Posts Tagged ‘NiTo’

Perfect MasterFollowing a recent post on kaeshi men, Helton asked for more information on which techniques work for tall people against shorter people and vice versa.

One of the best guides to understand which waza work in which situation is Chiba sensei’s book and DVD set “Perfect Master” , where he devotes a whole section to which techniques should be used in which circumstances. If you can get your hands on a copy this explains a lot about kikai or opportunity, whereas most kendo books describe technique in isolation.

There are of course some very obvious examples of shikake and oji waza that have a probability of success in different circumstances. Men works for tall people against shorter opponents, dou and kote are more likely to help smaller kenshi against the tall. Tsuki too works for small people, which was regularly demonstrated by Arima sensei of Osaka Police.

As we discussed, kaeshi men is difficult against a taller opponent as their hands or shinai get in the way of the target whereas kaeshi dou or nuki dou are much more likely to succeed. Helton points out that at a height of 2 metres suriage men works for him. Strangely enough at my 1m 73 it also works for me, but I think that is because we are sliding up against a downward strike so both shorter and taller people can use it successfully. On the other hand kiri-otoshi is almost impossible against a much taller opponent.

Against jodan we have a whole new set of challenges regardless of the respective height of each player. I would guess however that many jodan players are relatively tall. In this case as well as the text-book tsuki, keeping your shinai in hirasegan and threatening  kote and switching to men or threating men and switching to hit kote are worthwhile  ploys. Kaeshi men too seems to work against jodan regardless of height as the jodan players men is open once he makes his attack.

Nito is a nightmare. Variations of techniques against jodan are still relevant, but the kodachi is always there to block men attacks. In this case tsuki and dou are the major targets.

In all of these situations practise and experimentation are the only way to find what works for you against different opponents, and if you train regularly with the same few people, it is worth visiting other dojo to broaden your selection of partners.

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Referees 16WKCAs promised, I am using this opportunity to provide some more detail on information I alluded to in my last post. Steven Roosevelt did a great job in answering the question on scoring with shoto in nito by directing us to Stroud sensei’s description on the Idaho Kendo Club site:

  • “The minimum requirement for making yuko datotsu using Shoto is to have the Daito physically control (pressing) the opponent’s tachi at the time of the strike. However, it is generally rare that striking by Shoto will result in a yuko datotsu.”

We were fortunate enough to have a demonstration from a nito 7th dan who showed us that the opponent’s shinai needs to be totally suppressed by the daito and that the nito player’s body should be completely square on to his opponent as he makes the strike. He also made the point that he had never received or seen ippon given for a strike made with the kodachi.

With gyaku dou it was emphasised that as well as striking the correct part of the dou (the left side), with the correct part  of the shinai (datotsu bu) and with the correct hasuji i.e. striking the target with the bottom take, it was imperative that the attacker step back in a straight line after hitting. The logic being that if he steps to his right or crosses abruptly to his left in front of the opponent this does not constitute a natural path for a pulling cut or hikigiri.

This was in the broader context that all yuko datotsu should be considered with reference to “The Principles of the Sword”.  So the instruction was to consider posture and zanshin carefully along with bu, bui and strength of strike.

Another point of discussion was that bad behaviour in and around the shiai-jo should be dealt with promptly. Hansoku should be applied as per the rule book and in cases of severity, for instance where a combatant refuses to return to the kaishi sen, taijo (disqualification) should be used.

Reference was also made to supporters’ behaviour and that encouragement should be limited to (non-rhythmic) clapping.

The fact that 56 of FIK’s 57 countries are attending, (I did not ask who the no-shows were!) was mentioned several times. This obviously means that the schedule for the whole 3 days is going to be very full. Please competitors and coaches get to the right shiai-jo at the right time, or we will all be in the Budokan until midnight.

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Suburi shinaiWhen I wrote “Kendo a Comprehensive Guide to Japanese Swordsmanship” my editor asked me to include a section on “hitori-geiko”, or individual practice. I felt that his thinking was to help align the book to the newbie and kendo curious markets where people may feel that they can learn kendo off the page.

As I explained several times in the book, kendo is a sport or art, depending on how you look at it, which requires interaction between people; whether it is between competitors, training partners or student and instructor. Suburi, footwork and shadow keiko exercises can of course be practiced alone, but are much more motivational when done in a dojo environment with a group of sweating, shouting fellow enthusiasts.

Experienced kendoka can of course work on their cutting action in the home or garden. I remember seeing shinai shaped grooves and scratches on the ceiling of Matsumoto Toshio sensei’s entrance hall and he explained that he had been giving extra instruction to some of his students at his home. Ceiling height is of course a constraint, but we can now buy special suburi shinai that are designed to replicate the weight and feel of a normal shinai while being short enough to swing in a room with average ceiling height. Using this type of equipment you are free to replicate any kendo exercise that you would do in the dojo without a partner; that is providing you take care not to trip over the furniture.

