Posts Tagged ‘kendo posture’

Kamae CaptureMany potentially strong kenshi reach a stage where their kendo development is blocked because their hips are not sufficiently engaged when they make a forward attack. This is one bad habit that seems as common in Japan as it does in the west. You see this trait very often with people who have had successful high school and university shiai careers and who have come to rely on speed and good reflexes to beat their opponents. Unfortunately as we get a bit older we start to slow down, so we need to ensure that our posture and technique are correct, to ensure that we make the most of the opportunities we see and that we do not leave ourselves open to attack through bad kamae. Obviously your hips need to be engaged before during and after each attack and if they are not, our posture will be hollow as we strike.  Our feet may well finish in the correct position and our hands may be in the correct place to hit the target but unless our hips are forward and we are able to cut with the power of our back, the strike will not be effective. We are given various advice on how to correct this. Some teachers talk about “tightening your buttocks as you step forward” others recommend “making seme with the intention of pushing your navel towards the opponents left eye”. Other sensei have gotten the required result without even talking about the hips; for instance by ensuring that the left leg is straight, with tension behind the knee as you step forward. If you do this, it is impossible not to engage your hips. “Many paths to the top of the same mountain” as they say. There is however need for caution in how we change our kamae. It is only too easy to over-straighten your hips, pushing your left hip and by default your left shoulder too far forward. This will have the effect of making your posture overly stiff and tense and it then becomes difficult to make relaxed fluid strikes with the shinai. Your posture should be natural and comfortable and although your centre should be focused on the target it does not mean that both hands and the mid-point of your head and body should be in a direct line. Instead your body should form a triangle pointing at the target. I have taken an illustration from Matsumoto Toshio sensei’s lecture notes that illustrates this far more effectively than my explanation. But remember, push your hips forward and relax.

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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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