Posts Tagged ‘Kendo footwork’

stampThere seems to be a tendency amongst newer kenshi to lift the right foot too high when making fumikomi. This results in a seesaw motion and makes it difficult to equalise the balance between the feet and to bring the back foot up quickly in hikitsuke, ready for the next move.

There are lots of exercises designed to fix this fault, ranging from traditional footwork patterns up and down the dojo to lunges, with or without suburi. Some teachers use the idea of standing behind a line or court marking and throwing the right foot forwards as far as possible without moving the left.  In this way they encourage the flexion of the right knee. As I mentioned before, there is currently a very strong focus being applied to the practise of kihon using suriashi, (sliding footwork).

Everyone aspires to make a nice sharp slapping sound as the front foot hits the dojo floor and I suppose that there is certain logic in “the higher the drop, the louder the slap”. Only too often though, the end product is a sickening crunch as the heel hits the floor. In my view, the answer is to keep the foot close to the ground and strike the floor at a low angle. Pilots correct me if I have got it wrong, but it is a bit like bringing the pointy end down first.

If you bring your foot down at a shallow enough angle, you make maximum contact with the ball of your foot expelling the air between foot and floor and you then get a nice slapping sound. Remember to immediately bring your left foot up and you are ready to do it again.

A good way to set yourself up to make correct fumikomi is to first ensure that you start with your feet in the correct position and keep tension in the back of your left knee, at the same time have a slight bend in your right knee so that you are in a position to skim the floor with your foot. Immediately bring the left foot up so you are ready for the next step. Once you can do this, your hands and body come into play so that you can achieve ki-ken-tai-itchi and it’s job done.

On a slightly different tack, I had a bout of paranoia this week about the state of my kendo feet. I was offered and gratefully accepted a reflexology foot massage as part of some other medical treatment. I felt it was immediately necessary to explain away my kendo hooves to the charming lady doing the foot rub. To her credit she did not bat an eyelid and told me that as a keen dancer hers were pretty rough too.

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Matsumoto sensei copyIn the light of some very interesting comments on ashi-sabaki following last week’s post, I wanted to take some thoughts on footwork from Matsumoto sensei’s teachings. However, the way he explained the whole process of kendo movement makes it almost impossible to separate the actions of different parts of the body, so I have taken the liberty of re-posting some lecture notes which I first posted in 2009. I have shown the text relating to foot movement in blue, but as you can see, these instructions are an integral part of of describing how the whole body should move.

Correct Chudan Kamae and Attack Action

A lecture by Matsumoto Toshio Hanshi 9th Dan

Delivered on March 6th 1980 at the 44th Meeting of

Nishinomiya Matsumoto Kenshyu Kai

Recorded in Japanese by Sakagami Takashi, Kyoshi 6 dan

Translated into English by Yamamoto Hisami Kyoshi 7dan

Chudan Kamae

The left forearm should be at 45 degree angle to the ground and the thumb of the left hand should point to a spot about 30 – 40 cm in front of the big toe of your right foot. The thumb of the right hand should point forward almost at a horizontal angle.

The left foot should touch the floor at the point between the ball of the foot and the plantar arch and the heel. The toes should touch the ground in the way that is called, “a cat walking” * as if a very thin sheet of paper is placed between the toes and the ground. By raising the left heel from the floor, the distribution of weight becomes 70:30 between the left and right leg and 70:30 between the front and back of the sole of the left foot. The back of the left knee must be tense.

Attacking Action – Primarily against Men

The left heel which is now raised, should be slightly lowered. This will redistribute the weight 50:50 to the back and front of the left sole. The toes of the left foot which have so far pointed slightly to the left should point straight ahead. Now with the motion of stepping out from the left ankle, you should push your right foot forward.

Now the tension behind the left knee moves to a point of about 6cm above the back of the left knee and tension is applied to a slightly lesser degree to the same point above the right knee, the left hip can then be pushed forward.

Step within easy reach of your opponent, without changing the position of your hands. The left hand is then raised with the right hand following in a natural movement in line with the path of the shinai. This action will cause your right shoulder to draw back. At this point the right hand is acting as support to the left and it is wrong to apply force with the right hand in order to raise the shinai. It is important that you raise the right hand with the feeling of squeezing in which will protect your kote against counter attack as you raise your hand.

