Posts Tagged ‘Motodachi-geiko’


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had an interesting conversation with Uegaki-sensei during my last trip to Japan. He made the point that if you want to improve a technique then you should work on it exclusively for 3 months.

This makes a great deal of sense. If you focus exclusively on one waza for this length of time you are going to absorb it into your muscle memory and it is going to become second nature when you deploy it in keiko or shiai.

The only word of warning is that you need to practice the technique correctly. Constantly repeating a mistake will only magnify it, so you need to be fairly certain that you understand exactly what you are doing before you commit yourself to 3000 repetitions per day.

The best way to improve is through kihon drills, but it is difficult to focus these exclusively on your own needs. In most dojo the training exercises are prescribed by an instructor whose job is to build a training programme that is valuable to everyone in the dojo. Often though if you tell your sensei what you are trying to do, he will set aside some practice time to help you, and you will have the bonus of him helping you get it right. I sometimes use motodachi-geiko sessions with students to work exclusively on the points that they are struggling with.

If sensei is not able to, or available to help, then it may be worth going to the dojo early with a buddy and working together on one technique, or taking turns to act as a target for different waza that you each need to work on. I know a number of people who have gone to the trouble of renting squash courts so they can spend some quality time developing their tokui waza.

What takes more discipline is to use your time in jigeiko to focus on one particular technique. Going into a keiko with the intention of only hitting men is commendable, but if all of your opponents are head and shoulders taller than you, it is difficult not to switch to dou of kote. Perhaps a better way is to set a goal of trying a particular technique a given number of times with each partner. There is of course a strong likelihood that everyone will catch on to you plan and make it more difficult for you  to achieve your aim, but that resistance can also be used to improve.

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Picture 13 (3)

Motodachi illustration by Katsuya Masagaki from my new book

My local dojo is looking at ways to help new kendoka make the transition from beginner’s course to taking part in regular keiko sessions. To this end I am running several motodachi training sessions for the more experience members so they can help and encourage their newer colleagues.

Many people who start kendo do so through structured beginners’ courses where they have the comfort of learning new skills as a group and where they are are not expected to go one-on-one in competition with experienced players. After graduation from a brief period of learning basics they are trussed up in unfamiliar bogu and left to take their chance in jigeiko, often with inexperienced motodachi, who are more concerned about improving their own technique than helping the newbie.

This invariably results in loss of confidence and adds to kendo’s exceptionally high attrition rate. The kendo diary of many aspiring kenshi runs along the lines of: week 1 -start  beginners course, week 6 – buy bogu, week 7- decide not to go to dojo, week 8 –advertise bogu on Ebay.

Thinking about the effort involved in starting such a challenging hobby as kendo it seems a shame that we lose so many students through our own lack of empathy or knowledge of how to best develop them. Traditionally in Japan, most kendoka started as children and there is a natural progression through the school system. Teaching adult beginners is a relatively new aspect of kendo, but it is particularly important in the west where people begin kendo at all ages.

For new kendoka kihon drills in or out of bogu are not particularly threatening. It is when they begin to line up for motodachi geiko against their more experienced dojo mates that the experience can make or break them. One of the biggest problems is that most of us are not taught to be motodachi and we learn through trial and error. There are correct ways to receive kirikaeshi, uchikomi geiko and kakarigeiko and we need to learn these to get the best out of students. Most importantly we need to learn that jigeiko is not a “one size fits all” activity and that we can break it down into gokakugeiko, which takes place between partners of equal level and hikitategeiko, where a senior leads a junior .

Here are a few simple motodachi tips:

  • For kirikaeshi make sure that you receive the strikes close to your men. This way you encourage kakarite to attack the correct target.
  • In uchikomigeiko wait until kakarite enters the correct distance and try to build “mind pressure” before making the opening. If you show the target when he is out of distance he will develop the habit of running in, rather than learning to make one step one cut.
  • In kakarigeiko keep a relaxed , soft chudan and allow kakarite to make his own opportunities.
  • In hikitate geiko try to keep  only half a dan’s difference in level between you. Keep your own seme and pressure and by all means go for the first ippon “shodachi”, but encourage kakarite by allowing good strikes to connect.

Acting as motodachi is not just a one sided act of charity, you can develop your own kendo whilst helping others, please see my earlier post on the subject http://wp.me/ptBQt-gx .

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Following on from my last post, it’s worth looking at what we should and should not do when visiting other dojo. The best option is to go with a regular member who can explain the system and tell you who’s who. If you do visit alone, then here are a few tips on how not to make the wrong impression. The key however is to watch what others do and to follow their example.

Start by getting there on time or slightly early. Bow correctly when you enter and if you can introduce yourself to the shihan or dojo leader and ask if you may practice. The instructor will usually ask your grade and help direct you to the right place in the line. If you are left to your own devices sit in the lowest position.  Being asked to move up is flattering; being asked to move down is less impressive. Pay particular attention to the “gorei” commands at the beginning and end of the session. If everyone bows to showmen make sure you are facing the right direction.

If the dojo practices motodachi- geiko, then queue for the most senior person and work your way down the line. It goes without saying that in any kendo practice you should give it your all. This is particularly true if you are training in a new environment. In jigeiko, unless you know for sure that you are the senior grade, always defer to your opponent over who takes the kamiza position. Most people will put up a show of resistance and go through a “no please, after you” discussion. Politely refuse and make sure that you stay on the lower side. I have been in situations where I have had to physically push my opponent across the dojo. During keiko if you are given advice, acknowledge the it with a quick yes or “thank you”. Do not ask questions or get into a discussion.

After practise, quickly cross the dojo to thank all the instructors that you have trained with, starting with the most senior and working your way down the line. Then repeat the process with opponents on the shimoza side. If advice is offered, accept it gratefully, but again, do not ask for a critique or make excuses. If you can, take some tenugui from your dojo and present them, ideally with a business card, to the senior dojo members.

Pay attention to the after practice showering or bathing routine, in some dojo it is the custom for sensei to go first, always defer to seniors. Finally if you are invited to go for a drink after practice, say yes; you have probably made some great new kendo friends.

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