Archive for the ‘Injuries’ Category

elbowMost kendoka have had the experience when making a well-timed dou strike, of hearing the dull crunch of shinai against muscle and bone instead of the expected crack of bamboo against lacquer, (or Yamato material). Our normal reaction is to blame ourselves for hitting off target, but in many cases it is our opponent who is at fault for pulling his elbows down to his side to avoid being hit.

The logic of this baffles me. By taking such a defensive action, he loses the ability to respond with a technique of his own and whilst my knowledge of orthopaedic surgery is slight to say the least, I imagine that the pain and inconvenience caused by serious elbow injury outweighs the shame of having your dou hit.

This type of behaviour is not limited to dou and is not just reserved for shiai. I see many kenshi busily blocking attacks to dou, men and kote in their normal keiko as if the objective of their practice is not to be hit, rather than making successful strikes themselves. The mind-set of “not being hit” can go even deeper and some people are reluctant to commit to an attack, even when they have a clear opportunity, because they fear their opponent’s potential reaction.  This is rather like an archer being unable to shoot an arrow because he is afraid of the bow string hitting his hand.

It is worth remembering that kendo is a Zen martial art and that our objective is self-improvement through rigorous, unselfconscious training. One of the many Japanese proverbs we hear regularly in kendo, and mentioned a few times in this blog, is “Utte hansei utarete kanshya” – reflect on your successful strikes, show gratitude for the strikes against you. In a nutshell this means we learn as much from being hit as we learn from hitting.

One practical way to overcome the temptation to spoil you opponent’s technique is to ensure that the point of your shinai is continually going forward. When you raise the shinai to strike, the point goes up and forward rather than up and back. Even when you block to make kaeshi-waza, if your kissaki is moving forward, you are able to block and strike in one movement, turning a defensive action into an attacking move. When shinai tips move backwards, postures often crumble and it is if you are rolling yourself into a ball like a frightened hedgehog.

So next time you hit an elbow, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and encourage your keiko partner to worry about your men rather than his own dou.

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The most subscribed to thread ever from the Linkedin Kendo Professional Group has been the debate on whether or not to wear padding under kote. My own contribution to this degenerated from a caring “tell people not to hit so hard and get better kote” to a less considerate “man up and take the pain”. The overall direction of the debate however moved to the many injuries that people experience through kendo.

Having practiced kendo for many years in quite a few countries, I still see it as one of the safest martial arts and as comparatively safe against most sports. I have certainly hurt myself more when enjoying horse riding and skiing, although I must admit that I am relatively bad at both.

Kendo injuries remind me of the different schools of Buddhism, they can be categorised as Jiriki, (self powered) or Tariki , (outwardly   powered). I apologise for getting metaphysical, but you either hurt yourself or somebody does it for you. In my experience the former are far more common and more legitimate. You can strain or rupture your Achilles tendon; you can get repetitive strain injuries in your elbows, wrists and shoulders. Some but not all of these are caused by poor technique or not warming up. Others like knee and back strain from fumikomi may be the result of doing good kendo on bad floors.

Injury by others is in my experience less common and on a dojo level more avoidable. Kendo strikes, using correct strikes on appropriate bogu should not hurt or cause damage. We all know that we should hit with correct cutting motion and tenouchi and not pretend that we are hitting the test your strength machine at the funfair. If someone hits too hard they have not yet learned correct technique, or they are a psychopath.  With psychopaths the solution is simple – they should be encouraged to take up another hobby.

For individuals with less evil motivation and poor technique, the fault lies with their teacher. I believe that beginners should firstly learn correct suburi, then move on to hitting their opponent’s shinai or an uchikomi- bo or an uchikomi-ningyo. When they can do this correctly, it is then the time to bring them into the general kendo practice. In that way we stay safe and all get to enjoy it.

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