Posts Tagged ‘Keiko’

Seiza 5Different people have different ideas on what constitutes the perfect practise session. Some are happy to arrive at the dojo, have a quick stretch, put their men on and enjoy an hour’s jigeiko. Others may prefer to concentrate on kihon drills for the whole session.

In my view there is no right answer. The way you structure your keiko depends on how much time you have to fill and the level and physical condition of those taking part. If you are lucky enough to have a number of kodansha in the dojo, then jigeiko can be a great learning experience. To be more precise what you are getting is hikitate-geiko, where sensei is taking a view of your strengths and weaknesses and stretching you to do a bit better. If there is one instructor teaching a class of students then a structured session built on demonstration and repetition is likely to be the best way forward.

The length of your training session also dictates what you do. My ideal kendo week would consist of five or six 45 minute to one hour practices, each conducted at maximum intensity. When you have two or 3 hours to fill, you need to bring in more variety and exercises that offer a change of pace. For example, start with kata or boken ni yoru kihon keikoho, move on to kihon drills, keeping them short and changing partners frequently and finally move to jigeiko.

With kihon drills it’s best to keep to a theme. It might simply be improving ki-ken-tai-itchi, or could be something more ambitious like incorporating seme into the attack. You can work on shikake-waza  one day and oji-waza on another, or you could practise men attacks and the oji-waza to use against them as part of the same session.  In drills like this it is important for both motodachi and kakarite to approach each technique with total commitment and not anticipate the others movement, otherwise you are in danger of producing the counter attack before the attack.

One other word of warning, don’t try to do too much. I have seen sessions which have included almost every technique in kendo. In this case it is difficult to remember what you have covered, let alone get any benefit from it.

However you approach each training session remember that the purpose is to improve your kendo, and to enjoy your time in the dojo.

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winter reflectionsYedsterday’s keiko at Mumeishi  dojo seemed to have a very  thoughtful reflective feel to it. We did nothing different from the usual kihon geiko and jigeiko routine, but as you might expect from the last session of the year, people were thinking about the improvements made over the last twelve months and starting to set objectives for 2016.

For some of our members this is going to be a momentous year. The UK Kendo squad are about to announce the selection of the athletes who will be going to Tokyo for the 16WKC and I can imagine that this process is happening, or has just happened in dojo throughout the kendo world, so there are a lot of proud kenshi with a big job and a tough training programme ahead of them. For others there is the equally big challenge in just making the changes required to continue on their upward path as they follow the sugyo of kendo.

Some of us who are at the senior end of the kendo age range will be putting thought into how we change our kendo to maximise on our experience and strength of mind whilst compensating for a weakening body. It is also the time of year when thought turn to kendo friends who are no longer able to train through illness or infirmity.

The Japanese term “keiko” implies that we train reflecting on the wisdom of past generations, so there is nothing unusual in this self-searching. The year-end however and for some, the increased time to sit quietly and think magnify the opportunity to reflect on our place in the kendo universe.

On a personal level I am doing all of the things that I mentioned. Looking forward to meeting kendo friends from around the world in Tokyo next May and planning how in the short time available to make sure that I am the best I can be both as a kendoka and a referee.

However before I become too thoughtful and introspective there is still the chance to do some more kendo before the New Year.  Sanshukan, my local dojo in Camberley will be open from 8.30 p.m. this coming Tuesday and the following Tuesday, so I can avoid the usual holiday kendo withdrawal. If you are within travelling distance and have  a spare evening come and join us. On the other hand if I don’t see you before, have a great Christmas.

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After the rigours of kihon geiko at the beginning of each kendo session, I see quite a few people breathe a sigh of relief as they enter jigeiko. I am of course not a mind reader, but my guess is that their thought process runs along the lines of – “right that’s the hard part out of the way”. “Now it is me time – the chance to do what I enjoy by using my favourite techniques to beat the other guys”.

I stress that I am not trying to replace David Blaine. My insight is not based on the supernatural ability to read other people’s thoughts; it is based on observation of their keiko. Although I do sometimes feel guilt at playing a cross between the stern dad and a bad tempered puritan. In this situation, I feel that it is my duty to remind backsliders that keiko is for improvement rather than enjoyment.

