Posts Tagged ‘Bokken ni yoru kendo kihon keiko ho’

Courtesy of eBay

Courtesy of eBay

We have scheduled a kyu grading at my local dojo for this coming Thursday and we were discussing the format. My preference is that candidates who are taking their first kendo examination should be allowed to demonstrate basic technique without the pressure of fighting for opportunities against an opponent, or being constrained by wearing men and kote. The requirement would be for them to deliver kirikaeshi and a pre-arranged sequence of kihon attacks against an armoured motodachi.  Another option or possible addition is the inclusion of the “Bokuto ni yoru Kendo Kihon Keiko-ho” or Training Method for Fundamental Technique with Bokuto.

My rationale is that it is difficult enough to learn correct technique and footwork without the added complication of understanding an opponent’s timing, particularly if he or she is equally new to kendo. There is also a danger that when new kendoka are told to “fight” there is a temptation to block or move to avoid being hit, whereas if they are in the role of kakarite, they can concentrate on correct technique and posture.

Grading examinations really are the “tip of the iceberg”.  There is an often quoted urban myth that pre-war, adult beginners in some Japanese dojo were left to practice suburi in a quiet corner for at least a year and then admitted to the dan ranks. In the present day UK, it is more likely that you will get to wear bogu after your 6 or 8 week beginners’ course.

Wearing men and kote too can be more challenging than experienced kenshi realise. Of course using these essential pieces of kendo kit eventually becomes second nature, but I have seen several instances of beginners quitting because the feeling of being blinkered by a men or being hit on the head felt so unnatural. On the other hand some brave individuals, who start kendo with the image of the armoured samurai, ready to do battle from day one in mind, find it hard to be patient while they are learning the basics.

Buying bogu too early in your kendo career can be as punitive financially as it is in terms of technique development.  eBay and the kendo message boards regularly have used bogu for sale and I am sure that there is much more stashed in cupboards and attics against the slim chance of the owner starting again.

I am interested in your views on when we should start wearing bogu. Should we get the basics right first, or is it better to at least have a taste of keiko in armour during the early stages of our kendo careers?

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If I had to give up any one single item of my kendo equipment, my bokken would probably be the first to go. Not because it is in any way less valuable than my bogu or shinai, but because it is used less often and replacements are easier to borrow. Unlike shinai, bokken seldom break, so they do not have the “at your own risk” stigma associated with borrowing shinai.

Please do not misunderstand me. Modern kendo evolved through the use of wooden swords.  Bokken are essential to kendo practice, not only for kata but for the Bokken ni yoru kendo kihon waza keiko ho (method of practising kendo kihon with bokken), which was introduced by the AJKF in 2003. The idea behind this training format is that it is a way for kendoka up to 2nd dan to work on the key shikake and oji techniques without the pressures of winning and losing inherent to shinai kendo. As with kendo no kata we do not wear bogu or strike our opponent, at least not on purpose, so it is easier to move naturally without the restrictions of wearing armour.

Thinking about it, the Kihon keiko ho does exactly the same thing as Kendo no kata; teach technique through repetition and concentrated practise, the only differences are that in Kihon keiko ho the techniques are arguably less complicated and that the number of steps between the start and finish of each technique are fewer.

The clear advantage of training with bokken is that as the weapon simulates the shape of the katana, it is easy to understand correct cutting distance. The obvious disadvantage is that as the lengths of shinai and bokken differ, so does the distance at which we originate and finish techniques. In some cases beginners who have learned techniques exclusively with bokken will find it hard to transfer the technique effectively to subsequent shinai keiko. In my view the way around this is to combine bokken and shinai training; trying the technique first as a bokken drill and then repeating with a shinai whilst wearing armour.

This goes beyond the bokken keiko ho. For many years Sumi sensei has been using innovative drills based on Kendo no kata. With these, he short circuits the normal kata lead-in and focuses on the essence of the technique. So for instance, in Kendo no kata ippon me, he would instruct both fighters to stand in issoku-ito-maai and have uchidachi strike men from jodan. The strike would be repeated three times. For the first two attempts, as shidachi is in jodan, the cut would stop just above his left kote. On the third he would step back, pulling his hands out of the strike path and return the cut to uchidachi’s men.

Once this has been successfully concluded, men and kote are put on and we repeat the exercise using shinai, adjusting distance so that we hit with the shinai’s monouchi.  When we go on to complete the technique by actually hitting the datotsu bu on an armoured opponent, the meaning becomes far more obvious.

Alternatively we can develop our own unique kata, as did these guys 😉


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