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Archive for the ‘Kendo New Year’ Category

Hasegawa senseiWe had a Hatsugeiko session at my local dojo on the evening of January second. Luckily this coincided with a visit from Hasegawa Makoto sensei, former JICA teacher to Nepal. He had contacted Holt sensei during a sightseeing visit to London and ours was the one practice that fitted in with his schedule. 

The session format was the one I normally suggest when we have senior visits. We started with kihon geiko, had a brief interlude for keiko between the kodansha and then finished with motodachi- geiko. We had a glass of sake to toast the New Year and then moved to the pub for a chat.

We asked Hasegawa sensei for a critique of everyone’s kendo and the point that he made was that people tended to use too much shoulder power. Many individuals made a cutting motion with their arms moving in parallel. Instead he suggested that they should rather push up and out with the left hand and pull up with the right, so that the shinai makes  an even arc as they raise and strike. He also commented on the need to grip only with the middle, ring and little fingers and not the forefinger and thumb. This applies to the grip in kamae, when striking and when making tenouchi on the point of hitting.

Good observations, but not revelations. They are exactly the same points that local instructors and other visiting sensei make repeatedly. The big question is “why are so many of us unable to change?”

I have often heard theories about westerners having different physical characteristics and that Japanese tend to concentrate more strength in their core and lower bodies because of “tatami lifestyle”, but to be frank I find these hard to believe. Most young Japanese people now use chairs and sleep in beds. I also see Korean and Japanese people who have started kendo outside their own countries, develop the same heavy hitting style as their Caucasian chums.

I believe the remedy is in the quality and quantity of basis practice we should do. Chiba sensei once said that leading up to his All Japan Championship peak; he did 3000 continuous suburi per day. Not only does repetition lead to perfection, but working at that level of intensity teaches you to relax and save energy. In the same vein if you regularly practice flat-out uchikomigeiko or kakarigeiko you learn to conserve energy by not being unnecessarily tense. The other point to consider is that correct breathing helps you to relax, so by practising multiple strikes with one breath in kirikaeshi or kakarigeiko you learn to use the power of your tanden instead of your shoulders.

Old advice, but certainly worth taking into account for this year’s training.

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Kendo New Year

New Year is the time when we can all reflect on what we have accomplished over the past year and set out our goals for the year to come. It is also the time to think about the past and how lucky we have been to receive the instruction and encouragement from our teachers and sempai during our kendo careers.

I recently read George McCall’s excellent post on kendo DNA which set in motion my own reflections on the help and guidance that I have received from wonderful teachers such as Chiba sensei, Arima sensei and Sumi sensei.  As always my main debt of gratitude goes back to Matsumoto Toshio sensei who took the trouble to teach me when I was an insignificant foreign student.

Having just returned from New Year keiko at London’s Wakaba dojo, I am also pleased to see how some of my juniors have shown massive improvement over the past year. It would be wrong to claim any credit for their hard work, but it is a pleasure to see through “old kendo eyes”, how the next generation are following and overtaking me.

Moving forward, it is a time for preparation for the coming year. I am hooked on the Japanese custom of “Osoji”, starting the New Year with everything clean and ready. Now is the time to wash and clean our dogi and to make sure that bogu and shinai are in good repair, so hopefully the rain will hold off until my keikogi and hakama have drip dried.  

For me, the coming kendo year looks really exciting, with a trip to Japan in February, The Paris Taikai in March and The London Cup and The World Championships in May, and that’s not even half way through the year.

More than anything else I am looking forward to my first keiko of the year on Tuesday the 3rd of January.

Thank you everybody for reading my blog and a Happy New Year.  Rainen mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

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