko keep a relaxed , soft chudan and allow kakarite to make his own opportunities.
- In hikitate geiko try to keep only half a dan’s difference in level between you. Keep your own seme and pressure and by all means go for the first ippon “shodachi”, but encourage kakarite by allowing good strikes to connect.
Acting as motodachi is not just a one sided act of charity, you can develop your own kendo whilst helping others, please see my earlier post on the subject http://wp.me/ptBQt-gx .
Read Full Post »
Most kendoka have heard the term sutemi. Whilst usually translated as sacrifice, the literal meaning is “throw away the seed”. The concept refers to a poem describing a horse chestnut in a fast moving stream. If left whole, it would sink. If the kernel is abandoned, the husk would float with the current. In kendo, sutemi means committing yourself one hundred per cent to an attack without fearing the consequences.
Shishin on the other hand is the state where the mind is preoccupied or dwells on a particular aspect of your or your opponent’s kendo, which makes it impossible for the body to move freely. No prizes for guessing that sutemi is regarded as a desirable element in kendo and shishin is not.
Correct tobikomi men is a practical illustration of sutemi. We enter our opponent’s distance and launch ourselves forward with full spirit and no thought other than hitting men. If our opponent moves away or counters, it doesn’t matter. Once you start a technique you should complete it with all your energy.
In uchikomi-geiko or kakari-geiko it is easy to take this do or die attitude, in shiai or jigeiko it is more difficult. Very often we worry about our opponent’s reaction to our attack. For some people this causes a general fear of attacking. For others, it results in them stopping mid-technique rather than giving away the point. This “stopping” is my pet hate in keiko. Not only does it strangle many potentially successful shikake waza at birth, but it also robs the stoppers opponent of the opportunity to practise oji-waza.
Many people take the view that shiai is about not losing, but surely the reason for taking part is to win. It could be argued that both equate to the same thing, but the mind-set of winning is about courageously exploiting any opportunity with all your mental and physical power.
In keiko we talk about utte-hansei, utarete-kansya (reflection on how we made a successful strike and gratitude for being hit). This does not mean that we are masochists, but that we learn as much from our opponent’s success as we do from our own.
Of course we do not start any keiko with the intention of being hit. Our objective is to strike first or to break our opponents attack with a successful counter attack, but we can only do this if we have an attacking spirit from the outset
Read Full Post »
With Uegaki sensei
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am a keen advocate of the value of kihon training. I also believe it is unreasonable for any instructor to prescribe activities that he or she is not prepared or able to do personally.
Now in my 60’s I am hugely impressed by some of the Japanese sensei of my generation who refuse to act their age. Yamanaka sensei and Uegaki Isao sensei immediately come to mind as role models. I have had the pleasure of training with Uegaki sensei several times in his dojo in Yoshino. He invariably includes kakarigeiko in training sessions for kenshi of all ages and grades, including himself.
I recently resolved to add more kakarigeiko to my own training schedule and if I am going to suffer, so should everyone else. At last Thursday’s practise in my local dojo, we concluded with 5 or 6 repetitions of kakarigeiko and I felt not only more virtuous but physically better for it.
I had the best of intentions to include kakarigeiko in yesterday’s morning practice at Mumeishi. Unfortunately I woke up with a case of “man-flu” and feeling unable to live up to my own expectations, I kept to the usual kirikaeshi and waza geiko routine before taking my place for motodachigeiko. I am determined however to get back on track as soon as I have stopped coughing and snivelling.
Following Uegaki sensei’s advice and example, I realise that us senior citizens can get as much benefit from kakarigeiko as do our younger, fitter colleagues. The elements that do not change are total commitment and big correct technique. Additionally we oldsters need to pay even more attention to producing strong kiai and seme, correct posture and good zanshin. So albeit slower than it used to be, kakarigeiko can still be a vital component of our training plan.
Whereas in hikitate geiko with less experienced players there is a tendency to rely on ojiwaza, kakarigeiko ensures that you make strong effective shikake waza against every partner. As such, it ensures that you constantly use your whole repertoire of kendo techniques and do not forget the value of making good seme men. The other benefits of this kind of training are increased appetite for a post-keiko beer and the ability to sleep like a baby.
