There were fewer of us than usual in the dojo on Thursday, so we used the opportunity to analyse how we cut men and to break down the movement to its component parts with the aim of repairing each element before putting it in the correct sequence to make an effective men strike.
Kendoka in the early stages of their kendo careers generally face three problems that affect their cutting action.
- Lift the shinai before they step into their own uchima distance, rather than stepping in whilst maintaining chudan kamae and then lifting the shinai and striking in the timing of one.
- Are unable to make correct footwork, because they are using the right foot to drag the left rather than pushing with the back foot, or lifting the right foot too high when making fumikomi, so that the left foot then flicks up in an arabesque movement to compensate.
- Or they use too much upper body power to make the cut. This can be a case of too much shoulder power or in many cases strength is concentrated in the right arm.
Fixing these errors is not always simple; because cause and effect can become confused, and very often, bad habits in men striking are a combination of more than one problem area.
We went through the analysis stage and acknowledged our own and each other’s faults then went through a series of suburi, footwork and uchikomi drills and people were starting to show some improvement, but I noticed that in several cases the cutting path of the shinai was not following a straight natural line through the centre of the body.
This led me to a eureka moment when I remembered an experiment conducted by an elderly sensei at the Kyoto Taikai a few years ago. He had set up a device which looked a bit like a tall music stand in a space behind one of the bogu stalls surrounding the Butokuden. The stand had a frame with clamps on either side into which he inserted a broadsheet newspaper page. He then challenged all and sundry to cut through the newspaper using a shinai without fittings. There were various results from kenshi of varying grades. Those who used far too much strength just ripped the paper out of the frame. Those who put just too much power in the right hand made an uneven zigzag cut and those that were totally relaxed and centred cut the paper down the middle in a perfectly straight line.
Recreating this seemed the perfect way to demonstrate how to cut correctly, so I asked if anyone had a newspaper and someone obliged with the evening free-sheet. We took turns at holding the newspaper pages and everyone, me included took turns at cutting. The result across the board was that the page floated towards the ground in one piece whilst the holder was left clutching the two top corners, leaving me to reflect on why it didn’t work.
There are four possible answers. The newspaper was wet; you need a frame to hold the paper properly; our cutting was not good enough, or it does not work with the London Evening Standard only with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.