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Posts Tagged ‘kakegoe’

ritsureiDespite my regular attempts to grab attention with ironic references to kendo as “stick fighting” or as a sport, I firmly believe that it is a shugyo, a Zen martial art based on Taoist and Confucian philosophy, developed with the aim of developing the human character. As such reiho , the physical display of courtesy is an integral element.

In Kendo, a Comprehensive Guide I devoted much of the book to the description of reiho and chakuso and still only scratched the surface, Your remarks on my last post prompted this attempt to describe some of the aspects of reiho in slightly more detail.

Reiho can be easily categorised into the obvious and the kendo specific. The obvious includes the things that we would consider polite behaviour in most societies. For instance don’t chat when an instructor is talking”, or “don’t slouch or lean on on walls in class” are instructions given to school children around the world.

As a child, I was told to ask permission when I wanted to leave the dinner table. In the same way you should do so when you need to leave the dojo, not just for the sake of politeness, but so that those running the session can keep track of you, if for instance you became unwell.

I could continue with this list but there is little value in describing the obvious. Instead I have tried to list some of  the points that are specific to kendo or budo.

  • Rei – This used to be a lot more complicated, as anyone who has watched elderly Japanese ladies striving to hit the correct angle for the exact social circumstance might realise. Now in kendo we bow to each other at an angle of 15 degrees from the waist keeping the back straight. The key thing is to make eye contact and then continue it throughout the bow. At the dojo entrance and to our instructors we bow to 30 degrees. For zarei we form a triangle between our two hands and lower our forehead directly above it keeping the back street. You should exhale as you bow.
  • Sonkyo – This salutation is unique to kendo and sumo. Ensure that after rei you come to correct distance and then bring your shinai over and down to chudan using the most direct path as you drop into sonkyo. When you finish your keiko or tachiai you reverse the process, ensuring that you put your right hand on your right thigh as you return the shinai to your hip. This signifies that you have no further intention of drawing your sword, but that you are able to do so if your opponent breaks the peace.
  • Entering shiai jo – you can take as many steps as you like before you bow, but bow correctly and take only three steps to the kaeshi sen and sonkyo.
  • Shinai – Kendo is “The way of the sword” and the shinai symbolises the razor sharp katana. We should not walk over other people’s shinai or touch the jinbu of their or our weapons. We should not use the shinai as a walking stick nor drag the point across the floor and we should not bang it on the floor to signal yame.
  • Hakama – After my last post someone commented on one of the Facebook groups that he has seen hundreds of ways of wearing hakama. I personally believe that there are only two ways – right and wrong. The hakama invokes the spirit of budo with pleats representing the Confucian values “gin,gi,rei, chi, shin – makoto” (benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom, faith and sincerity). The left leg goes in first and comes out last. The waistband should be level with the navel. The ties should cross under the tanden. The koshiita should sit above the ties at the back. The hem of the hakama should clear the toes and slant upwards from front to rear.
  • Kote – like the legs of the hakama, these go on left right and come off right left. Reasons given are that it left the right hand free to draw the sword or to draw a bow string when under attack.
  • Tenegui – folded inside or draped outside the men for rei, customs vary from dojo to dojo, but however you do it, keep them freshly laundered and contemplate their meaning before you put them on.
  • Kiai and kakegoe – should be short and sharp; it should not sound as if you are bragging about the point you just made.
  • Sempai and kohai – Unless we are part of the Japanese system, we will never fully understand the structure and obligation of these relationships. Dojo etiquette however should however be based on mutual respect. Feel free to cross the dojo to make zarei to your teacher, or even to tidy and pack his or her bogu, but only do so as a genuine token of respect.

These are just a few examples of the way we should behave in the dojo. To make a comprehensive list would be a major undertaking.

I hoped to give more explanations of “why” we do things and over the years have asked a number of sensei about some of background to kendo reigi.In most cases the answer is “because that is what we do”. Perhaps one more point of reigi is that we should show the tact and politeness to accept the “sonno mama” (way it is) of kendo.

