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Posts Tagged ‘ki-ken-tai-itchi’

kedno_kihon_wazaDuring Hayashi-sensei’s visit he repeatedly made the point that everyone should practise kihon- geiko with suriashi footwork. This is particularly beneficial for beginners, but acts as a reminder to us all about completing techniques with ki-ken-tai-itchi.

This is not a new idea and I have seen this type of practice over the last 20 years. Sumi-sensei has long been an advocate of this approach, even before the introduction of the Bokutoen Ni Yoru Kihon Keikoho, which runs through the whole range of main kendo techniques in quasi kata style. The difference is that this kihon-geiko is practised as a drill with shinai and wearing men and kote and that we make full contact with the target as we would in other forms of uchikomi-geiko.

Apparently this type of drill is fast gaining popularity in Japan. I took part in suriashi kirikaeshi last year in the Osaka Shudokan, where emphasis was put on correct distance and hasuji.  This logically leads on to a series of men, kote and dou strikes followed by kote-men, all performed with sliding footwork and with zanshin then made on the spot after the strike. Sequences of large and then small cuts can also be introduced.

Emphasis is put on correct distance, hikitsuke (bringing up the back foot as we complete each strike), and raising the shinai and striking in the timing of one (ichibyoshi). Even though the speed of the drill is slower than the equivalent drill with fumikomi-ashi, the speed and strength of the cut itself should be the same.

When teaching small and large variations of each strike, it should be reiterated that the strength of the cut should not change with the size of the strike, but that the wrists and tenouchi should ensure that the power of a small cut is no less than a large one. For nidan-waza such as kote-men, we should hit both targets with 100 per cent commitment and not use kote just as a set-up for the men strike.

For beginners we could profitably restrict a training session to this type of suriashi kihon. For more experienced kenshi it is worth repeating all of the exercises with fumikomi footwork, but making sure that we achieve all the points about distance, hikitsuke, the timing of one etc. that we worked on in suriashi, The only difference is that we add fumikomi and go through for our zanshin after each strike.

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186220813GENXmp_phFor referees the initial rounds of a mixed ability shiai can often be extremely challenging. There is a degree of subjectivity in the way we judge what is and what is not ippon and the level of severity with which we apply the rules will vary according to the age and experience level of the competitors.

With competitions that are open to both kyu and dan ranked players, outcomes are often surprising. Junior kenshi  do not do what is expected of them, or they  react to attacks in a way that more experienced players would not, so you often see skilled shiaisha having a hard time because when they go for what should be an open target, the less experienced opponent’s men is protected by a raised shinai when an experienced player would still be in chudan.

The most challenging aspect is when the newbie is gamely slugging away and hitting the target, but without correct footwork or ki-ken-tai-itchi. None of these incorrect strikes can be counted within the rules of kendo shiai, but they cause frustration and confusion for the competitor and the audience.

It is difficult to create hard and fast rules on grade level. I have seen kyu grades produce highly skilled kendo and dan grades who have not quite got their basics right, but generally, more experienced players tend to have a more established level of basic kendo technique.

Whilst not necessarily guaranteeing the highest level of kendo, these mixed ability events can be highly enjoyable and offer all dojo members a great bonding opportunity. The standard of kendo invariably improves as each taikai runs its course and the players who make it to the last eight and upwards normally demonstrate that correct technique is the most effective.

There are of course competition options other than sanbon shiai. Comparing how well players demonstrate kiri-kaeshi and a range of basic techniques against a motodachi is one approach. This is frequently used for the younger competitors in children’s competitions and is a great way to encourage competitive spirit without building a defensive attitude that might limit kendo development.

As in all things, common sense is probably the way forward. For competitors who are still building their kendo skill set, if they can come away from a taikai with the inspiration to improve, it has been a valuable experience. The key point to remember is that shiai is the tip of the iceberg that we build in our regular keiko in the dojo.

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3_Shikakewaza_Men2One of the most common errors that I see from beginners, and in some cases from more experienced kenshi, is the habit of putting an extra step into their approach and attack. What I mean is that they start outside of striking distance; take a step towards their opponent, take another step whilst raising the shinai and another one when bringing it down. This is often compounded by using walking footwork, alternating the forward foot in in this three stage step, raise, and strike routine.

The correct action is of course to step into range maintaining chudan kamae then raise and lower the shinai in a continuous movement, simultaneously taking a second step to strike the target. This sound simple but some people find it difficult, particularly if they have become used to attacking in a one, two, three rhythm.

