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Archive for the ‘oji-waza’ Category

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Hayashi Kozo sensei from Osaka is currently in the UK. During a weekend seminar and several teaching sessions he made some very interesting points about ojiwaza. For a start, he emphasised how important oji techniques are, not just for advancing to the higher dan ranks, but also for winning shiai at every level. No matter how good you are at shikake waza, if you don’t include ojiwaza in your keiko you will miss half of the opportunities to attack.

He focused on the ideaof going forward as if for a shikake strike for many oji techniques. Suriage-men as a prime example. If you can make your suriage with the shinogi of the shinai’s datotsubu you should be able to move at full forward velocity using fumikomi-ashi as you return the men attack. I have quoted the advice of many teachers in previous posts and they all invariably stress that you should control the opponent and timing of his shikake attack, not just wait and respond. This approach demands an attacking mind.

The addition to this thought is that you should also move forward with your feet and body in total commitment.

Degote is another opportunity for a fast forward attack, launching yourself as soon as you see your partner’s kote starts to twitch upwards. With techniques such as nuki-dou, kaeshi-dou or nuki men or kaeshi men you have to give your partner space to come forward.  With these we keep with the standard suriashi footwork and on-the-spot zanshin at the time of striking. Hayashi sensei suggested however that by using a strong diagonal step followed by hikitsuke in the required direction you could give yourself a better chance to strike with accuracy because of the increased distance.

He also made the point that dou need not be restricted to the convention of hitting the right dou and moving to the opponent’s left, but that you could also hit right and move right, or hit left dou and move left or right as long as you made strong contact between the target and the shinai’s monouchi . One other interesting recommendation was the use of hidari-dou against jodan players as many of them pull the right arm down blocking their dou as they strike. At the same time their left dou is open allowing you to hit with nuki or kaeshi dou.

I am sure that most of the people attending these sessions came away with some new ideas to put into their keiko. Even though I have known Hayashi sensei for many years and trained with him on numerous occasions, seeing him in a formal teaching situation gave me some food for thought. So jodan players watch out. I am working on my hidari-dou.

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IMG_0036I returned last night from the French Open Championship in Paris where I was acting as a referee. This is a very big and popular taikai with Individual and team matches held over two days.  As well as competitors from all over France I saw players from Sweden, Italy, the UK and from Japan

Events like this are great opportunities to catch up with old friends, and in Paris there is the added bonus of good food and wine to finish each day.

From a referee’s perspective,   it is interesting to work in different environments with referees from other countries. Although of course, wherever you are, the basics of judging yuko-datotsu do not change.

Referees on my court were from France, Belgium, Japan and the UK. Over the two days we raised our flags for hundreds of men and kote and quite a few tsuki ari. We also saw numerous attempts at dou for which we gave only one ippon. Talking this over with my colleagues, the reasons for not awarding a point to most dou attacks, is that they do not have correct hasuji, or they hit with the wrong part of the shinai.

As with men and kote, it is essential that the datotsu bu of the shinai strikes the correct part of the target. That is to say the top third of the jinbu should hit the right side of the dou with the bottom take making contact. Most of the unsuccessful attempts we saw were “hira uchi”, where the side of the shinai hits the dou. There were also a number of occasions where the front of the dou became the target. Normally this is not intentional, but happens because the cut is made as the opponent is coming forward and there is not sufficient distance between you.

My pet theory as to why so few dou succeed is that most people view kaeshi dou or nuki dou as a reactive technique. If your opponent has already launched his attack and you attempt dou, you will be too close to complete the technique successfully. If on the other hand you force him to attack men and then hit dou just as he starts his attack, you should be able to hit the correct part of the dou with the right part of the shinai.

It helps to think about punching forward with your right hand while directly in front of your opponent and in turning your right wrist in so that the bottom take connects. Then you can move elegantly past your opponent and watch all three flags go up.

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Chiba senseiA comment on an old post on suriage men arrived yesterday. This plus a session that I ran in the dojo this week on ojiwaza invigorated my interest in exploring the subject a little more.

