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Posts Tagged ‘Kendo cutting action’

Nagamatsu senseiAs well as escaping a week of the British winter for the sunny south of Spain I had the pleasure of meeting Nagamatsu sensei from Hyogo Kendo Federation who was on the second stop of his teaching tour of Spain, which takes in Madrid, Malaga, Valencia and Santander. Nagamatsu sensei is a hachidan, former Hyogo police instructor who is now shihan of Kwansei Gakuin University.

I was able to take part in the first of his teaching sessions in Malaga which took place at Shion Dojo’s Estepona location. After an introduction where he talked about correct rei , sonkyo and posture, sensei spent much of the two hour session looking at everyone’s basics and made a number of very interesting observations after watching men suburi.

He stated that the weight of the cut should be in the shinai’s monouchi and that we should aim for maximum extension using the shoulders, elbows, wrists and tenouchi in that order. He also made the point that the feet and abdomen should play a key part in the striking process, using the analogy, ichi-gan, ni-soku, san-tan, shi-riki. (first sight, second feet, third abdomen, fourth power / waza).

Sensei was emphatic that the shinai should be raised to only at a 45 degree angle and not allowed to go back beyond that. I have heard this many times before and always try to give the same advice myself, but Nagamatsu sensei’s explanation of why was enlightening.  His view was that 45 degrees is the natural extension angle of the shoulder joint and that if we reach back beyond this point then we have to change our grip.

By keeping to the 45 degree rule we are able to lift the shinai and strike in the timing of one (ichibyoshi). If we go beyond that point, we follow a timing of two, as the movement is broken as we rearrange the positions of our fingers on the tsuka.

We then had a jigeiko session where sensei took great trouble to work with people on their individual strengths and challenges. Some tired but happy kenshi then headed for some very welcome beer and tapas at a local bar. Unfortunately I only had the chance to attend one of the three sessions before my own travel schedule took me in a different direction, but for me it was a much appreciated learning experience and I am sure that my friends in Malaga will make some real progress on the back of Nagamatsu sensei’s teaching.

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ShimbunThere were fewer of us than usual in the dojo on Thursday, so we used the opportunity to analyse how we cut men and to break down the movement to its component parts with the aim of repairing each element before putting it in the correct sequence to make an effective men strike.

Kendoka in the early stages of their kendo careers generally face three problems that affect their cutting action.

They either:

  • Lift the shinai before they step into their own uchima distance, rather than stepping in whilst maintaining chudan kamae and then lifting the shinai and striking in the timing of one.
  • Are unable to make correct footwork, because they are using the right foot to drag the left rather than pushing with the back foot, or lifting the right foot too high when making fumikomi, so that the left foot then flicks up in an arabesque movement to compensate.
  • Or they use too much upper body power to make the cut. This can be a case of too much shoulder power or in many cases strength is concentrated in the right arm.

Fixing these errors is not always simple; because cause and effect can become confused, and very often, bad habits in men striking are a combination of more than one problem area.

We went through the analysis stage and acknowledged our own and each other’s faults then went through a series of suburi, footwork and uchikomi drills and people were starting to show some improvement, but I noticed that in several cases the cutting path of the shinai was not following a straight natural line through the centre of the body.

This led me to a eureka moment when I remembered an experiment conducted by an elderly sensei at the Kyoto Taikai a few years ago. He had set up a device which looked a bit like a tall music stand in a space behind one of the bogu stalls surrounding the Butokuden. The stand had a frame with clamps on either side into which he inserted a broadsheet newspaper page. He then challenged all and sundry to cut through the newspaper using a shinai without fittings. There were various results from kenshi of varying grades. Those who used far too much strength just ripped the paper out of the frame. Those who put just too much power in the right hand made an uneven zigzag cut and those that were totally relaxed and centred cut the paper down the middle in a perfectly straight line.

Recreating this seemed the perfect way to demonstrate how to cut correctly, so I asked if anyone had a newspaper and someone obliged with the evening free-sheet.  We took turns at holding the newspaper pages and everyone, me included took turns at cutting. The result across the board was that the page floated towards the ground in one piece whilst the holder was left clutching the two top corners, leaving me to reflect on why it didn’t work.

There are four possible answers. The newspaper was wet; you need a frame to hold the paper properly; our cutting was not good enough, or it does not work with the London Evening Standard only with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

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