Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Chiba Sensei’

Lost Heroes

toda-senseishihan-chibaFirstly apologies for taking my longest ever time out from writing this blog. A troublesome house move and both my wife and I running into some health problems slowed things down a bit.

2016 has been a year where my baby boomer generation lost many of its heroes. The list of famous people who passed away seemed long and relentless. We were by no means untouched in kendo with the sad loss of Chiba sensei and now Toda sensei.

I was fortunate enough to get to know Chiba sensei well enough to write about him when he passed away earlier this year. Toda sensei I knew less well but had met him a number of times in France at the annual Orleans Seminar and again in Japan and at several international taika. All Japan Champion at the age of 22, he was a one Japan’s leading jodan players, becoming a double hero in his 50s by switching to nito and spearheading its revival.

A friendly sociable man he had both empathy for the people that he met and a great sense of fun.  I remember him demonstrating a good singing voice and some pretty mean guitar playing at a Kitamoto end of seminar party. The last time I spoke to him was at the referee’s training camp in Japan before the 15WKC. He was there to provide experience of refereeing nito matches. After one of his shiai which I witnessed from the sidelines, he delivered a particularly strong men strike which was not awarded ippon. I told him as he came from the shiai-jo that I was surprised that it did not score. His reply was that “you and I must both study harder”.

Chiba sensei and Toda sensei, I will be thinking of you both this New Year’s Eve. I am sure that your examples will give many people the strength and inspiration to build on kendo’s legacy in the coming years.

May I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

shu-ha-ri2Most of us have heard of the principle of shu-ha-ri. In (shu) you start kendo and entrust yourself completely to a single teacher who gets you to the next stage (ha). You then have the freedom to learn from other teachers before you reach (ri) and the chance to develop technique under your own guidance. I have never heard a precise explanation of the timescales involved in each of these stages or the grades you need to attain before you move on, but my guess is that you reach ha in the middle dan ranks and only touch on ri when you are firmly into the kodansha stage.

This all sounds ideal and I have many friends who were lucky enough to go through junior, middle and high school kendo clubs under the guidance of 7th and 8th dan teachers and they just needed to turn up and do their best. On the other hand I know kenshi from around the globe who are either self-taught or who rely on someone who is their senior by a narrow margin or who are a page ahead in reading the instruction book. There are online and print resources that can help the learning process, but to improve we all need the help of experienced sensei as and when it is available.

We can get this type of help by visiting sensei (in your own country or abroad), or by attending seminars when  skilled instructors are invited by your club or national federation. I have had discussions in the past with my friend George McCall, of Kenshi247 fame who emphatically points out that this is not the same as learning from these sensei on an everyday ongoing basis. Having had the experience of doing this when resident in Japan I agree with him. I still feel that any exposure to leading instructors gives your kendo a boost.

One of the challenges however, particularly for less experienced kenshi, is that different teachers have different ways of getting us to improve. Don’t shoot me if I get one of these wrong, but to the best of my recollection Chiba sensei said bring the shinai back 45 degrees, Sumi sensei said 45 degrees, Sueno sensei said let it go past that point and Iwadate sensei said let the shinai touch your bottom.

All of these gentlemen are hanshi, all are capable of highly impressive kendo, all have trained champions and all have different ways of getting us to do correct kendo. My only suggestion is that if you are lucky enough to have the chance to learn from these or any of the other top teachers. Do as they say, try it for a while and see what works for you. This may put you in danger of some premature  ri, but hey, nobody is perfect.

Read Full Post »

Chiba JodanThank you Martin for giving me two topics to write about this week.  When I started this blog quite a few years ago, I was warned that a blog written by a seventh dan was doomed to failure because kendo’s respect system would kill debate. This has not been the case and Kendoinfo has received close to 2000 comments. Quite a few of these have been challenging, but nearly all  were good natured.

I don’t usually respond to comments, but commenting on the “stupidity” of someone’s view is not in line with kendo etiquette. It is also worth bearing in mind that the topic is kendo, not tameshigiri. I also can’t see how you made the assumptions that I advocate taking your eyes off or turning away from your opponent. The whole theme of my post was that zanshin is vital to kendo, and awareness of your opponent is the essence of zanshin.