A professional educator friend told me never to tell people what not to do, but to accentuate the positive actions that they should be taking. Nevertheless I am going to point out what does not work when making oji techniques:

  • Bringing the point of the shinai back towards your body makes it impossible to achieve correct suriage or kaeshi waza
  • Dropping the point of your shinai unless for ukenagashi (which we almost never use in shinai kendo) is a  no-no
  • Blocking and cutting in two separate actions also dooms you to failure
  • It is nearly impossible to make suriage waza against overly large, badly timed or off centre cuts
  • Waiting for your opponent to attack before you react is a waste of time

At the risk of confusing readers, one of the biggest problems we encounter in ojiwaza practice drills is in starting your counter attack before the opponent starts his strike. Because it is a drill we obviously know what is coming, so we are tempted to attack too early. I often see what should be suriage men turn into debana men.

Whilst I can think of so many don’ts, I can only think of three imperative “dos”:

  • Always push the point of the shinai forward when meeting your opponent’s technoique. This applies to all suriage and kaeshi waza
  • Always make oji waza in “the timing of one” sliding up or blocking on the upstroke and cutting down to the target in the same movement, using just one step
  • Always control the timing by inviting your opponent to attack

This last point applies equally to drills and to jigeiko and shiai. If from chudan you squeeze the shinai gently with the little finger of you right hand, your point will move towards his left eye. More often than not this will make him attack your men at a time when your energy is focussed and you are able to respond immediately with suriage men or kaeshi dou. Move the shinai slightly to his right and he is likely to attack your kote leaving you set up to make kote suriage men.

One effective way is to practice oji waza was taught by Chiba sensei. The class forms groups of between five and nine. Everyone takes a turn as motodachi and the rest of the group are split into two smaller groups one facing him and one behind. Each makes either a men or kote attack, either at random or the group in front attacks men and the group behind kote. Motodachi faces each in turn, turning from group to group and makes the appropriate oji technique, remembering to invite the attack in his or her own timing.

The key point is to control the timing of the attack by holding and breaking centre in the way described.

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Going Straight!

taiatariOn Sunday after the Dublin Open we ran a kendo seminar. It took the form that most people would recognise, with lots of work on basics in the morning and moving on to more technical waza practice after lunch. I taught suriage men as part of a series of oji techniques. As you may have seen in previous posts , my view on suriage waza  is  simple – You create the opportunity, slide up the shinai and cut down in one movement and without moving back or to the side, go forward to your opponents centre as you finish the attack.

After spending some time practising this, Henrik, one of the senior Dublin members, asked the question, “what happens when you try this and you have 150kg of Noel bearing down on you”. Now to be fair to Noel, he does not really way 150kg, but he is significantly bigger than Henrik. Rather than just explain, I demonstrated how it would work against Noel. As expected, he came forward strongly for shikake men, but stopped when my technique hit. I was able to finish my attack going forward, without moving from the centre line.

The logic is simple.  As long as your distance is correct, you keep your point forward and stick to raising the shinai and hitting in one continuous movement, the strength of your attack will break your opponent’s forward motion. One other tip to bear in mind is that if your opponent is coming forward, you can use their movement, so you do not have to step in as deeply as for shikake waza.

So, problem solved, but then thinking about it after I realise that many people are reluctant to commit to aim for their opponents centre in a spirit of sutemi (sacrifice), whether they are initiating shikake or oji waza. This is particularly true for smaller people, who may fear injury from a collision with a bigger person.

 If this is a concern, I have two suggestions. Firstly, seme – If you truly break your opponents’ centre, they have nothing left to hit you with. Secondly learn correct taiatari. If you keep your weight down and your hands low, you should be able survive clashes with opponents of any size. I can’t guarantee that you will not be the one who bounces back, but you can do it with strong posture and balance, safely ready to make the next attack.

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Courtesy of Zeke Li, Eurokendo

Courtesy of Zeke Li, Eurokendo

I have not posted for 2 weeks as I was busy preparing for and then enjoying Chiba sensei’s latest visit to the UK. As always, he imparted a lot of information in a short time, covering correct basics and a whole range of techniques.

With such a variety of teaching, I imagine that different people took different things away from the seminar, but what particularly resonated with me, was sensei’s instruction on seme and maai. 

He pointed out that over the years it has become conventional wisdom to teach people to attack from long distance. I was personally taught to come in no more than 15cm past the point of the opponent’s shinai. In his view, this is simplistic and your optimal cutting distance depends on your age, height, leg strength etc.

He pointed out that it would be unlikely for seme to be strong enough to break your opponents spirit if you only pushed in beyond the point of the shinai and therefore a deep movement forward was required to make your opponent move back. This was also true in the case of positioning for uchiotoshi and makiotoshi waza.

