I spent this weekend at a seminar which finished with a grading examination. One of the candidates who failed asked for feedback and when I explained that the reason was failure to actively strike their opponent, I was told that it was the fault of my co-instructor who had advised that strikes should not be heavy. The candidate had responded to this advice by just reaching forward with the shinai as their opponent came towards them.
I did my best to explain that there was probably some misunderstanding and what my colleague had meant was that they should not make heavy downward strikes but that the feeling should be one of going forward. Of course this did not mean that the hit should not be sharp. In my experience this is a common misunderstanding. We should still strike downwards but our body should move straight ahead. In short you can’t get ippon without hitting.
It is not surprising that people get muddled on this point. In kendo we talk about oshigiri or push cutting, but to do this we have to deliver the datotsu bu of the shinai to the target area before we continue to cut forward with our body movement.
To do this you have to learn to relax so that you can deliver a downward strike whilst pushing forward from your left foot. You can then make a sharp strike using your shoulders, elbows and wrists, whilst at the same time accelerating forward using our feet and hips and as we discussed last week, the force of our kiai.
This type of confusion is common in our kendo careers when we tend to swing backwards and forwards from one extreme to another. We are told to make our big strikes smaller by one teacher and the next sensei tells us to make our small cuts bigger. We are advised to attack less frequently and then told to increase our work rate. Incredibly most of this advice will be relevant, but it is based on what the advising sensei sees on the day. There is some good news, in my experience this conflicting information starts to slow down as you develop your kendo.
There is of course a difference in the approach of various instructors and as the saying goes “there are many paths to the top of the mountain”. When you attend seminars or visit dojo, the advice you may receive is based on what the teacher sees on the day. Of course kendo reigi dictates an answer of “yes thank you” rather than a discussion of what the last guy said. However it makes sense to take the new information away with you and reflect on how it will affect your kendo before incorporating it into your keiko.