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Matsumoto sensei copyIn the light of some very interesting comments on ashi-sabaki following last week’s post, I wanted to take some thoughts on footwork from Matsumoto sensei’s teachings. However, the way he explained the whole process of kendo movement makes it almost impossible to separate the actions of different parts of the body, so I have taken the liberty of re-posting some lecture notes which I first posted in 2009. I have shown the text relating to foot movement in blue, but as you can see, these instructions are an integral part of of describing how the whole body should move.

Correct Chudan Kamae and Attack Action

A lecture by Matsumoto Toshio Hanshi 9th Dan

Delivered on March 6th 1980 at the 44th Meeting of

Nishinomiya Matsumoto Kenshyu Kai

Recorded in Japanese by Sakagami Takashi, Kyoshi 6 dan

Translated into English by Yamamoto Hisami Kyoshi 7dan

Chudan Kamae

The left forearm should be at 45 degree angle to the ground and the thumb of the left hand should point to a spot about 30 – 40 cm in front of the big toe of your right foot. The thumb of the right hand should point forward almost at a horizontal angle.

The left foot should touch the floor at the point between the ball of the foot and the plantar arch and the heel. The toes should touch the ground in the way that is called, “a cat walking” * as if a very thin sheet of paper is placed between the toes and the ground. By raising the left heel from the floor, the distribution of weight becomes 70:30 between the left and right leg and 70:30 between the front and back of the sole of the left foot. The back of the left knee must be tense.

Attacking Action – Primarily against Men

The left heel which is now raised, should be slightly lowered. This will redistribute the weight 50:50 to the back and front of the left sole. The toes of the left foot which have so far pointed slightly to the left should point straight ahead. Now with the motion of stepping out from the left ankle, you should push your right foot forward.

Now the tension behind the left knee moves to a point of about 6cm above the back of the left knee and tension is applied to a slightly lesser degree to the same point above the right knee, the left hip can then be pushed forward.

Step within easy reach of your opponent, without changing the position of your hands. The left hand is then raised with the right hand following in a natural movement in line with the path of the shinai. This action will cause your right shoulder to draw back. At this point the right hand is acting as support to the left and it is wrong to apply force with the right hand in order to raise the shinai. It is important that you raise the right hand with the feeling of squeezing in which will protect your kote against counter attack as you raise your hand.

You should strike at the same time as you draw the left foot towards the right foot. At this point, the right hand, which so far has not been used to apply force is given the work of hitting together with the left hand, making use of the right elbow to indicate direction. Make maximum use of the power and flexibility of your wrists and use the integral power of your waist, back, shoulders and arms. (You should pursue the correct way of hitting so that it becomes possible to concentrate all your physical force into one strike*) When you make the strike the distribution of weight between your left and right legs will change to 40:60.

When you strike men, the thumb of the right hand is directed to the front as if to poke into your opponents eyes. For tsuki the thumb naturally angles downward.

When your opponent is in Nito or Jodan, his posture is referred to as floating and therefore is different to chudan. A chudan player must raise his hands a little to fight against Nito or Jodan to be in concert with the opponent’s floating posture and movements.

* “A cat walking”, means the way of walking without making a sound. In the case of pushing from the left foot to attack, it is recommended to ease the force in the toes with the feeling of bending them slightly upward. This will increase the power of your forward step.

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3_Shikakewaza_Men1There has always been a debate in kendo about how far back your hands should go in the back-swing preceding a men strike. Some sensei will tell you that the shinai should stop at a 45 degree angle with the left hand held just above the mengane, others will advise you to bring the left hand back in line with the back of your men. Less frequently in waza geiko and jigeiko, but certainly in suburi there is a school of thought that says the hands should go to the back of your neck and that your shinai should hit your buttocks before you bring it forward.

You will also probably have had varied instruction on the ideal shape of the cut and path that the shinai should travel. Different schools of thought include pushing the point forward throughout the backswing and cut, keeping your left hand at the same distance from all parts of the body as you raise the shinai, bringing the point back so that the shinai is horizontal when above your head and the list goes on.

To quote the Japanese Proverb, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain”. Most kendo teachers would agree that theirs is not the only way to hit men, but it is a way of making their students use their shoulders, elbows and wrists when doing so. The key point is to teach students to relax their arms and push up with the left hand, using all three joints as they do so.  The right hand then follows using minimal force until it’s time to make tenouchi.

