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Posts Tagged ‘kakarigeiko’

 

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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Brussels seminarI wrote this in preparation for the Seniors Seminar in Belgium which was held over this weekend,with the indulgence of the ABKF. This seminar was based on a number of posts that I have written over the years with thoughts about how we can continue enjoy kendo into old age.

Although I have a long way to go to get my keiko to the desired level, and hopefully have a few more years before I hang up my bogu, I have developed some fairly strong views on what we need do to get the most from our keiko. Some of these may appear contradictory, but please indulge me. It goes without saying that none of this work is my own. All of these ideas are borrowed from  senior Japanese sensei. The points to consider are as follows:

  • Work on your cutting action so that it is smooth and relaxed – do not use unnecessary energy by being stiff.
  • Develop strong kihaku but keep your upper body relaxed. – Learn to put your opponent under pressure and train to push power down from your shoulders to your abdomen.
  • Continue to strive to go forward with maximum speed when you make shikake waza, but work on your footwork so that you do not waste energy by lifting your right foot unnecessarily high.
  • Work on seme – making the opportunity is like baking the cake, the strike that follows is the icing.
  • Train your breathing – work on holding breath in your abdomen when holding “tame”; explode when you strike.
  • Control your footwork to take advantage of your opponent’s forward movement when you make oji waza – use hikidasu to draw him or her into your space.
  • Try kote, it take less energy than men

How can we train to achieve this?

  • Stick with the basics – practice suburi and kiri-kaeshi. Work on big correct waza, pay attention to cutting action, hasuji and tenouchi.
  • Practice oji waza drills until you own each technique, experiment with managing footwork distance to reach the target, taking the forward movement of your opponent into consideration.
  • Don’t stop kakarigeiko – do it bigger and slower with strong spirit.
  • Try seme- geiko – develop your ability to make the opportunity.
  • Sweat the small stuff – be aware of the correctness of your posture, bow and sonkyo – aim at developing kigurai, remember that each keiko starts with the first rei.

Obviously age decreases speed and physical strength. We need to continue to strive for correct technique and kiai so that we can control the keiko to our own advantage

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M AliAnother great question! This time from Guiherme in Brazil, who asks how to vary his timing and mentions that as he becomes tired he operates at one speed. In kendo we hear the expression “ kan-kyu-kyo-jaku” , the approximate meaning of which is -kan (緩) slow, kyu (急) quick, kyo(強) strong, – jyaku (弱) weak/soft. To be honest we hear a lot more about this within Iai where it appears to be a requisite component of the 4th and 5th dan grading. In kendo, within my limited understanding, it is the change in pace and rhythm from keeping a strong deliberate kamae to exploding into action as soon as you make or see a chance to attack.
The late Kikuchi sensei talked about being “like a feather in a hurricane”, that is to say light and unfettered but then able to immediately change into explosive action. The great boxer Muhammed Ali described the process as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. However you describe it we need to change our timing to reflect circumstances and opportunities.
We practice kakarigeiko in order to be able to attack quickly. This does not mean that our jigeiko or shiai should be at a continuous flat-out pace from hajime, rather we should take our time to read and control the opponent, probe and push for an opportunity to attack and when we find it strike instantly. The point of attack is when we need maximum acceleration and this comes from the left foot, which is why hikitsuke or immediately bringing up the left foot after moving the right is so important.
After making a successful strike we again slow the rhythm by making strong, deliberate zanshin, whilst being ready to explode into action again if required. The only time when we keep the accelerator down is in renzoku waza, where we use continued speed of attack to keep the opponent under pressure unti we score a clear point.
In terms of the “hard” and “soft” elements, in my mind these could be better explained as “sharp” and “soft”. Our cutting action should be soft and fluid until the point of impact and beyond. Our arms and shoulders should still be relaxed when the shinai makes contact with the target. The only change is the impact added to the strike by our tenouchi when we squeeze the tsukagawa.
In some ways we are overly complicating what nature makes simple. If you watch heron fishing, or a snake stalking its prey, they stay perfectly still until the perfect time to attack and then grab their dinner in an instant, getting the maximum return for a minimal energy investment.

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Block (2)This is definitely turning into a readers’  problem page.

