Archive for the ‘Fumikomi’ Category

Chiba sensei is back in the UK for his annual visit. He has an unerring ability to quickly spot what needs fixing and to offer a remedy. After two dojo visits for keiko, he reached the conclusion that may UK kendoka suffer from the lack of coordinated ki-ken-tai-ichi.  This stems from a number of timing problems but mainly from using too much shoulder power and leaning in, causing the right foot to come up rather than forward.

Over the weekend he then ran a two day seminar. Using a series of drills that progressed through the range of shikake and oji waza at different speeds and distances, he made people work on developing a natural kamae and cutting motion to eliminate this problem. The theory is quite simple, in that you should relax your arms and shoulders in chudan leaving your inner arms close to the body so that you cannot see daylight between your inner arms and your dou. Your left hand should be at navel height and turned in at an angle where you can easily support the weight of the shinai. Your right hand should be held at a relaxed angle without being forced, so that you can move the shinai easily. The grip from both hands comes from the little and ring fingers only.

You should step into your own one step cutting distance with a feeling of seme and at the right time you should lift the shinai bending your elbows and wrists in a natural fashion. How high you lift the shinai depends on you. If you are an experienced kendoka you should be able to cut in a very small movement. It needs to be bigger a motion if you are less experienced.  The key point is that the final part of the motion with your wrists is what gives the strike its “snap” and if your wrists are supple enough, you should be able to cut from almost a standing start. As Chiba sensei has said in the past, when you strike men, you should do so with the intention of cutting through to the chin.

In terms of getting the foot movement part of the equation right, you should not move your right foot before you start the strike, however just before you do so, bend the right knee slightly. Not only can this provoke your opponent to move, it aligns your leg so that when you make a fumikomi stamp, you will painlessly hit the floor with the flat of your foot rather than risk bruising your heel.

As simple as the theory might be, for many of us, it will take quite a few hours in the dojo before we can put it into practice.

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Kyoto Asageiko

Harking back to my Kyoto Taikai post, it is obvious to me that what sets great kendo apart from the norm is sharp footwork. Watching the younger hanshi, their arms and upper bodies are invariably relaxed, power comes from the hips and legs and ki-ken-tai-ichi is absolutely instantaneous.

Theoretically we all know what to do. I went into some detail about the how in an earlier post.  What amazes me however is the velocity of movement from standing start to fumikomi and strike at this level. The secret appears to be that you have to start with a tank full of ki and to be ready to launch forward as soon as you see or make an opportunity. It is also vital that you do not waste time or energy by lifting your right foot, but skim it forward making an explosive fumikomi on contact.

I wanted to illustrate this with a video from the Taikai, but those I took from a distance are not worth looking at. Fortunately Kendo World and youtube  came to the rescue with this video of one of my favourite enbu of 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0igjqI0XgY This shows Arima sensei of Osaka Fukei and Suzuki sensei of Hyogo Kenkei both hanshi and both physically small. It is also worth remembering that both are well into their 60s. Points to look at are how close heels are to the ground and how explosive their attacks are. It is also interesting to see that they are still up for a bit of gentlemanly “roughing up” at close quarters.

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Old Noma Dojo

Old Noma Dojo

We had a disappointing day on Saturday. Having booked a venue for a taikai we were moved at the last minute to another venue because of a double booking. When we got there, we found that the floor was solid concrete with a thin vinyl coating which meant the shiai did not happen.

Clearly concrete is an unacceptable surface for kendo, but thinking about it I have practiced on a lot of surfaces that have not been much better!

Traditional Japanese dojo floors are of course ideal for kendo and no matter how old or dilapidated the building, the floor always seems to give the right amount of bounce to make fumikomi painless. In some cases dojo floors seem to improve with age, as witnessed by the example of the late Noma dojo. A number of similar facilities have been lost in recent years. The old Oji dojo in Kobe was replaced by a magnificent multi-purpose gymnasium and although kendoka no longer had to change outside or be at the mercy of the winter winds as they blew through the open walls, the original floor was sadly missed.

Certainly in the UK, we are limited to whatever floors we are able to rent at our local schools or sports centres. All of these are designed for sports played in trainers. At best, we have sprung basketball courts at worst solid hardwood or composite surfaces. These I am sure, account for the high incidence of foot and knee injuries suffered.

I never experienced problems of this kind in Japan but having returned to the UK, soon developed plantar fasciitis. After years of treatment I moved on to various other achilles and knee troubles. At times, I feel that I am personally supporting the rubber industry through my ongoing investment in knee and ankle supports.

Of course I could try to do kendo without full-on fumikomi, but until I reach 70, I will try to keep that option for the future.

Here’s a picture of the old Noma floor

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Kata on the beachI touched on the fact that Kendo footwork is very different from that of other martial arts in my last post. Thinking about it, the whole left foot / left hand idea is alien to most sports. I think this is one of the reasons why beginners find it so hard to learn Kendo.

Successful kendo attacks must have ki-ken-tai-ichi or spirit /energy, sword, and body (read hips and feet), working together and whilst this can be done with sliding footwork, most people rely on strong fumikomi, (stamping footwork) to make the point. Watching many students practice, I beleive that quite a few find this to be particularly difficult.

The most common errors are to lift the right foot too high, not to maintain a correct distance between the left and right foot, to keep one or both heels too far off the ground or even worse to keep the left heel on the ground.

Poor footwork used to be expected from westerners by some sensei, who rationalised about “tatami seikatsu” or the fact that Japanese kendoka had stronger legs based on a lifestyle of sitting and sleeping on tatami mats. This is now largely irrelevant, as most Japanese now sit on chairs and sleep on beds. My personal theory is that bad footwork stems from hard gym floors, incorrect training and instruction and also from low expectations.

If we concentrate on our footwork in training, it will of course get better. To practice we should ensure that when we move into distance, the left foot should immediately follow the right. The left heel should be about 15 degrees of the ground. There must be a slight bend in both knees, not too great in the left, otherwise we lose pressure from the left foot and of course the left foot drives us forward. Once you are in position, be careful not to move either foot until you start the attack and then just throw the right foot forward so that it lands on the ball of the foot as you hit the target. Simple!……..OK it needs a bit of practice.

On my trip to Norway, we tried practicing Kata on the beach, not good for footwork, but great fun! see above.

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