It is not essential to make big cuts in kendo, but until you can do so correctly, it is unlikely that you will be successful making small strikes. If you ask a raw beginner to make a small attack to kote, where the point of the shinai moves only a few centimetres, he or she will probably do so by using the left hand as a pivot and make the strike with the power of their right hand.   If when they do this you talk about using the power of the left hand, it would be very difficult to put into effect.

On the other hand, by asking them to bring their hands up to above or behind their heads, you teach them to cut correctly. Once they can do this then the next challenge is to reduce the size of the cut, replacing the momentum of a big swing with sharp tenouchi.

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Apologies to Milan Kundera for the plagiarism, but I am feeling philosophical after seeing a clip of an Australian newsreader sink an interview with the Dalai Lama whilst attempting to explain the joke about the Buddhist who walked into a pizza shop and asked “make me one with everything”.

One of the advantages of aging is that as you become weaker, you stop wasting some of the energy you did when you had it to spare.  For many years I used far too much power in my arms and shoulders to no benefit other than burning calories. In fact using too much upper body power has a negative effect on your kendo by pulling your weight down and stopping the smooth forward motion needed to make the transition from successful attack to zanshin.

In kendo we often hear the statement “Ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi riki”, one sight, two feet, three tanden (abdomen), four power, (in this instance it refers to the power of technique rather than strength). This adage tells us that after seeing the opportunity, our power should come from our feet through our lower body and then finally our arms and hands conclude the waza.

To make this happen you have to combine the following points:

  • Your left foot must always be in place. As soon as you move your right foot forward your left foot should follow. Your heel should be at a 15 degree angle to the floor giving you enough traction to push off as soon as you see an opportunity.
  • Your abdomen should be braced; you need to breathe in and hold that breath in the interval between entering distance and attack. The feeling should be that of attacking your opponent’s left eye from your navel.
  • Arms and shoulders should be totally relaxed with the left wrist cocked to support the shinai and the right hand in a natural position with just little and ring fingers gripping the tsuka. Elbows should rest lightly on your dou and you should keep a natural bend in your arms.
  • Finally you should make sure that you do not move your hands and arms until your foot and body movement is nearly complete. The sequence should be push off from the left foot, raise your left hand, start to bring the shinai down as your right foot leaves the ground  and strike as you make fumikomi, not forgetting to quickly draw your left foot up again, ready to move through.

Many years ago Sugo sensei of Chuo University tried to reinforce this behaviour in me by grabbing my keikogi and the koshi ita of my hakama and pulling me upwards as I attempted to strike men. Unfortunately it took quite a few years before the lesson sank in.  Whilst I am not necessarily advocating hakama wedgies, my advice as always, is more kihon geiko. Although you get to use more energy in the process, you may find the way to save it while you still have some to spare.

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Men Drill

Men Drill

Since my last post, several people have made the point that it is fine to say what they did wrong, but it might be more helpful to tell them how to fix it. So here goes – do more kihon practice.

OK, let me be more specific. I highlighted three problems: 

  • Not using the left hand
  • Not being able to push off instantly from your left foot
  • Not hitting your opponent

The first two are the easiest to resolve and in doing so there is a good chance number three  will go away, so I will save that for another day.

The left hand problem is relatively simple, given that you want to change. Most people can cut correctly when doing basic exercises and drills, but stiffen up when they get into jigeiko.  To my view this suggests that we all should do more kihon and less free practice, but back to the point in hand! You get the cutting action right through practicing correct suburi. Try the following:- Stand in front of a mirror, (or get someone to video you), and make sure your posture is correct – back straight, with your balance just slightly forward from perpendicular, feet well spaced and shoulders relaxed. Now look at your kamae. Your left hand should be in line with your navel and your right hand directly in front, touching the tsuba with your knuckle. The point of your shinai should line up with the throat of an imaginary opponent of your own height. Your arms should be relaxed and close to your body but with elbows and wrists relaxed. You should also allow space for your arms to move freely without sticking on your dou.

Make sure that you are gripping correctly, hold the shinai  with your little finger and ring finger with the rest of your hand loose. Now start suburi with the feeling of pulling up with the left hand to just above your men. The point of the shinai should not go back too far, 45 degrees at the most. When you make the strike, ensure that your left hand always stays below your right, but that you extend your right wrist so that the eventual destination of the shinai is the chin of your opponent, squeezing gently with your right hand just after reaching the top of the men. Ensure that you lift and strike in one continuous movement and that your hands are turned in rather than out. Finally come to a complete stop after each cut and ensure that your balance and posture is right before the next.

