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Apologies everyone for my long absence from posting in this blog! Last November we moved home. At the same time my wife was operated on for Brain Cancer, so kendo took a back seat.

In December I got the news that I have Stomach Cancer (one of Japan’s most popular). For a lifetime henna gaijin, it seems a remarkably appropriate disease. My lack of blogging is not so much a direct response to my illness, but for me training, teaching and writing are inextricably linked and I need the stimulation of all 3 (4 with refereeing)

Thanks to  great medical care and friend and family support I am continuing to enjoy life. I am still doing the job I enjoy and although I have given up on the big international engagements. I am still keeping up with many of my kendo commitments.

In the last two weeks I have taught and practised in a kendo class in Spain, run a referee’s seminar in Spain been shinpan shunin at Sunday’s Londo Cup and aim to run the big Watchet Kendo seminar in the UKs Somerset at the end of this month, with the help of some great 7th and 6th dan teachers. Best of all my buddy of 40 years from Japan, Hayashi Kyozo, kyoshi, hachidan is coming to the UK at the beginning of June, so I am hoping to be fit enough to receive yet another beating.

The one thing I do miss is my regular attendance at Mumeishi, either because of downsides in my chemotherapy cycle, or because the motorway from my home is permanently under repair at night and the journey home, causing me to break the curfew applied by my ever-caring wife. Still I try to get there when I can, and I am writing this now to congratulate and wish the best of luck to my colleagues, Yoshikawa Emiko sensei, who has been selected as a referee and to Sarfraz Aziz who will be fighting in this weekend’s European Championships in Budapest. Do it for the team guys!

I miss seeing many of your sweaty faces and hearing your knowledgeable comments in this blog, but as big Arnie says “I’ll be back”.


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Time out!

Excuse the silence. Kendo info is taking a week or two off to cope with the chaos of last week’s house move, Back as soon as I find the box with my hakama.box-1-457165-m

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1909_kendoA number of people have asked me where fighting spirit ends and good manners, or concern for the welfare of your fellow kenshi begins.

In keiko your objective is to break your opponent’s kamae and strike a target as soon as you have created an opportunity. There are many ways to do this you can make him start an attack and strike as he begins his movement. You can use kaeshi  waza, suriage waza or nuki waza to counter the attacks that you encourage him to make. You can take his centre by stepping  in and making a strong tobikomi attack, or you can use your shinai to knock your opponent’s weapon up, down or to the side, even to twist it out of his hands. All of these are permissible with the rules and spirit of kendo and you should do them as energetically as your stamina will allow

It is equally permissible to move your opponent by striking with your body, but only in the form of correct tai-atari where the contact should be tsuka on tsuka with the hands at waist height and the power coming from the lower body. Pushing to the chin or face, using your feet to sweep or trip, trapping your opponent’s shinai or using your own to push any part of his body constitutes an infringement. Taiatari should be one quick body check followed by an attack rather than a long concerted pushing match.

Tsuki is a valuable kendo technique but must be done correctly as a sharp on-off attack.  Mukaetsuki, with your arms locked as your opponent makes a forward movement against you is considered the height of bad manners. Even a good attacking tsuki against a teacher or senior in poor taste, if it is done when they make an opening for you to hit men.

Most of these are obvious violations of the rulesa of kendo and would be penalised in shiai. There are other less obvious breaches of etiquette that are undesirable in keiko. Using your shinai to block without countering is wrong and spoils the flow of the tachiai, as does starting and stopping an attack mid flow to prevent your opponent from hitting you. Hitting your partner off-target in order to create an opening is equally bad, as is showing contempt by celebrating or walking away after striking.

Some of the rules invariably get bent in shiai, but there are 3 referees in the court to stop you from transgressing too much. In keiko it is up to you to train as hard as you can whilst still showing respect for your dojo mates.

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20160910_230056Regular readers will know that I am a frequent  visitor to Southern Spain, since my wife and I finally decided to invest in a second home in Marbella. I’ve still not reached the nirvana of retirement, so my wife gets to top up her tan by the pool whilst I peer into my office laptop with the air-conditioning switched to maximum.

I was reluctant to commit to spending so much time here, until I discovered that Shion dojo had active kendo clubs at Estepona and Benalmadena. As we are based halfway between the two, I have the option of four keiko sessions per week. The other plus is that as the Costa del Sol is such a popular holiday destination, we get lots of kendo visitors.

Jacques van Alsenoy, 6th dan from Antwerp is a regular summer visitor and we made a mental note to train together when we were both here. Unfortunately Jacques was due to drive home the day after we arrived. Nevertheless, we both made it to the dojo on Tuesday and we had a really enjoyable keiko.

Friday saw the beginning of a seminar run by Mikko Salonen, kyoshi 7 dan, Makrus Frey, kyoshi  7 dan and Susanna Porevuo renshi 6 dan. On Friday I joined the seminar for the final keiko before enjoying tapas with Fernando, the Shion shihan and the Finnish group. On Saturday my colleagues bumped me up to be (a working) shinpancho for a Spanish open competition. It was great fun to referee with Mikko and Marcus as we have all previously worked together in European and World Championships.

For me the best part of every seminar or taikai is the open keiko session and I enjoyed my practice with kendoka from Spain, Estonia and had a great 1 on 1 with Mikko.