So like any good male cold sufferer, I stopped off at Superdrug on my way home from keiko and collected a carrier bag full of vitamin C tablets, paracetamol, linctus and lozenges. I now plan to retire to bed with these and my Kindle. I will of course be keeping in touch with my wife by phone, sending frequent requests for soup and hot lemon and honey drinks. I should hopefully emerge by Tuesday, like an energised butterfly from a chrysalis ready for more kakarigeiko.
Read Full Post »
Thank you for completing my poll. As the graphs show, we are quite a conscientous bunch,most of us practising suburi and kirikaeshi at every session. We are less enthusiastic about kakarigeiko and oji waza drills, but overall we like kihon-geiko and want to do more. My supposition that there were lots of fat cats out there who only turned up in time for jigeiko was entirely wrong. What made the results even more interesting is that the bulk of my respondents have at least 5 years experience.
As always, you made some interesting and valid comments. I was particularly interested in Dillon’s thoughts from a “training in Japan perspective”. From my own experience of living and training in Japan, and of still visiting quite frequently, I agree that the onus for adult kendoka is on organising your own kihongeiko if you feel you need it. In the majority of town or city machi dojo that is the case and often the only way to get basic training is by joining the kid’s class.
In university clubs and in police kendo academies such as Tokyo kesicho or Osaka fukei, training consists predominantly of kihon drills, but in many dojo where there kihon training is less formalised, adults still do it either with motodachi, or in the case of some senior kendoka with each other on a “one-on-one” basis”. I have quite frequently been to open keiko sessions and had 15 or 20 minutes of kihon with a friend before joining the jigeiko.
The other option is to seek out sessions taught by sensei who are known to teach basics. Uegaki sensei in Yoshino, although in his mid 60s, survives on a regime of kirikaeshi, kakarigeiko and semegeiko, as of course do his students. I went with him to an asageiko session in Sakai where his teacher, the late Furuya sensei was in charge. The average age of kendoka there must have been over 60 and the average grade 7th dan, with several 8th dans taking turns as kakarite. We did kakarigeiko for an hour!
In Japan, you have access to the best kendo in the World, but that does not mean that everyone there trains to the highest level. There are many dojo where you can turn up once a week and enjoy your jigeiko, relying on the basics you developed in junior high school. There is clearly nothing wrong with this. Kendoka who make an appearance as and when they can, and enjoy their training, are the backbone of Japanese kendo.
Those that make it to the kodansha ranks however, particularly those who reach 8th dan, seldom do so without repeatedly reviewing and polishing their basic technique. And the only way to do this is through repeated kihon practice.
Read Full Post »
The kendo referee’s rulebook describes zanshin as one of the necessary elements of a successful yuko datotsu. In simple terms zanshin is the mental state and physical posture that allows you to respond to a counterattack after you make a strike. If zanshin is not present after an attack in shiai, the point is either ignored by the referees or results in tori keshi, where ippon is awarded and then taken away.
Typically zanshin is the process of going past your opponent after an attack and once you are in safe distance, turning to face him or her in chudan. If you are unable to go through then you need to have the tip of your shinai pointed firmly at their throat or centre.
Most kendoka are aware of the need for zanshin, but many of us do not incorporate correct zanshin into their basic kihon training or in some cases jigeiko. To work it has to be practiced an essential part of each technique and not occasionally switched on when required. I often see examples where after a good men strike, the attacker will relax as he or she moves through after striking. You can almost sense a feeling of relief as chudan is dropped as they move past their opponent. I have even seen players release one hand from the shinai after striking.
More often this lack of zanshin is manifested by a slowing of pace and loss of posture after the attack. Another clear indication that zanshin is not present is where a player takes a number of steps forward past their opponent, turns and takes chudan kamae whilst stepping backwards. This is obviously a weak position and he could be easily overwhelmed if his opponent made a strong forward attack at this time.
To ensure that zanshin is there when you need it, you should practice it as an integral part of each technique, even in the most basic of drills. So for example in men uchikomi geiko you should step forward into your opponents distance, strike men, take 3 or 4 steps past your partner, keeping the tip of your shinai forward, then turn, stepping forward in chudan into correct distance. This forward movement should be assertive to the point of becoming your next seme.
Correct kakarigeiko is a great way to develop zanshin as you work on a pattern of seme, strike, go through with correct zanshin, turn, move forward into seme and strike again. If practiced this way zanshin becomes an integral part of each technique, not an additional element for use in shiai or grading examinations.