You should strike at the same time as you draw the left foot towards the right foot. At this point, the right hand, which so far has not been used to apply force is given the work of hitting together with the left hand, making use of the right elbow to indicate direction. Make maximum use of the power and flexibility of your wrists and use the integral power of your waist, back, shoulders and arms. (You should pursue the correct way of hitting so that it becomes possible to concentrate all your physical force into one strike*) When you make the strike the distribution of weight between your left and right legs will change to 40:60.

When you strike men, the thumb of the right hand is directed to the front as if to poke into your opponents eyes. For tsuki the thumb naturally angles downward.

When your opponent is in Nito or Jodan, his posture is referred to as floating and therefore is different to chudan. A chudan player must raise his hands a little to fight against Nito or Jodan to be in concert with the opponent’s floating posture and movements.

* “A cat walking”, means the way of walking without making a sound. In the case of pushing from the left foot to attack, it is recommended to ease the force in the toes with the feeling of bending them slightly upward. This will increase the power of your forward step.

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SevensKendo is unusual in that we use fumikomi-ashi, “stamping footwork” instead of a more natural walking gait as part of our technique. I don’t know how this developed. Older styles of kenjutsu take a more natural left-right approach, cutting on either foot, whereas modern kendoists believe that for an attack to succeed the right foot has to slap the floor at the exact moment of striking.

Followers of the many original ryuha explain that in a battle situation on rough ground, stable walking footwork is the only option and I would not for a moment disagree with them. Somehow as kendo moved onto wooden floors, we have adopted a stamping style which has become an integral part of the modern sport. Fumikomi-ashi dosa, or movement, is in essence okuri-ashi footwork with an added stamp. Okuri-ashi is the process of pushing the right foot forward using the power of your left leg and it is used for attacking movement. There are though other footwork options in kendo.

We use ayumi-ashi (walking footwork) to cover long distance outside of attacking maai. Tsugi ashi lets us bring the left foot closer to the right foot than in okuri-ashi to gain a more explosive forward movement and hiraki-ashi allows us to step diagonally to make oji-waza.

Many of us become addicted to okuri-ashi and fumikomi-ashi. Beginners find it almost impossible to do these correctly, but insist on using them for every circumstance. I have often seen okuri-ashi used to receive kirikaeshi whereas the natural way to do this is to use ayumi ashi.

Contrary to popular misconception, it is not mandatory to stamp to make a successful attack. Nippon kendo no kata does not use stamping footwork and any of the seven odachi techniques if done correctly, would score ippon in shiai. Ki-ken-tai-itchi does not always depend on your right foot slapping the ground. In fact in many oji-waza the cut is executed as the back foot moves into place.

Fumikomi-ashi is a key element of kendo, but it is reserved for making forward shikake attacks, so we can’t afford to ignore the other footwork variations. It is unlikely that many of us will get involved in a swordfight in a paddy-field, but were we to do so; the only value in fumikomi-ashi would be to splash your opponent. In the dojo we need to move at different speeds in different directions, so we should study and practice all the kendo footwork forms.

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Chudan Feet 2We concentrated on men-uchi last week. We started by hitting men from a static position then progressed through taking just one sliding step, to stepping into distance and striking, through to hitting with fumikomi ashi and then moving into zanshin.  We finished with debana men practice during which a dojo member asked for my advice on why he was having difficulty pushing off to make the strike. Instead of being able to launch an attack at will, all of his weight was moving to the left foot and he needed to readjust his foot position before he could move.

Watching his practice it was obvious that the heel of his left foot was too far off the ground, to the extent that he had no traction to push himself forward.  Instead he had to move his left foot forward each time that he needed to attack. To my mind a lot of energy was being wasted on unnecessary action.

Matsumoto Toshio sensei talked about the sole of the left foot being at a 15% angle from the floor, with the left leg being almost straight and keeping a feeling of tension behind the left knee. If you follow this advice then it is possible to move instantly from any spot. You of course need to keep the distance between your feet constant throughout your keiko, moving the left foot into position whenever your right foot moves, but you should be able to stop at any given time and instantly launch from the back foot.