Raising the shinai whilst you are outside striking distance gives your opponent early warning of your intention. It also leaves you open to tsuki and dou, particularly if you spend a long time with your shinai raised. It also means that your technique, should you manage to strike the target is likely not to have correct ki-ken-tai-itchi, as it is difficult to coordinate hand and foot movement.

There are numerous ways however to correct this fault. A good start is to practice suburi, concentrating on making the up and down movement in the timing of one (ichibyoshi). You can also practise men drills stepping into your own uchima distance without lowering or lifting the point of your shinai and then raise it as you push off from the left foot and bring it sharply down on your opponent’s men as your right foot hits the floor. You should ensure that before pushing off you bring your left foot up to the correct position and that the ball of the foot has strong contact with the floor.

Once you succeed with this drill you can develop it using smaller strikes just powered by your forward movement and tenouchi.  Then with your partner’s co-operation you can work creating and breaking pressure to build a basis for debana men.

If you do suffer from the “one, two, three” syndrome, it is worth correcting the habit as early in your kendo career as you can. Having good basics makes it much easier to learn advanced techniques.

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3_Oji_Men_Kaeshi_men4_5As part of yesterday’s kihon-geiko we worked on some oji-waza against men. The three techniques we practised were men-suriage-men, men-kaeshi-dou and men-kaeshi-men.

The first two techniques are old favourites, probably because raising the shinai to deflect or block a downward cut is relatively easy for a smaller person against a taller opponent. Kaeshi -men however is a challenge, because taller opponents will often have their hands in a higher position than mine, so that when I try to return the men strike I hit their shinai rather than an open men.

For anyone who is not familiar with kaeshi-men, this is a technique where you receive your opponent’s strike on one side of your shinai and to return it on the other side. So if you block on omote you return the strike to ura and vice versa. As I mentioned this technique is most effective for taller people against shorter opponents and at my unexceptional 173cm, the logical question is “why bother?”

On a practical level, I teach kenshi of all heights, so I need to know the technique well enough to demonstrate it to people who might find it useful. I also do from time to time come into contact with shorter opponents, so it is worth keeping in reserve for these rare occasions. I also think that we should practise all kendo techniques on a regular basis, whether or not they are our favourites.

Reasons for regularly working on a wide repertoire of techniques are numerous. Doing so ensures that you don’t rely on one or two waza, that you can select the most appropriate response for each attack and because trying different techniques generally helps with your timing, balance and movement.

Oji waza in general is about using your opponent’s momentum to make effective strikes with an economy of movement. With kaeshi-waza you usually meet your opponent’s shinai as you step forward on one foot and return the strike as you bring the other foot up to position. So for example, if you are receiving on omote, you do so as you make a diagonal step with the left foot and strike as your right foot moves into place. This is therefore a great opportunity to develop ki-ken- tai -itchi  with hiraki-ashi footwork.

So for me, whilst it is unlikely that I will get any taller, using this technique at least acts as a reminder that my feet should be in the right place when I make a strike.

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YamabushiI am lucky enough to work in an international environment and even luckier because our working language is English, so my non-native speaker colleagues have to work much harder to communicate than do the Americans and Brits.

A lady in my office was explaining to a Spanish speaking co-worker that “There are many ways to skin a cat”, meaning various routes to achieving the same goal. She was instantly met with a string of questions about her need to be cruel to animals, what she was going to do with the skin of the unfortunate animal and what did skinning cats have to do with the work topic under discussion. Fortunately I was just an innocent eavesdropper to this conversation, but it made me think that the Chinese / Japanese equivalent “There are many paths to the top of the mountain” gave a far more positive, affirming view of alternate choices.

When kendo was first exported to the West, many of the teachers who introduced it were not professionals, so they taught in the same way they learned. In many cases they were taught in primary school and they used the same methods to teach adult beginners.

More recently the professional kendo teachers sent out by the AJKF have taken a far more analytical approach to kendo tuition. These experts have worked out the best ways to coach people of varying ages and ability levels. Nevertheless, different sensei have widely differing methods of teaching the same things. One might emphasise making big swings in suburi, another may concentrate on small sharp cuts against the opponent’s shinai to improve tenouchi. Either way the objective is to help the student make correct, relaxed cuts.

Some instructors focus on posture, others talk about bracing the abdomen; while others may emphasise the importance of drawing up the left foot after cutting. All of these approaches are designed to instil ki-ken-tai-itchi in the student.

