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Posts Tagged ‘Aun no kokyu’

GophersWatching the start of a recent kihon session I was  reminded of a fairground stall where the objective is to hit gophers with a mallet as they randomly pop up and disappear back into holes. People were starting to bow as their partner finished bowing; others were taking sonkyo as their opponent moved into kamae. Not a particularly unusual spectacle, but ask kendoka at almost any level of experience “when does keiko start” and they will tell you “from the first rei”. So, we have got the theory right, but we don’t always put it into practice.

In kendo as in sumo, the term tachiai is used to describe a bout or demonstration. Tachiai literally means to stand and meet and if you are lucky enough to watch high level kendo you will see that from the initial rei through to sonkyo  and kamae there is total engagement between the two partners. Some teachers describe this as “mind contact” others talk about the meeting of ki (spirit or life-force).  In fact this is the real meaning of the term kiai. At the highest level kendo calls for total awareness of each other’s thoughts and feelings and even involves mirroring an opponent’s breathing, (aun no kokkyu).

Obviously it’s extremely difficult to reach this level of harmony. Doing so may take a lifetime’s practice. If we are to stand any chance of reaching this hallowed ground, we need to start by co-ordinating our physical movements from the earliest stages of our kendo careers.

When we make the initial standing rei before keiko, we should make eye contact, raise the shinai to the hip and bow 15 degrees from the waist in unison with our opponent. We then take the  three steps forward at exactly the same time, moving as one into sonkyo; drawing the sword at the same time as we drop into position.  When in sonkyo we should try to make contact with our mind as well as the tip of the sword. Only when we feel that this contact has been made should we stand up together.

When we stand, we should either keep our position or step slightly forward, never back or to the side. This is when we should take time to read our opponent before making the first kakegoe. Most of us can’t achieve aun kokkyu, but we can ensure that we breathe in quickly and retain our breath for as long as possible. We should release half of our air on the initial kiai and keep the remainder (nokori) to expel on our first strike.

Mind-reading may take a lifetime’s practice, but we can at least start by moving as if we can read our partner’s actions.

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Breathing is important in kendo. Come to think of it, it is generally important. Specifically to kendo however, the way we breathe has an enormous effect on our progress and on the effectiveness of our technique.

The breathing style used in kendo is known in Japanese as Aun no kokyu. We breathe in through the nose hold the air in our abdomen and then expel the air through the mouth. This is the type of breathing associated with yoga and meditation. In kendo however we use aun no kokyu to aid the explosive power of our waza and in concert with our kamae, as a force to repel attacks. Try breathing in as your opponent is moving into striking distance and the chances are that he will attack and you will not be able to resist. If he tries the same approach when you are either holding your breath or slowly expelling air, you become far less vulnerable.

As a general rule we breathe in when we are in safe distance, hold the air in our tanden, expelling some by way of a kakegoe shout in issoku-ito-no maai. We then reserve what is left of our breath until we strike, letting out the remainder as me make our kiai and take zanshin. We only breathe in again after we are back in safe distance. Kendo-no-kata, whilst teaching us many other elements of kendo, gives us a perfect illustration of the correct way to breathe. If we use the first form of the Tachi-no-kata as an example ; both uchidachi and shidachi breathe in on taking jodan, both then hold that breath until they make their respective men attacks, releasing air on their kiai and breathing in after completing zanshin.

In shinai kendo we are in a strong position when we are replete with air or slowly exhaling. So for example with debana men; we breathe in before we make our initial seme, release some breath as we step in, hold our breath in tame and then explode into the technique whilst letting out our kiai. What happens if you run out of air? My suggestion is that you move back to safe distance, breathe in and try again.

There are lots of opportunities to practice correct kendo breathing. One is of course during mokuso, particularly after keiko when we may be out of breath and need to slow things down. The idea is to breathe in quickly through the nose, hold the breath in your tanden for as long as is comfortably possible, then breathe out slowly.  Another classic approach is through the practice of kirikaeshi, aiming to complete the first shomen, nine yokomen and the second shomen strike in one breath.

Whichever way you do it, the most important point with breathing is not to stop.

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