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Posts Tagged ‘Kaku sensei’

Seiza 5I once spent an enlightening thirty or so minutes sitting in seiza listenting to a post keiko lecture from Kaku sensei in Nara. Kaku sensei’s theme was Hidari de motsu, hidari de utsu. “You hold with your left (hand) and hit with your left” The driving force behind the lecture was that kaku sensei had observed that many of the students at the practice were using too much right hand power and were therefore not striking effectively.

The extended seiza must have helped drive this lesson home, because it is easy to see that many of the problems of overextension, poor posture and inaccurate cutting are caused by the application of too much right hand power. The stiffness that we looked at in my last post is often “one sided” caused by the overuse of the right arm.
Many people overuse the right hand in an attempt to make small waza. The left hand becomes a fixed pivot and their cutting action is based on pulling the shinai back and pushing it forward with the right hand almost as if they were trying to touch their own nose with the shinai. Whilst this might appear to make the attack quicker it typically has the opposite effect.

Correct cutting whether large or small relies on the left hand raising the shinai to a point where it can be brought down on the target. The right hand is very much the junior partner and follows the left hand on its upward path and only makes a real contribution by squeezing to make tenouchi after the point of impact. In the case of men uchi this means raising the left hand to a point above your own men gane and then striking down. The right arm should be relaxed and not over straightened on the point of hitting. There should be a very slight flexion in your elbow and both shoulders should be square-on to the target.

With small techniques such as kote, the left hand should play its part, even if it is to lift the shinai no higher than the point of your opponent’s shinai. In this case it is a matter of striking sharply forward rather than down, but it is the left hand that does most of the work.

The benefits of doing this are enormous. It allows you to stay relaxed and to keep your posture correct and remain square on to your opponent. When your posture is correct you can push more easily from the left foot, maintaining correct ki-ken-tai-itchi and the shinai is more likely to hit the correct part of the target with sharp sae. The added bonus is you use far less energy.

So whilst my knees complained at the time. I owe a vote of thanks to Kaku sensei for the lecture.

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With the exception of mixed ability seminars, I do not often teach beginners, so it was interesting to find myself with the unexpected challenge of taking a class of newbies earlier this week. I arrived for a keiko session at a club that I occasionally visit, to find that the regular instructor and senior members had all been snowed in or had gone to Christmas parties. Under the circumstances, I decided that the best course of action was to lead a session of men and kote uchikomigeiko.

Watching everyone go through their paces, my first observation was that they all tended to make attacks from their right hand, using the left hand as a pivot. This is clearly wrong as the left hand should be the “power hand”.  I remember sitting through a post-keiko lecture from Kaku sensei in Nara. The theme was “hidari de motsu, hidari de utsu”, (hold with the left, hit with the left). This was particularly memorable, as we all remained in seiza for the 45 minutes or so that sensei used to talk about the topic. I still associate overuse of the right hand with pain in my knees.

Quite simply, you should move into distance and when you see an opportunity to hit, push off from the left foot and at the same time raise and lower your left hand to strike the target as your right foot hits the ground and your left foot comes up to join it. The balance of strength should be 60:40 or even 70:30 in favour of the left hand. Instead many beginners tend to reverse this ratio, leaning forward and putting power into the right side of the body.

But why do we inherently find it so much easier to use our right hand and why does kendo insist that we use our left? The British monarch’s coat of arms proclaims “Dieu et mon droit” or “God and my right arm”, whereas “sinister” which originally meant left handed, has come to mean evil or threatening.

Presumably an argument can be made that the development of kendo comes from a two handed tradition whereas western fencing was usually right-handed. Having said that, the tendency to over use the right hand, is not a uniquely western problem, I was the only non-Japanese attendant at Kaku sensei’s memorable lecture.

In terms of correcting the mistake, kihon practice is the answer – suburi and uchikomigeiko concentrating on good posture and balance and of course, big arm movement, raising the left hand above the mengane.

If anyone can shed any light on why we instinctively favour the right hand, I would be keen to hear your theories. In the meantime best wishes to you all for the festive season.

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