Following on from my post on mawarigeiko, I was asked for advice on the best way to train effectively when there is a wide range of experience levels in the same dojo.
I still believe that the mawarigeiko method I described would be effective, but a good way to ensure that less experienced members get the most from the practice is to have the high grades at the session stay in fixed positions with everyone else moving around them. In this way we ensure that anyone who is not completely familiar with the waza being practiced has the chance to try them in a controlled environment and can benefit from the advice of his or her seniors. It also lets him experience hikitate geiko, where the more experience kendoka can guide him through a correct keiko routine, allowing good technique to score.
In terms of the value to the senior member, we discussed this in an earlier post “Making the most of motodachi”. He or she can use the hikitategeiko to improve their own seme and timing by controlling the way that opportunities are given. Of course the kihon sections of the session are of equal value to both parties, as you are never too experience to practice basics.
When you have an established dojo or godogeiko session with a large number of senior grades and a larger number of less experienced players, then the preferred option is motodachi geiko. In this way sensei or sempai can lead the kohai kendoka through whatever training is felt most appropriate on a “one-on-one” basis. The exact method is by and large dictated by kakarite’s experience and fitness level. A typical practice would comprise kirikaeshi, hikitategeiko, with kakarigeiko to finish. With a less experienced player, motodachi may forego the hikitategeiko and concentrate on men drills; and for older less energetic opponents the kakarigeiko portion may be swapped for a less physically stretching, but more technical drill.
The question is often asked “who should be motodachi?” The answer depends on who’s there. At the Kyoto Taikai asageiko or the ZNKR’s godogeiko it is normal to have only hachidan on the kamiza side of the dojo. At major European events the high side is typically reserved for nanadan and above. Ideally in the dojo, motodachi should be yondan plus, but this is not always possible.
From motodachi’s point of view, the only potential weakness with this style of practice is that as you look down the line on your side of the dojo, you often see sensei that you would like to practice with but seldom have the chance to. You also know that once the session starts, they will be in constant demand and your chances of getting to them are slim. One solution for this type of situation was given to me several years ago by a visiting sensei from Japan. After warming up – high grades should set aside some time for a short keiko together; best done in mawarigeiko format. The rest of the class should just relax and watch, using the opportunity as mitorigeiko.
If all goes to plan, lower grades should be inspired by watching some high quality kendo and seniors should feel more stretched and relaxed after good, peer level keiko. The result should be everyone working together to produce their best kendo.