How far apart your feet should be is open to debate. Conventional kendo wisdom suggests that the big toe of the left foot should be in line with the heel of your right foot and that there should be a fist’s distance separating the width of your stance.  In reality some All Japan class players have a much bigger gap between the forward and rear foot and they have the leg strength to make much longer steps than us amateurs.  I also believe that the fists distance in width is only a guide. In most sports, feet and knees should be in line with your hips. So your feet should be far enough apart for you to be stable and balanced.

The final piece of the jigsaw is to ensure that as you push with the left the right foot moves forward and not up. By keeping a slight bend in your right knee you should be able to make fumikomi with a big slapping sound and not damaging you knee or heel in the process.

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Chudan Feet 2With my recent exposure to both Sumi sensei’s renzoku waza drills and Inoue sensei’s take on kirikaeshi, I am starting to think more and more about the importance of being instantly ready to attack at any stage in our keiko.

There is a tendency, particularly amongst senior, older kendoka to walk away and start again after exchanging a single attack. Although this allows you to conserve energy, it is long way from the ideal of being “constantly in full spirit”. Keiko should be short, sharp and intense. Far better to do 30 minutes of full-on keiko than two hours of leisurely posing.

The key technical requirements are that your back foot needs to be in the right place for you to attack throughout the practice and you need to keep within attacking distance. When you attempt to strike men going forward and your movement takes you past your opponent, you should turn quickly, bringing your left foot into position with hikitsuke and attack again. If you make a failed attempt on kote, push off immediately while you are in front of your opponent and go for men.

With hiki-waza, there is even more of a tendency to reverse into the distance. You should work on learning to keep you balance between  your feet so that if you take one step back you can instantly take one step forward, by pushing off from your back foot. That’s not to say that you should always do it, but if you see an opportunity, you should be able to take advantage of it even though it might mean a lightning fast change of direction.

To do this your left heel should at all times be slightly raised so that the sole of your foot forms a 15 degree angle with the floor. If it’s much higher that, you will lose traction as your left leg will slip out behind you when you try to move. If your heel is on the floor, you will stay firmly rooted to the spot.

Here’s the bad news. The best way to educate your left foot is through lots of kihon. Footwork drills, suburi, kiriaeshi, uchikomi geiko, kakarigeiko; they all play their part. Your objective when you do get into the short intense jigeiko sessions that we are talking about, is to become an effective kendo machine that can see it and hit it, all in a fraction of a second.

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Snake (1)At the beginning of each New Year most of us think about our goals for the coming year’s kendo. These are normally ambitious and take the form of committing to pass the next dan examination or winning certain competitions, or making it into the National Team. Certainly these are all worthy ambitions and if you think you can achieve them, go flat-out to make it happen.

What we often ignore however, are the components we need to make our kendo strong enough to reach these heights. It is worth taking time to reflect on your kendo strengths and weaknesses and to isolate the elements that if worked on, would make the biggest difference to your future improvement. Naturally these vary enormously depending on your experience level and your physical condition, but here are some that you could work on that may make a big difference to your rate of progress:-

  • Footwork – Ensure that you always bring your left foot up in hikitsuke, so that you are always ready to move the instant that you see an opening. Think about keeping your left heel off the ground so that the foot makes a 15 degree angle against the floor and you will have the power to launch at will.
  • Posture and balance- Hold yourself perfectly upright, but with the feeling of leaning half a degree forward. Use your hips and back to power the strike and keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. Keep your posture after you hit and make strong zanshin.
  • Review your kamae – Check that your targets are not visible and make sure that your hands and arms can move quickly and freely when you see an opportunity.
  • Think about tenouchi – Hold the shinai lightly with ring and little fingers and squeeze gently only after you have made contact with your opponents bogu.
  • Make opportunities – Break your partners centre with strong seme or subtly invite him to attack to create the chance for ojiwaza.
  • Commit – When you attack make sure that you do so wholeheartedly with a feeling of sutemi. Do not hedge your bets by thinking of stopping or going around him. Once you fire the bullet, there should be no way of stopping it.
  • Be dignified – Win or lose show kigurai, but do so with humility.

Whether we are thinking about these points for the first time or are experienced kendoka who have thought about them time and time again, we should constantly review the basics and make sure that we do not let bad habits creep in.

