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Posts Tagged ‘Hikitategeiko’

old-tsukiLast week’s post prompted some interesting questions. Tsuki as a technique is as important as men, kote and dou. As with attacks to all of these targets ippon is generated by a sharp, accurate on-off strike. Debana tsuki like debana men is made just as the opponent starts an attack. You should strike just as he starts to lift his hands, so it is up to you to step-in and hit the men dare.

Mukaetsuki is a tsuki that meets your opponent’s forward movement as he steps in to attack. Not only are you holding him off with the shinai’s point, you are increasing the force with which you receive him by pushing your hands forward at the same time. This is not only bad behaviour, it is dangerous as the shinai can cause damage if it slips under pressure and goes under the tsuki dare.

Daniel made reference to some kodansha hitting the target and releasing the tension in this situation. He also mentioned holding the shinai against the attacker’s dou mune.  To make sense of this, it is essential to realise that practice between juniors and seniors is different to that between peers. This hikitatgeiko is similar to jigeiko or gokakugeiko, but the senior takes the lead in encouraging good strikes and in using his own technique to pre-empt or block bad ones. This holding (but cushioning) kamae against a forward moving kenshi is normally done to teach the student about distance and timing.

As for walking away after striking, kodansha develop bad-habits like everyone else, although this could be an initiative by sensei to move you back to the right spot for keiko and to avoid leaving you in a space where you might bump into other players. Senior level zanshin may well be on the spot and not involve excess movement, but the strength of the attack and kiai and manifestation of kigamae would make it very clear that sensei had made a successful yuko datotsu.

Sumi sensei’s show of dropping into sonkyo after kaeshi  dou is as suggested a humorous way to emphasise a point. I have seen him do this too. He is not alone in concluding keiko in this way. Arima sensei of Osaka police was well known for taking kote or tsuki and immediately squatting, but he amplified the effect with his distinctive high pitched kiai as he wrapped things up by calling out something along the lines of “otsuki, otsuki, sainara (sayonara with a Kansai accent).

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Seiza 5Different people have different ideas on what constitutes the perfect practise session. Some are happy to arrive at the dojo, have a quick stretch, put their men on and enjoy an hour’s jigeiko. Others may prefer to concentrate on kihon drills for the whole session.

In my view there is no right answer. The way you structure your keiko depends on how much time you have to fill and the level and physical condition of those taking part. If you are lucky enough to have a number of kodansha in the dojo, then jigeiko can be a great learning experience. To be more precise what you are getting is hikitate-geiko, where sensei is taking a view of your strengths and weaknesses and stretching you to do a bit better. If there is one instructor teaching a class of students then a structured session built on demonstration and repetition is likely to be the best way forward.

The length of your training session also dictates what you do. My ideal kendo week would consist of five or six 45 minute to one hour practices, each conducted at maximum intensity. When you have two or 3 hours to fill, you need to bring in more variety and exercises that offer a change of pace. For example, start with kata or boken ni yoru kihon keikoho, move on to kihon drills, keeping them short and changing partners frequently and finally move to jigeiko.

With kihon drills it’s best to keep to a theme. It might simply be improving ki-ken-tai-itchi, or could be something more ambitious like incorporating seme into the attack. You can work on shikake-waza  one day and oji-waza on another, or you could practise men attacks and the oji-waza to use against them as part of the same session.  In drills like this it is important for both motodachi and kakarite to approach each technique with total commitment and not anticipate the others movement, otherwise you are in danger of producing the counter attack before the attack.

One other word of warning, don’t try to do too much. I have seen sessions which have included almost every technique in kendo. In this case it is difficult to remember what you have covered, let alone get any benefit from it.

However you approach each training session remember that the purpose is to improve your kendo, and to enjoy your time in the dojo.

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zen monks2One of the few times I witnessed a Japanese kendo teacher lose his temper was when he was told by a local kendo instructor that “I do kendo for other people”.  The general thrust of his response was that kendo is a shugyo, a way to hone your own mind and body through hard keiko, so regardless of whether you are involved in teaching, refereeing or running a dojo or federation, you should first and foremost focus on your own kendo journey.

This may sound like a very self-centred approach, but essentially kendo is all about the self, or if you want to be specific, supressing it. Kendo is introspective. We train to develop to a level where action becomes instinctive, but to get there you have to think about it. The only person who can change you is you. At the same time we need others as training partners and opponents. The sheer unpredictability of other human beings makes kendo both interesting and challenging.

The chance to test ourselves in keiko is not all we expect from our dojo mates. We offer each other support and encouragement. More experienced kenshi pass on their knowledge to junior members and we work together to improve our technique. Even for the most senior practitioners teaching and learning should be a two way street.

As an example, when receiving kakarigeiko, if you put the same amount of focus into creating the attacking opportunities as your partner needs to respond to them, you both gain the same level of benefit from the process. In hikitate-geiko we should strive to take the first point or shodachi whatever the grade difference. Only after establishing control should we offer points to the student and even when doing so we should work on our own seme.

