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Posts Tagged ‘kendo shiai’

Theoretically, good kendo is good kendo and there should be no difference between the attitude and the technique displayed in keiko or shiai. Every keiko should be approached with sincerity and the objective of taking shodachi, (first point).  You would therefore assume that shiai kendo at every level would look like the competitors’ everyday keiko – but it seldom does.

The obvious difference between keiko and shiai, is that in shiai there is more to lose, so intentionally or unintentionally; competitors become defensive. This does not just apply to less experienced players, but becomes even more evident at All Japan or World Championship level. Scan YouTube for kendo shiai content and you will lose count of the number of times that you see top-class kendoka holding the shinai above their men or in a modified kasumi no kamae to avoid being hit. Now you know that is wrong; I know that it is wrong; and believe me, they know that it is wrong, but they are not there to lose.

You can however see examples of shiai that totally reflect the principles of kendo that we try so hard to master. Typically, but not always, the competitors in these are older, more senior kendoka. The All Japan 8th dan championship and the final day of the Kyoto Taikai normally contain inspirational contests that typify all we try to achieve in kendo – good posture, strong zanshin and points won on seme and timing. If one of these competitors makes a successful attack then the other receives it with humility and good grace. I have a clip from a long ago Kyoto Taikai, where one kendo meijin acknowledged a point from his opponent before it happened. The other sensei had made a successful seme that clearly stole the centre, so rather than waste time by hitting men, they both bowed and continued to the next point.

Understandably, once kendoka ascend to the heights of hachidan and particularly hanshi, they acquire the obligation to display pure, honest kendo to the rest of us. Interestingly enough, these paragons are often the same people we saw ducking and blocking 10 years before.

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Training for Shiai

Tomorrow is the day of the British Open Championship and during the past few weeks several people have asked me about the best way of training for shiai. Other than the answer that ” it is too late” if you are asking now, I am not sure if there is any training that is solely specific to shiai. If you train to make your everyday Kendo stronger and faster then it will improve your shiai.

In my view, what sets strong shiai players apart from the rest of us, is the confidence and ability to remain calm under pressure and of course, the more you train and the more shiai experience you have, the more confident you become. There are, of course, tactics that will help maximise on shiai performance, but these are of no use without kendo skill. Arguably, concentrating too early in your kendo career on winning shiai can be counter-productive, with too much emphasis being put on not being hit and not enough concentration on correct technique.

Newer refereeing guidelines point to the need for correct distance, cutting, posture, strength of strike and zanshin and if you think about it, these are best developed through kirikaeshi, uchikomigeiko and waza geiko. Of course you need to find or make the correct opportunity to attack or counter-attack, but again these can be learned in keiko as well as shiai.

The only elements that are exclusive to shiai are the way you manage the space of the shiai-jo and the time allotted to the match. I recently saw a competitor lose by two points by accumulating four hansoku for stepping out of the area. Whilst this is an extreme case, many players would gain from having more awareness of how close they are to the line. The same applies to understanding where you are in the three, four or five minutes allowed for the match and ensuring that you do not peak too early or wait too long. If you are in an individual match or a team daihyo sen, then the stamina and the patience for a long encho are also important.

So I suppose the same advice goes for shiai as passing gradings. The more kendo you do (correctly), the better at it you become.

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