Archive for the ‘Kirikaeshi’ Category

Kirikaeshi smallI have written on several occasions about the benefits to be gained from practicing kirikaeshi.  This time I wanted to share some thoughts on just how much kirikaeshi can tell others about your kendo.

I got home last night after the Watchet kendo seminar and grading. In the past in the UK, it was only necessary to include kirikaeshi in grading exams up to third dan.  Now to align with other European kendo countries, its inclusion has been extended to 4th dan  examinations.  With this in mind we did some work on kirikaeshi over the weekend and then as a grading panellist I watched 3 hours of it on Sunday, so as you can imagine, the topic is fresh in my mind.

It really is a very good indicator of an individual’s overall kendo level.  A demonstration of kirikaeshi is not affected by the relative strength of your opponent, it is a simple showcase for your kendo basics. It gives examiners a clear view of your ability to cut correctly with tenouchi, your footwork and ki- ken- tai-itchi and the strength of your kiai.

When as an examiner you watch kirikaeshi the first thing you notice is whether or not the candidate is demonstrating “full spirit”. A big kiai and the ability to make successive strikes in one breath will immediately get the panel on side. It is also easy to see whether the attacker is making correct cuts to the target. For yoko men this should be a a 45 degree angle to the temple and the right arm should be extended and the left hand should remain in the centre of his or her dou mune.

Many kendoka get into the habit of aiming at the opponent’s shinai rather than really trying to hit the target. When they are practising in their own dojo, they should get motodachi to receive the strike as close as possible to their men to encourage a correct cutting action and hasuji. It is also obvious if correct distance is being kept. This is usually a good indicator of someone’s ability to control their footwork.

One question I was asked several times over the weekend was whether tai-atari should be included in kirikaeshi in gradings. There are various schools of thought, but the simple answer is include it if you have to and don’t if you don’t. For instance if motodachi offers strong resistance, make tai-atari, if he goes back after your first strike, then there is no need.

Of course there are other elements of kendo such as timing, opportunity, seme and the understanding of riai that are not visible in kirikaeshi, which is why we go on to a jigeiko demonstration, but kirikaeshi certainly gives the panel a quick overview of a candidates level of competence with kendo’s fundamentals.

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taiatariAs part of the interest in kirikaeshi generated by Inoue sensei’s visit to the UK, the debate on whether or not to make taiatari part of the exercise has been brought back into focus.

Recently,many instructors have been teaching kirikaeshi without taiatari, as they feel that its inclusion leads to bad posture. This is particularly true for less experienced players who tend to lean forward and use the strength of their shoulders and arms when they make body-contact with their opponent. On the other hand learning taiatari equips the student to aim for the centre, to make successful hiki waza and when the chance allows, give their opponent an extra shove to gain hansoku in shiai.

The clue is in the name. Taiatari means “body strike”, not “push”. To do it successfully you simply drop your hands to the height of your navel, engage your opponent’s shinai in correct tsubazeriai (omote side to omote) and push down using the strength of your back and hips. You should hit just once with the forward momentum of your attack. Your hands and arms should be relaxed, your posture should be upright and your left foot should be in the correct position following hikitsuke from the preceding strike.

Taiatari almost always follows an unsuccessful strike when you are directly in front of your opponent. By dropping your hands you also ensure that you do not put him or her in danger by pushing forward with your hands at throat height, potentially causing neck injury.

In shiai the rule is that  a “one hit” body strike that pushes your opponent over the line, results in a hansoku in your favour; a repeated or concerted push which is not connected to a valid attempt to strike a target, could result in the penalty being awarded against you.

The intention of taiatari is not necessarily to push your opponent back. With heavier opponents it may be that your aim is to gain distance by bouncing off them. It is however possible for a lighter person to gain ground with the strength of their taiatari. I have seen 45kg female player move a 100kg male opponent with a well-timed body strike.

To practice taiatari we use butsukarigeiko, where we follow a forward strike with taiatari and a hikiwaza. So a possible sequence might be – men, taiatari, hiki-men; men, taiatari, hiki-gote; men, taiatari, hiki-dou. Or of course you can practise by introducing correct taiatari into kirikaeshi; which brings us back to where we started.

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Kirikaeshi smallInoue Shigeaki sensei has left the UK, leaving behind numerous exhausted but inspired kendoka.  During his seminar he focused on a number of relatively basic points including:

  • Fast and accurate cutting in suburi.
  • Keeping keiko short and intense.
  • Including uchikomi-geiko, kakarigeiko and kirkaeshi in each and every keiko with motodachi.

For me however the one point that really stood out was his view of the importance of kirikaeshi. He believes that by just practising kirikaeshi you could develop you kendo to a level where you could win major shiai.

