Posts Tagged ‘kendo drills’

Copy of P1010028It is easy for kendo teachers to get into a rut. We all have our favourite drills and exercises and there is a very real danger that every kihon session is a repeat of the last. The obvious argument against this is “if it works why change it”. I would suggest however that by varying our training routine we stop students from getting bored and therefore keep them more engaged.

An example is suburi. Many clubs regularly follow warming up exercises with the same suburi every session. They do the same number of repetitions of the same sets of jogi-buri, naname-buri, shomen-suburi, zenshinkotai-suburi and hayasuburi. As a result I often see people coast. They just go through the motions of swinging the shinai backwards and forwards without concentrating. To my mind it then becomes just a continuation of the warm-up and misses out on its main purpose, which is to improve ki-ken-tai-itchi , posture, tenouchi  and  hasuji.

As an antidote I started the New Year practice at Sanshukan with an idea borrowed from Chiba sensei. This time we worked in pairs with motodachi receiving on a shinai held above his head and counting to two hundred. Kakarite delivered that number of strikes whilst working on making the attacks both relaxed and sharp. The fact that we were doing something different was as valuable as the exercise itself and the next set of drills looked better than usual when performed by kenshi with tired shoulders. It is my opinion that we should regularly vary all of our drills. Kirikaeshi can be performed fast or slow, with suriashi or fumikomi-ashi. We can change the number of strikes, do it backwards and forwards across the length of the dojo, even swap men for dou strikes or combine them both.

The same goes for most drills. Rather than always following a set pattern of shikake waza  and ojiwaza, vary the routine. Have a session where you just try kote attacks and work on the relevant counter techniques, then devote another day to practise only men and oji waza against men. The objective with all these exercises is to focus on each technique and for everyone to develop and perform it to the best of their ability. There are techniques that some people will find harder than others, but even if it is not their favourite, they should work on it and earmark it for more effort in the future.

Everyone wants to improve their kendo, so as instructors we need to make training interesting to keep people engaged.


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Often when I am teaching or watching others teach kendo, I find that waza drills take considerably longer than the time allocated to them. This is because I and most other instructors like to break techniques down to their constituent parts and build up to the finished technique.

I am sure that you know the sort of thing I mean. For instance, men suriage men; where kakarite starts by attacking men at close distance, then motodachi responds by sliding his shinai up against the down stroke and when he gets that right he moves on to striking men in response. When it’s all working, both parties build distance and speed to approximate a real-time opportunity. Well that is the theory anyway.

What invariably happens is that at the most basic stage, the instructor notices fundamental flaws with posture, or footwork, or grip and then tries to correct that before moving on. This is of course a far bigger task than anticipated and sometimes, when the class has a high proportion of less experienced kenshi; it never gets out of the correcting basics stage. It could of course be argued that this happens because the teacher is asking students to practice new techniques before they are ready to try them, but as most kendo classes consist of mixed abilities, should we aim to stimulate the more advanced student or keep it within the ability level of the newest?

I personally am happy to practise the most basic techniques and can see the value of constantly repeating suburi and uchikomi drills for basic shikake men attacks, many instructors however are worried about losing students to boredom, if obvious progress is not confirmed by them learning more complex techniques.

I would be interested in to hear your thoughts and have included a simple poll for you to tell me about your level of experience and the elements of training that you are most regularly involved in.

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Back in 2009 I wrote a piece about tsuki http://wp.me/stBQt-tsuki . Since then, I have continued to see the occasional Youtube video of this technique resulting in brilliant ippon in the All Japan Championships, but I never see the technique practised.

I have enjoyed keiko on four continents (I still hope to get to Australia), and have hardly ever seen anyone doing tsuki drills. I have witnessed numerous university practises and the occasional police tokuren session in Japan where tsuki has been ignored. This begs the question – how do those athletes who excel in tsuki get to be so good at it?

There are lots of implicit embargos on tsuki. It should not be done by beginners or children, or used by more experienced players against the same. It is also thought to be impolite to do tsuki against a senior teacher. This does actually make sense as keiko between instructor and student tends to take the form of hikitategeiko, where the senior partner subtly makes openings for the junior. In this situation it would be extremely rude to charge in with a heart-stopping tsuki when sensei kindly opens for you to attack men.

There is also a feeling, although I have never heard anything definitive on this point, that tsuki should not be attempted in grading examinations. Having watched the hachidan shinsa five or six times, I have only seen tsuki from one individual who has become a minor legend. At every grading, his reputation causes a knot of anticipation where the watchers go through a “will he, won’t he?” speculation. Every time I have seen him in action his very impressive tsuki emerges before the end of his second tachiai. I am a long way from being able to understand whether this is the reason for him not getting through to the niji shinsa, but his kendo looks pretty good to me.

Perhaps I am painting too negative a picture. Tsuki is included in most courses and seminars, but normally its inclusion is brief and it seems to be there as the token fourth technique. Nevertheless the kendo world seems to be split between those who can’t do tsuki and those who excel at it. It is probably the result of my over active imagination, but I have the suspicion that those who can spend their nights away from prying eyes practising tsuki in the dark.

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Kote is a great target. It is closer than men and does not require the attention to hasuji and tai sabaki required to make a successful dou attack. The only cloud on the horizon with kote is that if your opponent is in correct chudan kamae it is impossible to hit.

Of course kote-uchi is perfectly achievable as a kihon drill. So, for reasons I will go into later, it’s worth ignoring my initial pessimism and practising this on a regular basis.

As we said, kote is closer than men, so you should start in ai-chudan with the kisaki (point) of your shinai level with that of your opponent. At this stage your shinai should be on the omote side of your partner’s. As you step in you should ensure that your left foot is in place with your heel off the ground. To strike you should push off from your left foot and push forward with your left hand to raise the point of the shinai just above the height of motodachi’s shinai. You should strike square on to the target, so as you step forward, you should angle your right foot over to your left so that your toes line up with the toes of his right foot, rather than the left foot as for a men attack.

Now for the disconnect with reality – motodachi has to open the target to allow you to strike. You in turn should strike the kote sharply in a forward motion. You should not cut down beyond the thickness of his wrist. Be careful with zanshin; your opponent’s body is very close, so you need to ensure that your shinai point does not cause injury. At the same time we do not want to compromise our position by pulling the shinai back. Instead we should move forward into a safe tsubazeriai.

So that’s how to attack kote. The challenge now is to turn it into an effective technique in jigeiko or shiai. The most obvious opportunity is degote – using your opponent’s forward motion as he starts to attack your men. You should encourage his movement by slightly lifting the point of your shinai towards his left eye and then hit kote just as he starts to raise his shinai.

Another option is harai gote. We hit his shinai towards the tsuba end and knock it to the right, opening the kote target. Harai is difficult against a strong chudan kamae, but much easier if done as your partner moves forward or backward. The harai and kote strike should be accomplished in one step.

So, great technique, but as always in kendo, timing and opportunity have to be correct.

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