Brits over the age of 40 and die-hard fans of vintage TV sitcoms may remember Trigger, the dim road-sweeper in the comedy Only Fools and Horses. Trigger’s boast was that during his long career as a road-sweeper he had only used one broom, although it had had 17 new heads and nine new handles. I have a pair of kote with a not dissimilar history; I have had them for over 20 years. They were originally a present from Shinji Kawato, a bogu maker friend in Osaka. To be fair both to Trigger and to Kawato-san, I have used the original futon consistently since then, although the atama or hand parts have been replaced at least 5 times and the futon have been washed and re-dyed.
The futon are now showing distinct signs of wear but are still holding up. They were recently reinforced so there should be some more mileage left in them. I have not been to Osaka for a while and I have not had the chance to take them to Mr Kawato for their regular atama replacement, so the palms have been patched in numerous places. This in itself is not a problem but now the tsutsu (wrist joint) , is starting to fall apart. Nevertheless I am still reluctant to end my 20 year relationship with them.
I have tried all sorts of kote over the years, including the Hasegawa type with changeable hand coverings. All kudos to Hasegawa for developing something new, but they remind me of gardening gloves.
Why do I love my old kote? Let me count the ways. The futon are of original Japanese hand stitched 1bu construction made from traditional compressed cotton and antique wool felt. They still do a great job in protecting me from over-enthusiastic beginner’s hits. They keep the correct tube shape while allowing me to get them on and off quickly. The hands (and their predecessors) are big and comfy and I feel completely relaxed in them. The downside is that they now look distinctly scruffy.
I have other newer and smarter kote but none that I enjoy wearing as much. My love for these relics may well be reason for their impending demise. I regularly think about spreading the wear, but it is these old favourites that invariably get packed for keiko.
I plan to get some more good kote this year, and have seen lots of desirable products in the bogu booths at taikai and on the internet. Nevertheless I still think that the old models will find their way back to Mr Kawato for some new hands and some TLC.
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I once spent an enlightening thirty or so minutes sitting in seiza listenting to a post keiko lecture from Kaku sensei in Nara. Kaku sensei’s theme was Hidari de motsu, hidari de utsu. “You hold with your left (hand) and hit with your left” The driving force behind the lecture was that kaku sensei had observed that many of the students at the practice were using too much right hand power and were therefore not striking effectively.
The extended seiza must have helped drive this lesson home, because it is easy to see that many of the problems of overextension, poor posture and inaccurate cutting are caused by the application of too much right hand power. The stiffness that we looked at in my last post is often “one sided” caused by the overuse of the right arm.
Many people overuse the right hand in an attempt to make small waza. The left hand becomes a fixed pivot and their cutting action is based on pulling the shinai back and pushing it forward with the right hand almost as if they were trying to touch their own nose with the shinai. Whilst this might appear to make the attack quicker it typically has the opposite effect.
Correct cutting whether large or small relies on the left hand raising the shinai to a point where it can be brought down on the target. The right hand is very much the junior partner and follows the left hand on its upward path and only makes a real contribution by squeezing to make tenouchi after the point of impact. In the case of men uchi this means raising the left hand to a point above your own men gane and then striking down. The right arm should be relaxed and not over straightened on the point of hitting. There should be a very slight flexion in your elbow and both shoulders should be square-on to the target.
With small techniques such as kote, the left hand should play its part, even if it is to lift the shinai no higher than the point of your opponent’s shinai. In this case it is a matter of striking sharply forward rather than down, but it is the left hand that does most of the work.
The benefits of doing this are enormous. It allows you to stay relaxed and to keep your posture correct and remain square on to your opponent. When your posture is correct you can push more easily from the left foot, maintaining correct ki-ken-tai-itchi and the shinai is more likely to hit the correct part of the target with sharp sae. The added bonus is you use far less energy.
So whilst my knees complained at the time. I owe a vote of thanks to Kaku sensei for the lecture.
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During his recent UK seminar, Sueno sensei made the point that “ kote attack should be in a straight line”. Sumi sensei backed this up during his visit last week and Chiba sensei has certainly said more or less the same thing. So why, when we get back to our normal hanshi free keiko, do people revert to hitting kote from a variety of odd angles.
Beginners in particular tend to stand directly in front of their opponent and move the tip of the shinai to their left to attack kote. This has the effect of diagonally cutting across the soft tsutsu part of the kote rather than making a correct hit on the kote buton. The other common mistake is to rotate the shinai under the kote which leaves the left hand too low to make a correct strike.
The key point to bear in mind is that when we talk about cutting direct from our centre to the target, it does not mean the centre of our body should be directly in line with the centre of our opponent’s body. It means that the centre of our body should be in a straight line with the target we are striking, be it men, do, or kote.
