Now with the excitement of the 15 WKC behind us, I have returned to the routine of keiko in my regular dojo. Unfortunately until Sueno sensei arrives in two weeks time, I am back on the motodachi side.
As the saying goes “it is better to give than to receive”. I very much enjoy practising with senior kendoka, be they more experience nanadan, or better still, hachidan sensei. Having spent much of my kendo life on the junior side of the dojo, I am comfortable with my obligation as kakarite. In short, I know that I need to constantly attack any target that I see, be it hard fought for or gratuitously given to me. The old kendo adage “see it, hit it” is crucial to being a good student.
If you see sensei’s men you should strike with 100% of your energy in the feeling of sutemi (throwing away the seeds). If he takes away your opportunity and returns your strike with kaeshi dou it doesn’t matter. The point is that you saw the chance and made a concerted, sincere attack.
Most kendoka understand this, but there are a few, who regardless of opponent treat every keiko like a shiai, where not losing points is more important than making them. This attitude encourages blocking the opponents technique with the shinai without the intention to counter. More bizarrely, I see people who drop their elbows to their sides to avoid having their dou hit. Perhaps the worst habit engendered by this approach is that of always holding back. By this I mean starting an attack but being prepared to stop it mid flow if the receiver tries a counter technique.
I believe that training in this way does not allow anyone’s kendo to develop. Unless we are able to attack wholeheartedly when we see an opportunity, we will never achieve the “holy grail” of mushin. As for motodachi, he or she is there to help you. In hikitate-geiko, which is by and large the most common form of keiko between senior and junior, the objective is for motodachi to stay just slightly ahead of kakarite.
After fighting for shodachi, or first point, the teacher will normally create a number of subtle opportunities for his opponent to attack. This can be particularly useful if these openings stimulate techniques that kakarite do not normally use. For instance if he or she tends to rely on counter techniques, then stepping back as you create an opening will encourage the use of hikibana waza and a more forward going approach.
Of course motodachi deserves some fun from the process, so a positive, fearless kakarite who is not constantly worrying about being countered, allows him or her the chance to crack in the odd kaeshi dou or suriage men. Above all, both partners should remember that the purpose of keiko is for all of us to grow and develop.