The term keiko has the connotation of thinking about tradition and infers that when we train, we should be mindful of all that has gone before. Other terms for training include renma and tanren which describe forging the body through hard physical activity and shuren or shugyo which have the nuance of religious or ascetic training. None of these labels refers to the idea that kendo should be fun.

It is worth further clarifying exactly “what is jigeiko?” Collectively it describes gokakugeiko (keiko on a 50:50 basis, conducted as if you are equals), or hikitate geiko (between instructor and student, where some opportunities may be offered and correct waza allowed to score). In both cases there is a need to stretch yourself –  by creating chances to attack and ensuring that techniques are correct and in line with basic principles.

It is also important that you do not just use the opportunity to work on your favourite, tokui waza, but that you try to use all the techniques that you have learned. Of course winning and losing is important, which is why we put such emphasis on shodachi, or the first point. What we should not do however, is to sacrifice our kamae and posture by blocking strikes without the intention of responding with oji waza, or fail to follow through once we have started a technique, because we fear being hit by your opponent. We learn equally by hitting or being hit.

My next post may be slightly delayed as I will be in Tokyo all this week  to take the Kyoshi examination. While I am there , I will try to cram in as much keiko as possible into the short time available. Hopefully I can bring the right attitude to each practice; and maybe after the final rei there will be the opportunity to crack a few smiles in a nearby bar.

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Thinking back to Matsumoto sensei’s article, it emphasised that you need to “master the skills of kendo” to a level where they can be performed with “calmness of mind”. This is quite a tall order. We come to kendo classes to fight, so for most of us, an hour of gokakugeiko (jigeiko) is the way we want to spend the session. Whilst I agree that this is the most enjoyable part of kendo training, if we put too much emphasis on it too early in our kendo careers, we are in danger of developing bad habits.

Mastery comes from repeated practice. Chiba sensei talks of doing 3000 suburi in a single daily session and most of the other great kendo teachers will give similar accounts of constantly practising a technique until it becomes second nature. Kendo incorporates a wide range of drills including suburi, kirikaeshi, kakarigeiko, yakusokugeiko, butsukarigeiko and more. We can also perfect our technique through the practice of kata and bokken kihon keikoho. The reason that there are so many training methods in kendo is because we need them.

Even in shiai and grading examinations, there is a danger that we ask too much of beginners by testing their fighting spirit, before their technique is sufficiently developed to use under pressure. There have been cases where referees have had to lower standards in judging yuko datotsu else the shiai would have continued for hours. I would personally prefer to see shiai amongst beginners based on demonstration of technique and decided by hantei and examination for the early kyu grades done on the same basis.

Jigeiko is the way to learn and practise seme, timing and opportunity. It is the way we measure if technique actually works in a competitive situation. It is however not the way to develop technique. Of course there are special godogeiko sessions where you will have the chance to practice with new people or people that you seldom see. It would be a shame to waste these on basic training, but in terms of what we do in our own dojo; I believe that we should invest the bulk of our time on mastering the basics.

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Keiko timing

Often during keiko sessions, I am aware that there are some epic battles taking place in the dojo. In my view an individual keiko should last for 3 to 5 minutes, but I see some that go on for up to fifteen.

When you join in mawarigeiko and time is set and called by an observer, each rotation is typically short. With shidogeiko or motodachigeiko, it is left to the judgment of the teacher or sempai to control the length of the practice. A good motodachi will try to ensure that each session is intense and that concentration is maintained from start to finish. Shidogeiko takes various forms including:

  1. Kakarite starts with kirikaeshi, then moves on to hikitategeiko. Motodachi then challenges kakarite to ippon shobu (one-point match) before a brief kakarigeiko.
  2. Both parties fight to take shodachi (first point), before motodachi increases the opportunities for attack in hikitategeiko then finishes with kakarigeiko or kirikaeshi.

Whichever structure is used, if you consider the focus and energy required to do either of these well, it is unlikely that anyone but the very fittest kendoka could manage these sequences for longer than five minutes. I definitely believe that short and full-on is better than long and drawn-out. Even moving away from flat out attacking, just maintaining mind-contact and seme for two or three minutes is exhausting, so how can anyone slug away for fifteen minutes.