His main thoughts on seme were that you should keep a relaxed and natural posture and use seme to force your opponent to react to make the chance for debana or oji waza. For instance, as you step in, point your shinai to the right of the men, so that he tries to beat you to the men attack and then take degote, or you seme to his kote and take men as he tries to cover his kote; or raise to the right eye to force a men attack to counter with ojidou.

He also pointed out that for senior grades, (given they had developed tenouchi and kikentaiichi), that it was not necessary to make a fully blown forward motion  for such techniques and that you only needed 50% of the effort that you would apply to shikake waza as your opponents forward motion created the other 50%.

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Oji Waza

Kyoto Ippon

Kyoto Ippon

Watching yesterday’s waza geiko at Mumeishi dojo, I was fascinated to see people who can make strong shikake waza, have a relatively hard time applying the same basic techniques to oji timing.

Rightly or wrongly, I believe that there are only four techniques in kendo – men, kote, dou and tsuki. There are of course numerous ways they can be applied, depending on distance, direction, timing and opportunity, but the fundamental technique does not change. So in my mind shikake and oji waza are one and the same.

I initially though about writing this post on suriage men, but the more I thought about it, the more I believe that what I want to say applies equally to all oji waza. I have covered a lot of the key points in my recent post about kaeshi dou, but on watching yesterday’s training the areas that generally need fixing are:

  • Timing – Either waiting passively for the opponent to strike or pre-empting and going too early.
  • Distance – Either generally being too close or waiting too long so that you are no longer able to strike with the correct part of the shinai.
  • Kime and hasuji – Different problems, same cause. Normally too much power in the right hand and lack of flexibility in the wrists.
  • Zanshin – Moving diagonally or worse back, make it difficult to show sufficient kigurai and claim the point.

My suggestions to fix these are:

  • Keep the point of the shinai forward, point it in at your opponent as you make seme with your feet and body. Make them attack and then lift your shinai straight up for suriage and kaeshi. Do not bring your point back.
  • Start from the correct distance and force your opponent to attack.
  • Keep your wrists and arms supple, make sure your elbows can move easily and turn your wrists in. Think about using the power of your left hand.
  • If raising the shinai and then striking do it in a count of one. This applies to suriage, kaeshi and nuki.
  • Wherever you can, go forward with strong fumikomi, kiai and zanshin. It is much more effctive to go in a straight line. If you have to side-step, finish by going forward.
  • Keep going in a straight line to safe distance then turn quickly to re-engage with your opponent.

Successful oji waza depend on these points plus an attitude that does not differentiate between oji and shikake waza. Approach every technique with an attacking mind.

I have already used this picture, but it shows completion of suriage men

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Kaeshi dou

Honda Dou

Honda Dou

As most people who practice with me know, I like kaeshi dou. Trying to teach it though, is not a simple matter. To be honest, I have not seen many kendoka below 4th dan attempt is successfully.

Dou generally is a difficult technique. Against correct chudan, there is rarely an opportunitiy for tobikomi dou. Hiki dou works if your opponent is intent on covering his or her men; some younger competitors do a good job with gyaku dou, but the most common successful application of dou is as an oji technique; either nuki or kaeshi dou.

The two are not dissimilar but I much prefer kaeshi dou as the blocking and returning motion allow you to hit dou whilst you are directly in front of your opponent. In my view, there are a number of factors that are key to making a successful kaeshi dou:-

  • Make sure that you approach the technique with an attacking mind! Do not wait for your opponent to strike men and then react.
  • Ensure your posture is correct but with your balance just slightly forward.
  • The block and strike should be one smooth, continuous movement.
  • As with all oji waza, make sure the point of your shinai is going forward rather than lifting up and back.
  • Hit dou whilst you are in front of your opponent and then move diagonally for your zanshin, do not hit after you have moved.
  • Keep your left hand in the centre and only break your right hand grip as you move diagonally.
  • Make sure you hit the side of the dou and do not just scrape across the front.
  • Have correct hasuji, the bottom take and string should be at 45% to the dou.
  • Keep correct distance so that you hit with the datotsu bu.

All of these elements are important, but in my view, attacking mind is the most significant, pull you opponent in and make him attack in your space and timing.

Successful kaeshi dou takes a lot of work, but it is great when it comes off!

The picture shows Honda Sotaro former British Coach showing how to finish dou.

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