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Posts Tagged ‘Kaeshi-dou’

IMG_0259I am constantly surprised by the difficulty that many people have in striking dou correctly. Because it works best as an oji waza they wait until their opponent makes a men attack and attempt nuki or kaeshi dou. In most cases they wait too long and hit when their training partner has entered their distance. The result is that they either strike the front of the dou or have to push both hands over to the right so that there is no power behind the strike. In either case it is a waste of time and effort as neither is classed as yuko datotsu.

The other common misconception is that dou is a diagonal cut. This probably was the case when cutting with a katana. The objective was to cut from the armpit to the hip. If however you try this with a shinai it simply slips down off the target. When combined with late timing and too close distance the result is hira-uchi, striking with the side of the shinai, which is probably the worst sin that you could commit in the long list of crimes against correct dou.

Coming back for a reality check, we need to hit the correct target with the correct part of the shinai with correct intention and “high spirit” followed by zanshin. In my view this means giving the side of the dou a good whack with the datotsu bu of the shinai ensuring that we hit with the bottom take. To do this you need to be in front of your opponent at the time of the strike and consciously punch forward with your right hand whilst turning your wrist sharply inwards. Your left hand should be more or less in line with the centre of your body. Only after you have done this should you think about breaking your grip on the shinai and moving through diagonally. It is also essential to keep your eye on your opponent and to retake kamae as soon as you are in safe distance.

One of the excuses often given for cutting dou incorrectly is that the opponent moved too quickly and did not allow us the distance to get it right. The way to avoid this is as with all successful oji waza, we should control the timing of his attack by maintaining and the breaking pressure when we want him to move. This and the flexibility of your right wrist are the keys to success.

There is an exercise developed by Chiba sensei that helps you gain this correct cutting action. You practice yoko men or dou suburi, but do so turning your hands inwards on each stroke so that the path of the shinai is horizontal or parallel with the floor.  It is a way to gain the wrist flexibility that you need to make your dou attack effective.

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Sumi sensei at MumeishiSumi sensei stopped over at Mumeishi dojo on his way from Edinburgh to the Ukraine. He spent the first hour of the two hour session taking everyone through a kihon lesson that yet again demonstrated his unusual, creative approach to teaching the basics.

This drill was geared to taking the students through the permutations of distance and timing for shikake and oji waza. With everyone working in pairs with shinai and without men and kote, he started with what he called “shadow hitting”; both partners facing each other from opposite sides of the dojo and moving forward with a big approach step and striking men with fumikomi footwork, This was done at a distance where neither partner came near to each other.

The exercise was then repeated with a small approach step and then a medium size step. The size of the cut was then changed to reflect the approach step; big step, big cut; small step small cut and so on.

After both partners had worked through these permutations in turn, sensei brought them together and had motodachi run through the sequences from the necessary distances to strike men correctly. Kakarite was asked to respond with nuki dou. Emphasis was put on striking the correct part of the target and using hiraki-ashi.

The drill was then expanded to include oji-kaeshi dou, men suriage men and men suriage kote. As people tried this it was pointed out that an active right hand was important to make the suriage effective and that suriage only works if your hands are in the centre of your body and you do not bring the point of the shinai back towards your face.

Each pair was then instructed to move into issoku ito mai and shown how to make kote kaeshi gote. This is a particularly difficult technique to achieve because of the need to create distance between blocking the cut and making your own strike. Sumi sensei made the point that you need to show your kote to prompt the attack and then block and return. If you start by showing the omote side of your shinai your opponent will not attack.

It is a lesson that takes a lot of concentration and on a hot evening people were sweating heavily even before putting on their bogu for keiko.  There was an obvious improvement in most of the participants in the hour that they had been practising. With Sumi sensei’s permission, I may steal this drill and use it in some of my own lessons.

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IMG_0036I returned last night from the French Open Championship in Paris where I was acting as a referee. This is a very big and popular taikai with Individual and team matches held over two days.  As well as competitors from all over France I saw players from Sweden, Italy, the UK and from Japan

Events like this are great opportunities to catch up with old friends, and in Paris there is the added bonus of good food and wine to finish each day.

From a referee’s perspective,   it is interesting to work in different environments with referees from other countries. Although of course, wherever you are, the basics of judging yuko-datotsu do not change.

Referees on my court were from France, Belgium, Japan and the UK. Over the two days we raised our flags for hundreds of men and kote and quite a few tsuki ari. We also saw numerous attempts at dou for which we gave only one ippon. Talking this over with my colleagues, the reasons for not awarding a point to most dou attacks, is that they do not have correct hasuji, or they hit with the wrong part of the shinai.

