Posts Tagged ‘Fumikomi’

stampThere seems to be a tendency amongst newer kenshi to lift the right foot too high when making fumikomi. This results in a seesaw motion and makes it difficult to equalise the balance between the feet and to bring the back foot up quickly in hikitsuke, ready for the next move.

There are lots of exercises designed to fix this fault, ranging from traditional footwork patterns up and down the dojo to lunges, with or without suburi. Some teachers use the idea of standing behind a line or court marking and throwing the right foot forwards as far as possible without moving the left.  In this way they encourage the flexion of the right knee. As I mentioned before, there is currently a very strong focus being applied to the practise of kihon using suriashi, (sliding footwork).

Everyone aspires to make a nice sharp slapping sound as the front foot hits the dojo floor and I suppose that there is certain logic in “the higher the drop, the louder the slap”. Only too often though, the end product is a sickening crunch as the heel hits the floor. In my view, the answer is to keep the foot close to the ground and strike the floor at a low angle. Pilots correct me if I have got it wrong, but it is a bit like bringing the pointy end down first.

If you bring your foot down at a shallow enough angle, you make maximum contact with the ball of your foot expelling the air between foot and floor and you then get a nice slapping sound. Remember to immediately bring your left foot up and you are ready to do it again.

A good way to set yourself up to make correct fumikomi is to first ensure that you start with your feet in the correct position and keep tension in the back of your left knee, at the same time have a slight bend in your right knee so that you are in a position to skim the floor with your foot. Immediately bring the left foot up so you are ready for the next step. Once you can do this, your hands and body come into play so that you can achieve ki-ken-tai-itchi and it’s job done.

On a slightly different tack, I had a bout of paranoia this week about the state of my kendo feet. I was offered and gratefully accepted a reflexology foot massage as part of some other medical treatment. I felt it was immediately necessary to explain away my kendo hooves to the charming lady doing the foot rub. To her credit she did not bat an eyelid and told me that as a keen dancer hers were pretty rough too.

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SevensKendo is unusual in that we use fumikomi-ashi, “stamping footwork” instead of a more natural walking gait as part of our technique. I don’t know how this developed. Older styles of kenjutsu take a more natural left-right approach, cutting on either foot, whereas modern kendoists believe that for an attack to succeed the right foot has to slap the floor at the exact moment of striking.

Followers of the many original ryuha explain that in a battle situation on rough ground, stable walking footwork is the only option and I would not for a moment disagree with them. Somehow as kendo moved onto wooden floors, we have adopted a stamping style which has become an integral part of the modern sport. Fumikomi-ashi dosa, or movement, is in essence okuri-ashi footwork with an added stamp. Okuri-ashi is the process of pushing the right foot forward using the power of your left leg and it is used for attacking movement. There are though other footwork options in kendo.

We use ayumi-ashi (walking footwork) to cover long distance outside of attacking maai. Tsugi ashi lets us bring the left foot closer to the right foot than in okuri-ashi to gain a more explosive forward movement and hiraki-ashi allows us to step diagonally to make oji-waza.

Many of us become addicted to okuri-ashi and fumikomi-ashi. Beginners find it almost impossible to do these correctly, but insist on using them for every circumstance. I have often seen okuri-ashi used to receive kirikaeshi whereas the natural way to do this is to use ayumi ashi.

Contrary to popular misconception, it is not mandatory to stamp to make a successful attack. Nippon kendo no kata does not use stamping footwork and any of the seven odachi techniques if done correctly, would score ippon in shiai. Ki-ken-tai-itchi does not always depend on your right foot slapping the ground. In fact in many oji-waza the cut is executed as the back foot moves into place.

Fumikomi-ashi is a key element of kendo, but it is reserved for making forward shikake attacks, so we can’t afford to ignore the other footwork variations. It is unlikely that many of us will get involved in a swordfight in a paddy-field, but were we to do so; the only value in fumikomi-ashi would be to splash your opponent. In the dojo we need to move at different speeds in different directions, so we should study and practice all the kendo footwork forms.

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Chudan Feet 2We concentrated on men-uchi last week. We started by hitting men from a static position then progressed through taking just one sliding step, to stepping into distance and striking, through to hitting with fumikomi ashi and then moving into zanshin.  We finished with debana men practice during which a dojo member asked for my advice on why he was having difficulty pushing off to make the strike. Instead of being able to launch an attack at will, all of his weight was moving to the left foot and he needed to readjust his foot position before he could move.

Watching his practice it was obvious that the heel of his left foot was too far off the ground, to the extent that he had no traction to push himself forward.  Instead he had to move his left foot forward each time that he needed to attack. To my mind a lot of energy was being wasted on unnecessary action.