Unlike many sports that have an “if you can you play, if you can’t you coach” ethos, we expect people to continue to be involved in every aspect throughout their active lives. As a result some of the great competitors have gone on to be amongst the best teachers and continue to prove themselves in the All Japan 8th dan Championships and the Kyoto Taikai.

Whilst we focus on our own kendo, we do it together and friends made through hard training continue to be friends for life. So although we each follow our own path, we need those paths to regularly cross with the paths of others.

Best wishes to you all for 2016.

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Kendo childrenOne of the most difficult transitions in kendo is the move from being kakarite to becoming a good motodachi. Most of us at some time in our kendo careers have to cross the dojo floor and change from being attacker to receiver. To do so successfully calls for a mix of technical ability, judgement and compassion.

As a reminder to set the scene, most of us know that motodachi is the receiver, or high side partner in the whole range of kendo training exercises; for kihon practice we usually take turns as motodachi. The other option is for an instructor to take this role and to use his or her judgment on how to get the best out of kakarite. The most frequently used format for this is a combination of kirikaeshi, hikitategeiko (jigeiko between unequal partners) and  kakarigeiko or uchikomi-geiko. This type of training is generally referred to as shido-geiko

The challenge for the instructor is to encourage the student to stretch beyond his comfort level without causing physical damage, feelings of frustration or eroded self-esteem. For many of us this is a tough task, particularly when we have classes of varied ages and abilities. At Mumeishi dojo we have a mix of male and female members aged from their early 20s to mid-60s, from National Squad members to beginners; so a “one size fits all” approach would not work. The practice has to be tailored to get the best out of each student regardless of condition or experience level.

Whereas you might finish your keiko by asking an older kenshi to make one or two good men attacks, you could up the stakes with a young competition player, offering a tough kakarigeiko session before challenging them to a final one point match. If you get the first point, go to a second which with a bit of luck, (or subtle help) they will take. Ideally they should come out of a tough session feeling positive.

Not all instruction has to be verbal. If a student shows his kote every time he raises the shinai for men you should hit it frequently as a reminder. If he or she is young and fit, but has the habit of leaving their back foot in the air when they strike, a strategic push to remind them that their balance is unstable would not cause too much harm, providing you use a level of restraint. If they have a habit of stepping back, step in and take hikibana men.

We have talked about the qualities of a good motodachi in other posts and most of us accept that we need to be full of spirit and totally engaged in the moment. It is also important that we exercise impeccable judgement to get the most out of our dojo mates. The objective is to help them be the best kendoka they can, be whether they are aspiring juniors, national team members or senior citizens  and to make sure that we all make it safely to the final rei.

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Kendo childrenOne of the benefits of writing this blog is that I get feedback from kendoka in other dojo and other countries about the way they do things and the challenges they face. This often stimulates ideas which I use when physically teaching kendo. Thomas Sluyter’s comments on kirikaeshi following my last post helped me refine the drills for our group at Sanshukan.

One thing that is becoming obvious as we go through these sessions is that the theory is relatively easy to explain, but that it takes constant practice to develop motodachi skills. Hikitategeiko in particular is an area where experience is essential.  No matter how well you understand the theory, unless you are able to read your opponent and build and relax the tension between you, it is unlikely that you will reach the desired outcome.

Just to reiterate, hikitategeiko is jigeiko between a senior and junior partner. Motodachi uses the opportunity to practise his own technique whilst encouraging kakarite to do his best. It works if the more experience player sets the standard reasonably close to the junior’s level, so that he acts as if he has only half a dan grade advantage. By this I do not mean that his technical kendo standard should be lowered, more that the competitive advantage is narrowed.

At the beginning of every keiko you should treat each opponent with the same level of respect. I therefore think that it is your duty to face him earnestly and to try for shodachi or the first point. You may be surprised that the junior player is the first to achieve this. No matter who takes the first ippon, this is a chance to study your opponent; how he moves and his strengths and weaknesses. You should continue to make your own opportunities using seme to penetrate his centre and maintain kizeme (mental pressure) to put him at a disadvantage. When however he makes a strong attack you should allow it to connect.

This is the ideal opportunity to practise your oji waza, so use hiki dasu to invite his strikes and then respond with suriage or kaeshi techniques. Do not however break his spirit by countering every attack. It goes without saying that you should not block, physically stop him with the point of your shinai, or resort to miss timed or sneaky waza to make a point.

Depending on kakarite’s level there will come a point in the keiko when the tension between you breaks down. This is normally because his level of concentration and focus is starting to diminish. By now you should have evaluated any bad habits or mistakes, so make the transition to uchikomigeiko; making opportunities for him to strike. Do this in a way where you use pressure to control distance and opportunity so that he strikes with correct timing and maai. Use this chance to make him correct any errors. You may have to demonstrate how to do the technique yourself, but do so quickly and keep conversation to a minimum. If it requires a long debate, have it in the pub after training.