Sayonara parties have various formats, but Shion have their own take on the way it should be done. Fernando and his family provided a wonderful beach barbecue party, with sardines cooked over olive wood and home-made gazpacho and tortillas. Our schedule did not allow me to take part in the final Sunday session, but I am already starting to think about next week’s schedule at Mumeishi  when I look forward  to welcoming  Sueno sensei,  hanshi, hachidan  to the U.K.

As far as my friends in Spain are concerned, the story continues. My friend and sempai, Hayashi Kozo  sensei , kyoshi, hachidan is coming to the  UK to run a seminar  in October and we hope to extend the trip by a few days so that he can enjoy the hospitality of Shion dojo on the 25thand 26th of October.

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Grading + KataFresh from yet another seminar and grading examination yesterday, I was asked for feedback by a number of people who passed. My apologies for not providing this, but I feel it is more important to use the time available between signing menjo and taking the long drive home to explain to the candidates who were not successful what they need to change to pass next time.

It is of course disappointing to fail an examination, but it is not an uncommon occurrence in kendo. The higher you move up the grade ladder the lower the pass rate. However the difficulty of passing certain grades is not common to everyone and different people reach there “wall” at different points. I have known people to get stuck an 4th dan for 14 attempts and then pass 5th 6th and 7th dan exams first time.

I am only too familiar with the moment when successful candidate numbers are posted on the wall and yours is not there. Reactions can range from resentment at the panel being so strict to self-recrimination for getting it wrong yet again. The healthiest response is to think “what can I learn from this and what can I add to my training  to ensure that I pass next time”.

To be fair, most people ask the question and go away with the determination to change, but often the normal routine gets in the way and they fall back into their old training schedule and old habits. Unfortunately hours in the dojo alone are not going to change anything if they are not spent wisely. As some self-help guru or another said “the more you do of what you do, the more you get of what you have got”.

The first thing to do is to make sure you understand the examiners’ feedback. Ask for clarification if you are at all in doubt. Consult your instructor on what you need to bring to your practice to overcome the challenge you are facing. Make sure you get the chance to train with people who are of your own level and above. If this means travelling, then make plans to do it. Start as soon as possible. As in the case of the seminar I just attended, we try our hardest to show people what to do to improve their kendo. Unfortunately learning new skills the day before a grading exam seldom helps. You need to do at least three months of consistent training to make something an integral part of your kendo behaviour.

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Mumeishi 3s43Next weekend we will host the 43rd Mumeishi 3s competition, the first without its founder Terry Holt sensei. Terry always put an enormous amount of effort into organising this taikai, so this year the members of Mumeishi kendo club have had to step up to the mark and make an even greater effort than in the past to gets things ready for the event. We start on Friday evening to set out the stands, put out the banners and mark the courts and the work of running the taikai continues until the last visitors return home on Sunday afternoon.

I am sure that those of you who have been involved in organising kendo competitions will know the hard work starts a long time before the event. This year one individual in particular, Mark Krull took on the massive tasks of publicising the event, registering the competitors, organising the draw and producing the programme. Other members have recruited sponsors, organised food and refreshments, arranged the after event party and taken on the numerous other tasks that go to making an enjoyable competition.

This year we are expecting 64 teams , forty entrants for the ladies competition and forty five juniors for The Terry Holt Junior Championship, which has been renamed in Terry’s memory. We are anticipating some great shiai and some excellent keiko on Sunday when we open up the hall at 9.30 for an all morning keiko session, Those who have to leave early, can start early, and anyone that might have celebrated a little too hard at Saturday’s sayonara party  can join us later.

I am looking forward to the weekend with slightly mixed feelings. The “3s” is always a one of the highlights of my kendo year, but it will be strange not to have Holt sensei there . I only hope that all our visitors enjoy themselves and that this and future Mumeishi 3’s live up to Terry’s high standards. We will certainly do our best and when it’s over raise a glass to Holt sensei.

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th2IPKA53BMany kenshi go through events in their lives when kendo takes a back seat. Moving to a distant university where there is no kendo club, getting to examination time when studies have to come first, taking on a high pressure job or one that requires constant international travel are common reasons why people give up kendo.

The late thirties and early forties are particularly difficult ages to sustain kendo practice as many people face a combination of busy job, young families who need your time and in some cases elderly parents who may also need  help. As a result kendoka who have reached third or fourth dan become lost to us and their dojo become poorer places for their disappearance.

I never had to give up kendo at this stage, but went through a long period where my five keiko sessions a week turned to one every 2 months if I was lucky. This was perhaps even more challenging than a clean-break, as I almost felt as if I was re-starting every time.

The silver lining in the cloud is the addictive nature of kendo. Many leavers think regularly about kendo even when they are no longer able to train and because of this quite a few come back when their personal circumstances allow them to.

If you are a returnee, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that on day one back in the dojo you are going to be able to do everything you were able to on your last practice 10 years ago. I have seen highly successful Japanese ex- university team members develop Achilles tendon injuries on their first time back. This really is when you should build up slowly. It might be humiliating if you have to start again in the kid’s class, but it is better than being overstretched. If your dojo provides a mix of kihon and free practice make sure that you stop after kihon geiko and don’t get drawn into jigeiko until your technique and stamina catch-up with your fighting spirit.

Above all make sure that you stretch adequately before each session and build up slowly, concentrating on correct suburi and footwork.  Listen to your body and experiment. There are things you used to be able to do that you will never do again and at the same time you will be capable of techniques that were out of your range as a youngster. With luck you should have another twenty or thirty years in which to improve your keiko.

Above all enjoy it. You came back because you missed it, so make the most of it. Welcome back!

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