If you have a master plan for achieving kendo greatness in 2013, please include some of these basics in your preparation. On the other hand if your aim is just to make the most of your keiko then perfecting any of these points would be a worthy ambition on its own.

Whatever your plans have a happy and successful 2013.

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I was asked to suggest a theme for this weekend’s Watchet seminar and I decided on braking and acceleration. No I have not started giving driving lessons, but based on observation of high quality keiko compared with the kendo of less experienced kenshi, I am convinced that what sets the two apart is the ability explode into action from a standing start and to stop in a similarly short interval.

Shiai are won in the blink of an eye. As soon as an opportunity is created, we need to push-off and hit in the timing of one. Once we have achieved ippon we need to stop our forward movement and assume correct zanshin equally instantly. For many people in the early stages of their kendo career the pattern of their attack is along the lines of – lift the shinai, step forward, hit and run through, building momentum only after the strike. Most people have heard the expression ichi-byoshi , this means to lift and hit in one smooth motion. The ability to achieve this relies not only on correct footwork and posture, but also on accurate breath control.

The ideal sequence is to take a deep breath whilst still in safe distance, release some of it as kakegoe whilst retaining the remainder in your abdomen as you step into you own preferred striking distance. Only when you see the opportunity to attack should you expel the rest of your breath by way of kiai as you strike the target. Your furikaburi and strike should be in one smooth motion as you push off from the left foot and make fumikomi with your right, smartly bringing up your left foot in hikitsuke. In the case of a men attack, where your opponent obliges by stepping aside after you hit, the explosion of your waza should allow you to smartly move through to a safe distance to turn and assume zanshin.

With kote or tsuki this is not always possible; you need to stop in front of your opponent in a strong kamae, without “running on” and potentially putting him or her in danger. This is where the brake comes into play. Stopping when you are in full spirit depends on good balance and posture. You need to ensure that your weight is between your feet and that you have a straight back and a low centre of balance. If you lean forward you will lose all control.

Get these two elements right and you move from being the kendo equivalent of a three wheeler van to shaping up like a sparkling new Lamborghini.

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Apologies to Milan Kundera for the plagiarism, but I am feeling philosophical after seeing a clip of an Australian newsreader sink an interview with the Dalai Lama whilst attempting to explain the joke about the Buddhist who walked into a pizza shop and asked “make me one with everything”.

One of the advantages of aging is that as you become weaker, you stop wasting some of the energy you did when you had it to spare.  For many years I used far too much power in my arms and shoulders to no benefit other than burning calories. In fact using too much upper body power has a negative effect on your kendo by pulling your weight down and stopping the smooth forward motion needed to make the transition from successful attack to zanshin.

In kendo we often hear the statement “Ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi riki”, one sight, two feet, three tanden (abdomen), four power, (in this instance it refers to the power of technique rather than strength). This adage tells us that after seeing the opportunity, our power should come from our feet through our lower body and then finally our arms and hands conclude the waza.

To make this happen you have to combine the following points:

  • Your left foot must always be in place. As soon as you move your right foot forward your left foot should follow. Your heel should be at a 15 degree angle to the floor giving you enough traction to push off as soon as you see an opportunity.
  • Your abdomen should be braced; you need to breathe in and hold that breath in the interval between entering distance and attack. The feeling should be that of attacking your opponent’s left eye from your navel.
  • Arms and shoulders should be totally relaxed with the left wrist cocked to support the shinai and the right hand in a natural position with just little and ring fingers gripping the tsuka. Elbows should rest lightly on your dou and you should keep a natural bend in your arms.
  • Finally you should make sure that you do not move your hands and arms until your foot and body movement is nearly complete. The sequence should be push off from the left foot, raise your left hand, start to bring the shinai down as your right foot leaves the ground  and strike as you make fumikomi, not forgetting to quickly draw your left foot up again, ready to move through.

Many years ago Sugo sensei of Chuo University tried to reinforce this behaviour in me by grabbing my keikogi and the koshi ita of my hakama and pulling me upwards as I attempted to strike men. Unfortunately it took quite a few years before the lesson sank in.  Whilst I am not necessarily advocating hakama wedgies, my advice as always, is more kihon geiko. Although you get to use more energy in the process, you may find the way to save it while you still have some to spare.