If kakarite is relatively skilled, then perhaps uchikomigeiko should be reduced to just one or two techniques at the end of the keiko. It may even be that you finish with ippon shobu, but if kakarite is that strong, we are moving into the realm of gokakugeiko.

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Picture 13 (3)

Motodachi illustration by Katsuya Masagaki from my new book

My local dojo is looking at ways to help new kendoka make the transition from beginner’s course to taking part in regular keiko sessions. To this end I am running several motodachi training sessions for the more experience members so they can help and encourage their newer colleagues.

Many people who start kendo do so through structured beginners’ courses where they have the comfort of learning new skills as a group and where they are are not expected to go one-on-one in competition with experienced players. After graduation from a brief period of learning basics they are trussed up in unfamiliar bogu and left to take their chance in jigeiko, often with inexperienced motodachi, who are more concerned about improving their own technique than helping the newbie.

This invariably results in loss of confidence and adds to kendo’s exceptionally high attrition rate. The kendo diary of many aspiring kenshi runs along the lines of: week 1 -start  beginners course, week 6 – buy bogu, week 7- decide not to go to dojo, week 8 –advertise bogu on Ebay.

Thinking about the effort involved in starting such a challenging hobby as kendo it seems a shame that we lose so many students through our own lack of empathy or knowledge of how to best develop them. Traditionally in Japan, most kendoka started as children and there is a natural progression through the school system. Teaching adult beginners is a relatively new aspect of kendo, but it is particularly important in the west where people begin kendo at all ages.

For new kendoka kihon drills in or out of bogu are not particularly threatening. It is when they begin to line up for motodachi geiko against their more experienced dojo mates that the experience can make or break them. One of the biggest problems is that most of us are not taught to be motodachi and we learn through trial and error. There are correct ways to receive kirikaeshi, uchikomi geiko and kakarigeiko and we need to learn these to get the best out of students. Most importantly we need to learn that jigeiko is not a “one size fits all” activity and that we can break it down into gokakugeiko, which takes place between partners of equal level and hikitategeiko, where a senior leads a junior .

Here are a few simple motodachi tips:

  • For kirikaeshi make sure that you receive the strikes close to your men. This way you encourage kakarite to attack the correct target.
  • In uchikomigeiko wait until kakarite enters the correct distance and try to build “mind pressure” before making the opening. If you show the target when he is out of distance he will develop the habit of running in, rather than learning to make one step one cut.
  • In kakarigeiko keep a relaxed , soft chudan and allow kakarite to make his own opportunities.
  • In hikitate geiko try to keep  only half a dan’s difference in level between you. Keep your own seme and pressure and by all means go for the first ippon “shodachi”, but encourage kakarite by allowing good strikes to connect.

Acting as motodachi is not just a one sided act of charity, you can develop your own kendo whilst helping others, please see my earlier post on the subject http://wp.me/ptBQt-gx .

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After the rigours of kihon geiko at the beginning of each kendo session, I see quite a few people breathe a sigh of relief as they enter jigeiko. I am of course not a mind reader, but my guess is that their thought process runs along the lines of – “right that’s the hard part out of the way”. “Now it is me time – the chance to do what I enjoy by using my favourite techniques to beat the other guys”.

I stress that I am not trying to replace David Blaine. My insight is not based on the supernatural ability to read other people’s thoughts; it is based on observation of their keiko. Although I do sometimes feel guilt at playing a cross between the stern dad and a bad tempered puritan. In this situation, I feel that it is my duty to remind backsliders that keiko is for improvement rather than enjoyment.

The term keiko has the connotation of thinking about tradition and infers that when we train, we should be mindful of all that has gone before. Other terms for training include renma and tanren which describe forging the body through hard physical activity and shuren or shugyo which have the nuance of religious or ascetic training. None of these labels refers to the idea that kendo should be fun.

It is worth further clarifying exactly “what is jigeiko?” Collectively it describes gokakugeiko (keiko on a 50:50 basis, conducted as if you are equals), or hikitate geiko (between instructor and student, where some opportunities may be offered and correct waza allowed to score). In both cases there is a need to stretch yourself –  by creating chances to attack and ensuring that techniques are correct and in line with basic principles.

It is also important that you do not just use the opportunity to work on your favourite, tokui waza, but that you try to use all the techniques that you have learned. Of course winning and losing is important, which is why we put such emphasis on shodachi, or the first point. What we should not do however, is to sacrifice our kamae and posture by blocking strikes without the intention of responding with oji waza, or fail to follow through once we have started a technique, because we fear being hit by your opponent. We learn equally by hitting or being hit.

My next post may be slightly delayed as I will be in Tokyo all this week  to take the Kyoshi examination. While I am there , I will try to cram in as much keiko as possible into the short time available. Hopefully I can bring the right attitude to each practice; and maybe after the final rei there will be the opportunity to crack a few smiles in a nearby bar.

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