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Posts Tagged ‘Degote’

Mohan jiai CaptureMy first sight of real master level kendo was back in 1976 when Ikeda Hanshi and Ueta Hanshi performed a Mohan jiai at the 3rd World Kendo Championships. In essence nothing happened for 4 minutes 50 seconds then as Ueta sensei started to attack men Ikeda sensei took degote and both went into sonkyo. Whilst my description sounds as if much of the shiai was spent waiting, nothing could be farther from the truth. From the initial rei the atmosphere was positively electric, with every small change of position and attitude measured by the two men. Whilst physical movement was minimal, their concentration was as intense as that of a predatory animal stalking its dinner.

More recently I had keiko with a visitor, who still in the early stages of his kendo career came up from sonkyo and waited, and waited and waited, until I suggested that it might be a good idea to do kakarigeiko. Whereas the two meijin were like tigers preparing to pounce on their prey, my young friend appeared more like a pensioner waiting for a bus. Based on this comparison, the ability to move from a static position in instant reaction to an opportunity is not a function of youth and stamina, but the result of tame built on years of experience of hard keiko.

Tame is described in the AJKF Dictionary of Kendo as “the condition of being composed both mentally and physically and maintaining a spiritually replete state despite the tense situation”. Perhaps a simpler more physical account of tame is that by ensuring that your posture is correct and your tanden tense, and that your left foot is drawn up to the correct position with your heel of the ground, you will be able to launch yourself into an attack the moment you see an opportunity. The only way to achieve this is by actively practising kendo and not just standing back and waiting.

The instructions often given by teachers on how to pass grading examinations usually contain the advice to “not miss any opportunity to attack, but not to attack when there is no opportunity”. This may at first sound confusing, but the more keiko we do the easier to understand it becomes. In the early stages of our development it pays to do too much rather than too little. As we progress along the continuum we hopefully start to see the clear opportunities to strike. If we ever approach the level reached by Ikeda sensei and Ueta sensei at the time of their tachiai then hopefully we should be able to possess the clarity of mind that allows us to mirror our opponents’ intention.

In the meantime we can all crack on with some more kakarigeiko.

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Kote is a great target. It is closer than men and does not require the attention to hasuji and tai sabaki required to make a successful dou attack. The only cloud on the horizon with kote is that if your opponent is in correct chudan kamae it is impossible to hit.

Of course kote-uchi is perfectly achievable as a kihon drill. So, for reasons I will go into later, it’s worth ignoring my initial pessimism and practising this on a regular basis.

As we said, kote is closer than men, so you should start in ai-chudan with the kisaki (point) of your shinai level with that of your opponent. At this stage your shinai should be on the omote side of your partner’s. As you step in you should ensure that your left foot is in place with your heel off the ground. To strike you should push off from your left foot and push forward with your left hand to raise the point of the shinai just above the height of motodachi’s shinai. You should strike square on to the target, so as you step forward, you should angle your right foot over to your left so that your toes line up with the toes of his right foot, rather than the left foot as for a men attack.

Now for the disconnect with reality – motodachi has to open the target to allow you to strike. You in turn should strike the kote sharply in a forward motion. You should not cut down beyond the thickness of his wrist. Be careful with zanshin; your opponent’s body is very close, so you need to ensure that your shinai point does not cause injury. At the same time we do not want to compromise our position by pulling the shinai back. Instead we should move forward into a safe tsubazeriai.

So that’s how to attack kote. The challenge now is to turn it into an effective technique in jigeiko or shiai. The most obvious opportunity is degote – using your opponent’s forward motion as he starts to attack your men. You should encourage his movement by slightly lifting the point of your shinai towards his left eye and then hit kote just as he starts to raise his shinai.

Another option is harai gote. We hit his shinai towards the tsuba end and knock it to the right, opening the kote target. Harai is difficult against a strong chudan kamae, but much easier if done as your partner moves forward or backward. The harai and kote strike should be accomplished in one step.

So, great technique, but as always in kendo, timing and opportunity have to be correct.

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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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Degote

Following on from my post on debana men, I would like to add some thoughts on degote. Whilst not perhaps as spectacular as a good debana men, it is a great shiai technique.

It is more or less impossible to hit kote, when your opponent is in a strong, secure chudan kamae. You have to make him open the target, either by physically knocking his shinai to the right, or by making him show the kotebuton by lifting his shinai. Degote relies on this upward movement.

My preferred approach to this waza is as follows – From isoku ito ma, raise the point of your shinai to the right, in the direction of your opponent’s left eye. This should be only a slight movement. You need do no more than squeeze gently with the little finger of your left hand to make the point move. As you do this, it is likely, (although not guaranteed), that your opponent will see the chance to hit your men and start to lift his shinai.  As soon as he does this push off from your left foot and hit kote. The footwork and weight distribution should be the same as for debana men, but because kote is closer, you should not have to travel as far forward. Do not wait until his hand is in the air, you should strike at the beginning of his move so that although you now see the target, it should still be parallel with the ground.

Degote is a small technique, but do not make the mistake of just using your left hand as a pivot and pushing with your right. You should try to lift your left hand and throw it forward, taking your right hand with it. Do not have the feeling of chopping down. Instead think about flicking the point out and forward like a chameleon’s tongue catching a fly. Also your body should be square on to your opponent’s kote. It helps to move your right foot across the centre line as you attack so that you finish with the toes of your right foot in line with the toes of your opponent’s right  foot.

Finally your zanshin should be correct, either pointing your shinai to the opponents centre, or if one or both of you is moving forward quickly, stop in tsubazeriai. Do not spoil the technique by twisting or ducking. Keep your posture.

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