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Archive for the ‘Kendo keiko’ Category

kishubushin2Last year I asked my friend Yukiko Ayres to produce some calligraphy for a new tenugui for my Thursday dojo, we decided to use the characters ki shu bu shin, which allude to the fact that training should be fierce and rigorous but that the intention behind it is benign. “Devil hands, Buddha Heart” is a very loose translation. The reason for adopting this motto is my belief that keiko should be stretching and strenuous and that motodachi’s role is to help shidachi reach up to the next level.

As a young kendoka in Japan my keiko with most of the senior teachers usually consisted of ippon shobu, which I never ever won, immediately followed by kakarigeiko of varying length and intensity. Each sensei seemed to have his own formula for correcting some of my many weaknesses. In most cases the plan was to take me to a level of exhaustion where I was no longer able to remain tense or to use shoulder strength to raise the shinai. Going through this process in Japanese summer humidity usually left me in a soggy heap. The fact that there is usually a fifteen minute queuing time between hanshi is probably the reason I survived to tell the tale.

I have experienced the joy of throwing up in my men, having my shinai knocked repeatedly out of my hand at the point of striking, been bounced off the wall and on a few occasions fallen victim to deashibarai. This was at a time when the current appetite for “health and safety” appeared far less intrusive than it does today, instead many kendo teachers teachers followed Nietzsche’s view that ” what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Whether I was suffering from Stockholm syndrome,  or acting like one of the victims of Monty Python’s fictitious gangsters, Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, who showed mercy by nailing hands to coffee tables instead of heads to the floor, I am not sure, but I certainly came away from these sessions with a feeling of gratitude rather than resentment.

Now when I get the occasional chance to train with my betters, I am still expected to stretch myself despite my advanced state of decrepitude. More of my time however is spent receiving kakarigeiko where the main challenge is to decide how intensive kakarigeiko should be for each individual.

The kenshi that I train with are of varied ages and physical fitness levels. They come to kendo through their own free will and have not signed up to be punished in boot camp, so training needs to be enjoyable as well as effective. I try to tailor each motodachi keiko session to a length and intensity to fit each student. A young national team member will have a longer faster session with more resistance than a middle aged student and for an older member two or three good uchikomi attacks are probably sufficient.

Still from time to time I look at the kanji on our tenugui and think affectionately about some of the sensei, sadly no longer with us, who had mastered the art of sending you home with just enough resentment to make you determined to come back and do better tomorrow.

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8THAfter starting last week’s slightly heated debate about the value of learning kata from Japanese sensei. I should make it clear that I have always valued the instruction and guidance of senior teachers and I try to both reflect this in my own keiko and the advice that I give others. Kendo has a clear hierarchy and those of us who are, or have been privileged to learn from those at the top are fortunate.

Whilst there are a number of 9th dan sensei still with us, Hanshi  8th dan is now the pinnacle of kendo achievement. Kyoshi 8th Dan follows and then Kyoshi  7th dan and Renshi 7th dan and 6th dan. There are a handful of 8th dans outside of Japan and Korea, but by and large kenshi from other countries are lucky to be taught by a 7th or 6th dan.

What is not taken into account is that thanks to the ZNKR and the individual efforts of many senior sensei, the kendo world is now a very small place. Many of the eminent hanshi now travel the globe on a regular basis, leading seminars, helping with taikai and generally spreading their knowledge to the international kendo community.  Often during these trips they are available for keiko to all comers, which is a very different scenario to their accessibility at home.

Japanese friends who have attended seminars in Europe have been astounded that a British shodan may only have to wait for minutes to practice with a famous hanshi, when a Japanese 7th dan could spend an hour in line at the Budokan godogeiko or the Kyoto Taikai asageiko without reaching the head of the queue before yame is called.

Of course these teachers are as active and as generous in their home country, but they have a limited amount of time, so often it is only close students who benefit from regular one- on-one training. More often than not it is a case of transmission down the grades.

I have personally been very lucky in benefiting from the help of many important kendo teachers over the years both overseas and in Japan. In my younger days in Japan however, nothing came easily. It was a matter of putting in the time and effort and proving that you were worth a few minutes of sensei’s time before your existence was acknowledged.