Dave has asked me what to do when his opponent constantly lifts the shinai up to head height at the time when he tries to bring his shinai down on the men.   The way the question was put makes it sound as if the offenders are doing it on purpose to sabotage Dave’s men. I suspect that in many cases it might be an innocent timing issue, but I am aware of some individuals who do this, either to protect their men or, to follow with a cut made on the back foot. In some cases it may be a bit of both.

Dave asks whether there is a way of dealing with people who do this, particularly in grading examinations where you feel the need to demonstrate good men technique. There is not an easy answer to this point. Conventional kendo wisdom suggests that if someone is blocking their men, you should aim for their dou or try tsuki, either to take a point or to gain access to their men by relying on their blocking instincts to cover these targets, leaving the men open.

If you strike men and their hands go up, try hitting dou and if their hands go down quickly attack men again. You can also subtly show your own men as a target before responding with debana or suriage men, but if your opponent is defensive or confused then he may not be prepared to respond to your attempt to draw him in.

I sometimes set myself personal challenges at the beginning of a keiko with less experienced kenshi. This week in a practice session with a tall opponent with challenging timing, I gave myself the goal of taking men as shodachi, (the first point). As hard as I tried I could not make it happen, so had to resort to kaeshi dou, before offering myself as a target for kakarigeiko.

The chances are, that unless your own timing is fundamentally flawed, an opponent who constantly covers his men with his hands or shinai is doing something wrong. It may or may not be intentional but in either case he should be discouraged from doing it. If you are his obvious senior then you need to help him correct the error through uchikomi-geiko or kakarigeiko. If you are his peer then maybe buy him a beer and have a friendly word.

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KakarigeikoA number of newer students recently asked about the difference between uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko. On asking them what they thought the difference was, many of the answers focused on speed. This is not surprising. People often see kakarigeiko as a series of fast and furious full-on attacks and uchikomigeiko as a more sedate affair. This is plausible but not the right answer.

The difference is about whom, not how fast. In uchikomigeiko it is motodachi who makes the opportunities for kakarite to attack. The purpose is to give clear targets and indications of timing and opportunity to allow the attacker to strike the target correctly without fear of counterattack or of running onto the point of a shinai.

Uchikomigeiko is often one of the first training methods that new kenshi try, either with a motodachi in bogu, or with one person in the centre of the dojo holding a shinai or uchikomi-bo for them to strike as they move through in turn.

For the more experienced, uchikomigeiko can be the simple practice of one technique such as men with partners taking turns at being motodachi, through to more complex sequences with seniors or instructors receiving the attacks. A typical sequence is men, kote, dou, kote-men, kote-dou, men-hiki-men, men.

Kakarigeiko probably suits more advanced students. They have to make the opportunities to attack, either making strong seme with their body and mind or the point of the shinai, or by knocking the opponent’s shinai away with harai or uchiotoshi before striking. If you do not have good basic kendo with correct cutting, posture and ki-ken-tai itchi, kakarigeiko is likely to do more harm than good. On the other hand if you have mastered the basics, kakarigeiko is an opportunity to practise your techniques flat-out with total commitment. It is however essential that you trust motodachi.

Motodachi’s job is to keep you honest. He should ensure that only correct attacks made with strong seme should get through. He has a number of tools available to do this, he can just hold kamae, or use his own harai or uchiotoshi waza to break weak attacks. Poor posture can be punished with taiatari and he can respond to kakarite’s unsuccessful attacks with oji waza. What he must never do is to endanger or injure kakarite with techniques such as mukaetsuki. This will have a wholly negative effect, making kakarite afraid to attack wholeheartedly.

Kakarigeiko should be fast and done with correct breathing, so for renzoku waza you should try to make each attacking sequence in one breath. It is not however just reserved for the young and fit. We oldies can make up for the lack of pace with strong kiryoku.

