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Posts Tagged ‘All Japan 8th dan Championships’

OverheadA friend recently mentioned that he was giving up shiai to concentrate on getting his kendo to a level where he could confidently try for 6th dan. This made me reflect on just how compatible success in shiai was with developing high grade kendo.

Conventional wisdom says that keiko, shiai and tachiai for grading examinations should be the same, and at the highest level of kendo this is true. Watch the All Japan 8th dan Championship and you will see some truly impressive shiai that nevertheless keeps to the fundamentals. At lower levels, and I include the World Kendo Championships and the All Japan Championships, some athletes adapt their kendo to a much more defensive style, using the shinai to block overhead or holding it in front at head height extended downwards. Obviously national pride and the prospect of a secure job make the occasional bit of ducking and diving forgivable, but is it kendo?

In contrast I found some notes that were given to me by Inoue sensei , that made the following point. “Ken means to attack or strike an opponent. Tai means to wait while observing the opponent’s movement calmly. Offence and defence are inseparably combined. This term illustrates the importance of always being mentally and physically ready to defend against the opponent’s counter attack while attacking, and ready to counterattack while defending”

In more basic terms the answer is to keep a good kamae and an unfettered mind without preconception of what you or your opponent might do. You should push for openings and then react to them, or whatever might come in their place, rather than rigidly defend throughout your five minute tachiai.

Another opportunity to watch kendo that embodies the basic principles is at the annual Kyoto enbu taikai where the good and great are responsible for showing their best kendo. It is particularly interesting to watch some of the older  8th dans. I have seen occasions where one or two of these highly skilled kenshi have acknowledged “mairimashita” to a point before it was made, because their experience tells them that their opponent’s seme was strong enough to make the following ippon inevitable.

Perhaps though it is easier to be gracious when the stakes are the bill for lunch or a few beers rather than a job promotion or a new car.

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Ishida sensei in Kyoto

With Ishida sensei in Kyoto

To quote Marshal McLuhan “The real news is bad news”. Whilst we had a wonderful 15th European Kendo Championship with some excellent kendo and a great deal of good fellowship, one of the most discussed aspects of the event, certainly amongst people who did not attend, was a single example of rough play. I can understand why people are concerned about this type of behaviour as it has a detrimental effect on kendo, but maybe the time has come to think about the more positive aspects of kendo.

For those of us who follow the kendo groups on Facebook it would be difficult to miss that the All Japan 8th Dan Championships were held recently.  Thanks to the AJKF there are many clips of shiai from this taikai on YouTube. For many years I have felt that this competition gives us some of the best examples of kendo that we could wish to follow. Whether it is a “chicken or egg” phenomenon, I do not know the answer. Either the sensei who achieve 8th Dan did so because they display a perfect understanding of “riai”, or as 8th dans they are conscious of their positions as kendo role models and perform accordingly in the shiai-jo. Either way I think that this is the sort of kendo that we should aspire to.

Tani sensei on left sitting

Tani sensei on left sitting

There are lots of great examples from this year’s taikai but the final between last year’s winner, Tani sensei and Ishida sensei says it all. Not only do both fighters display fantastic awareness and kihaku throughout the shiai, but they are ready to attack instantly at any opportunity. Their distances throughout the match are text-book and on the few occasions when they get close, they separate by mutual consent without losing mind contact and concentration. There is no wasted effort, only real opportunities are taken and when they are, the action is clear and decisive. Ishida sensei’s single winning point is a great example – he explodes forward to nearly take men and as Tani sensei tries to recover is kamae he comes forward to do it again this time with a clear target and unanimous ippon from the referees. If you haven’t done so already take a look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HUpxoTZnqg

Both of these sensei are in their fifties and there were some equally impressive shiai from competitors well into their sixties, so this taikai holds particular interest for oldies like me. I think however that kendo of this kind should be what we all should aim for in our long term development.

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Referee seminar, Tani sensei front far right.

This past WKC seems to have generated more debate on the future of kendo than any previous championship. Whilst the results were fairly predictable, the closeness of the whole competition surprised many people.

Numerous comments were made about supporter reaction, the defensive nature of the final and the inevitable discussion about refereeing decisions continues. In my previous two posts I touched on the fact that there is a general leveling of global kendo and I obviously defended my referee colleagues with the “it’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have” argument. I have however so far refrained from writing about my perceptions of team tactics.

I for once allowed myself to get slightly bad tempered in responding to a point made on LinkedIn’s kendo forum, which stated that weight training has become the norm for those engaged in competitive kendo. This may or may not be true, but for it to be postulated online, supported only by second hand hearsay evidence, is ridiculous. Looking at some of the later stage shiai however, if I had to guess the coaches’ instructions, I would suggest that they were along the lines of “don’t lose”.

One of the highlights of my week in Novara was being taken to pieces by Tani sensei in the referees’ keiko. Curious to see how he performed against bigger and better opponents, I resorted to YouTube to watch him in action in the finals and semi finals of this year’s All Japan 8th dan Championships.

What I saw was very different to some of the kendo at the 15WKC.  Shiai were conducted calmly in good distance with minimal time spent in tsubazeriai. When tsubazeri did occur, separation was instant and by mutual consent. Points were clean and clear and invariably graciously acknowledged.

Perhaps at eighth dan there is recognition of the fact that you are a kendo role model and this is what keeps your shiai as an example of correct kendo. Having said that, there is value in betting that a number of the athletes who competed in the finals of this and previous WKC’s are sooner or later going to reach that exalted position. It would be interesting to put a time machine into fast forward to look at their future performances at hachidan level. I expect that we will see tachiai which are just as dignified as Tani sensei’s.

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