Opinion on how to best train for kendo competition seems to be varied. I had a lengthy conversation with one of the hanshi responsible for training the successful Japanese Team in a recent WKC and although he was reluctant to give away too many secrets, he told me that National Squad Training consisted of sessions with the younger, fitter 8th dan teachers acting as motodachi and putting the squad through a rigid regime of kakarigeiko style drills. There was also a stringent programme of medical checks to ensure that members with injuries that were likely to re-occur were excluded from selection.
Japan is obviously in a different situation to the smaller kendo nations, where although team selection is also limited to the fittest and best, we do not have numerous strong competitors to choose from. Whereas the Japanese squad come together on a limited number of occasions for team building and to put a final polish on already developed skills, other countries athletes sometimes need to use national squad training to develop far more basic skills. The training needs of a hobbyist with exposure to keiko for a few hours each week are very different to those of a police tokuren, who is paid to spend 30 hours a week in the dojo.
In most cases national squads can manage a few, infrequent training days together. Making the most of this time needs a great deal of thought from the coaching team. I have seen approaches that range from learning kata, to extensive kihon training to discussing shiai tactics and motivational psychology. I am sure that all of these have a place in the training tool kit. The most important consideration is how to make the best use of limited time spent as a group, particularly for teams which need to think and act as one.
One thing is clear, no-one should expect to learn the basics of kendo through a few group training sessions. National team members need to build their own kendo through regular keiko. Anyone chosen to represent their country needs to train as often as they can, with as many people as they can. In Mumeishi dojo the seniors make a point of giving extra help to National Squad members by adding an ippon shobu and some “tough love” kakarigeiko to each keiko, but how we develop as shiai players, and kendoka generally, is the responsibility of one person – ourselves.