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Posts Tagged ‘Motodachi’

KakarigeikoA number of newer students recently asked about the difference between uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko. On asking them what they thought the difference was, many of the answers focused on speed. This is not surprising. People often see kakarigeiko as a series of fast and furious full-on attacks and uchikomigeiko as a more sedate affair. This is plausible but not the right answer.

The difference is about whom, not how fast. In uchikomigeiko it is motodachi who makes the opportunities for kakarite to attack. The purpose is to give clear targets and indications of timing and opportunity to allow the attacker to strike the target correctly without fear of counterattack or of running onto the point of a shinai.

Uchikomigeiko is often one of the first training methods that new kenshi try, either with a motodachi in bogu, or with one person in the centre of the dojo holding a shinai or uchikomi-bo for them to strike as they move through in turn.

For the more experienced, uchikomigeiko can be the simple practice of one technique such as men with partners taking turns at being motodachi, through to more complex sequences with seniors or instructors receiving the attacks. A typical sequence is men, kote, dou, kote-men, kote-dou, men-hiki-men, men.

Kakarigeiko probably suits more advanced students. They have to make the opportunities to attack, either making strong seme with their body and mind or the point of the shinai, or by knocking the opponent’s shinai away with harai or uchiotoshi before striking. If you do not have good basic kendo with correct cutting, posture and ki-ken-tai itchi, kakarigeiko is likely to do more harm than good. On the other hand if you have mastered the basics, kakarigeiko is an opportunity to practise your techniques flat-out with total commitment. It is however essential that you trust motodachi.

Motodachi’s job is to keep you honest. He should ensure that only correct attacks made with strong seme should get through. He has a number of tools available to do this, he can just hold kamae, or use his own harai or uchiotoshi waza to break weak attacks. Poor posture can be punished with taiatari and he can respond to kakarite’s unsuccessful attacks with oji waza. What he must never do is to endanger or injure kakarite with techniques such as mukaetsuki. This will have a wholly negative effect, making kakarite afraid to attack wholeheartedly.

Kakarigeiko should be fast and done with correct breathing, so for renzoku waza you should try to make each attacking sequence in one breath. It is not however just reserved for the young and fit. We oldies can make up for the lack of pace with strong kiryoku.

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Tsuki in shiai

Copy of untitledWhen I have written about tsuki in the past it has usually been to describe it as a technique that is seen occasionally at “All Japan” level, but never widely practised. I am now starting to change my opinion. I am trying to get over a dose of “man-flu” so did not get to see yesterday’s British Open’s, however during my visit to the previous week’s Swedish National Championship I saw three good tsuki scored. This seems to be part of a trend.

There are an increasing number of European kendoka who are adding tsuki to their list of tokui-waza. Whether this is because we are seeing more players take up jodan and nito or because we are generally becoming aware that it is one of the four basic techniques of kendo, I am not sure.  My own pet theory is that the current popularity of tsuki owes much to Naoki Eiga’s decisive point in the team final of the 12 WKC. However when considering that this happened almost 12 years ago, some of the kenshi now successfully using the technique in shiai, were in junior school at the time, so Eiga san’s tsuki must have left its mark on kendo’s collective consciousness.

I include both single and one handed tsuki in kihon drills. Obviously it requires a degree of care when practising, particularly from newer kenshi, but doing tsuki safely and successfully is as much the responsibility of motodachi as kakarite.  If motodachi is afraid of receiving tsuki, the chances are that kakarite will miss the target. If motodachi leans back or twists his body away from the tip of the shinai it is highly likely that it will slip in by the side of the tsukidate, grazing his neck or worse. If he tilts his head back, then there is a strong probability that the kisaki will go up and under the protector, causing even greater discomfort.

The way to meet tsuki is full on, with your body square to your opponent and your chin down, so that there is no gap between the tsukidate and the dou mune. Posture is also important. If you are erect with your balance centred in your hips and core, then the strongest tsuki should not disturb your equilibrium. For the attacker tsuki should be short and sharp, made with the body and the feet and with the hands applying tenouchi correctly at the point of contact.

I aim to do lots of tsuki drills over the next few months to help understand the technique as a player and as a referee.

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With Kato sensei, Takatera sensei and Mike Davis at Saineikan

With Kato sensei, Takatera sensei and Mike Davis at Saineikan

Last Tuesday Mumeishi  dojo  enjoyed a visit from two 8th dans, Takatera sensei,  Meiyo Shihan of the Imperial Palace Police and the well-known teacher and writer Ozawa Hiroshi sensei . They were accompanied by a third teacher Iino sensei, a senior kyoshi 7th dan.

The dojo was packed tight with students who came for the privilege of keiko with these excellent kenshi. We had our usual kihon session then an hour of free keiko, so I made sure that I had my men and kote on quickly and was the first to practice with Takatera  sensei  before  joining the line for the other two teachers, finally moving back to the motodachi side.