Keeping these points out of the equation, our key disagreement is over the correct zanshin for hiki waza. You have suggested that keeping your shinai raised is both “furikaburi” and jodan.  Furikaburi means to swing up, not keep up, and jodan requires a great deal of hand foot coordination that goes beyond pointing your shinai skywards.  I remember Chiba sensei’s advice to a casual jodan player who asked him how to do better jodan. The answer was “stick to chudan”.

“Hit men as you step back and return to chudan” is not my invention. As part of the research for “Kendo a Comprehensive Guide” we looked at the writings of numerous famous sensei and they all advocated chudan as the end position for hiki-men. Looking at the available English language references, in both Ozawa sensei’s definitive guide and the AJKF’s Fundamental Kendo, the instruction is hit men and return to chudan. The AJKF’s “Official Guide for Kendo Instruction” takes things a step farther and cautions against hikiage as “an unacceptable action following a strike, such as exaggerated posturing after scoring a point in a match. This can result in the point being rescinded by the shinpan.”

I have always made a point of approving all comments to this blog and I thank you for contributing and look forward to hearing from you again. Please though, let’s keep within the spirit of kendo’s reigi.

Read Full Post »

Suburi with partner

Suburi with partner

Many years ago I visited a new dojo in a fairly remote part of the UK and watched the only two members run through a two hour kihon geiko session, practicing almost every technique in the kendo repertoire. Both deserved full marks for stamina and memory, but I wondered how much benefit they were getting from the session.

Almost every high level teacher that I have had the privilege of training with tends to tailor their training sessions around a particular theme, often limiting the waza taught to a very small number to ensure that they sink in. I have seen whole two day seminars limited to the correct way to strike shikake men; building up through static suburi to suburi engaging the feet, then including approach and seme, fumikomi and then zanshin. The correct way the use the grip or tenouchi to finish the attack crisply often warrants a teaching session in itself.

In the eyes of some kendoka this amount of drilling down becomes tedious, perhaps it is because we should, and often do, devote large chunks of our training sessions to these basic elements. In other sports it is the serious perfectionists only who are aware of the value of breaking technique down to the smallest component part. Of the millions of amateur golfers, it is a few deadly serious players who take the trouble to take lessons from the club pro. These normally focus on the minute analysis and reconstruction of the individuals swing. We call it suburi.

Most hanshi stress the value of correct suburi, Sueno sensei says if you can’t do correct suburi you can’t do kendo, Iwadate sensei focussed on big suburi to ensure that the cut is centralised; Chiba sensei regularly emphasised that 3000 continuous suburi a day were his path to success.

I am as guilty as the next kenshi in not doing enough suburi. I normally practice a hundred or so as part of the warm up to each keiko session and include a few more in front of the mirror when I have the chance, but I am sure that including more suburi in my keiko would do nothing but good. Suburi is the foundation on which we can build strong kendo.

Practising a kendo waza over and over again allows you to use it in keiko or shiai without thinking. If you then extend the suburi through uchikomi training with an opponent it becomes even more ingrained.  So although it may seem tedious, constant repetition and attention to detail is the way to success.

Read Full Post »

shino1nobkWe are away on holiday at the moment and for some reason the TV in our room seems to default to NHK. We watched a programme about Japanese pottery and how both professional and amateur potters lose themselves in the process of its creation.

Reflecting on this aspect of the Japanese arts, pottery is far from unique. Painting, calligraphy, flower arranging, the tea ceremony and numerous other arts and crafts are as much about correct mental attitude as they are  about the end product. The zen martial arts share this quest for mushin (the state of no-mind). Kyudo is perhaps the best example where the accuracy of the arrow is less important than the mindset of the archer.

Kendo shares this vision, with kenshi aiming to produce the perfect waza at exactly the right moment, without relying on conscious thought or planning. This is more easily said than done. Most people learn kendo through instruction, imitation and repetition, but nevertheless need to think hard about the correct timing and opportunity to use a technique. Complex ojiwaza or renzoku waza require even more forethought.

Whenever a kendo student receives new advice, even if it is a simple comment on the spacing of his or her feet or the height to which the hands should be raised prior to striking this causes a need for a major rethink. This is one of the reasons why I am reluctant to give anything more than tactical advice prior to a grading examination.

The route to mushin does not come from thought and reasoning, it comes from constant repetition. I have mentioned on numerous occasions, both in this blog and in after keiko chats, that Chiba Masashi sensei used to practice a continuous set of 3000 suburi every day. Those of you who have attempted just a few hundred will appreciate the effort that this involves. As a result of this hard work, anyone who has ever seen him in action will be aware that the time it took for his shinai to move from jodan to his opponent’s kote did not leave time for thought.

