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Posts Tagged ‘Debana Men’

3_Shikakewaza_Men2One of the most common errors that I see from beginners, and in some cases from more experienced kenshi, is the habit of putting an extra step into their approach and attack. What I mean is that they start outside of striking distance; take a step towards their opponent, take another step whilst raising the shinai and another one when bringing it down. This is often compounded by using walking footwork, alternating the forward foot in in this three stage step, raise, and strike routine.

The correct action is of course to step into range maintaining chudan kamae then raise and lower the shinai in a continuous movement, simultaneously taking a second step to strike the target. This sound simple but some people find it difficult, particularly if they have become used to attacking in a one, two, three rhythm.

Raising the shinai whilst you are outside striking distance gives your opponent early warning of your intention. It also leaves you open to tsuki and dou, particularly if you spend a long time with your shinai raised. It also means that your technique, should you manage to strike the target is likely not to have correct ki-ken-tai-itchi, as it is difficult to coordinate hand and foot movement.

There are numerous ways however to correct this fault. A good start is to practice suburi, concentrating on making the up and down movement in the timing of one (ichibyoshi). You can also practise men drills stepping into your own uchima distance without lowering or lifting the point of your shinai and then raise it as you push off from the left foot and bring it sharply down on your opponent’s men as your right foot hits the floor. You should ensure that before pushing off you bring your left foot up to the correct position and that the ball of the foot has strong contact with the floor.

Once you succeed with this drill you can develop it using smaller strikes just powered by your forward movement and tenouchi.  Then with your partner’s co-operation you can work creating and breaking pressure to build a basis for debana men.

If you do suffer from the “one, two, three” syndrome, it is worth correcting the habit as early in your kendo career as you can. Having good basics makes it much easier to learn advanced techniques.

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DrillFollowing last week’s post, several people asked if I knew of any specific drills to help develop debana men. There are two that are worth trying. Which you use depends on your level of kendo experience. Both should be practised against a partner who acts as motodachi.

The first is for less experienced kendoka. You should start by taking chudan kamae and move into your own uchima striking distance. Motodachi then takes one hand of his shinai and pushes the palm of his kote against the tip of you shinai. You should ensure that your feet are in the correct position, paying particular attention to quickly drawing up your left foot. Make sure that your left heel is slightly raised off the ground and that there is a feeling of tension behind your left knee. You should have taken a breath before your step into distance and as we discussed last week, let half of it out as kakegoe. Keeping the remaining air in your abdomen and making sure that hands and arms relaxed, you should push against motodachi’s hand using the pressure of your hips and back. When motodachi decides that the time is right, he pulls his hand away. You should be able to strike instantly by pushing off from your back foot.

This exercise will help some people understand the feeling of pressure even if they are not quite ready to appreciate the force exuded by a strong opponent’s kigamae. For more experienced kenshi a similar drill can be used, but motodachi should not physically touch kakarite’s shinai. Instead kakarite observes the same precautions about breathing, posture and hikitsuke, but this time it is the force of motodachi’s kamae that holds them at bay. Motodachi makes the chance to strike, obviously breaking the tension by slightly raising the shinai and inclining his head forward. He should pay particular attention to vary the timing of each striking opportunity. If this is done correctly motodachi gets as much out of it as does kakarite, as he can experience the “feeling” of the opportunity as he makes and breaks “mind contact” with kakarite.

The third drill in this series is where motodachi picks the opportunity to strike men and commits to making the attack. Kakarite responds with debana men. I would not recommend this for anyone but the most experienced, as there is a tendency for motodachi to change the timing of the attack to beat kakarite’s strike. No-one does this intentionally, but our competitive inner selves have a tendency to take over.

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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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The principle in most martial arts is that you use your opponent’s force to defeat him. In Judo or Aikido you make him push and then use minimal effort to break his balance and throw him. Many people seem to forget that this also applies to kendo.

Because in kendo we set out to strike our opponent, we think about using footwork that gets us to the target as quickly as possible. This for many people means one thing – big steps. What many people often ignore is that there are two of you involved in keiko or shiai and you need to adapt your distance and timing to reflect that of your partner and that you can take advantage of his effort to beat him.

This was demonstrated very clearly in a seminar last year by Chiba sensei and is something that I have become increasingly conscious of. I have noticed however that a number of people seem to take a “one size fits all” approach to footwork.

If your opponent is static or going backwards, you need to first move into your own attacking distance and then take a further step as you make the technique. If he retreats as you make your initial seme, you may well need to cover a distance of up to a metre before making contact. On the other hand if he is moving forward, he is doing most of the work in getting to a distance where you can make a useful attack. To take advantage you need to make only a slight forward movement.

It all seems fairly straightforward and logicall but I see many situations where both players take big steps towards each other at the same time, resulting in an invalid strike made towards the tsuba end of the shinai, which as we all know, is invalid.

By stepping in, not only is your opponent supplying most of the forward motion for your technique, he his supplying much of the forward energy, so typically your technique needs less force than an attack against an immobile partner.

Typically you would use debana or oji waza in this situation. Using debana men as an example, you need to be ready to move with pressure on the ball of your left foot. As your opponent steps into distance, you just push off from your back foot and make a small crisp men cut. In these circumstances, your step probably needs to cover a distance of no more than 15cm. The force of the attack can stand to be 50% lighter than a shikake attack, as your opponent is supplying the forward movement. As long as your technique is finished cleanly with good tenouchi, it should be judged as ippon.

For degote, distances are even closer and you may need to make fumikomi on the spot without moving, to maintain the correct distance.

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Debana Men

Many years ago I naively asked an elderly Japanese sensei “what is the difference between debana men and degashira men”. I was told that “it depended on whether your opponent had a big nose or a big forehead”. Logical really, when you consider that debana refers to the forward movement of your opponents nose and degashira the same for the front of the head.

Whatever the terminology, debana men is the “holy grail” of kendo. It is the most desirable waza to display in high dan grading examinations and enbu. In my view, the reason why it is such a special technique is that it requires the ability to attack instantly, without conscious thought in the spirit of “mushin”.

To effectively achieve debana men, your preparation needs to be perfect. You must be in your own issoku ito ma, have a feeling of pressure between your kisaki and your opponent’s, have your left heel off the ground and  a 60:40 distribution of weight between your left and right foot. As soon as your opponent starts his attack, you should push forward from your left foot and strike in the “timing of one“. Effectively, you are making the down stroke whilst your opponent is starting his upward raise.

This is clearly a technique that calls for repeated practice. One simple drill for this, is working with a partner, move into issoku ito mai. Both hold the strongest chudan that you can and build up a feeling of pressure. Ensure that your feet are in correct kendo position and that the left heel is up and the weight balance is as described. Motodachi should wait until the feeling of pressure between you is palpable and then quickly lean slightly forward whilst lifting the shinai to the right and moving the right foot forward by just a few centimetres. As soon as he does this kakarite should attack men instantly.

I include this drill in most kihon sessions and although it encourages small men strikes, it can be taught at most levels as long as big kihon men is practised in the same session for more junior kendoka. I believe that it is worth doing this on a regular, ongoing basis. It is worth sweating over to achieve the “wow! Did I do that” feeling when you make debana men is shiai or keiko.

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