As with men and kote, it is essential that the datotsu bu of the shinai strikes the correct part of the target. That is to say the top third of the jinbu should hit the right side of the dou with the bottom take making contact. Most of the unsuccessful attempts we saw were “hira uchi”, where the side of the shinai hits the dou. There were also a number of occasions where the front of the dou became the target. Normally this is not intentional, but happens because the cut is made as the opponent is coming forward and there is not sufficient distance between you.

My pet theory as to why so few dou succeed is that most people view kaeshi dou or nuki dou as a reactive technique. If your opponent has already launched his attack and you attempt dou, you will be too close to complete the technique successfully. If on the other hand you force him to attack men and then hit dou just as he starts his attack, you should be able to hit the correct part of the dou with the right part of the shinai.

It helps to think about punching forward with your right hand while directly in front of your opponent and in turning your right wrist in so that the bottom take connects. Then you can move elegantly past your opponent and watch all three flags go up.

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Chiba senseiA comment on an old post on suriage men arrived yesterday. This plus a session that I ran in the dojo this week on ojiwaza invigorated my interest in exploring the subject a little more.

A professional educator friend told me never to tell people what not to do, but to accentuate the positive actions that they should be taking. Nevertheless I am going to point out what does not work when making oji techniques:

  • Bringing the point of the shinai back towards your body makes it impossible to achieve correct suriage or kaeshi waza
  • Dropping the point of your shinai unless for ukenagashi (which we almost never use in shinai kendo) is a  no-no
  • Blocking and cutting in two separate actions also dooms you to failure
  • It is nearly impossible to make suriage waza against overly large, badly timed or off centre cuts
  • Waiting for your opponent to attack before you react is a waste of time

At the risk of confusing readers, one of the biggest problems we encounter in ojiwaza practice drills is in starting your counter attack before the opponent starts his strike. Because it is a drill we obviously know what is coming, so we are tempted to attack too early. I often see what should be suriage men turn into debana men.

Whilst I can think of so many don’ts, I can only think of three imperative “dos”:

  • Always push the point of the shinai forward when meeting your opponent’s technoique. This applies to all suriage and kaeshi waza
  • Always make oji waza in “the timing of one” sliding up or blocking on the upstroke and cutting down to the target in the same movement, using just one step
  • Always control the timing by inviting your opponent to attack

This last point applies equally to drills and to jigeiko and shiai. If from chudan you squeeze the shinai gently with the little finger of you right hand, your point will move towards his left eye. More often than not this will make him attack your men at a time when your energy is focussed and you are able to respond immediately with suriage men or kaeshi dou. Move the shinai slightly to his right and he is likely to attack your kote leaving you set up to make kote suriage men.

One effective way is to practice oji waza was taught by Chiba sensei. The class forms groups of between five and nine. Everyone takes a turn as motodachi and the rest of the group are split into two smaller groups one facing him and one behind. Each makes either a men or kote attack, either at random or the group in front attacks men and the group behind kote. Motodachi faces each in turn, turning from group to group and makes the appropriate oji technique, remembering to invite the attack in his or her own timing.

The key point is to control the timing of the attack by holding and breaking centre in the way described.

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Kendo has a repertoire of set techniques and there is a very strong ethos that students should learn each correctly before they move on to the next. Correct distance, timing, posture, foot placement, size and angle of cut, hasuji and zanshin are prescribed for each waza at each learning stage. Little or no room is allowed for self expression or personalisation. In essence the way we do each kendo technique is set in stone.

It stands to reason then that if we study and practice kendo diligently and correctly, we should each perform every waza in exactly the same way as every other kendoka. So much for logic!

My post before last covered learning styles, and as often happens the comments I received took on a life of their own and moved on to discuss the best way to approach kaeshi dou. Ken Kuramoto sent a great link to a video of Baba sensei’s version of the technique which was excellent. He executes the technique very quickly, barely raising his shinai from chudan and striking dou with great force.

Having said that, I have looked at the kaeshi dou of other hachidan sensei, particularly the well known Hanshi and most do excellent kaeshi dou, and almost all are different. Chiba sensei makes a more obvious block and hits with flatter hasuji. Ohta sensei lifts the left elbow more and tends to complete his zanshin on the same side as the technique, and I could continue to point out the differences that many other kendo meijin demonstrate with this technique.  Which is correct; in my humble opinion all of them. Who you eventually copy is a matter of which teacher you have most exposure to; or if you are lucky enough to have the choice, which approach best suits you.

