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Posts Tagged ‘Hachidan’

EKF Calendar (300x320)Over the years the number of kendo seminars, taikai and grading examinations has continued to grow. In February alone there will be 10 events in the European zone. In comparison to the few opportunities that were available back in the days when I started kendo this is an enviable situation. The challenge however is selecting which to attend.

Some decisions are simple. If you are planning to take a grading examination the nearest venue provided by your local federation is the easy option. The same thing goes for your own regional championships. If however you are a keen shiai player in search of international experience, you could have a choice of two or three major taikai within weeks of each other.

For those of us who are asked to referee and sit on grading panels, we occasionally receive invitations for several things on the same day and face the dilemma of which to attend. In this case I usually go with the first invitation.

There are several weekends when equally important sensei will be teaching at the same time. In addition to the seminars arranged by national federations there are also a number of club events where the teachers have been invited direct by friends or former students.  Some of these have been advertised ahead of time and some of these are still not on federation websites nor have they been flagged up to the EKF. I know of at least two hachidan visits to the UK that have not yet been formally anounced.

Thanks to cheap air fares and the internationalisation of kendo we are now spoilt for choice. My only reservation is that when famous kendo teachers visit a country we should make sure that a significant number of people are there to benefit from their teaching. I have often heard Japanese kendo friends express surprise that there is no queue for keiko with visiting hanshi, whereas local kendo students in Japan seldom have a chance to practise with them.

I have queued for most of the hour allocated for asa-geiko at the Kyoto Taikai for one practice with a teacher for whom I have never waited for more than 5 minutes in the UK. In some ways we enjoy an enviable situation as international kendo students, but we should be careful not to take our luck for granted.  In an ideal world we would stagger sensei visits, so that they are distributed evenly over the year. Unfortunately this is almost impossible to arrange as visits abroad typically happen in gaps in the kendo and academic calendar in Japan.

My suggestion is that we make the most of as many visits as we can when we have the opportunity. Hachidan are not like buses; you can never guarantee that there will be another one along in a minute.

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With Kato sensei, Takatera sensei and Mike Davis at Saineikan

With Kato sensei, Takatera sensei and Mike Davis at Saineikan

Last Tuesday Mumeishi  dojo  enjoyed a visit from two 8th dans, Takatera sensei,  Meiyo Shihan of the Imperial Palace Police and the well-known teacher and writer Ozawa Hiroshi sensei . They were accompanied by a third teacher Iino sensei, a senior kyoshi 7th dan.

The dojo was packed tight with students who came for the privilege of keiko with these excellent kenshi. We had our usual kihon session then an hour of free keiko, so I made sure that I had my men and kote on quickly and was the first to practice with Takatera  sensei  before  joining the line for the other two teachers, finally moving back to the motodachi side.

Although in his 60s, Takatera sensei is a remarkably fast, forward moving 8th dan. When you face him the pressure is intense. He very quickly “took me apart” before leading me through kakarigeiko and kirikaeshi. Different hachidan have different approaches to practice with older opponents and Takatera  sensei’s is obviously to expect them to work hard. The sessions with the next two sensei were almost relaxed by comparison.

There is a temptation for senior grades to stay on the motodachi side of the dojo and not take advantage of these occasional chances to learn from more experienced teachers.  If you are over 60, many Japanese instructors are relaxed about whether you join them for keiko or line up next to them. Whatever your age and grade you owe it to yourself to take every opportunity to improve and if it means finishing the keiko with wobbly legs, then so much the better.

When I joined Takatera sensei, who is as good natured as he is fierce, for a beer after training, he told me that even though he has retired from the Imperial Palace, he currently attends 15 keiko sessions per week, which makes my three seem decidedly lightweight by comparison.. Takatera sensei, along with some other notable teachers, works extremely hard at his own kendo practice and expects the rest of us oldies to work equally hard. So this was a timely reminder to keep up the intensity of my own training. For the rest of this week I have made sure that we make kakarigeiko  more challenging and that I join in as kakarite.

In kendo we use the expression “utte hansei, utarete kansha” meaning that we should  learn by reflecting on the successful strikes we make and by showing gratitude for the successful strikes against us. I clearly have a lot to thank Takatera sensei for.

* I will be away at the European Kendo Championships from mid-week until next Monday, so unless I can get my sausage fingers to work on a hand-held device, next weeks post will be late.