I am looking forward to my next year’s first practice on January 2nd. If I take a bit of extra time in mokuso it is because I will be thinking of all the teachers, past and present who have given so much to make kendo such a treasured experience.

Happy New Year! Rainen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

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Chiba senseiThere was some interesting feedback on last week’s post, most of it on the meaning of jiri itchi. As ever, George did a great job in providing the precise definition.

I would like to take the discussion forward one more step, and look at what we need to do to achieve jiri itchi. The answer is fairly obvious. Practice until the technique, the timing and the opportunity become second nature. Only then will you be able to launch that waza “on demand”, without giving it conscious thought.

When on the few occasions senior Japanese sensei compliment anyone’s kendo, they often do so by saying that “you have done lots of keiko”. Not ” your kendo is good”. It is as if the hours of training you put in at the dojo automatically equate to merit. This runs through to formal evaluation at grading exams where, the pass criteria for almost every grade are subject to the caveat, “must be seen to have done an appropriate amount of keiko”.

It is true also of the requirement for referees who must be active in their own keiko schedules and not just involved as referees and teachers. The view is that if you are not regularly polishing your own repertoire of techniques, you will not be in a position to judge those of others.

Of course it is not just a matter of putting in the time in the dojo. Training has to be correct and strenuous to be of value. I have forgotten who said it, but whoever it was said “the more I do of what I do, the more I get of what I’ve got”. Thinking about this in a kendo context it means that if you spend hours training to do a technique incorrectly, you will master the art of doing it wrong.

Obviously it pays to build step by step on technique training. Start with suburi, practice the timing and distance in uchikomi geiko, learn how to get the technique past your opponent’s centre with kakarigeiko and only then incorporate it into jigeiko.

Chiba sensei when speaking about his training before winning the All Japan Champioships talks about doing 3000 suburi in a single session. This is as a police tokuren who already had extensive high level keiko and shiai experience. Of course the concept of improvement through constant repetition is as old as kendo itself and was most famously promoted by Yamaoka Tesshu.

None of us will ever achieve perfection in our kendo, but trying to do so should be a source of satisfaction in itself.

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After the rigours of kihon geiko at the beginning of each kendo session, I see quite a few people breathe a sigh of relief as they enter jigeiko. I am of course not a mind reader, but my guess is that their thought process runs along the lines of – “right that’s the hard part out of the way”. “Now it is me time – the chance to do what I enjoy by using my favourite techniques to beat the other guys”.

I stress that I am not trying to replace David Blaine. My insight is not based on the supernatural ability to read other people’s thoughts; it is based on observation of their keiko. Although I do sometimes feel guilt at playing a cross between the stern dad and a bad tempered puritan. In this situation, I feel that it is my duty to remind backsliders that keiko is for improvement rather than enjoyment.

The term keiko has the connotation of thinking about tradition and infers that when we train, we should be mindful of all that has gone before. Other terms for training include renma and tanren which describe forging the body through hard physical activity and shuren or shugyo which have the nuance of religious or ascetic training. None of these labels refers to the idea that kendo should be fun.

It is worth further clarifying exactly “what is jigeiko?” Collectively it describes gokakugeiko (keiko on a 50:50 basis, conducted as if you are equals), or hikitate geiko (between instructor and student, where some opportunities may be offered and correct waza allowed to score). In both cases there is a need to stretch yourself –  by creating chances to attack and ensuring that techniques are correct and in line with basic principles.

It is also important that you do not just use the opportunity to work on your favourite, tokui waza, but that you try to use all the techniques that you have learned. Of course winning and losing is important, which is why we put such emphasis on shodachi, or the first point. What we should not do however, is to sacrifice our kamae and posture by blocking strikes without the intention of responding with oji waza, or fail to follow through once we have started a technique, because we fear being hit by your opponent. We learn equally by hitting or being hit.

My next post may be slightly delayed as I will be in Tokyo all this week  to take the Kyoshi examination. While I am there , I will try to cram in as much keiko as possible into the short time available. Hopefully I can bring the right attitude to each practice; and maybe after the final rei there will be the opportunity to crack a few smiles in a nearby bar.

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