Posts Tagged ‘kendo seminars’

bulbAt the few dojo where I am a regular attendee, I enjoy teaching people whom I know. Each of us tend to learn in different ways, so knowing their learning style and motivation it becomes easier to transmit information in a way that appeals to them. When I teach at seminars, often in different countries, it is more of a challenge. Trying to motivate people whom you hardly know is not an easy job.

The fact that they come to seminars is an indication that they want to improve and build on their kendo. I point this out because there are many kenshi who have reached a level that they are happy with and who see kendo training as a way to enjoy exercise and fellowship, not a lifelong quest for self-improvement. Those that come to these events, come to learn, but we each have our preferred way of absorbing information.

There are people who respond to criticism and others who get the most from encouragement. Some appreciate the traditional approach of watching a technique demonstrated then being given the chance to try it themselves, others like to understand the reason behind the technique and contemplate how and when to deploy it. There are some who need to break each action down to its smallest part and then build the technique from the components and a lucky few who have the ability to see something once and then do it in its entirety.

Over the weekend I was teaching at a seminar in Brussels and all seemed to be going well. I noticed one individual who was concentrating hard and producing some good men attacks. With kote however he tended to tense up and almost crouch as he hit. I jokingly tried to give him a shoulder massage which was received with a degree of indignation.

Further into the our training, I decided to point out what he was doing and had a quite word without bringing it to everyone’s attention. I was told that I was mistaken and that he was perfectly happy with the way things were going, so I decided to keep my unwanted advice to myself.

We finished the day with mawari geiko. When we met I decided to take advantage of his crouch into kote and every time this happened I hit his men. At the end of the session he came over to bow and thanked me profusely for correcting his kote. As they say everyone is different.

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MountainI spent this weekend at a seminar which finished with a grading examination. One of the candidates who failed asked for feedback  and when I explained that the reason was failure to actively strike their opponent, I was told that it was the fault of my co-instructor who had advised that strikes should not be heavy. The candidate had responded to this advice by just reaching forward with the shinai as their opponent came towards them.

I did my best to explain that there was probably some misunderstanding and what my colleague had meant was that they should not make heavy downward strikes but that the feeling should be one of going forward. Of course this did not mean that the hit should not be sharp. In my experience this is a common misunderstanding. We should still strike downwards but our body should move straight ahead. In short you can’t get ippon without hitting.

It is not surprising that people get muddled on this point. In kendo we talk about oshigiri or push cutting, but to do this we have to deliver the datotsu bu of the shinai to the target area before we continue to cut forward with our body movement.

To do this you have to learn to relax so that you can deliver a downward strike whilst pushing forward from your left foot. You can then make a sharp strike using your shoulders, elbows and wrists, whilst at the same time accelerating forward using our feet and hips and as we discussed last week, the force of our kiai.

This type of confusion is common in our kendo careers when we tend to swing backwards and forwards from one extreme to another. We are told to make our big strikes smaller by one teacher and the next sensei tells us to make our small cuts bigger. We are advised to attack less frequently and then told to increase our work rate. Incredibly most of this advice will be relevant, but it is based on what the advising sensei sees on the day. There is some good news, in my experience this conflicting information starts to slow down as you develop your kendo.

There is of course a difference in the approach of various instructors and as the saying goes “there are many paths to the top of the mountain”. When you attend seminars or visit dojo, the advice you may receive is based on what the teacher sees on the day. Of course kendo reigi dictates an answer of “yes thank you” rather than a discussion of what the last guy said. However it makes sense to take the new information away with you and reflect on how it will affect your kendo before incorporating it into your keiko.

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EKF Calendar (300x320)Over the years the number of kendo seminars, taikai and grading examinations has continued to grow. In February alone there will be 10 events in the European zone. In comparison to the few opportunities that were available back in the days when I started kendo this is an enviable situation. The challenge however is selecting which to attend.

Some decisions are simple. If you are planning to take a grading examination the nearest venue provided by your local federation is the easy option. The same thing goes for your own regional championships. If however you are a keen shiai player in search of international experience, you could have a choice of two or three major taikai within weeks of each other.

For those of us who are asked to referee and sit on grading panels, we occasionally receive invitations for several things on the same day and face the dilemma of which to attend. In this case I usually go with the first invitation.

There are several weekends when equally important sensei will be teaching at the same time. In addition to the seminars arranged by national federations there are also a number of club events where the teachers have been invited direct by friends or former students.  Some of these have been advertised ahead of time and some of these are still not on federation websites nor have they been flagged up to the EKF. I know of at least two hachidan visits to the UK that have not yet been formally anounced.

Thanks to cheap air fares and the internationalisation of kendo we are now spoilt for choice. My only reservation is that when famous kendo teachers visit a country we should make sure that a significant number of people are there to benefit from their teaching. I have often heard Japanese kendo friends express surprise that there is no queue for keiko with visiting hanshi, whereas local kendo students in Japan seldom have a chance to practise with them.

I have queued for most of the hour allocated for asa-geiko at the Kyoto Taikai for one practice with a teacher for whom I have never waited for more than 5 minutes in the UK. In some ways we enjoy an enviable situation as international kendo students, but we should be careful not to take our luck for granted.  In an ideal world we would stagger sensei visits, so that they are distributed evenly over the year. Unfortunately this is almost impossible to arrange as visits abroad typically happen in gaps in the kendo and academic calendar in Japan.

My suggestion is that we make the most of as many visits as we can when we have the opportunity. Hachidan are not like buses; you can never guarantee that there will be another one along in a minute.

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Watchet Seminar Group2013

Watchet Seminar Group 2013

I enjoy teaching at kendo seminars. They offer the opportunity to try to make to make a difference to the kendo of a group of people from various dojo in a short period of time. As I mentioned in last week’s post, this was the weekend of the annual Watchet seminar and the theme was “making opportunities to attack”. Obviously this is a broad subject and encompasses the whole gamut of shikake and oji waza. I was privileged to work with the senior group and I and Terry Holt sensei ran through numerous drills, making the connection to how these techniques fit into the sansatsuho.

As there is a grading examination on the second afternoon, the seminar lasts for a day and a half and includes kata practice and keiko as well as warm-ups and basic kihon. The second morning is mostly a reprise of the first day with a chance to work on any problem areas. The timetable allowed us an hour to run through the whole range of men, dou and kote techniques, trying seme waza, osae and harai waza and then progressing through debana , suriage, kaeshi, uchiotoshi and nuki techniques. Although we had spent a more leisurely three hours on these on Saturday, the review session felt like it was happening in fast forward and the students did a great job to keep up with the pace.

Some waza were new to some people and old favourites for others. In some cases different instructors bring a slightly different approach to techniques that you already know and that sometimes is the catalyst that turns a never used technique into a favourite. In most cases the biggest improvements happen when you take the seed of technique back to your own dojo and work on it. Although kendo associations try to combine seminars and grading examinations for convenience, a seminar held three months ahead of an examination would probably show the best results.

The one thing that I am sure was obvious to most people is that in kendo, as in the rest of life, you have to “make it happen”. Shikake waza does not work unless you break your opponents centre and oji waza is effective only if you control your opponents timing and pull him into your counter attack. I am delighted to say that everyone bought whole-heartedly into this concept and the quality of kendo in the keiko sessions and the examination lifted accordingly.

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