Read Full Post »
On my occasional visits to one or other of the kendo message boards, I often see requests for advice or clarification, to which someone invariably posts the response – “ask your sensei”. This seems to me to be the most logical and accessible way to have questions answered, but obviously many people find it a more daunting option than referring to wiki style resources or asking their peers online. Surely not all kendo instructors are ”grumpy old men”, (no personal comments please), who fill students with fear.
Reflecting on this situation it is worth thinking about the roots of kendo pedagogy. As an essentially Zen martial art, traditionally the onus has been on the student to find his or her own path to enlightenment. Stories of potential disciples sitting for days outside the dojo door begging for admittance are common as are accounts of the uchi-deshi (in-house student) spending months or years just occupied with cleaning and cooking, before being allowed to pick up a weapon. Even post war, there are numerous accounts of beginners spending up to a year on their own practicing suburi before being allowed to join the class.
Certainly during my experience in Japan in the 70s, many high graded teachers were reluctant to hand out advice. Whilst their intentions were obviously benign, their approach to teaching was to act as motodachi for kakarigeiko; allowing correct technique to connect and punishing poor attacks by breaking kakarite’s posture. Some were more approachable than others and were prepared to pass on a few words of encouragement when I waited to thank them personally after the final rei. Others were polite but less outgoing.
The world and kendo with it, has however changed. Kendo is no longer one of two choices for compulsory physical education in Japanese schools, although reintroduction is being discussed. Globally it competes not only with other martial arts, but with a whole range of sports and pastimes. In parallel we have seen a new breed of super-hanshi, people like Chiba sensei and Sumi sensei who are not only superb kendoka, but also great teachers who are happy to explain and coach as well as acting as training partners. Those of us lucky enough to spend time with them are likely to receive a quick, accurate analysis of our kendo strengths and weaknesses and tips on ways to improve.
It is however important that this openness is not abused. Remember that their time is limited; and if they have some advice for you they will tell you. When you cross the dojo to thank them, “arrigatou gozaimashita”, is sufficient. When you are part of a queue to bow your thanks, the last thing you should do is confront them with a list of questions; and never, never stop to ask a question during keiko. If sensei wants to tell you something he will; and you may be lucky enough to be part of a longer discussion later in the pub.
Read Full Post »
Most kendoka know the difference between uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko – in theory. Very few of us do enough of either to be able to perform them correctly. Both form an integral part of Japanese school, university and police training sessions, but in the UK we may do the occasional bit of uchikomigeiko, but seldom push ourselves to do kakarigeiko.
Just to remind ourselves, uchikomigeiko is the practice where motodachi offers kakarite the points to hit, either at his own discretion or in a pre arranged sequence. The objective of the exercise is to build the ability to attack correctly, immediately an opportunity arises. Kakarigeiko on the other hand requires motodachi to stay in chudan, forcing kakarite to make his or her own openings. Kakarigeiko calls for rapid, continuous attacks and if done correctly, cannot be sustained for much more than 30 seconds to a minute.
Motodachi’s role in kakarigeiko is to allow only effective strikes to hit. This can be done just by maintaining and relaxing kamae, or motodachi can take a more proactive stance by punishing unsuccessful attacks; normally using your own harai or osae techniques to knock or push the attackers shinai down, or to the side. This tough-love can be ratcheted up by the use of tai sabaki (moving the body out of line) as kakarite attempts to strike, or by responding to some of the attacks with ojiwaza. Other options are the introduction of taiatari (butsukarigeiko) and the ultimate tactic of responding with your own full on attacks, turning the practice into aikakarigeiko.
Both uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko can be done in mawarigeiko format, with similarly graded players taking turns as motodachi. The other option is to make them part of shidogeiko where teachers or seniors continue to take the lead role throughout the session.
In Japan, free practice sessions between junior grades and senior instructors invariably finish with uchikomigeiko or kakarigeiko. The rule used to be that as the junior, you do your best to take a creditable ippon or two, but once sensei has swatted you four or five times, it is your signal to move into hyper mode and attack non-stop. Teachers do of course use discretion over the intensity and length of these sessions and will push a young fit advanced player much harder than they would a less experienced or older player.
Whereas in my twenties I was expected to exhaust myself before the end of every keiko, the hachidan sensei that I am now occasionally privileged to practice with me, let me off with a few token men-uchi.
Read Full Post »