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Posts Tagged ‘kakarite’

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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Tsuki in shiai

Copy of untitledWhen I have written about tsuki in the past it has usually been to describe it as a technique that is seen occasionally at “All Japan” level, but never widely practised. I am now starting to change my opinion. I am trying to get over a dose of “man-flu” so did not get to see yesterday’s British Open’s, however during my visit to the previous week’s Swedish National Championship I saw three good tsuki scored. This seems to be part of a trend.

There are an increasing number of European kendoka who are adding tsuki to their list of tokui-waza. Whether this is because we are seeing more players take up jodan and nito or because we are generally becoming aware that it is one of the four basic techniques of kendo, I am not sure.  My own pet theory is that the current popularity of tsuki owes much to Naoki Eiga’s decisive point in the team final of the 12 WKC. However when considering that this happened almost 12 years ago, some of the kenshi now successfully using the technique in shiai, were in junior school at the time, so Eiga san’s tsuki must have left its mark on kendo’s collective consciousness.

I include both single and one handed tsuki in kihon drills. Obviously it requires a degree of care when practising, particularly from newer kenshi, but doing tsuki safely and successfully is as much the responsibility of motodachi as kakarite.  If motodachi is afraid of receiving tsuki, the chances are that kakarite will miss the target. If motodachi leans back or twists his body away from the tip of the shinai it is highly likely that it will slip in by the side of the tsukidate, grazing his neck or worse. If he tilts his head back, then there is a strong probability that the kisaki will go up and under the protector, causing even greater discomfort.

The way to meet tsuki is full on, with your body square to your opponent and your chin down, so that there is no gap between the tsukidate and the dou mune. Posture is also important. If you are erect with your balance centred in your hips and core, then the strongest tsuki should not disturb your equilibrium. For the attacker tsuki should be short and sharp, made with the body and the feet and with the hands applying tenouchi correctly at the point of contact.

I aim to do lots of tsuki drills over the next few months to help understand the technique as a player and as a referee.

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Courtesy of eBay

Courtesy of eBay

We have scheduled a kyu grading at my local dojo for this coming Thursday and we were discussing the format. My preference is that candidates who are taking their first kendo examination should be allowed to demonstrate basic technique without the pressure of fighting for opportunities against an opponent, or being constrained by wearing men and kote. The requirement would be for them to deliver kirikaeshi and a pre-arranged sequence of kihon attacks against an armoured motodachi.  Another option or possible addition is the inclusion of the “Bokuto ni yoru Kendo Kihon Keiko-ho” or Training Method for Fundamental Technique with Bokuto.

My rationale is that it is difficult enough to learn correct technique and footwork without the added complication of understanding an opponent’s timing, particularly if he or she is equally new to kendo. There is also a danger that when new kendoka are told to “fight” there is a temptation to block or move to avoid being hit, whereas if they are in the role of kakarite, they can concentrate on correct technique and posture.

Grading examinations really are the “tip of the iceberg”.  There is an often quoted urban myth that pre-war, adult beginners in some Japanese dojo were left to practice suburi in a quiet corner for at least a year and then admitted to the dan ranks. In the present day UK, it is more likely that you will get to wear bogu after your 6 or 8 week beginners’ course.

Wearing men and kote too can be more challenging than experienced kenshi realise. Of course using these essential pieces of kendo kit eventually becomes second nature, but I have seen several instances of beginners quitting because the feeling of being blinkered by a men or being hit on the head felt so unnatural. On the other hand some brave individuals, who start kendo with the image of the armoured samurai, ready to do battle from day one in mind, find it hard to be patient while they are learning the basics.

Buying bogu too early in your kendo career can be as punitive financially as it is in terms of technique development.  eBay and the kendo message boards regularly have used bogu for sale and I am sure that there is much more stashed in cupboards and attics against the slim chance of the owner starting again.

I am interested in your views on when we should start wearing bogu. Should we get the basics right first, or is it better to at least have a taste of keiko in armour during the early stages of our kendo careers?