A useful tip for striking kote is to move your right foot over as you make the kote attack so that it lines up with your opponent’s right foot, rather than his left, which would be the correct position from which to strike men. By doing this, your body is facing the target, although you are now positioned slightly to the left of your opponent. Your shinai should be in a straight line, from your left hand, which should be in front of your navel, to your partner’s kote.
Another thing to remember is that when you move from the centre to hit kote, you only have to move above the height of your opponents shinai tip and no more than the width of his shinai to the left.
With this in mind it is tempting to leave your left hand in place and just use right hand power to make the attack. This is wrong! Your left hand should do the bulk of the work and the right hand just keeps it on course and squeezes gently with equal pressure to the left hand to make tennouchi on impact.
A final caution! You only need to cut through the thickness of your partner’s wrist. So the force of the attack should be forward. As Sumi sensei once eloquently put it “like a chameleon’s tongue coming out to catch a fly”.
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Kote is a great target. It is closer than men and does not require the attention to hasuji and tai sabaki required to make a successful dou attack. The only cloud on the horizon with kote is that if your opponent is in correct chudan kamae it is impossible to hit.
Of course kote-uchi is perfectly achievable as a kihon drill. So, for reasons I will go into later, it’s worth ignoring my initial pessimism and practising this on a regular basis.
As we said, kote is closer than men, so you should start in ai-chudan with the kisaki (point) of your shinai level with that of your opponent. At this stage your shinai should be on the omote side of your partner’s. As you step in you should ensure that your left foot is in place with your heel off the ground. To strike you should push off from your left foot and push forward with your left hand to raise the point of the shinai just above the height of motodachi’s shinai. You should strike square on to the target, so as you step forward, you should angle your right foot over to your left so that your toes line up with the toes of his right foot, rather than the left foot as for a men attack.
Now for the disconnect with reality – motodachi has to open the target to allow you to strike. You in turn should strike the kote sharply in a forward motion. You should not cut down beyond the thickness of his wrist. Be careful with zanshin; your opponent’s body is very close, so you need to ensure that your shinai point does not cause injury. At the same time we do not want to compromise our position by pulling the shinai back. Instead we should move forward into a safe tsubazeriai.
So that’s how to attack kote. The challenge now is to turn it into an effective technique in jigeiko or shiai. The most obvious opportunity is degote – using your opponent’s forward motion as he starts to attack your men. You should encourage his movement by slightly lifting the point of your shinai towards his left eye and then hit kote just as he starts to raise his shinai.
Another option is harai gote. We hit his shinai towards the tsuba end and knock it to the right, opening the kote target. Harai is difficult against a strong chudan kamae, but much easier if done as your partner moves forward or backward. The harai and kote strike should be accomplished in one step.
So, great technique, but as always in kendo, timing and opportunity have to be correct.
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Posted in Kote, Technique, tagged Kote on April 18, 2009 |
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On target but not great shisei or ki-ken-tai-ichi.
Kote should be one of the easiest techniques in the kendo repertoire, but it still baffles a lot of people. Like all waza it has its own timing and distance and these determine the most appropriate cutting action.
If your opponent has a strong chudan kamae, it is impossible to hit kote unless you break his or her centre. You can do this in three ways:
- Knock his shinai over to the right to open the kote by using harai or suriage to ura.
- Use osae to push the shinai over from omote and then hit the kote as it opens when he pushes back.
- Force him or her to attack men and then take degote as they start their technique. This in my view is the easiest and most effective way to hit kote, but that is personal choice.
It is important to remember that kote is much closer than men, so there is no need to make a deep seme or to step in closely to strike. Most people can make the distance easily from a point where the two kisaki are barely crossing. My own favourite approach to kote is to step into this distance and slightly squeeze the shinai so that the point moves up and to the right, prompting your opponent to attack men and then take kote.
In terms of the mechanics of cutting, you should remember that although kote is a small technique, your left hand should still do most of the work in lifting the shinai. You need to raise your point no higher than it takes to clear your opponent’s shinai. Logically, to hit the target it also needs to move only a shinai’s width to the left. When you finish the technique the shinai should be parallel with the floor. The feeling should be of hitting forward rather than down, in a motion that Sumi sensei compared to a chameleon’s tongue flicking out to catch a fly.
Footwork is much the same as men, just push off from your left foot and make fumikomi with your right. The only difference is that at the point of striking your right foot should be in line with your opponent’s right foot rather than his left.
Finally zanshin should as always be in the centre, but because moving forward you are in danger of making an inadvertent tsuki, you should raise your shinai above you opponents shoulder and move forward quickly into taiatari position, so if you miss you are still in a safe distance.
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