I stress eventually, because for most kendo students, struggling with the complexity of blocking at the right time, at the right distance and returning the strike to the correct target with the appropriate hasuji, does not really allow you to explore the subtlety of which sensei’s approach is the most effective. So if you are in the early stages of learning kaeshi dou, or any other technique, the only option is to follow your teacher’s instruction and continue to repeat the technique until it starts to work. I personally like the idea of breaking waza down into component parts; In this case block – then return striking dou,- then repeat with correct zanshin. That is my view, but I repeat, you should do whatever your own instructor guides you to do. This is the “shu” stage of shu-ha-ri

As for picking up on and adopting any of the subtle differences that different kendo masters bring to kaeshi-dou or any other technique, that is “ha”. Finally we can start to innovate and stamp our own personality on our favoured waza (ri). But for most of us that is a long way in the future.

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Many people, who can confidently hit men and kote, continue to have difficulty with dou. This is not surprising, as whilst men and kote are obvious targets that only require you to raise and lower the shinai in a straight line; dou is harder to see and hit.

There is some confusion over what part of the dou constitutes the target. Chiba sensei expresses the view,  that the whole of the dou plate is a valid striking area. Where the confusion starts is that ippon is rarely given when the front of the dou is hit. The reason however, is not that it is not a correct target, but because posture or hasuji is usually incorrect when contact is made.

Having recently been shown dou by both Chiba sensei and Sumi sensei, I was relieved to see that even though their kendo styles and approach to teaching are very different; the key point on dou-uchi made by them both, is absolutely consistent.  “Your right hand must be pushed forward so that it is directly in front of you at the point of impact”. This is regardless of which timing and opportunity the attack takes and the direction of your footwork.

If we look at the chances to strike dou, we can occasionally make a successful shikake dou attack, this could be as a debana or hikibana technique when your opponent starts to lift his arms to hit men , or as a hikiwaza if he pushes his hands up to counter your downward pressure in tsubazeriai.

Dou however, is more likely to be successful as an oji waza; either as nuki or kaeshi dou against a men attack. With nuki-dou, you move your body diagonally to the right to avoid your opponent’s strike whilst at the same time hitting his dou. In this case it is crucial to push your right hand straight forward as you hit, even though your body is moving away from the centre. If you do not do this, you will have to drop your hands and shoulders as you cut across the front of the dou.  This will make you lean over to the side and force you to cut down diagonally with bent arms, achieving no power behind the cut.

For kaeshi dou against men, you need to block and return the attack in “the timing of one”, whist directly in front of the target. Only after making the strike should you start to move through to your right. One of the points that Sumi sensei makes, is that it is also perfectly acceptable to move through to your left (opponents right), to take zanshin for kaeshi dou.

Chiba sensei’s unique spin on dou-uchi is that the path of your cut should be parallel with the floor, so that you strike with the bottom take of the shinai.

Whether your preference is for kaeshi or nuki dou, if you move through to the right, you need to either release your left hand or slide it up the tsuka as you move through. You should also keep your eyes on your opponent until you have finished the attack.

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Kaeshi dou

Honda Dou

Honda Dou

As most people who practice with me know, I like kaeshi dou. Trying to teach it though, is not a simple matter. To be honest, I have not seen many kendoka below 4th dan attempt is successfully.

Dou generally is a difficult technique. Against correct chudan, there is rarely an opportunitiy for tobikomi dou. Hiki dou works if your opponent is intent on covering his or her men; some younger competitors do a good job with gyaku dou, but the most common successful application of dou is as an oji technique; either nuki or kaeshi dou.

The two are not dissimilar but I much prefer kaeshi dou as the blocking and returning motion allow you to hit dou whilst you are directly in front of your opponent. In my view, there are a number of factors that are key to making a successful kaeshi dou:-

  • Make sure that you approach the technique with an attacking mind! Do not wait for your opponent to strike men and then react.
  • Ensure your posture is correct but with your balance just slightly forward.
  • The block and strike should be one smooth, continuous movement.
  • As with all oji waza, make sure the point of your shinai is going forward rather than lifting up and back.
  • Hit dou whilst you are in front of your opponent and then move diagonally for your zanshin, do not hit after you have moved.
  • Keep your left hand in the centre and only break your right hand grip as you move diagonally.
  • Make sure you hit the side of the dou and do not just scrape across the front.
  • Have correct hasuji, the bottom take and string should be at 45% to the dou.
  • Keep correct distance so that you hit with the datotsu bu.

All of these elements are important, but in my view, attacking mind is the most significant, pull you opponent in and make him attack in your space and timing.

Successful kaeshi dou takes a lot of work, but it is great when it comes off!

The picture shows Honda Sotaro former British Coach showing how to finish dou.

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