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Most of the comments on my last post dealt with the subject of making good fumikomi. Andrea is not unusual in having problems with this and everyone who came back with suggestions added a lot of value to the debate. I touched on fumikomi in previous articles and talked more generally about footwork in http://wp.me/ptBQt-gZ  but I think that it is worth exploring this a little further.

Andrea’s sensei’s point that a cut without audible fumikomi is not ippon, I imagine, was made to emphasise the importance of ki-ken-tai-ichi. Technically you can score ippon without fumikomi by sliding your right foot into place with as you strike; you can also successfully make a strike from chudan when you pull your left foot up into position. Footwork is the device you use to ensure that your body is in the right distance and posture to strike correctly, after all it is ki-ken-tai-ichi or mind, sword and body as one; not mind, sword and foot as one. Still it is true that a loud slapping sound made on the point of cutting is satisfying and it certainly helps confirm to shinpan that all the necessary elements are there.

David’s comment about the quality of dojo floor was insightful. Training in custom built kendojo in Japan is kinder to the feet than some of the hardwood and composition floors we have to make-do with in other countries. I see more Japanese visitors wearing heel pads than I do locals, who are used to slamming their feet down on un-sprung oak over concrete.

I also liked Ken’s suggestion about training with a slipper or flip-flop. I confess that I got a bit fixated on this and went on to extemporise about the possibility of borrowing from the sub-aqua club and trying it with flippers. Taking my over-vivid imagination out of the equation, it clearly pays to practice how to make correct fumikomi.

Like Andrea, I also have a very high instep, but do not find that it affect s my footwork if  I do things correctly. My favourite tip comes from Chiba sensei. This was taught as part of the drill to strengthen seme, but has a highly beneficial effect on fumikomi. Starting from long distance you step into issoku ito maai and then whilst holding your opponent in a state of tame, you slightly bend your right knee. Your opponent suspecting that you are about to launch an attack will start an attack of his or her own, giving you the opportunity to make debana men.

The side effect of bending your right knee is that the sole of your foot is now parallel with the floor and if your weight is focussed on your left foot, you simply push off from the left and throw your right foot forward, (do not lift your right knee up). As your right foot remains parallel throughout the movement, you make contact with the floor with the maximum amount of foot area and even if your heel hits, it should not hurt as you create a cushion of air between foot and floor. It is the expulsion of this air that makes the slapping sound that should wake up the doziest of referees.

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The principle in most martial arts is that you use your opponent’s force to defeat him. In Judo or Aikido you make him push and then use minimal effort to break his balance and throw him. Many people seem to forget that this also applies to kendo.

Because in kendo we set out to strike our opponent, we think about using footwork that gets us to the target as quickly as possible. This for many people means one thing – big steps. What many people often ignore is that there are two of you involved in keiko or shiai and you need to adapt your distance and timing to reflect that of your partner and that you can take advantage of his effort to beat him.

This was demonstrated very clearly in a seminar last year by Chiba sensei and is something that I have become increasingly conscious of. I have noticed however that a number of people seem to take a “one size fits all” approach to footwork.

If your opponent is static or going backwards, you need to first move into your own attacking distance and then take a further step as you make the technique. If he retreats as you make your initial seme, you may well need to cover a distance of up to a metre before making contact. On the other hand if he is moving forward, he is doing most of the work in getting to a distance where you can make a useful attack. To take advantage you need to make only a slight forward movement.

It all seems fairly straightforward and logicall but I see many situations where both players take big steps towards each other at the same time, resulting in an invalid strike made towards the tsuba end of the shinai, which as we all know, is invalid.

By stepping in, not only is your opponent supplying most of the forward motion for your technique, he his supplying much of the forward energy, so typically your technique needs less force than an attack against an immobile partner.

Typically you would use debana or oji waza in this situation. Using debana men as an example, you need to be ready to move with pressure on the ball of your left foot. As your opponent steps into distance, you just push off from your back foot and make a small crisp men cut. In these circumstances, your step probably needs to cover a distance of no more than 15cm. The force of the attack can stand to be 50% lighter than a shikake attack, as your opponent is supplying the forward movement. As long as your technique is finished cleanly with good tenouchi, it should be judged as ippon.

For degote, distances are even closer and you may need to make fumikomi on the spot without moving, to maintain the correct distance.

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