Archive for the ‘Kihaku’ Category

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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Sumi sensei at Imperial

Sumi sensei at Imperial

I am trying to recover after 4 days and 5 nights of keiko with Sumi, Uegaki, Tashiro and Mori sensei.

We have just finished the annual Sumi seminar and by the final day there was a clearly visible improvement in the standard of Kendo for all participants. On the last day we held a grading examination to 5th dan level and for the first time in my experience, 100 percent of the candidates passed. Of course the sensei worked on improving technique and posture and a lot of focus was put on correct footwork, but in my view, the biggest improvement made to everyone’s kendo was through improved kiai.

I sincerely believe that in the UK, we fail to teach beginners the importance of correct breathing and strong kiai and that this has a major impact on the ability to finish waza correctly. Whereas if correct breath control is taught, the technicalities of finishing a technique tend to take care of themselves. Ideally, you should breathe in sharply and hold the air in your abdomen, then let out a small amount of this air as kiai or kakegoe before you enter cutting distance. You should then expel the rest of your breath sharply as a loud kiai at the point of striking. The difference between Kendo with and without this is similar to comparing a bout between two professional heavyweight boxers and a friendly slapping match.

As we get older and move up the grading ladder, kiai or perhaps more appropriately kihaku (the strength of our spirit), becomes more important. Muscle power decreases, so we need to resort to the strength of our mind or spirit to break an opponent’s centre as we make an attack.

Watching people like Sumi sensei, who I have had the privilege of knowing for many years, you can see this transformation. Whereas twenty years ago I feared the speed of his attack, one is now transfixed by the strength of his ki.

So, coming back to our more immediate kiai concerns, what is the best way to train? The answer given loudly during the seminar was kirikaeshi. Deep breath, kakegoe, shomen and 5 yoko men with kiai without breathing in again – then stretch to shomen and seven yoko men. When you can do that go on to the whole forward and back sequence in one breath. It hurts! but, it will make one hell of a difference to your Kendo.

Post seminar practice at Imperial College – Sumi sensei in the second row center.

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Every time I come back from Japan, the intensity level of my keiko increases. Most strong sensei teach that the best way to improve your kendo is to train giving it 100 percent for limited periods and I buy into this concept completely.

Friends who run other dojo in the UK, and in some other European countries take a different view. They tell me that training should be pleasurable and that by deing too demanding they are likely to lose students, particularly those just starting their kendo career. They also quote the old chestnut “westerners are different” and we should do things our own way.

Traditionally there have been differences. Someone who started Kendo at age 7 and kept going through the school system to university can have 13/14 years experience and the heart and lungs of a twenty year old. He or she should constantly want to push harder to achieve kendo goals, but with the demise of kendo as a compulsory school sport in Japan and with more children’s clubs being started in other countries, it might be that the 14 year experienced 20 year old is a European and a Japanese or Korean beginner is a 40 year old lady. Yet age for age I believe they train harder than we do.

Gigeiko is fun! Kirikaeshi, uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko are not. Done correctly with strong kiai and correct breathing these exercises constantly take you out of your comfort factor, but they certainly improve your kendo. The challenge for dojo leaders is to persuade students that a one hour keiko session should be broken down into 45 minutes of kihon drills and 15 minutes of gigeiko.

This applies to practice amongst kendoka of a similar level, if you are practising with senior sensei then don’t worry. Just wait for your turn and they will normally step up the practice to match and stretch your capabilities.

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