Archive for the ‘Suburi’ Category

suburi bokken2Most Japanese kendojo have a suburi bokken hidden somewhere in a dark corner. These come in various shapes and sizes including oversized shinai, implements that look like overweight bokken or the massive hexagonal clubs used in some kenjutsu styles. What they have in common is that you see very few people using them.

The few times I have seen people working with heavy suburi bokken, it has been in unstructured sessions without the supervision of an instructor. Based on this limited evidence, I had the feeling that they were doing more harm than good. By this I mean that they had to make adjustments to their posture and cutting action to support the extra weight.

In trying to control a heavy bokken, the grip tends to tighten, making the angle of the wrists more acute and causing the biceps to take the strain. This in turn brings more shoulder strength into play and as a result the exponent may find himself leaning forward, which is at odds with the correct upright posture that we aim to develop.

Suburi bokken  have been used by for many years and by many great kendo masters past and present, obviously this  means that in the right hands they are an aid to developing good kendo. Where they cause problems, is when they are used incorrectly. In the hands of a kenshi who has good posture, cutting action and tenouchi, or under the supervision of a good instructor, they should help strengthen good technique.

The same good be said about katate, or singlehanded suburi , particularly if done for a high number of continuous repetitions. Without guidance a natural reaction is to adjust the position of arm and shoulder to take the strain. This will have a negative effect on cutting technique.

Whereas an adult male’s shinai should weigh around 520 gm, suburi bokken can be three times that weight or more.  An iaito or shinken is approximately double the weight of a shinai, ranging from 900 gm to 1.2 kg and Iaido practitioners are taught to do a good job of cutting correctly with these. Correct technique is the answer regardless of the weight of the weapon.

In kendo we need to keep an upright posture with our weight distributed evenly between our feet. Our tanden should be braced and our arms hands and shoulders relaxed as we make the swing and we should finish with sharp tenouchi at the point or just beyond the point of impact. If we can do this, then the heaviest weapon and the largest number of reps should help rather than damage our kendo.

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Suburi with partner

Many kendo students dread the practice of suburi. It is regularly incorporated into the pre-keiko warm up and is viewed by some as an exercise to develop stamina and strength. Even when this is not the intention, suburi is often conducted at a speed that is beyond the capabilities of many of the class members; in some cases beyond those of the individual leading the session.

It can be quite frightening to watch a group of earnest kendoka, thrashing around like demented metronomes, each in their own space and time; desperately trying to keep up with the group. It is also worrying to see carefully cultivated technique thrown away in order to go faster.

Before I rant on, let me make it clear that I actually value suburi as an important part of kendo training, but it has to be done correctly; at a speed that the slowest group member can match without compromising technique. In the same way that golfers use practice swings, suburi is a great tool to ensure that all the component parts of a strike are correct without the pressure of facing an opponent. Shoulder, elbow and hand movement; tenouchi, balance, footwork and ki-ken-tai- ichi can all be coordinated in suburi, but you have to allow the time to get it right.

Currently some of the more experienced kendo teachers will use suburi as the basis for teaching a technique. They then build on it through a progression of exercises that take it closer to its intended purpose. So for instance, the students practice a men attack as individual suburi, then put on men and kote and work with a partner on hitting from correct distance; finally trying full speed uchikomi geiko with fumikomi.

Suburi also allows you to train without an opponent and can be adapted to any waza you wish to work on.  Not only can we use the standard methods of jogi buri, shomen suburi, zenshin kotae shomen suburi  and choyaku suburi, but we can be more adventurous and try renzoku waza as well. If you need to practice at home and you are worried about the light fittings, then you can buy special suburi shinai, which replicate the weight of a normal shinai, but are much shorter. With enough imagination, you can just use your hands.

Of course there is no reason why suburi cannot be used to make your attack faster, but my advice is to get it right first and then make it quicker.

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Me and my shadow!

I am travelling on business in India and it has, unusually for me, been a week since my last practice and I have got another week to go. I understand that there is kendo in Delhi but that is a long way from Mumbai where I am currently based. Having spent most of the time sitting in air conditioned cars and offices it is difficult to keep kendo fit, so I have been looking at ways to practice on my own, without a shinai.
The answer is of course suburi in front of the mirror in my hotel room. It is not as strenuous but as the real thing but it gives me the chance to concentrate on important aspects like posture and footwork. The only downside is that without the disguise of keikogi and bogu, the mirror tells me that I have had too many beers and curries.
Nevertheless, I have tried to combine quality and quantity by working on a continuous series of 1200 suburi, starting from shomen and yoko men but then graduating through all the techniques I use. There is no reason why suburi has to be basic so I tried to simulate debana men and degote and then with dou did the same technique in both nuki and kaeshi form. I even attempted tsuki and finally tried kote nuki men.
It is certainly not the complete kendo exercise but it has made me look at my technique in detail and what’s more persuaded me that I now have room for another beer. With luck I will back for practice at Mumeishi next Sunday.

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