Most of us will never have time to do 3000 suburi a day, nor do we stand a chance of becoming another Chiba sensei, but if we do aspire to reach a state of no-mind in our keiko, the answer lies in constant repetition of the basics. It is of course worth reading up on the theory, but the way to satori is through hard slog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Hasegawa senseiWe had a Hatsugeiko session at my local dojo on the evening of January second. Luckily this coincided with a visit from Hasegawa Makoto sensei, former JICA teacher to Nepal. He had contacted Holt sensei during a sightseeing visit to London and ours was the one practice that fitted in with his schedule. 

The session format was the one I normally suggest when we have senior visits. We started with kihon geiko, had a brief interlude for keiko between the kodansha and then finished with motodachi- geiko. We had a glass of sake to toast the New Year and then moved to the pub for a chat.

We asked Hasegawa sensei for a critique of everyone’s kendo and the point that he made was that people tended to use too much shoulder power. Many individuals made a cutting motion with their arms moving in parallel. Instead he suggested that they should rather push up and out with the left hand and pull up with the right, so that the shinai makes  an even arc as they raise and strike. He also commented on the need to grip only with the middle, ring and little fingers and not the forefinger and thumb. This applies to the grip in kamae, when striking and when making tenouchi on the point of hitting.

Good observations, but not revelations. They are exactly the same points that local instructors and other visiting sensei make repeatedly. The big question is “why are so many of us unable to change?”

I have often heard theories about westerners having different physical characteristics and that Japanese tend to concentrate more strength in their core and lower bodies because of “tatami lifestyle”, but to be frank I find these hard to believe. Most young Japanese people now use chairs and sleep in beds. I also see Korean and Japanese people who have started kendo outside their own countries, develop the same heavy hitting style as their Caucasian chums.

I believe the remedy is in the quality and quantity of basis practice we should do. Chiba sensei once said that leading up to his All Japan Championship peak; he did 3000 continuous suburi per day. Not only does repetition lead to perfection, but working at that level of intensity teaches you to relax and save energy. In the same vein if you regularly practice flat-out uchikomigeiko or kakarigeiko you learn to conserve energy by not being unnecessarily tense. The other point to consider is that correct breathing helps you to relax, so by practising multiple strikes with one breath in kirikaeshi or kakarigeiko you learn to use the power of your tanden instead of your shoulders.

Old advice, but certainly worth taking into account for this year’s training.

Read Full Post »

Chiba senseiThere was some interesting feedback on last week’s post, most of it on the meaning of jiri itchi. As ever, George did a great job in providing the precise definition.

I would like to take the discussion forward one more step, and look at what we need to do to achieve jiri itchi. The answer is fairly obvious. Practice until the technique, the timing and the opportunity become second nature. Only then will you be able to launch that waza “on demand”, without giving it conscious thought.

When on the few occasions senior Japanese sensei compliment anyone’s kendo, they often do so by saying that “you have done lots of keiko”. Not ” your kendo is good”. It is as if the hours of training you put in at the dojo automatically equate to merit. This runs through to formal evaluation at grading exams where, the pass criteria for almost every grade are subject to the caveat, “must be seen to have done an appropriate amount of keiko”.

It is true also of the requirement for referees who must be active in their own keiko schedules and not just involved as referees and teachers. The view is that if you are not regularly polishing your own repertoire of techniques, you will not be in a position to judge those of others.

Of course it is not just a matter of putting in the time in the dojo. Training has to be correct and strenuous to be of value. I have forgotten who said it, but whoever it was said “the more I do of what I do, the more I get of what I’ve got”. Thinking about this in a kendo context it means that if you spend hours training to do a technique incorrectly, you will master the art of doing it wrong.

Obviously it pays to build step by step on technique training. Start with suburi, practice the timing and distance in uchikomi geiko, learn how to get the technique past your opponent’s centre with kakarigeiko and only then incorporate it into jigeiko.

Chiba sensei when speaking about his training before winning the All Japan Champioships talks about doing 3000 suburi in a single session. This is as a police tokuren who already had extensive high level keiko and shiai experience. Of course the concept of improvement through constant repetition is as old as kendo itself and was most famously promoted by Yamaoka Tesshu.

None of us will ever achieve perfection in our kendo, but trying to do so should be a source of satisfaction in itself.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »