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Posts Tagged ‘kaeshi-waza’

3_Oji_Men_Kaeshi_men4_5As part of yesterday’s kihon-geiko we worked on some oji-waza against men. The three techniques we practised were men-suriage-men, men-kaeshi-dou and men-kaeshi-men.

The first two techniques are old favourites, probably because raising the shinai to deflect or block a downward cut is relatively easy for a smaller person against a taller opponent. Kaeshi -men however is a challenge, because taller opponents will often have their hands in a higher position than mine, so that when I try to return the men strike I hit their shinai rather than an open men.

For anyone who is not familiar with kaeshi-men, this is a technique where you receive your opponent’s strike on one side of your shinai and to return it on the other side. So if you block on omote you return the strike to ura and vice versa. As I mentioned this technique is most effective for taller people against shorter opponents and at my unexceptional 173cm, the logical question is “why bother?”

On a practical level, I teach kenshi of all heights, so I need to know the technique well enough to demonstrate it to people who might find it useful. I also do from time to time come into contact with shorter opponents, so it is worth keeping in reserve for these rare occasions. I also think that we should practise all kendo techniques on a regular basis, whether or not they are our favourites.

Reasons for regularly working on a wide repertoire of techniques are numerous. Doing so ensures that you don’t rely on one or two waza, that you can select the most appropriate response for each attack and because trying different techniques generally helps with your timing, balance and movement.

Oji waza in general is about using your opponent’s momentum to make effective strikes with an economy of movement. With kaeshi-waza you usually meet your opponent’s shinai as you step forward on one foot and return the strike as you bring the other foot up to position. So for example, if you are receiving on omote, you do so as you make a diagonal step with the left foot and strike as your right foot moves into place. This is therefore a great opportunity to develop ki-ken- tai -itchi  with hiraki-ashi footwork.

So for me, whilst it is unlikely that I will get any taller, using this technique at least acts as a reminder that my feet should be in the right place when I make a strike.

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elbowMost kendoka have had the experience when making a well-timed dou strike, of hearing the dull crunch of shinai against muscle and bone instead of the expected crack of bamboo against lacquer, (or Yamato material). Our normal reaction is to blame ourselves for hitting off target, but in many cases it is our opponent who is at fault for pulling his elbows down to his side to avoid being hit.

The logic of this baffles me. By taking such a defensive action, he loses the ability to respond with a technique of his own and whilst my knowledge of orthopaedic surgery is slight to say the least, I imagine that the pain and inconvenience caused by serious elbow injury outweighs the shame of having your dou hit.

This type of behaviour is not limited to dou and is not just reserved for shiai. I see many kenshi busily blocking attacks to dou, men and kote in their normal keiko as if the objective of their practice is not to be hit, rather than making successful strikes themselves. The mind-set of “not being hit” can go even deeper and some people are reluctant to commit to an attack, even when they have a clear opportunity, because they fear their opponent’s potential reaction.  This is rather like an archer being unable to shoot an arrow because he is afraid of the bow string hitting his hand.

It is worth remembering that kendo is a Zen martial art and that our objective is self-improvement through rigorous, unselfconscious training. One of the many Japanese proverbs we hear regularly in kendo, and mentioned a few times in this blog, is “Utte hansei utarete kanshya” – reflect on your successful strikes, show gratitude for the strikes against you. In a nutshell this means we learn as much from being hit as we learn from hitting.

One practical way to overcome the temptation to spoil you opponent’s technique is to ensure that the point of your shinai is continually going forward. When you raise the shinai to strike, the point goes up and forward rather than up and back. Even when you block to make kaeshi-waza, if your kissaki is moving forward, you are able to block and strike in one movement, turning a defensive action into an attacking move. When shinai tips move backwards, postures often crumble and it is if you are rolling yourself into a ball like a frightened hedgehog.

So next time you hit an elbow, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and encourage your keiko partner to worry about your men rather than his own dou.

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3_Shikakewaza_Men2I have been asked to put some thoughts together on the theory of creating opportunities to strike in preparation for next weekend’s Watchet seminar. With kendo being such a well-trodden path this requires very little creativity from me; it’s more a question of opening the kendo books on the correct page and reading what our predecessors had to say on the subject.

The whole spectrum of attacking opportunities in kendo is summed up in the Sansappo  (or Sansatsuho) ,  which translates as “the three methods”. These are:

  • Ken wo korosu – kill the sword
  • Waza wo korosu – kill the technique
  • Ki wo korosu – kill the spirit

While these terms sound suitably esoteric, if you rearrange the order and group the techniques that represent these categories, you get a basic common-sense list of which waza work in which circumstances.

  • Ki wo korosu – equals seme. Using your whole body and more importantly your mental strength (kizeme), you push firmly into your opponent’s space and destroy his mental composure, creating the opportunity to strike.
  • Ken wo korosu – You break his kamae by moving his shinai with your own. Ways to do this include harai, osae, uchiotoshi and maki waza. Effectively you sweep, push, knock down or twist his shinai away from his centre, leaving the door open for your attack.
  • Waza wo korosu – This covers the whole range of oji waza. You make him attack and take the opportunity to destroy his technique and beat him with your own. To do this you can select from a menu of debana, suriage, kaeshi and nuki techniques. Which you use depends on how advanced his attack is before you strike. Debana waza is used when he starts his attack, suriage waza when his shinai is on it’s on its way down and kaeshi and nuki techniques when his cut is almost there.

Using the sansappo to order techniques in this way helps me to put them into a framework, but there are a number of other useful ways to understand the theory of timing and opportunity. The concept of Sen, Sen no Sen and Go no sen is equally effective. This relates to striking before your opponent does, as he starts to strike and finally after he starts his attack.

Another way to think about it is by putting yourself in your opponent’s place. In this case the Shikai or four sicknesses of surprise, fear, doubt and confusion (kyo, ku, gi, waku) can be exploited as attacking opportunities.

With kendo’s long history, successive generations of teachers have given us the basis to understand how and why we do things. The challenge for most of us though is not to understand the theory but to put it into practice. In this case the answer is “more keiko”.

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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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