Although in his 60s, Takatera sensei is a remarkably fast, forward moving 8th dan. When you face him the pressure is intense. He very quickly “took me apart” before leading me through kakarigeiko and kirikaeshi. Different hachidan have different approaches to practice with older opponents and Takatera  sensei’s is obviously to expect them to work hard. The sessions with the next two sensei were almost relaxed by comparison.

There is a temptation for senior grades to stay on the motodachi side of the dojo and not take advantage of these occasional chances to learn from more experienced teachers.  If you are over 60, many Japanese instructors are relaxed about whether you join them for keiko or line up next to them. Whatever your age and grade you owe it to yourself to take every opportunity to improve and if it means finishing the keiko with wobbly legs, then so much the better.

When I joined Takatera sensei, who is as good natured as he is fierce, for a beer after training, he told me that even though he has retired from the Imperial Palace, he currently attends 15 keiko sessions per week, which makes my three seem decidedly lightweight by comparison.. Takatera sensei, along with some other notable teachers, works extremely hard at his own kendo practice and expects the rest of us oldies to work equally hard. So this was a timely reminder to keep up the intensity of my own training. For the rest of this week I have made sure that we make kakarigeiko  more challenging and that I join in as kakarite.

In kendo we use the expression “utte hansei, utarete kansha” meaning that we should  learn by reflecting on the successful strikes we make and by showing gratitude for the successful strikes against us. I clearly have a lot to thank Takatera sensei for.

* I will be away at the European Kendo Championships from mid-week until next Monday, so unless I can get my sausage fingers to work on a hand-held device, next weeks post will be late.

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Kendo childrenOne of the most difficult transitions in kendo is the move from being kakarite to becoming a good motodachi. Most of us at some time in our kendo careers have to cross the dojo floor and change from being attacker to receiver. To do so successfully calls for a mix of technical ability, judgement and compassion.

As a reminder to set the scene, most of us know that motodachi is the receiver, or high side partner in the whole range of kendo training exercises; for kihon practice we usually take turns as motodachi. The other option is for an instructor to take this role and to use his or her judgment on how to get the best out of kakarite. The most frequently used format for this is a combination of kirikaeshi, hikitategeiko (jigeiko between unequal partners) and  kakarigeiko or uchikomi-geiko. This type of training is generally referred to as shido-geiko

The challenge for the instructor is to encourage the student to stretch beyond his comfort level without causing physical damage, feelings of frustration or eroded self-esteem. For many of us this is a tough task, particularly when we have classes of varied ages and abilities. At Mumeishi dojo we have a mix of male and female members aged from their early 20s to mid-60s, from National Squad members to beginners; so a “one size fits all” approach would not work. The practice has to be tailored to get the best out of each student regardless of condition or experience level.

Whereas you might finish your keiko by asking an older kenshi to make one or two good men attacks, you could up the stakes with a young competition player, offering a tough kakarigeiko session before challenging them to a final one point match. If you get the first point, go to a second which with a bit of luck, (or subtle help) they will take. Ideally they should come out of a tough session feeling positive.

Not all instruction has to be verbal. If a student shows his kote every time he raises the shinai for men you should hit it frequently as a reminder. If he or she is young and fit, but has the habit of leaving their back foot in the air when they strike, a strategic push to remind them that their balance is unstable would not cause too much harm, providing you use a level of restraint. If they have a habit of stepping back, step in and take hikibana men.

We have talked about the qualities of a good motodachi in other posts and most of us accept that we need to be full of spirit and totally engaged in the moment. It is also important that we exercise impeccable judgement to get the most out of our dojo mates. The objective is to help them be the best kendoka they can, be whether they are aspiring juniors, national team members or senior citizens  and to make sure that we all make it safely to the final rei.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring a visit to Japan some years ago I was taken to morning practice in Sakai, near Osaka by Uegaki Isao sensei. The session was led by his teacher, the late Furuya sensei and attended by numerous 8th and 7th dan members, many of whom were at least in their 60s. Much of the session was devoted to seme-geiko, which for me was a new experience. The idea was to work together in pairs in a mawari geiko format, taking turns as motodachi, whose job was to retain a strong chudan kamae. Kakarite had to break through motodachi’s defence to take centre and execute men, kote or kote-men attacks.  The practice reminded me of kakarigeiko for seniors, where no targets were offered, but we had to use the strength of our seme to make opportunities.

I have since introduced seme-geiko to a number of keiko sessions back home in the UK and found generally that the more experienced kendoka tend to get the most out of this practice.

This week in my local dojo where we have a mix of mainly first to third dan kenshi, I had a request to look at ways of improving seme, so seme-geiko seemed an obvious choice. Rather than jump straight in, we started by working together in pairs maintaining an even distance between the points of our shinai as we moved backwards and forwards. Each partner took turns as motodachi and controlled the practice by varying the sequence of steps in each direction. We then looked at our breathing and how we could exert more force by retaining our breath once we engaged in fighting distance. Finally we made a concerted effort to keep “mind contact” with our opponent as went through the drill.

