Archive for the ‘24th EKC’ Category

Sueno senseiSueno Eiji sensei, hanshi  hachidan is back in the UK and has taken us through two evenings and two long but enlightening days of instruction. The seminar evolved from a detailed look at suburi through to the best way to display you skills in grading examinations, but sensei’s overriding thesis was that kendo training should be a step-by-step process, based on getting each stage right before you move on to the next.

He summed this up by expanding on his previous remarks ”that you can’t do keiko if you can’t do suburi” by explaining that you need to be able to reach a good level of men suburi before attempting tobikomi men drills in armour. You should be able to make correct single men strikes before moving on to making renzoku waza. Your renzoku waza should be correct before attempting uchikomi-geiko, which you should perfect before trying kakari-geiko and you should only go on to ji-geiko when everything else is correct. Once you have all of these points straightened out, you should keep them on track by spending 50 minutes of each kendo hour on kihon and the remaining ten on ji-geiko.

Sensei’s most controversial point was that in suburi and uchi-komi our furi-kaburi (upswing) for men should not stop at the 45 degrees insisted upon by many other kendo teachers. Instead our hands should come back in a low arc past the top of our heads. He qualified this by saying that we should not bring them back to a point where he have to open our elbows, but that the swing should go back as far as it can while keeping the arms in correct cutting position.

When asked why 45 degrees is still recommended by many teachers, his answer was that it was written down many years ago but had since been rethought about and that many sensei just keep quoting conventional wisdom. He quoted an example of the seminar held before the All Japan 8th dan Championships where every participant regardless of what he usually taught was bringing his shinai back past the 45 degree point in the warm-up suburi.

Sueno sensei’s other repeated point was that you should relax your arms immediately after  striking men, so that the shinai could bounce upwards, allowing your forward motion and following zanshin to continue smoothly. As he said himself, “there are many paths to the top of the mountain”.

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No let up from Hungary, France, Italy and Germany with Serbia, Switzerland, Holland and Russia closely  following, pretty much sums up the 24th European Kendo Championship in Gdynia. The Polish hosts did a great job. We had three days of excellent competition; a riotous sayonara party and the sun even shone. Rather than report on the Championship, which I am sure has been done already, I am posting this as a referee’s impression of the event.

This year’s event clashed with the Kyoto Taikai, so we had the smallest Zenkenren delegation ever; just Kurihara and Uehara sensei. Unfortunately Kurihara sensei was unwell, so most of the responsibility for refereeing standards fell on the shoulders of Uehara sensei and the senior European referees acting as shinpan shunin. Whilst I personally did not see examples of foul play or time wasting, Uehara sensei’s instruction was to focus on ensuring that matches were played in the “true spirit of kendo”. In effect to ensure that we paid attention to incorrect tsubazeriai and any reluctance to engage, particularly if a competitor was seen to be playing for time. In these cases we were urged to use hansoku to encourage fair play.

My overall impression, unlike last year, was that there was a clear difference between the successful competitors whom I have already mentioned; and those that disappeared in the pool and early tournament rounds. To me this was not necessarily a reflection of the players ability, more their own confidence and self belief. With the exception of some of the newer European kendo countries, most players had a similar level of kendo technique. There were some physical differences, some countries adopted more power; others went for lighter, quicker waza and more distance. Most shiai however were won on guts and determination; and the ability to score when a point behind and then do it again, separated the winners from the pack.

My favourite part of the three days was the goodwill keiko. Unfortunately the first day’s shiai over ran, so we only had one opportunity to practise with everyone, but it was well worth taking my bogu. It felt more like a World Championship at this stage. I had a great keiko with Taro Ariga of E-bogu and enjoyed practising with my kohai Stuart Gibson who dropped in from his normal practice schedule in Japan looking faster, better and bigger than ever; or maybe I am just getting slower and shrinking. I saw Chris Yang in my peripheral vision, so it looks like a trip to check out the Europeans pre the next WKC. Hopefully we all learned a lot from the experience.

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