Posts Tagged ‘kihon geiko’

Matsumoto sensei copyI practice regularly with people who are training to achieve 4th, 5th and 6th dan and I am often asked for my opinion on what they need to change to effectively make the step up. Most of these students can demonstrate good technique and footwork and given clear opportunities can make effective waza. Often though the element they need to work-on is more internal than external.

Nearly all kenshi are familiar with the term kamae, meaning posture. Fewer of us are aware of ki-gamae, which the ZNKR’s kendo dictionary describes as “the state where one’s whole body is alert and ready to react to the moves of the opponent’s body and mind that precede a strike”.  Whilst this may sound unnecessarily complicated as a concept, in reality it is simple. A cat looking for the best opportunity to pounce on a mouse does not intellectualize the process; she just strains every sense to find the perfect opportunity to attack.

Ki-gamae is a state of being both calm and settled and having a heightened perception of your opponent’s intention, and being in a position where you can strike in an instant. We can’t achieve this by strength of mind alone. We need to have good footwork, constantly bringing the left foot up to the correct position as we move forward, and even more importantly we should have the ability to control our breathing so that we are able to exhale at the point of attack.

We have discussed this before, but the general outline is that we breathe in through the nose and hold our breath by tensing the abdomen. We then expel part of the air as kakegoe and then use the remainder of that breath to explode on making the strike. If the opportunity to attack is not instant we need to retain the breath until we see the chance to strike (tame).

Obviously ki-gamae is not reserved for grading examinations and shiai, we should be in this state of awareness every time we visit the dojo and in each keiko from the opening to the closing rei. By keiko I also mean kihon-geiko, so every drill should be undertaken with full spirit. In this way we make strong ki-gamae an integral part of our kendo. Given enough practice ki-gamae and ki-zeme move from being terms in the kendo dictionary and become as natural to us as they would to the cat looking for dinner.

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Suburi with partner

Suburi with partner

Many years ago I visited a new dojo in a fairly remote part of the UK and watched the only two members run through a two hour kihon geiko session, practicing almost every technique in the kendo repertoire. Both deserved full marks for stamina and memory, but I wondered how much benefit they were getting from the session.

Almost every high level teacher that I have had the privilege of training with tends to tailor their training sessions around a particular theme, often limiting the waza taught to a very small number to ensure that they sink in. I have seen whole two day seminars limited to the correct way to strike shikake men; building up through static suburi to suburi engaging the feet, then including approach and seme, fumikomi and then zanshin. The correct way the use the grip or tenouchi to finish the attack crisply often warrants a teaching session in itself.

In the eyes of some kendoka this amount of drilling down becomes tedious, perhaps it is because we should, and often do, devote large chunks of our training sessions to these basic elements. In other sports it is the serious perfectionists only who are aware of the value of breaking technique down to the smallest component part. Of the millions of amateur golfers, it is a few deadly serious players who take the trouble to take lessons from the club pro. These normally focus on the minute analysis and reconstruction of the individuals swing. We call it suburi.

Most hanshi stress the value of correct suburi, Sueno sensei says if you can’t do correct suburi you can’t do kendo, Iwadate sensei focussed on big suburi to ensure that the cut is centralised; Chiba sensei regularly emphasised that 3000 continuous suburi a day were his path to success.

I am as guilty as the next kenshi in not doing enough suburi. I normally practice a hundred or so as part of the warm up to each keiko session and include a few more in front of the mirror when I have the chance, but I am sure that including more suburi in my keiko would do nothing but good. Suburi is the foundation on which we can build strong kendo.

Practising a kendo waza over and over again allows you to use it in keiko or shiai without thinking. If you then extend the suburi through uchikomi training with an opponent it becomes even more ingrained.  So although it may seem tedious, constant repetition and attention to detail is the way to success.

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Mumeishi-History13I enjoy my Sunday Morning keiko at Mumeishi dojo, particularly when Holt sensei takes the Kihon practice. It means that with the exception of deciding what to eat for breakfast and whether to buy my wife a copy of the Sunday newspaper before or after keiko, I do not have to think.

Even when I am leading the training, it does not take a great deal of conscious consideration, because we have done most of the routines so many times they have become second nature, but it is even more comforting to position myself in the usual corner of the dojo and be taken through a familiar routine without any thought for what comes next.

This combination of Sunday morning lethargy and someone else calling the shots is my ideal antidote to the hectic work week and the preliminary session of repetitive kihon training sets me up for the following jigeiko by taking me to a state where I rely on ingrained technique rather than planning how to deal with each opponent.

I have jokingly suggested that the ideal kendoka should have the stamina of an endurance athlete, exceptional leg and core body strength, lightning fast reactions and an IQ of not more than 80. In reality I believe that it is more a question of temperament than intelligence, but it is true that some of my obviously brainy friends do occasionally tie themselves in knots by too much analysis.