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I briefly mentioned in my last post that a friend who recently returned to Japan was surprised at having to wait for 45 minutes of a one hour practice for keiko with a hachidan sensei in the Osaka Shudokan. George who witnessed and commented on the scene, will I am sure, back me up when I say this is not an unusual situation.

At the shudokan, or any of the big civic dojo in Japan, you have to be quick and determined to practise with any of the senior sensei. The rule of thumb when I was regularly training there, was that you could have 2 keiko with hachidan , 4 with nanadan,  or up to 8 at peer level in the allotted hour.

Getting face time with senior sensei is an acquired skill. You need to put your men on faster than any of your rivals and be prepared to run to position whilst pulling your kote on. Some kendoka train themselves to tie their men in record time, others develop ingenious ways to pre-tie their men so that it can be slipped on instantly.

These skills are equally useful for the monthly godokeiko sessions at the Nippon Budokan or asa-geiko at the Kyoto Taikai. Even though there may be 200+ hachidan in attendance, the chance of getting to your favourite hanshi is close to nil. On one occasion in Kyoto I made it my goal to be first in line with Sumi sensei.  I  got up at 4.30 a.m. , arrived almost an hour before practice started and placed myself approximately in front of the spot where he would be sitting. Fortunately for him, not so for me, he had been awarded hanshi the previous day, so whilst he initially sat facing the spot where I was waiting; he was pushed up the line by the longer time served, but still kyoshi sensei. I had to run an extra 20 metres to beat the queue and finished 5th in line. Nevertheless I got my keiko.

Keiko with senior teachers offers two opportunities, one to practise with them and benefit from their advice; plus the chance to watch them with other students whilst you wait. The watching or mitorigeiko part becomes more interesting if sensei’s opponents are other kodansha. The downside is that usually they have the right to queue jump.  This is a sensible arrangement as it allows them to get back to acting as motodachi with a minimum of delay. If however you are last in line and there is five minutes of keiko time left and someone steps in front of you, you may not see it that way.

Returning to the challenges of making the most of your time in the dojo, the Japanese system for adult kendoka is essentially, well, adult. You can invest your time in waiting to train with the top teachers, or if you think it is needed, you can stay at the shimoseki end of the dojo and practice kihon geiko with a buddy of your own grade. As long as you take your keiko seriously no-one will mind.

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Kendo heroes!

Chiba and Uegaki sensei

Chiba and Uegaki sensei

two weeks time we have 4 hachidan and a supporting cast of nanadan sensei visiting the UK for a seminar and I am really looking forward to a my “hachidan fix”. In the meantime I have been reviewing my videos of this years Kyoto Taikai and thinking about what makes some of the great sensei as good as they are.

Perhaps it is because of my own age and kendo aspirations, but I find the All Japan Hachidan Championships and the Kyoto Taikai far more inspiring than the All Japan Championships. The depth of Kendo shown by some of the sensei who are now in their 60’s appeals to me more than the speed and accuracy of the current younger champions. There is a long list of sensei whom I admire, but those that immediately come to mind are Yamanaka, Uegaki, Arima, Sumi and Chiba sensei.

If you are familiar with their kendo, you will realise that this is a very eclectic mix. I like the first two because of their phenomenal pressure and work rate. Sumi sensei’s kendo is big and bold with his signature big men attack whilst Arima sensei is renowned for small sharp tsuki and kote attacks. He is also one of the few senior sensei to use cheeky techniques like gyaku dou.

Chiba sensei’s jodan is of course legendary, but to be honest, I have never really had any interest in practicing jodan. It is just his ability to hit at will that makes his kendo so interesting to me. Of course he also teaches superb chudan kendo. This is by no means an exhaustive list of my current kendo role models, but these gentlemen all come quickly to mind when people ask “who’s kendo do you admire”

What makes it more interesting is that they are all thoroughly like-able people – humble, amusing and good to be with. It is almost as if the hachidan shinsa is in three parts – jitsugi, kata; and a formal nice guy examination, or maybe the last bit is just part of becoming hanshi. Here’s a picture of two of my heroes in London. + Ben Sheppard sent me this link of Chiba sensei in action .

 

http://kendonanseikan.blogspot.com/2008/08/chiba-sensei-oji-waza_3635.html

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