This can be done in pairs, taking turns to hold the shinai above your head and stepping backwards and forwards for your opponent to make renzoku suburi. Chiba sensei suggests doing this in a set of 200, so you keep relaxed from the outset.

To my mind the best way to fix the drive from the left foot,  is to work in pairs, wearing men and kote. Face each other in issoku, itto maai and build pressure between you with strong kiai and kamae. Ensure posture and kamae are correct, then kakarite should move his weight from 50:50 to 70:30 left foot : right foot and also 70:30 between ball of foot and heel on the left foot. When motodachi feels that pressure has built to a maximum, he or she should make a small step forward on the right foot, opening their kamae and inclining their head forward. Kakarite should instantly push off from the left foot and strike in one action.  Practise this in sets of four or five changing motodachi after each set. Now you have the perfect debana men – which should keep you going until you make hachidan.

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With Matsumoto sensei

With Matsumoto sensei

I had a really interesting email from David Pan of Seattle, who saw my mention of Matsumoto Toshio sensei and wondered if I could identify a xeroxed book by Matsumoto sensei. I believe that the book was published posthumously from notes on lectures given at Matsumoto Kenshyukai in the 70s and 80s. As one of the 21 members of this group I have many of the original notes, but unfortunately my reading and writing abilities are close to nil. However I did find several translations by the late Yamamoto Hisami sensei and am posting it here. I have rewritten this fairly extensively, but have tried not to sacrifice accuracy in the interest of readability.

Correct Chudan Kamae and Attack Action

A lecture by Matsumoto Toshio

Hanshi 9th Dan

Delivered on March 6th 1980 at the 44th Meeting of

Nishinomiya Matsumoto Kenshyu Kai

Recorded in Japanese by Sakagami Takashi, Kyoshi 6 dan

Translated into English by Yamamoto Hisami Kyoshi 7dan

Chudan Kamae

 

The left forearm should be at 45 degree angle to the ground and the thumb of the left hand should point to a spot about 30 – 40 cm in front of the big toe of your right foot. The thumb of the right hand should point forward almost at a horizontal angle.

 

The left foot should touch the floor at the point between the ball of the foot and the plantar arch and the heel. The toes should touch the ground in the way that is called, “a cat walking” * as if a very thin sheet of paper is placed between the toes and the ground. By raising the left heel from the floor, the distribution of weight becomes 70:30 between the left and right leg and 70:30 between the front and back of the sole of the left foot. The back of the left knee must be tense.

 

Attacking Action – Primarily against Men

 

The left heel which is now raised, should be slightly lowered. This will redistribute the weight 50:50 to the back and front of the left sole. The toes of the left foot which have so far pointed slightly to the left should point straight ahead. Now with the motion of stepping out from the left ankle, you should push your right foot forward.

 

Now the tension behind the left knee moves to a point of about 6cm above the back of the left knee and tension is applied to a slightly lesser degree to the same point above the right knee, the left hip can then be pushed forward.

 

Step within easy reach of your opponent, without changing the position of your hands. The left hand is then raised with the right hand following in a natural movement in line with the path of the shinai. This action will cause your right shoulder to draw back. At this point the right hand is acting as support to the left and it is wrong to apply force with the right hand in order to raise the shinai. It is important that you raise the right hand with the feeling of squeezing in which will protect your kote against counter attack as you raise your hand.

 

You should strike at the same time as you draw the left foot towards the right foot. At this point, the right hand, which so far has not been used to apply force is given the work of hitting together with the left hand, making use of the right elbow to indicate direction. Make maximum use of the power and flexibility of your wrists and use the integral power of your waist, back, shoulders and arms. (You should pursue the correct way of hitting so that it becomes possible to concentrate all your physical force into one strike*) When you make the strike the distribution of weight between your left and right legs will change to 40:60.

 

When you strike men, the thumb of the right hand is directed to the front as if to poke into your opponents eyes. For tsuki the thumb naturally angles downward.

 

When your opponent is in Nito or Jodan, his posture is referred to as floating and therefore is different to chudan. A chudan player must raise his hands a little to fight against Nito or Jodan to be in concert with the opponent’s floating posture and movements.

 

* “A cat walking”, means the way of walking without making a sound. In the case of pushing from the left foot to attack, it is recommended to ease the force in the toes with the feeling of bending them slightly upward. This will increase the power of your forward step.

 

Photograph shows me with Matsumoto sensei in 1979

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