Matsumoto Toshio sensei talked about the sole of the left foot being at a 15% angle from the floor, with the left leg being almost straight and keeping a feeling of tension behind the left knee. If you follow this advice then it is possible to move instantly from any spot. You of course need to keep the distance between your feet constant throughout your keiko, moving the left foot into position whenever your right foot moves, but you should be able to stop at any given time and instantly launch from the back foot.

How far apart your feet should be is open to debate. Conventional kendo wisdom suggests that the big toe of the left foot should be in line with the heel of your right foot and that there should be a fist’s distance separating the width of your stance.  In reality some All Japan class players have a much bigger gap between the forward and rear foot and they have the leg strength to make much longer steps than us amateurs.  I also believe that the fists distance in width is only a guide. In most sports, feet and knees should be in line with your hips. So your feet should be far enough apart for you to be stable and balanced.

The final piece of the jigsaw is to ensure that as you push with the left the right foot moves forward and not up. By keeping a slight bend in your right knee you should be able to make fumikomi with a big slapping sound and not damaging you knee or heel in the process.

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Most of the comments on my last post dealt with the subject of making good fumikomi. Andrea is not unusual in having problems with this and everyone who came back with suggestions added a lot of value to the debate. I touched on fumikomi in previous articles and talked more generally about footwork in http://wp.me/ptBQt-gZ  but I think that it is worth exploring this a little further.

Andrea’s sensei’s point that a cut without audible fumikomi is not ippon, I imagine, was made to emphasise the importance of ki-ken-tai-ichi. Technically you can score ippon without fumikomi by sliding your right foot into place with as you strike; you can also successfully make a strike from chudan when you pull your left foot up into position. Footwork is the device you use to ensure that your body is in the right distance and posture to strike correctly, after all it is ki-ken-tai-ichi or mind, sword and body as one; not mind, sword and foot as one. Still it is true that a loud slapping sound made on the point of cutting is satisfying and it certainly helps confirm to shinpan that all the necessary elements are there.

David’s comment about the quality of dojo floor was insightful. Training in custom built kendojo in Japan is kinder to the feet than some of the hardwood and composition floors we have to make-do with in other countries. I see more Japanese visitors wearing heel pads than I do locals, who are used to slamming their feet down on un-sprung oak over concrete.

I also liked Ken’s suggestion about training with a slipper or flip-flop. I confess that I got a bit fixated on this and went on to extemporise about the possibility of borrowing from the sub-aqua club and trying it with flippers. Taking my over-vivid imagination out of the equation, it clearly pays to practice how to make correct fumikomi.

Like Andrea, I also have a very high instep, but do not find that it affect s my footwork if  I do things correctly. My favourite tip comes from Chiba sensei. This was taught as part of the drill to strengthen seme, but has a highly beneficial effect on fumikomi. Starting from long distance you step into issoku ito maai and then whilst holding your opponent in a state of tame, you slightly bend your right knee. Your opponent suspecting that you are about to launch an attack will start an attack of his or her own, giving you the opportunity to make debana men.

The side effect of bending your right knee is that the sole of your foot is now parallel with the floor and if your weight is focussed on your left foot, you simply push off from the left and throw your right foot forward, (do not lift your right knee up). As your right foot remains parallel throughout the movement, you make contact with the floor with the maximum amount of foot area and even if your heel hits, it should not hurt as you create a cushion of air between foot and floor. It is the expulsion of this air that makes the slapping sound that should wake up the doziest of referees.

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Chiba sensei is back in the UK for his annual visit. He has an unerring ability to quickly spot what needs fixing and to offer a remedy. After two dojo visits for keiko, he reached the conclusion that may UK kendoka suffer from the lack of coordinated ki-ken-tai-ichi.  This stems from a number of timing problems but mainly from using too much shoulder power and leaning in, causing the right foot to come up rather than forward.

Over the weekend he then ran a two day seminar. Using a series of drills that progressed through the range of shikake and oji waza at different speeds and distances, he made people work on developing a natural kamae and cutting motion to eliminate this problem. The theory is quite simple, in that you should relax your arms and shoulders in chudan leaving your inner arms close to the body so that you cannot see daylight between your inner arms and your dou. Your left hand should be at navel height and turned in at an angle where you can easily support the weight of the shinai. Your right hand should be held at a relaxed angle without being forced, so that you can move the shinai easily. The grip from both hands comes from the little and ring fingers only.

You should step into your own one step cutting distance with a feeling of seme and at the right time you should lift the shinai bending your elbows and wrists in a natural fashion. How high you lift the shinai depends on you. If you are an experienced kendoka you should be able to cut in a very small movement. It needs to be bigger a motion if you are less experienced.  The key point is that the final part of the motion with your wrists is what gives the strike its “snap” and if your wrists are supple enough, you should be able to cut from almost a standing start. As Chiba sensei has said in the past, when you strike men, you should do so with the intention of cutting through to the chin.