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GophersWatching the start of a recent kihon session I was  reminded of a fairground stall where the objective is to hit gophers with a mallet as they randomly pop up and disappear back into holes. People were starting to bow as their partner finished bowing; others were taking sonkyo as their opponent moved into kamae. Not a particularly unusual spectacle, but ask kendoka at almost any level of experience “when does keiko start” and they will tell you “from the first rei”. So, we have got the theory right, but we don’t always put it into practice.

In kendo as in sumo, the term tachiai is used to describe a bout or demonstration. Tachiai literally means to stand and meet and if you are lucky enough to watch high level kendo you will see that from the initial rei through to sonkyo  and kamae there is total engagement between the two partners. Some teachers describe this as “mind contact” others talk about the meeting of ki (spirit or life-force).  In fact this is the real meaning of the term kiai. At the highest level kendo calls for total awareness of each other’s thoughts and feelings and even involves mirroring an opponent’s breathing, (aun no kokkyu).

Obviously it’s extremely difficult to reach this level of harmony. Doing so may take a lifetime’s practice. If we are to stand any chance of reaching this hallowed ground, we need to start by co-ordinating our physical movements from the earliest stages of our kendo careers.

When we make the initial standing rei before keiko, we should make eye contact, raise the shinai to the hip and bow 15 degrees from the waist in unison with our opponent. We then take the  three steps forward at exactly the same time, moving as one into sonkyo; drawing the sword at the same time as we drop into position.  When in sonkyo we should try to make contact with our mind as well as the tip of the sword. Only when we feel that this contact has been made should we stand up together.

When we stand, we should either keep our position or step slightly forward, never back or to the side. This is when we should take time to read our opponent before making the first kakegoe. Most of us can’t achieve aun kokkyu, but we can ensure that we breathe in quickly and retain our breath for as long as possible. We should release half of our air on the initial kiai and keep the remainder (nokori) to expel on our first strike.

Mind-reading may take a lifetime’s practice, but we can at least start by moving as if we can read our partner’s actions.

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Kiai and sae

kiai2Many of my kendo friends are aware that I drone on endlessly about sae or snap. Often kendoka who have good kihon and timing, fail to make decisive ippon because they do not finish the strike sharply.

This could be because they are using the too much right hand power or because they are pushing the shinai forward rather than cutting down. Often though, lack of sae is caused by ineffective kiai. It’s hard to explain this without demonstrating, but if your kiai is slow, lacks energy or comes before or after the point of impact, then it will not help you make a successful attack.

Kiai should be sharp and explosive and delivered exactly at the moment you hit the target. Its purpose is to focus all your physical and mental energy on the cut. It emphasises that nothing else exists for you at that moment, only your total commitment to the strike. Some people believe that kiai is made to alert the shinpan that they have scored a point, or that it is a declaration of intent, a bit like naming the pocket in a game of pool. This is far from the truth. Premature kiai means that your energy tails off too early. Using it to claim your point means that your energy peaks after you need it most.

Your kiai should be made in the spirit of sutemi, throwing every last particle of air into a totally unselfconscious scream as you hit. It will naturally continue briefly as you move through into zanshin. In fact a sharp single kiai will automatically make you accelerate past your opponent. Do not be tempted to elongate your kiai into something like the noise of a car with starter motor problems. Me-e-e-e-e-en simply makes you sound needy.

The mechanics of good kiai are simple. We have looked at them when we talked about seme and tame. You take a big breath in through your nose when you are still in safe distance, then let half the air out as a kakegoe shout; something simple like” ya”. Holding the remainder of your breath in your abdomen you step into your striking distance. Once you have broken your opponent’s centre or pre-empted his attack, raise your shinai and strike down at the target in the timing of one, expelling your remaining breath as kiai. The idea is not just to focus your shout but to commit your entire spirit.

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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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