Obviously to be beneficial kirikaeshi training has to be done correctly. Inoue sensei’s approach is as follows:

  • You start practising slowly and accurately ensuring that distance is correct.
  • You do this by taking just one step forward from the starting position and strike shomen with one step, one cut.
  • You make taiatari keeping your hands low and ensuring that motodachi provides suitable resistance. Neither of you should use your upper body power, but should push from the tanden.
  • You then concentrate on striking yoko men accurately with correct hasuji.
  • After the last yoko men strike you take only one step back (in tsugiashi) so that you are ready to make the next shomen attack  in one step, one strike distance, pushing off from the left foot.

Once you can do this correctly you add speed, concentrating initially on the speed of each strike, rather than the tempo of the whole exercise. Finally you start to work on correct breathing and kiai; breathing in deeply before the first strike, holding the air in your abdomen as you release part of it in kakegoe and then completing the whole kirikaeshi sequence in one breath with continuous kiai.

Inoue sensei asserts that from training with kirikaeshi in this way you learn about correct posture and footwork, timing and opportunity, striking action and hasuji, correct breathing for kendo and the ability to easily and smoothly deliver continuous attack renzoku waza.

If you include this with every keiko and also add uchikomi-geiko and kakarigeiko, it mirrors the training undertaken by the Japanese National Team under Inoue sensei and Kato sensei’s direction for the 14WKC in Sao Paulo.

For us mere mortals, the intensity and duration of training should take our age and physical condition into account and depends on motodachi’s intuition. Sensei did however make the point that you should be able to train in this way well into your 50’s. Hopefully by the time we hit 60 we should be kicked across the dojo into a motodachi position.

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Kirikaeshi, whilst not universally loved, is one of the most beneficial kendo training exercises. As an experienced kendo practitioner, I still find it painful and exhausting, that is, when done correctly; which of course, is the only way to do it.

It helps improve, cutting, footwork, breathing and kiai and most importantly the union of all of these in ki-ken-tai-ichi. It can be practised as a kihon drill or at the beginning or end, (sometimes both), of keiko with your instructor.

Most people are used to the sequence of shomen and four yoko-men cuts going forward, followed by five yoko men attacks going back; with the pattern repeated before moving through with a final shomen attack. This is usual but, by no means the only method; with various permutations of cuts backwards and forwards being equally acceptable. In fact, kirikaeshi can be moulded to match the space available and is sometimes conducted up and down the length of the dojo. Kirikaeshi can also be adapted to practice dou uchi or a mixture of dou and men strikes.

Whatever the format, the elements of kirikaeshi should remain the same. You should start from issoku- itto-ma. Some teachers suggest stepping back to adjust distance. Personally I am not a fan of this idea, as stepping back weakens your approach and intention. From Issoku-itto-ma, you should step into your own cutting distance, lifting your left hand up above your mengane to strike a correct, kihon shomen; paying attention to ki-ken-tai-ichi.

There ar two schools of thought on the next step. One suggests that you should make firm tai-attari before mottodachi receives the sequence of yoko men attacks. The other requires you to  just gently touch mototodachi as the signal for him to move back. I would suggest this latter approach for less experienced players, as you do not need to worry about applying power to make body contact, but can instead concentrate on striking yoko men correctly.

Always start by striking to the right and also ensure that you lift your left hand above the mengane as for shomen. There is a tendency amongst beginners to try to hit quickly by not lifting the shinai sufficiently. This must be resisted, as must the desire to hit quickly with the hands if your foot and body movement is not equally fast. It is also tempting to bounce or jump with both feet in a fixed position. This is also a no-no, with the imperative being on correct footwork, with the back foot coming into position at the same moment as you make the strike.

The cut itself should be at 45 degrees, so that you hit between the 3rd and 5th mengane. The shinai should be raised straight through your centre, using relaxed hands to guide the hassuji to the target.

Kiai and breathing are important. You should fill up with air, letting some out in your kakigoe whist in issoku-itto-ma and then aim to breathe out continuously through the first shomen and the next 9 yokomen. So the sequence should be ya—men—men,men,men,men,men,men,men,men,men—men: in one breath. This is followed by a quick intake of air and then repeat.

When you return from the final yoko-men to starting distance you should take pains to do so in suriashi,(backwards of course), whatever you do, do not walk backwards’ crossing your feet. On the final shomen, motodachi should step to the side and you should go through to safe distance with good zanshin.

For motodachi it is important that you receive the cut as close as possible to your own men allowing kakarite to aim correctly rather than stopping the cut to hit your shinai. You should also try to receive with the shinai to the opposite side to your leading foot, otherwise you risk looking like Robocop.

For a demonstration of correct kirikeishi have a look at this YouTube clip of Yanai Norimitsu sensei at a seminar in Ireland. http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D65kqpj281nI&h=47185

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