In terms of getting the foot movement part of the equation right, you should not move your right foot before you start the strike, however just before you do so, bend the right knee slightly. Not only can this provoke your opponent to move, it aligns your leg so that when you make a fumikomi stamp, you will painlessly hit the floor with the flat of your foot rather than risk bruising your heel.

As simple as the theory might be, for many of us, it will take quite a few hours in the dojo before we can put it into practice.

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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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Kyoto Asageiko

Harking back to my Kyoto Taikai post, it is obvious to me that what sets great kendo apart from the norm is sharp footwork. Watching the younger hanshi, their arms and upper bodies are invariably relaxed, power comes from the hips and legs and ki-ken-tai-ichi is absolutely instantaneous.

Theoretically we all know what to do. I went into some detail about the how in an earlier post.  What amazes me however is the velocity of movement from standing start to fumikomi and strike at this level. The secret appears to be that you have to start with a tank full of ki and to be ready to launch forward as soon as you see or make an opportunity. It is also vital that you do not waste time or energy by lifting your right foot, but skim it forward making an explosive fumikomi on contact.

I wanted to illustrate this with a video from the Taikai, but those I took from a distance are not worth looking at. Fortunately Kendo World and youtube  came to the rescue with this video of one of my favourite enbu of 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0igjqI0XgY This shows Arima sensei of Osaka Fukei and Suzuki sensei of Hyogo Kenkei both hanshi and both physically small. It is also worth remembering that both are well into their 60s. Points to look at are how close heels are to the ground and how explosive their attacks are. It is also interesting to see that they are still up for a bit of gentlemanly “roughing up” at close quarters.

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Old Noma Dojo

Old Noma Dojo

We had a disappointing day on Saturday. Having booked a venue for a taikai we were moved at the last minute to another venue because of a double booking. When we got there, we found that the floor was solid concrete with a thin vinyl coating which meant the shiai did not happen.

Clearly concrete is an unacceptable surface for kendo, but thinking about it I have practiced on a lot of surfaces that have not been much better!

Traditional Japanese dojo floors are of course ideal for kendo and no matter how old or dilapidated the building, the floor always seems to give the right amount of bounce to make fumikomi painless. In some cases dojo floors seem to improve with age, as witnessed by the example of the late Noma dojo. A number of similar facilities have been lost in recent years. The old Oji dojo in Kobe was replaced by a magnificent multi-purpose gymnasium and although kendoka no longer had to change outside or be at the mercy of the winter winds as they blew through the open walls, the original floor was sadly missed.

Certainly in the UK, we are limited to whatever floors we are able to rent at our local schools or sports centres. All of these are designed for sports played in trainers. At best, we have sprung basketball courts at worst solid hardwood or composite surfaces. These I am sure, account for the high incidence of foot and knee injuries suffered.

I never experienced problems of this kind in Japan but having returned to the UK, soon developed plantar fasciitis. After years of treatment I moved on to various other achilles and knee troubles. At times, I feel that I am personally supporting the rubber industry through my ongoing investment in knee and ankle supports.

Of course I could try to do kendo without full-on fumikomi, but until I reach 70, I will try to keep that option for the future.

Here’s a picture of the old Noma floor

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Kata on the beachI touched on the fact that Kendo footwork is very different from that of other martial arts in my last post. Thinking about it, the whole left foot / left hand idea is alien to most sports. I think this is one of the reasons why beginners find it so hard to learn Kendo.

Successful kendo attacks must have ki-ken-tai-ichi or spirit /energy, sword, and body (read hips and feet), working together and whilst this can be done with sliding footwork, most people rely on strong fumikomi, (stamping footwork) to make the point. Watching many students practice, I beleive that quite a few find this to be particularly difficult.

The most common errors are to lift the right foot too high, not to maintain a correct distance between the left and right foot, to keep one or both heels too far off the ground or even worse to keep the left heel on the ground.

Poor footwork used to be expected from westerners by some sensei, who rationalised about “tatami seikatsu” or the fact that Japanese kendoka had stronger legs based on a lifestyle of sitting and sleeping on tatami mats. This is now largely irrelevant, as most Japanese now sit on chairs and sleep on beds. My personal theory is that bad footwork stems from hard gym floors, incorrect training and instruction and also from low expectations.

If we concentrate on our footwork in training, it will of course get better. To practice we should ensure that when we move into distance, the left foot should immediately follow the right. The left heel should be about 15 degrees of the ground. There must be a slight bend in both knees, not too great in the left, otherwise we lose pressure from the left foot and of course the left foot drives us forward. Once you are in position, be careful not to move either foot until you start the attack and then just throw the right foot forward so that it lands on the ball of the foot as you hit the target. Simple!……..OK it needs a bit of practice.

On my trip to Norway, we tried practicing Kata on the beach, not good for footwork, but great fun! see above.

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