Archive for the ‘Kendo kihon’ Category

MountainI was told many years ago by a Japanese 7th dan in his 60’s that he found kendo increasingly challenging, particularly from the perspective of producing kendo that set a good example for his juniors. At the time, I was surprised to hear that someone who had reached his level still had concerns about his ability. I foolishly imagined that on reaching the kodansha ranks it was simply a matter of enjoying the benefits of past hard training.

Kendo continues to provide a challenge throughout our kendo lives, from learning to move our hands and feet together as beginners, to trying to gain some semblance of jiri-itchi when we reach the higher dans. As we progress, we face a series of barriers that we must overcome before we move to the next level. These often reflect the requirements for our next grading examination, such as renzoku waza for nidan and seme and tame for 4th and 5th dan, but they would still exist with or without a formal grading system.

Unfortunately these barriers have a way of getting higher and taking longer to overcome as we progress. It is often during these periods when people decide that it is easier to quit than to continue to strive. Kendo very quickly polarises those who appreciate  the value we gain is from the journey itself and those who expect instant mastery. The latter tend to leave at the end of each beginners course, but even for the most dedicated kenshi, long periods without tangible improvement can be frustrating and disheartening. On the other hand it seems that higher the “wall”, the greater the improvement you make when you eventually climb over it.

Practically, the solution is wherever possible, to go back to basics and increase the amount of kihon geiko in our training schedules. This should be done in a way that focuses on, or reflects the elements that we need to change. It helps to share and to have the guidance of your teacher or seniors when you are working on correcting faults or developing new skills. Sometimes however this is not possible and you need to collaborate with your peers rather than try by yourself. You may well find that they are facing the same difficulties and that working together provides a win-win solution.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now appreciate the point that sensei was trying to make. The biggest improvement you can make is to reach a level where you become conscious of how much you have to learn.

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I was catching up on George McCall’s excellent Kenshi.247 blog and saw his post about his 2010 kendo slump (see sidebar link). I wanted to comment with some encouraging words, but had forgotten my log-in to his blog. Knowing that George occasionally sees mine, I thought I would explore this topic here.  

None of us, unless we are very new to kendo or very easily pleased, escape the occasional feeling of “going nowhere”.  Most kendoka have a mental image of the kendo that they would like to produce and an awareness of their current level of ability. The more organised also have a training plan for getting from the current reality to the goal. If progress matches your expectation, you are happy, if not, you are not.

The challenge with kendo, is that the path is never ending and you continue to learn until the end of your kendo career. This means that as you age and go through physical changes, you need to adapt your kendo style accordingly. The Zen aspect of kendo suggests that it is sufficient to turn up, give it your best and go home without reflecting too deeply on progress, but as humans with more ego than we care to admit, we suffer frustration if we are not performing to the level that we aspire to. This results in the feeling of having “hit the wall” or even going backwards.

Having been in this situation on numerous occasions, I believe that these slumps are necessary precursors to making major improvements. If you are happy with your performance, then there is no incentive to change. It is only when you are dissatisfied that you can be bothered to make the effort to do so.

The longer you have been practising and the higher your kendo grade, the more difficult it is to turn things around. Habits become ingrained and difficult to break.  If you alter one aspect of your kendo, it affects everything else, so a slight alteration to your grip may necessitate a change to your kamae, calling for the rearrangement of your footwork and balance. Unfortunately it seldom works to make minor adjustments, so we need to go back to basics and break down what we do, before we can reinvent our kendo. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to take 7th dan, I realised that I had to restart from scratch and spent a year incorporating kihon drills for seme men and debana men into every keiko session.

So George, if you are reading this- cheer up! Even if you are having a tough time, I am sure that you will emerge from the chrysalis in 2011 as a better stronger kendo butterfly. In the meantime, happy New Year to you, and to everyone who reads this blog. Rainen  mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

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Is a song used to educate young skiers on the body part positions required to give the balance to ski correctly.  In kendo we have no similar prompts, but we definitely need them. Skiers who get it wrong, learn quickly by falling over, whereas in kendo you can continue to make the same mistakes for years.

Most students lack the ability to think holistically, which is not surprising, as kendo requires a range of movements which seem totally unnatural and unconnected.  The ability to move hands, feet and body together and to merge this with breathing and kiai are essential to achieving ki-ken-tai-ichi. Furthermore incorrect balance and posture make it almost impossible to hit with relaxed hands to the detriment of hasuji and tenouchi. Even relatively seasoned kendoka suffer from thinking sequentially. I regularly remind a third dan club member that his hand and foot timing is out and that he is using too much upper body strength. He regularly counters by explaining that “today I am working on my feet, or hands”, or whatever his current preoccupation happens to be.

Even after you have all the basics working correctly, it is easy to change the whole picture. When people change one element of their kendo, everything else is affected. A slight change of balance alters the timing of your footwork and the amount of upper versus lower body strength that is used in a technique. So you start by making a small correction and find you have to overhaul your whole kendo style.

How to avoid this? Why kihon of course. But, you need to ensure that you think “big picture “. With suburi, you should concentrate on achieving ki-ken-tai-ichi as you make each strike. For kirikaeshi and uchikomigeiko, you should ensure that you finish each cut correctly and that your timing is spot on. You also need to ensure that all of these exercises are carried out with a feeling of ichibyoshi, the timing of one, where you raise the shinai and strike in the same movement. Of course, correct breathing will help you achieve this.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you should keep the speed of kihon practise to a level where you are in control. Do not race ahead of yourself just to do it quickly. Of course speed is important, but get it right first and then make it faster.

So as far as I can see there are no real short cuts, or we maybe we could borrow the skiing memory aids “Atama kata hiza ashiyubi”, but it does not quite fit the tune.

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