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring a visit to Japan some years ago I was taken to morning practice in Sakai, near Osaka by Uegaki Isao sensei. The session was led by his teacher, the late Furuya sensei and attended by numerous 8th and 7th dan members, many of whom were at least in their 60s. Much of the session was devoted to seme-geiko, which for me was a new experience. The idea was to work together in pairs in a mawari geiko format, taking turns as motodachi, whose job was to retain a strong chudan kamae. Kakarite had to break through motodachi’s defence to take centre and execute men, kote or kote-men attacks.  The practice reminded me of kakarigeiko for seniors, where no targets were offered, but we had to use the strength of our seme to make opportunities.

I have since introduced seme-geiko to a number of keiko sessions back home in the UK and found generally that the more experienced kendoka tend to get the most out of this practice.

This week in my local dojo where we have a mix of mainly first to third dan kenshi, I had a request to look at ways of improving seme, so seme-geiko seemed an obvious choice. Rather than jump straight in, we started by working together in pairs maintaining an even distance between the points of our shinai as we moved backwards and forwards. Each partner took turns as motodachi and controlled the practice by varying the sequence of steps in each direction. We then looked at our breathing and how we could exert more force by retaining our breath once we engaged in fighting distance. Finally we made a concerted effort to keep “mind contact” with our opponent as went through the drill.

From this exercise we moved on to hikibana men, pushing in to take centre and then following with a men strike as motodachi stepped back.  We then tried debana men, aiming to pull our partners in with hikidashi and taking the initiative as they started to attack.

From these basic drills we moved on to seme-geiko, trying to execute 3 or four strong techniques in thirty or forty seconds. Whereas Furuya sensei took the practice on to kaeshi-seme-geiko, where motodachi responds to some of kakarite’s attacks with oji waza, we kept to the basic attacking practice before moving into a short jigeiko session.

When I asked people at the end of the session if they found it useful, several made the point that it was much more tiring than more physical training methods and that trying to maintain mental contact with an opponent for even a short period was exhausting.

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DrillFollowing last week’s post, several people asked if I knew of any specific drills to help develop debana men. There are two that are worth trying. Which you use depends on your level of kendo experience. Both should be practised against a partner who acts as motodachi.

The first is for less experienced kendoka. You should start by taking chudan kamae and move into your own uchima striking distance. Motodachi then takes one hand of his shinai and pushes the palm of his kote against the tip of you shinai. You should ensure that your feet are in the correct position, paying particular attention to quickly drawing up your left foot. Make sure that your left heel is slightly raised off the ground and that there is a feeling of tension behind your left knee. You should have taken a breath before your step into distance and as we discussed last week, let half of it out as kakegoe. Keeping the remaining air in your abdomen and making sure that hands and arms relaxed, you should push against motodachi’s hand using the pressure of your hips and back. When motodachi decides that the time is right, he pulls his hand away. You should be able to strike instantly by pushing off from your back foot.

This exercise will help some people understand the feeling of pressure even if they are not quite ready to appreciate the force exuded by a strong opponent’s kigamae. For more experienced kenshi a similar drill can be used, but motodachi should not physically touch kakarite’s shinai. Instead kakarite observes the same precautions about breathing, posture and hikitsuke, but this time it is the force of motodachi’s kamae that holds them at bay. Motodachi makes the chance to strike, obviously breaking the tension by slightly raising the shinai and inclining his head forward. He should pay particular attention to vary the timing of each striking opportunity. If this is done correctly motodachi gets as much out of it as does kakarite, as he can experience the “feeling” of the opportunity as he makes and breaks “mind contact” with kakarite.

The third drill in this series is where motodachi picks the opportunity to strike men and commits to making the attack. Kakarite responds with debana men. I would not recommend this for anyone but the most experienced, as there is a tendency for motodachi to change the timing of the attack to beat kakarite’s strike. No-one does this intentionally, but our competitive inner selves have a tendency to take over.

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