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Posts Tagged ‘Jodan’

Chiba JodanThank you Martin for giving me two topics to write about this week.  When I started this blog quite a few years ago, I was warned that a blog written by a seventh dan was doomed to failure because kendo’s respect system would kill debate. This has not been the case and Kendoinfo has received close to 2000 comments. Quite a few of these have been challenging, but nearly all  were good natured.

I don’t usually respond to comments, but commenting on the “stupidity” of someone’s view is not in line with kendo etiquette. It is also worth bearing in mind that the topic is kendo, not tameshigiri. I also can’t see how you made the assumptions that I advocate taking your eyes off or turning away from your opponent. The whole theme of my post was that zanshin is vital to kendo, and awareness of your opponent is the essence of zanshin.

Keeping these points out of the equation, our key disagreement is over the correct zanshin for hiki waza. You have suggested that keeping your shinai raised is both “furikaburi” and jodan.  Furikaburi means to swing up, not keep up, and jodan requires a great deal of hand foot coordination that goes beyond pointing your shinai skywards.  I remember Chiba sensei’s advice to a casual jodan player who asked him how to do better jodan. The answer was “stick to chudan”.

“Hit men as you step back and return to chudan” is not my invention. As part of the research for “Kendo a Comprehensive Guide” we looked at the writings of numerous famous sensei and they all advocated chudan as the end position for hiki-men. Looking at the available English language references, in both Ozawa sensei’s definitive guide and the AJKF’s Fundamental Kendo, the instruction is hit men and return to chudan. The AJKF’s “Official Guide for Kendo Instruction” takes things a step farther and cautions against hikiage as “an unacceptable action following a strike, such as exaggerated posturing after scoring a point in a match. This can result in the point being rescinded by the shinpan.”

I have always made a point of approving all comments to this blog and I thank you for contributing and look forward to hearing from you again. Please though, let’s keep within the spirit of kendo’s reigi.

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Perfect MasterFollowing a recent post on kaeshi men, Helton asked for more information on which techniques work for tall people against shorter people and vice versa.

One of the best guides to understand which waza work in which situation is Chiba sensei’s book and DVD set “Perfect Master” , where he devotes a whole section to which techniques should be used in which circumstances. If you can get your hands on a copy this explains a lot about kikai or opportunity, whereas most kendo books describe technique in isolation.

There are of course some very obvious examples of shikake and oji waza that have a probability of success in different circumstances. Men works for tall people against shorter opponents, dou and kote are more likely to help smaller kenshi against the tall. Tsuki too works for small people, which was regularly demonstrated by Arima sensei of Osaka Police.

As we discussed, kaeshi men is difficult against a taller opponent as their hands or shinai get in the way of the target whereas kaeshi dou or nuki dou are much more likely to succeed. Helton points out that at a height of 2 metres suriage men works for him. Strangely enough at my 1m 73 it also works for me, but I think that is because we are sliding up against a downward strike so both shorter and taller people can use it successfully. On the other hand kiri-otoshi is almost impossible against a much taller opponent.

Against jodan we have a whole new set of challenges regardless of the respective height of each player. I would guess however that many jodan players are relatively tall. In this case as well as the text-book tsuki, keeping your shinai in hirasegan and threatening  kote and switching to men or threating men and switching to hit kote are worthwhile  ploys. Kaeshi men too seems to work against jodan regardless of height as the jodan players men is open once he makes his attack.

Nito is a nightmare. Variations of techniques against jodan are still relevant, but the kodachi is always there to block men attacks. In this case tsuki and dou are the major targets.

In all of these situations practise and experimentation are the only way to find what works for you against different opponents, and if you train regularly with the same few people, it is worth visiting other dojo to broaden your selection of partners.

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Perfect MasterOne of the regular members of our Thursday session is an aspiring jodan player. He started using jodan because of injury and has continued with it for a year or so and is getting obviously stronger using this difficult kamae.

The obvious challenge for kenshi who use anything other than the standard chudan kamae is finding correct instruction. When I am asked for advice I have to put my hands up and say that I know nothing about jodan. Obviously my friend is welcome to use me as a target and I enjoy testing my seme and timing against him, but I do not have the knowledge to teach what is almost another form of kendo.

The best suggestion I could make is that he learn from a jodan expert and if one is not available then  find some written or video instruction. I have a copy of Chiba sensei’s Perfect Master book and DVD and although the instruction is mainly on chudan techniques, he devotes two short chapters to jodan. Now obviously as one of Japan’s most famous post-war jodan players, if anyone knows about jodan he should, so here are some key points from his book. I am sure that he will forgive my inaccuracy in paraphrasing.