From this exercise we moved on to hikibana men, pushing in to take centre and then following with a men strike as motodachi stepped back.  We then tried debana men, aiming to pull our partners in with hikidashi and taking the initiative as they started to attack.

From these basic drills we moved on to seme-geiko, trying to execute 3 or four strong techniques in thirty or forty seconds. Whereas Furuya sensei took the practice on to kaeshi-seme-geiko, where motodachi responds to some of kakarite’s attacks with oji waza, we kept to the basic attacking practice before moving into a short jigeiko session.

When I asked people at the end of the session if they found it useful, several made the point that it was much more tiring than more physical training methods and that trying to maintain mental contact with an opponent for even a short period was exhausting.

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DrillFollowing last week’s post, several people asked if I knew of any specific drills to help develop debana men. There are two that are worth trying. Which you use depends on your level of kendo experience. Both should be practised against a partner who acts as motodachi.

The first is for less experienced kendoka. You should start by taking chudan kamae and move into your own uchima striking distance. Motodachi then takes one hand of his shinai and pushes the palm of his kote against the tip of you shinai. You should ensure that your feet are in the correct position, paying particular attention to quickly drawing up your left foot. Make sure that your left heel is slightly raised off the ground and that there is a feeling of tension behind your left knee. You should have taken a breath before your step into distance and as we discussed last week, let half of it out as kakegoe. Keeping the remaining air in your abdomen and making sure that hands and arms relaxed, you should push against motodachi’s hand using the pressure of your hips and back. When motodachi decides that the time is right, he pulls his hand away. You should be able to strike instantly by pushing off from your back foot.

This exercise will help some people understand the feeling of pressure even if they are not quite ready to appreciate the force exuded by a strong opponent’s kigamae. For more experienced kenshi a similar drill can be used, but motodachi should not physically touch kakarite’s shinai. Instead kakarite observes the same precautions about breathing, posture and hikitsuke, but this time it is the force of motodachi’s kamae that holds them at bay. Motodachi makes the chance to strike, obviously breaking the tension by slightly raising the shinai and inclining his head forward. He should pay particular attention to vary the timing of each striking opportunity. If this is done correctly motodachi gets as much out of it as does kakarite, as he can experience the “feeling” of the opportunity as he makes and breaks “mind contact” with kakarite.

The third drill in this series is where motodachi picks the opportunity to strike men and commits to making the attack. Kakarite responds with debana men. I would not recommend this for anyone but the most experienced, as there is a tendency for motodachi to change the timing of the attack to beat kakarite’s strike. No-one does this intentionally, but our competitive inner selves have a tendency to take over.

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Kendo childrenOne of the benefits of writing this blog is that I get feedback from kendoka in other dojo and other countries about the way they do things and the challenges they face. This often stimulates ideas which I use when physically teaching kendo. Thomas Sluyter’s comments on kirikaeshi following my last post helped me refine the drills for our group at Sanshukan.

One thing that is becoming obvious as we go through these sessions is that the theory is relatively easy to explain, but that it takes constant practice to develop motodachi skills. Hikitategeiko in particular is an area where experience is essential.  No matter how well you understand the theory, unless you are able to read your opponent and build and relax the tension between you, it is unlikely that you will reach the desired outcome.

Just to reiterate, hikitategeiko is jigeiko between a senior and junior partner. Motodachi uses the opportunity to practise his own technique whilst encouraging kakarite to do his best. It works if the more experience player sets the standard reasonably close to the junior’s level, so that he acts as if he has only half a dan grade advantage. By this I do not mean that his technical kendo standard should be lowered, more that the competitive advantage is narrowed.

At the beginning of every keiko you should treat each opponent with the same level of respect. I therefore think that it is your duty to face him earnestly and to try for shodachi or the first point. You may be surprised that the junior player is the first to achieve this. No matter who takes the first ippon, this is a chance to study your opponent; how he moves and his strengths and weaknesses. You should continue to make your own opportunities using seme to penetrate his centre and maintain kizeme (mental pressure) to put him at a disadvantage. When however he makes a strong attack you should allow it to connect.

This is the ideal opportunity to practise your oji waza, so use hiki dasu to invite his strikes and then respond with suriage or kaeshi techniques. Do not however break his spirit by countering every attack. It goes without saying that you should not block, physically stop him with the point of your shinai, or resort to miss timed or sneaky waza to make a point.

Depending on kakarite’s level there will come a point in the keiko when the tension between you breaks down. This is normally because his level of concentration and focus is starting to diminish. By now you should have evaluated any bad habits or mistakes, so make the transition to uchikomigeiko; making opportunities for him to strike. Do this in a way where you use pressure to control distance and opportunity so that he strikes with correct timing and maai. Use this chance to make him correct any errors. You may have to demonstrate how to do the technique yourself, but do so quickly and keep conversation to a minimum. If it requires a long debate, have it in the pub after training.

If kakarite is relatively skilled, then perhaps uchikomigeiko should be reduced to just one or two techniques at the end of the keiko. It may even be that you finish with ippon shobu, but if kakarite is that strong, we are moving into the realm of gokakugeiko.

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