Posts Tagged ‘Chakuso’

Grading + KataWe have one of UK kendo year’s biggest grading exams coming up next weekend at my own dojo, Mumeishi. This one goes up to 5th dan there are nearly 90 candidates registered.

I have recently sat in on a number of practise grading sessions and whilst I have seen some good kendo there are a few errors that people fall into time after time. One of these seems to happen mainly with people taking ikkyu and shodan and is a reasonably new phenomenon. Candidates are taking turns in opening up and letting their opponent hit them, as if they were doing uchikomi-geiko.

The alternative seems to be that the two fighters use the limited time available to perform a series of ai-men, hitting each other at the same time. What the jury will actually be looking for is the ability to take or make the correct opportunity to attack as well as the ability to show correct basic technique.

Going up the grades, the big danger is attacking too much, particularly at times when no opportunity exists. Two or three successful attacks are all you need, especially if you are aiming for 4th or 5th dan. (Sueno sensei recently suggested that you need to hit 5 times to make 2 clear ippon). Show that you can break your opponent’s centre and take clear points.

Here are some points to keep in mind regardless of the grade you are aiming for:

  • Be careful of your chakuso. Make sure that all your equipment is tied neatly and correctly. Watch the length of your men-himo and ensure that loops and descenders are of equal length.
  • Make correct rei and sonkyo. You should take kamae at the same time as you make sonkyo not before or after.
  • You must not attack when there is no opportunity and you must attack when there is.
  • Commit 100 per cent to any attack you make. Ensure that your kiai is strong and that you make sae on hitting. Ensure too that your zanshin is present on every strike.
  • If you miss, keep good posture as you move through after the attack. A missed point with good posture and kiai can be more impressive than a poorly executed hit.
  • If kirikaeshi is part of your exam strike sharply and accurately and make sure that you do not cross your feet when you step backwards.
  • Do not try techniques that you are not yet good at. Oji do is a good example. Few people do this well and many others try it in gradings. Even if it means relying solely on men, do only what you can do well.

If you are taking this or any other grading next week, do not attempt to make major changes to your kendo. Do the best you can with what you already have and keep these few tips in mind. Oh, and good luck on the day!

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No no Chakuso!

Himo lengthCaptureI spent my Sunday as a grading panellist at one of our main annual shodan examinations. As I chaired the panel for part of the session, one of the other judges asked if I would talk to the candidates about our expectations for chakuso, or the way that we wear our clothing and equipment.

Lecturing dan grade candidates on this point may seem to some to be somewhat pedantic, but it is surprising to see how many people enter an examination without being correctly dressed. In some cases himo are miss-tied because of grading nerves, or the need to put equipment on quickly, but in many cases they are in the habit of doing it wrong. It really is important to wear your dogi and bogu correctly as this is a good barometer of your understanding of kendo etiquette.

Some frequent faults are that kote himo that are too long, so that either the kote fit incorrectly or there is a length of himo left hanging below the knot, dou and tare are worn too high or too low, hakama are too long or too short, or keikogi  are either open at the neck or allowed to bunch up at the back. By far the most common error is to tie men himo so that the loops and the remaining ends are not of even length and that either or both exceed the regulation 40cm.

It is worth considering that not all men-himo are created equal. They come in lengths of  7 shaku (212 cm), 8 shaku (242 cm), or 9 shaku (278 cm). 8 and 9 shaku himo are for tying Kansai style men, where the himo are attached to the top of the men and cross at the tsukidate and again go through the top mengane before being tied at the back of the men. Obviously, if you tie these longer himo from the bottom of the men, they will leave an overly long surplus. On the other hand, 7 shaku himo are for some strange reason, just a bit too long to finish at the required 40cm. So whichever you buy, you need to shorten them.

Himo ends CaptureHimo are expensive, so it seems a shame to cut them, but it is a must. Once you have done so, you need to tie-off or plait the frayed ends so that they do not continue to unravel. I have included an illustration from Kendo, A Comprehensive Guide that shows you one way to this.

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I got a new blazer as a Christmas present, shortly after hearing of my selection as a referee for the 15WKC. I had lost a little weight since buying my last blazer, so decided on one with a smart tailored fit. I decided to break it in before the event and wore it to the Paris Taikai.

So feeling that I was looking as sharp as any kendo shinpan can look. I took my place in the sports hall some thirty minutes before the beginning of the event and thought that whilst the competitors were warming up, I should do a few stretches of my own. I started by throwing my arms out to loosen my shoulders and the top button of my two button blazer took off.

