Recently I was lucky to practice with Sumi sensei on his stopovers in London to and from a seminar in Russia. Despite suffering from jet lag he taught a one hour kihon session prior to jigeiko at Mumeishi. As well as enjoying (if that’s the word) the opportunity to stretch myself in keiko with him, it was interesting to see his unique approach to teaching kendo.
For many years I have seen Sumi sensei at least once a year and every time he offers a new method to teach some aspect of kendo. This time he seems to have put particular emphasis on timing and opportunity focussing on ojiwaza.
He has developed a series of drills based on moving the feet in a diamond pattern in suriashi, without ostensibly moving from the spot. Techniques included were men kaeshi men, men suriage men and men kaeshi kote. The kaeshi kote he further expanded on by developing the drill to move around in a continuous 360 degree circle.
He then introduced a practice based on an attack, block, change attack pattern, again using sliding footwork rather than fumikomi. Techniques taught in this way were kote, which was blocked and followed with kaeshi kote and men blocked overhead before the attacker reverting to oji dou. Finally he put the spotlight on seme by bringing in a drill where kakarite pushes the right foot forward to trigger forward movement from motodachi before striking men. This start on a simple hit per seme movement basis and then develops to take account of real mind contact and interaction between the two partners.
The whole approach was aimed to develop real interaction in keiko rather than the kakarigeiko style approach where you decide to attack regardless of your opponent’s actions.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, this holistic approach to kendo teaching is unusual. Chiba sensei takes a very different view of how timing, distance and opportunity are used by building different variants within drills for each technique. Both these meijin and some of the other leading hanshi teachers are being creative. In turn, trying to save us all much of the pain of learning only through hard won experience. This approach differs vastly from the old school style of teaching the basic waza by demonstration and repetition and letting the student work out how and when to use the techniques.