Today one of our Japanese members mentioned that he was having trouble hitting my men. It was difficult to see why, as he has great kihon and posture, very strong kihaku and good timing, but then he confessed to thinking too hard about each attack. For some reason the harder you think about a technique the more difficult it becomes use it. The best thing is to do any analysis outside the dojo in the comfort of your home, favourite bar, or coffee shop and to spend your dojo time practicing with minimal consciousness.

As we have discussed before on numerous occasions, the only way of combatting the Four Sicknesses (Shikai) of surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation is to make or take your opportunity and then to attack with total commitment. The only way to gain the ability to do this is from regular, hard, intense kihon geiko.

We strive in kendo to achieve rin-ki-o-hen , the state in which we are instantly able to react to opportunities and changes in our opponent. For most of us this remains an ongoing quest. Nevertheless the ability to put the conscious brain on hold however occasionally is both good for our kendo and our lives outside the dojo.

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ChangeFollowing my “New Year Advice” post, Andrew commented.  ”The big question is why are so many of us unable to change?” and added a number of well thought out reasons why it is difficult to alter our behaviour. I also think that many of us do not like change because it takes us out of our comfort zone. Andrew’s contribution re-opened what for me is an interesting  area of discussion as I am currently trying to change my own kendo.

Last year Sumi sensei suggested that I should try to move less after hitting. This advice is not relevant to everyone, but increasingly appropriate to someone of my advanced years. To hit effectively without going through, requires full spirit and control, so I need to work hard to get it right.

Like most people I am better at giving advice than taking it, and although I am keen to change, force of habit frequently overrides my good intentions.  As I see an opportunity to strike men, I push off from the left foot, hit, and keep going until I reach the wall-bars. To be honest, I enjoy steaming across the dojo as if I was still 18, but I am invariably rewarded the following day with aching knees.

So as it is the time of year when we focus on doing all the things that we did not get around to last year, hitting correctly and then stopping on the spot is my New Year objective. For all of us though, kendo is about constant change, so the point I am slowly getting round to; is how can we effect change in our practice? We have looked at this many times before, and the obvious answer is to stick with kihon drills so that we are not distracted by our competitive instincts. There are times however when we need to make changes through our jigeiko. When you consider that keiko should be approached with an ”unfettered mind”, this is not easy.

The phrase “The paralysis of analysis” comes to mind from some long forgotten piece of management training. If you apply it to kendo there is a real danger that if you think too hard about what you are doing, you become unable to move. Instead I like the approach that I may have inadvertently borrowed from Timothy Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Tennis”;   of planning what you are going to do before the session, practicing without fixing your mind on a single issue and then reviewing how you did after training. The key is not to beat yourself up for making errors, but rather reflecting on what you did right.

I am in the process of trying this out and will be interesting to see whether I make any progress, or if my good intentions go the way of the January detox and diet.

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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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With Uegaki sensei

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am a keen advocate of the value of kihon training. I also believe it is unreasonable for any instructor to prescribe activities that he or she is not prepared or able to do personally.

Now in my 60’s I am hugely impressed by some of the Japanese sensei of my generation who refuse to act their age. Yamanaka sensei and Uegaki Isao sensei immediately come to mind as role models. I have had the pleasure of training with Uegaki sensei several times in his dojo in Yoshino. He invariably includes kakarigeiko in training sessions for kenshi of all ages and grades, including himself.

I recently resolved to add more kakarigeiko to my own training schedule and if I am going to suffer, so should everyone else.  At last Thursday’s practise in my local dojo, we concluded with 5 or 6 repetitions of kakarigeiko and I felt not only more virtuous but physically better for it.

I had the best of intentions to include kakarigeiko in yesterday’s morning practice at Mumeishi. Unfortunately I woke up with a case of “man-flu” and feeling unable to live up to my own expectations, I kept to the usual kirikaeshi and waza geiko routine before taking my place for motodachigeiko. I am determined however to get back on track as soon as I have stopped coughing and snivelling.

Following Uegaki sensei’s advice and example, I realise that us senior citizens can get as much benefit from kakarigeiko as do our younger, fitter colleagues. The elements that do not change are total commitment and big correct technique. Additionally we oldsters need to pay even more attention to producing strong kiai and seme, correct posture and good zanshin. So albeit slower than it used to be, kakarigeiko can still be a vital component of our training plan.

Whereas in hikitate geiko with less experienced players there is a tendency to rely on ojiwaza, kakarigeiko ensures that you make strong effective shikake waza against every partner. As such, it ensures that you constantly use your whole repertoire of kendo techniques and do not forget the value of making good seme men. The other benefits of this kind of training are increased appetite for a post-keiko beer and the ability to sleep like a baby.

So like any good male cold sufferer, I stopped off at Superdrug on my way home from keiko and collected a carrier bag full of vitamin C tablets, paracetamol, linctus and lozenges. I now plan to retire to bed with these and my Kindle. I will of course be keeping in touch with my wife by phone, sending frequent requests for soup and hot lemon and honey drinks. I should hopefully emerge by Tuesday, like an energised butterfly from a chrysalis ready for more kakarigeiko.

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