Fortunately I had some time before the first shiai, so I persuaded the nearby bogu seller to sew the offending button back in place; I then moved to my court for the first match. All went to plan for the first few contests, but later as I took my position as shushin, disaster struck. As one of the competitors exited the shiaijo, I raised both flags to call yame, as I did so; the top button again took flight and hit the timekeeper. Fortunately he was using a whistle rather than a bell; otherwise it may have been the first and only example of a shushin calling yame and ringing “time” simultaneously.

Working on the premise that the best way to continue was with the minimum of fuss, I fastened the remaining bottom button before awarding hansoku and restarted the match. Within a few seconds red scored a decisive men ari and I and my two colleagues raised our flags for ippon. As my flag went up I felt a draught against my shirtfront. The shushin in the next court then stopped his match, picked up my second button and returned it to me. Now of my two buttons, one was on the timekeepers desk and the other in my inside pocket. Fortunately red scored again and as this was the taisho match, the replacement referee team took over.

After a hurried group rei, I collected my remaining button and considered ways of getting through the day without looking a total slob. Luckily the emergency services were on hand. The Paris Ambulance Service very kindly went through their medical kit and found me two big safety pins which held my buttons in place for the rest of the day.

I have now reverted to plan “d”. On returning home I went to the sewing supplies shop and bough a reel of elastic thread. After making a total mess of sewing on the buttons, I enlisted my wife’s help and now have the springiest blazer buttons in kendo. I will of course take my blazer for another test drive, otherwise it is back to the old model for the 15WKC.

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How not to

How not to

Chakuso is the term used for the way we wear our hakama and keikogi and tie our bogu for kendo. It is an important part of kendo etiquette. This is one of the few pictures I could find on the internet to illustrate bad chakuso. It also does a great job in illustrating bad kendo, but that is another story. The tape bound shinai and the creative approach to fastening men himo are particularly worth a second look.

Thanks to online bogu shops, and the broad availability of kendo equipment, most kendoka have the ability to look neat and tidy for their kendo practice. Still I cannot stress how important it is to dress correctly for kendo. Many years ago I attended a kata seminar in Osaka taught by the late Ikeda sensei. He started the session by lecturing everyone that during the 2nd World War few Japanese new how to use buttons, but now (30 years ago), no one knows how to tie knots and bows. This is even more true today.

There are two ways to think about chakuso. The ritual of putting on the keikogi and hakama and bogu correctly and thinking about the meaning as we get ready for keiko and the actual image we present when we are dressed. Normally we should put the keikogi and hakama on left side first and take our time as we think about the meaning of the hakama’s pleats, the tare and dou should be put on in seiza and of course, when we put on kote and men the left kote is always the first on.

However my point in writing this post is to talk about the image we should project in our keiko and particularly in grading examinations, where the grading panel quickly gain their first impression from the way we are dressed. I actually know of instances when marginal grading candidates, failed because of poor chakuso.

This is not to say that the rich kids with the best bogu are going to do better thab their peers, but hakama and keikogi should be clean and pressed and if you are wearing blue, it should retain its original dark indigo colour. The way to do this is simple. Always wash it in cold water, without soap. Bogu does not need to be new, but it should be safe and in good repair. If your kote has no palm you are in danger of injury. If your kote himo are trailing you could possibly inflict injury on your opponent with them. So let us look at the key points.

• The keikogi should fit correctly, be smooth and unwrinkled at the back. The collar should make contact with the back of your neck and not be open at the throat.
• The top of the hakama should be level with your navel and the obi crossed under the tanden. The long cords at the front should be tied in a bow at the back and the koshiita tied over the top. The back cords then tie as a knot in front with the remaining lengths pushed down inside the front cords. The bottom of the hakama should slant downwards from back to front, just clearing the top of the instep.
• The tare shoud be tied so that the top is in line with the navel and the obi is below the koshiita at the back. The obi should be tied in a neat bow, which should be pushed up under the front flap.
• Dou himo should be tied so that the bows at the top both face inwards. The bow at the back should alway be horizontal and never stand vertically.
• Men himo once tied should not exceed 40cm and should be tied centrally.
• Kote himo should not dangle. If men or kote himo are too long, cut them.

So now we look the part. All we have to do is make sure our kendo matches our appearance.

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