I have heard kenshi complain that they get widely differing advice from various teachers and don’t know which to follow. This is a challenge, particularly for those in the early stages of kendo development. In an ideal world we should be able to follow the principles of shu-ha-ri, following the instruction of one teacher until we have strong enough basics to branch out and borrow from others. Finally we become capable of improvising and improving technique unaided.

For many though, it is a matter of taking advice from whoever will give it. In this case it is worth keeping in mind that “there are many paths to the top of the mountain” or if your shamisen needs refurbishing “many ways of skinning a cat”.

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downloadWhenever I come back to the UK after seeing high level kendo in Japan I am struck by one major difference in our kendo- we show far less kihaku. I don’t mean that our kiai is not loud enough, but overall we do not show the same inner force and explosiveness that our Japanese peers demonstrate.  Kihaku refers to the strength of spirit that we bring to our keiko. Outside the dojo in everyday Japanese a more usual translation would be “vigour”.

How this difference is manifested is difficult to explain, but let me try. It starts from the moment we stand up from sonkyo; instead of a “let’s wait and see what happens” attitude we should be fizzing like a piece of magnesium in water, looking for an opportunity to strike. When we find that opportunity we should explode, accelerating after we strike and taking our determination into zanshin.

Partially, the way to achieve this is through correct breathing – taking a big breath before you engage, releasing part of it through kakegoe, holding the remainder in tame and then emptying yourself on the strike.  Breathing alone though is not enough. We need to be in a state of constant readiness, able to attack at will. When we do strike it needs to be with total commitment. Win or lose we have to give it 100 per cent of our energy and effort. Our forward movement, particularly for men needs to be as fast as possible, picking up acceleration as we strike.

The strike itself should be sharp, not hard. A fast relaxed swing with good tenouchi is the way to do this and it goes without saying that our fumikomi, posture and strike should be as one.  Not everyone is in a position to do this. If you are in the early stages of your kendo career then you are still working on getting the basics right and it is almost impossible to put maximum effort into a strike when you are still thinking of the best way to do it. When technique is practiced until it becomes second nature, then it is the time to leave conscious thought behind and give it all you’ve got.

In my younger days I was delighted to be given the nickname “bullet” by my Japanese sempai. I was sure that this was based on the strength and speed of my attack. It was only later that I learned that the real reasoning behind the name was that when we hit the bars of Kyobashi after training, I was considered unstoppable. Still it was a confidence builder while it lasted.

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I am back from a weekend of kendo. On Saturday I ran a coaching session for the British Kendo Squad and on Sunday I refereed The British Open Championships. It was an interesting combination of events as the second day allowed everyone to work on putting theory into practice.

I have written about sae on a number of occasions. This term describes the snap or sharpness necessary to turn a strike into a successful yuko datotsu. This and seme were the themes of the squad training session. Whilst we looked at a number of shikake and oji techniques, we paid particular attention to both how we made the opportunity and how we finished each attack.

Sae in theory is a product of tenouchi, (the inside of the hands), or the way you complete the cut by squeezing the tsuka of the shinai as it makes contract with the target. In practice the path of the cut also has to be correct and ki-ken-tai-itchi has to bring all the elements of footwork, posture and kiai together at the exact point of striking the target. Sae is not something than can be applied as an afterthought. If your hands are in the correct position throughout the strike then it is simply a matter of squeezing with the little and ring fingers of both hands on the point of impact. If they are not and for instance your right hand is holding too strongly, then regardless of whether or not you squeeze the shinai, it will not result in ippon.

Chiba sensei talks about making tenouchi for men once the shinai is at chin height. The concept is to hit the target and then squeeze after, so that you strike with full force and complete the technique sharply just below the point of impact. This is not as aggressive as it sounds, because if the use of shoulders, elbows and wrists are correct, the strike will be quick and sharp rather than heavy.

At yesterday’s taikai we saw varying levels of sae. There were many long encho where both fighters made numerous strikes, but few were sharp enough to make the referees raise their flags. At the end of the day we were presenting prizes and cleaning the hall at the same time. There was of course some enjoyable kendo. Mr Yamazaki, from Hokkaido University took first place, demonstrating my sae theory with some explosive techniques, including an excellent tsuki in the semi-final. I was also delighted that two of our regular Mumeishi students Alex Heyworth and Alan Thompson respectively took second and third place medals.

On a completely different subject, I had a Skype chat with a Japanese kendo friend who recently returned home after many years in the UK. He visited the Shudokan in Osaka and mentioned that he had to wait 45 minutes for keiko with a hachidan sensei. Nothing changes!

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