There are of course extenuating circumstances. For instance when a teacher is taking time to explain a technique or using repeated drills to correct a student’s faults then it will obviously take longer, but when individuals are practicing at peer level and it turns into a “war of attrition” there is clearly something wrong.

In my view short, sharp explosive keiko is the only way. You should need to stop after a few minutes to catch your breath and ought to welcome the opportunity to recover whilst you wait in line for the next teacher. Not only will you get more from each practice, but you will get the opportunity to train with more partners.

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ChrysalisYesterday was my first keiko of 2009. We held a kangeiko practice as a preliminary to the year’s first taikai, so it was an opportunity to practice with quite a few new people as well as some old friends.

In the spirit of “start as you intend to go on”, I tried throughout the practice to incorporate the kamae and posture changes suggested by Chiba sensei before the holiday and became immediately aware of how difficult it is to change your established technique. In my experience, the longer I have been doing something, the harder it is to change.

Of course this is not the first time I have made radical changes to my kendo practice. Kendo is all about continual improvement and development. Very often you realise that the only way to improve is to break down your whole approach including posture, balance and timing and to build again from zero. Sometimes I have been glad to do this, particularly when my practice has “hit the wall” and I have spent frustrating months, even years realising that what I was doing was not working. Between the last time I failed 7th dan and passing two years ago, I spent a year practicing kihon men and re-learning ki ken tai timing. This time though, I was feeling slightly smug because everything was working, so to go into major change mode, on the suggestion that things can work even better is quite daunting.

Kendo requires an holistic approach. As soon as you change your posture, you alter your balance. When you change your cutting action, your footwork needs to adjust to keep pace, so usually, when you embark on change, you are committed to at least a few months of work. Most importantly, you need to put your ego on hold, because typically you become weaker whilst you are making adjustments.

Through teaching, I am aware that many people are conceptually able to differentiate between what they are doing and what they should be doing, but they are unable to take the necessary steps to bring the two together. In most cases, they are not prepared to sacrifice the advantages that their current level of technique gives them, for future improvement.

We all know that part of the objective of kendo is to lose our ego and to attack with the feeling of no-mind. In reality however, it is not easy to give away the advantage that we have worked hard for and to allow ourselves to be beaten by lower ranking players. Nevertheless, this is what we have to do whilst we experiment with different elements of our kendo.

I believe that the answer is not to worry about timing and opportunity in gikeiko, but to get back to basics through kihon geiko. We build our best kendo through constant repetition of basic waza and we need to make adjustments and changes in the same way.

So two New Year resolutions for me. 1, More kihon geiko. 2, More patience with students who do not change their kendo instantly just because I ask them too.

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Keiko kai

Chiba in Canada

Chiba in Canada

Anyone following my blog has probably gathered that I have strong views on the type of training session that builds effective Kendo. Having not run my own dojo for a year or two, I was interested to learn that the college close to my home has a gymnasium with a decent floor for hire.

Rather than jumping in at the deep end, I decided to rent the hall for an initial training session next Wednesday evening. It looks as if a good number of like minded people are coming, so I am putting together a plan for the practice. The session will be limited to one hour and will consist of kiri kaeshi, waza geiko, uchikomigeiko and kakari geiko, even butsukarigeiko if people can manage it without breaking their posture.

Gigeiko time will be limited and the plan is to start and finish each practice with more focused, strenuous activity. My intention is to get people to concentrate on doing each technique to the best of their ability with full spirit.

If the everyone agrees that a practice like this is of benefit, I will roll it out as a regular weekly event.

More excitingly, we are hosting a seminar for Chiba sensei to bring his expertise to bear on what we should be doing to pass higher dan gradings. We are inviting candidates for 4th to 7th dan to attend a weekend event in Reading from the 12th until the 14th of December. The members of Reading Kendo Club are doing a great job in organising the event and I am sure it will be a seminal learning experience for many of us.

Here is Chiba sensei in action in Canada.

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