  • Kamae should be held at one fists distance from the left forehead with the shinai leaning back at a 45 degree angle.
  • As kote, tsuki and dou are all open to your opponent, you should not take Jodan if you do not have the confidence to do so.
  • When you strike, the motion is as much based on the action of pulling your right had back as of throwing your left hand forward. It should be done with almost the same feeling as doing “flys” chest exercises where you pull both arms and shoulders back.
  • Your men strike should finish with your left hand at chest height. Higher and the grip position will be wrong.
  • For kote it is impossible to hit if you are square in front of your opponent, as he will probably take hirasegan. You need to step to your diagonal left so that you are square on to his kote.
  • You should make him think that you are going for men by pulling your right hand down towards your left hand as you make the step and then attack kote.
  • If your opponent goes for tsuki, do not block by dropping your hands, as this will expose your men. Instead knock his shinai down as you strike his men.
  • If he attacks kote then go for degashira (debana)  men.
  • Jodan has its own maai which is difficult to find. Too close or too far and it won’t work. You need to continually practice to get it right.
  • To break your posture to avoid being hit is tasteless. You should face your opponent as if you are prepared to die.

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KissakiSeveral people picked up on the fact and commented that dropping the shinai point can in fact be a very effective way to make an opening in your opponents’ kamae, thereby giving you the opportunity to attack successfully. I agree one hundred percent.  My last post was about the problem of inadvertently dropping your kensen because of either incorrect posture or too much tension in the way the shinai is held.

Kensen is of course moveable and the kissaki should not be fixed when you face your opponent. Many teachers talk about moving the kensen in a triangle from your adversaries’ throat to his dou mune to his left eye. By doing this you can encourage him or her to move in various ways. Dropping the point can encourage an attack to men or kote which gives the opportunity for debana or oji waza, but be aware that your tsuki is also exposed and that you become a target for uchiotoshi men.

Move the point up to your opponent’s left eye and he sees an opening for men, giving you the chance to take debana men or kaeshi dou. Aim at his right eye and he sees your kote and you may get the chance for kote nuki men or kote suriage men.

It is all about making your opponent move, and as we have talked about before, there are two fundamental ways to do this. We either push in and take his centre, or we make him come to us and take away the initiative. This second approach is referred to in kendo as hikidashi (drawing out).

Kamae like most things in kendo is taught to us in simplified form at the early stages of our learning process. Of course it is easier to think about pointing your shinai at the nodo than being given a variety of choices, but once our kamae becomes established, we can experiment  with the areas at which we point the shinai and  learn how by doing so, we encourage our opponent to move or discourage him from moving.

Kendo no kata teaches us a lot about kamae, and though we rarely use gedan-kamae, hasso-kamae and waki-kamae in shinai kendo, practising them in kata gives us a great lesson in flexibility and adaptability.  Gohon me in the Tachi no Kata gives us a text book lesson in how to combat Jodan.  Point to the kobushi and make him move.

So, sorry for any confusion last week, what I meant was don’t unintentionally signal your next move through the point of you shinai. On the other hand you should use every trick in the book to make your opponent move.

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I am no longer surprised by beginners who after a few weeks in armour, are bursting to take up nito or jodan. Everyone who starts kendo does so with a vision of the kenshi that they wish to become. Of course having a goal to aim for is totally worthy. William S. Clark’s parting words to the students of Sapporo Agricultural College “Boys be ambitious”, became common currency in Japan, and are still quoted a hundred and thirty years after he said them.

We live in an instant age. Whereas singers and musicians achieved fame after years of learning their trade by gigging in pubs and clubs, todays “superstars” reach their dreams by appearing on talent shows. Clearly this view is slightly coloured by my status as a “grumpy old man”, but as a member of the “me” generation, I am probably as much to blame as is Simon Cowell. To face facts, there are no instant gains in kendo. Skill is built on years of hard training.

I have discussed the challenges of building patience into the kendo learning process with a number of my betters; particularly Chiba sensei. His view as a jodan player is that until you can invariably produce accurate waza from chudan with correct ki-ken-tai-itchi you should not move on to the more esoteric aspects of kendo. If you can’t control one sword then you are doubling the difficulty with two and if your feet and hands don’t work together then you will not solve the problem by reversing your foot position when you take jodan. In my humble (and Chiba sensei’s less humble) view, good kendo is built on the foundation of following good instruction and repeatedly practising basic techniques in chudan.

The stage at which people should embark on a shiai career follows similar logic. It is admirable to want to test your skill in competition against others, but unless you can do basic techniques correctly, you risk developing bad habits that could spoil your further development. One or two early exposures to competition will probably help confirm your place in the kendo universe, but without a good basis of accurate fundamental kendo, continued training with shiai in mind will harm rather than help your future development.

So far it all sounds rather gloomy, but to my mind, the joy in learning kendo is in training for its own sake and when something falls into place then the pleasure of achievement is enormous. Of course when you have assembled your kendo tool-kit then you can go on to become a great shiai player, whether in chudan, jodan or nito. As good old Bill Clark might have said “Boys be ambitious, but give it a bit of time”.

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