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Mohan jiai CaptureMy first sight of real master level kendo was back in 1976 when Ikeda Hanshi and Ueta Hanshi performed a Mohan jiai at the 3rd World Kendo Championships. In essence nothing happened for 4 minutes 50 seconds then as Ueta sensei started to attack men Ikeda sensei took degote and both went into sonkyo. Whilst my description sounds as if much of the shiai was spent waiting, nothing could be farther from the truth. From the initial rei the atmosphere was positively electric, with every small change of position and attitude measured by the two men. Whilst physical movement was minimal, their concentration was as intense as that of a predatory animal stalking its dinner.

More recently I had keiko with a visitor, who still in the early stages of his kendo career came up from sonkyo and waited, and waited and waited, until I suggested that it might be a good idea to do kakarigeiko. Whereas the two meijin were like tigers preparing to pounce on their prey, my young friend appeared more like a pensioner waiting for a bus. Based on this comparison, the ability to move from a static position in instant reaction to an opportunity is not a function of youth and stamina, but the result of tame built on years of experience of hard keiko.

Tame is described in the AJKF Dictionary of Kendo as “the condition of being composed both mentally and physically and maintaining a spiritually replete state despite the tense situation”. Perhaps a simpler more physical account of tame is that by ensuring that your posture is correct and your tanden tense, and that your left foot is drawn up to the correct position with your heel of the ground, you will be able to launch yourself into an attack the moment you see an opportunity. The only way to achieve this is by actively practising kendo and not just standing back and waiting.

The instructions often given by teachers on how to pass grading examinations usually contain the advice to “not miss any opportunity to attack, but not to attack when there is no opportunity”. This may at first sound confusing, but the more keiko we do the easier to understand it becomes. In the early stages of our development it pays to do too much rather than too little. As we progress along the continuum we hopefully start to see the clear opportunities to strike. If we ever approach the level reached by Ikeda sensei and Ueta sensei at the time of their tachiai then hopefully we should be able to possess the clarity of mind that allows us to mirror our opponents’ intention.

In the meantime we can all crack on with some more kakarigeiko.

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kishubushin2Last year I asked my friend Yukiko Ayres to produce some calligraphy for a new tenugui for my Thursday dojo, we decided to use the characters ki shu bu shin, which allude to the fact that training should be fierce and rigorous but that the intention behind it is benign. “Devil hands, Buddha Heart” is a very loose translation. The reason for adopting this motto is my belief that keiko should be stretching and strenuous and that motodachi’s role is to help shidachi reach up to the next level.

As a young kendoka in Japan my keiko with most of the senior teachers usually consisted of ippon shobu, which I never ever won, immediately followed by kakarigeiko of varying length and intensity. Each sensei seemed to have his own formula for correcting some of my many weaknesses. In most cases the plan was to take me to a level of exhaustion where I was no longer able to remain tense or to use shoulder strength to raise the shinai. Going through this process in Japanese summer humidity usually left me in a soggy heap. The fact that there is usually a fifteen minute queuing time between hanshi is probably the reason I survived to tell the tale.

I have experienced the joy of throwing up in my men, having my shinai knocked repeatedly out of my hand at the point of striking, been bounced off the wall and on a few occasions fallen victim to deashibarai. This was at a time when the current appetite for “health and safety” appeared far less intrusive than it does today, instead many kendo teachers teachers followed Nietzsche’s view that ” what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Whether I was suffering from Stockholm syndrome,  or acting like one of the victims of Monty Python’s fictitious gangsters, Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, who showed mercy by nailing hands to coffee tables instead of heads to the floor, I am not sure, but I certainly came away from these sessions with a feeling of gratitude rather than resentment.

Now when I get the occasional chance to train with my betters, I am still expected to stretch myself despite my advanced state of decrepitude. More of my time however is spent receiving kakarigeiko where the main challenge is to decide how intensive kakarigeiko should be for each individual.

The kenshi that I train with are of varied ages and physical fitness levels. They come to kendo through their own free will and have not signed up to be punished in boot camp, so training needs to be enjoyable as well as effective. I try to tailor each motodachi keiko session to a length and intensity to fit each student. A young national team member will have a longer faster session with more resistance than a middle aged student and for an older member two or three good uchikomi attacks are probably sufficient.

Still from time to time I look at the kanji on our tenugui and think affectionately about some of the sensei, sadly no longer with us, who had mastered the art of sending you home with just enough resentment to make you determined to come back and do better tomorrow.

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