Where I do have concerns about training outside the dojo is where the practitioners are self-taught or have tried to put together their own “styles” by extracting pieces of information from books and videos. YouTube is littered with footage of “kendo stick fighters”. This clip is as good an example as any. The two full sized shinai used nito fashion and the cigarette clamped between the teeth of the young man on the left give early warning that it is not going to end well.


To my mind you get the most out of home practice if you use it to reinforce and polish what you learn in the dojo. Videos (of real kendo) and books can of course help you understand the finer points of a technique and it is worth both studying information from reliable sources and sharing it with your dojo mates.  Ideally though, your training should follow the principle of Shu-ha-ri.  Shu, when you follow the principles of one instructor, ha, when you start to add your own ideas and ri, when you formulate your own style. Someone should tell the boys in the YouTube clip that they need to do it in that order.

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I am no longer surprised by beginners who after a few weeks in armour, are bursting to take up nito or jodan. Everyone who starts kendo does so with a vision of the kenshi that they wish to become. Of course having a goal to aim for is totally worthy. William S. Clark’s parting words to the students of Sapporo Agricultural College “Boys be ambitious”, became common currency in Japan, and are still quoted a hundred and thirty years after he said them.

We live in an instant age. Whereas singers and musicians achieved fame after years of learning their trade by gigging in pubs and clubs, todays “superstars” reach their dreams by appearing on talent shows. Clearly this view is slightly coloured by my status as a “grumpy old man”, but as a member of the “me” generation, I am probably as much to blame as is Simon Cowell. To face facts, there are no instant gains in kendo. Skill is built on years of hard training.

I have discussed the challenges of building patience into the kendo learning process with a number of my betters; particularly Chiba sensei. His view as a jodan player is that until you can invariably produce accurate waza from chudan with correct ki-ken-tai-itchi you should not move on to the more esoteric aspects of kendo. If you can’t control one sword then you are doubling the difficulty with two and if your feet and hands don’t work together then you will not solve the problem by reversing your foot position when you take jodan. In my humble (and Chiba sensei’s less humble) view, good kendo is built on the foundation of following good instruction and repeatedly practising basic techniques in chudan.

The stage at which people should embark on a shiai career follows similar logic. It is admirable to want to test your skill in competition against others, but unless you can do basic techniques correctly, you risk developing bad habits that could spoil your further development. One or two early exposures to competition will probably help confirm your place in the kendo universe, but without a good basis of accurate fundamental kendo, continued training with shiai in mind will harm rather than help your future development.

So far it all sounds rather gloomy, but to my mind, the joy in learning kendo is in training for its own sake and when something falls into place then the pleasure of achievement is enormous. Of course when you have assembled your kendo tool-kit then you can go on to become a great shiai player, whether in chudan, jodan or nito. As good old Bill Clark might have said “Boys be ambitious, but give it a bit of time”.

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I was happily browsing through the new Official Guide for Kendo Instruction; nodding sagely at the explanations of things I knew, when I reached the section on yuko datotsu. Having refereed internationally on many occasions and attended all the regional referee training courses, I like to think that I have a fairly clear idea of what constitutes ippon. My confidence started to waiver a little when I read the description of yuko datotsu for nito, particularly the explanation of ippon for the shoto.

Forgive me if I do not give the exact quote, as I am travelling without the book at the moment, but to score with the shoto the daito must be holding down the opponent’s shinai whilst the arm holding the daito (the long one) is fully extended. Now just to clarify this point, it means that the opponent’s shinai is being suppressed at a distance equating to the length of the arm plus a 38 shinai when you strike with the shoto (the little one). Now I am very far from being a nito expert. I have never tried it and have no intention to do so, but if I am not missing something, the rule makes it impossible to score with the shoto unless the player has a two metre arm or a telescopic kodachi.

I wrote about nito before http://wp.me/stBQt-nito and mentioned that I have never seen ippon given to a kodachi strike. I have also heard a variety of explanations from referee instructors and shinpancho about the difficulty of making yuko datotsu with the kodachi, because nito is “different from mainstream kendo”, but this makes it patently clear that the shoto is not meant for scoring with.

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13 WKC
The current level of interest in Nito is probably higher than it has been  in the past 5 decades. This, I assume, is because of the success enjoyed by Nito players in the USA and Canadian teams in the last World Championships.
Many kendoka who have not yet mastered Ito kihon are keen to move up to two swords and a quick look at You Tube shows a disproportionate level of interest in what is a clearly minority aspect of Kendo.
Nito is in effect born again. After the post war reintroduction of Kendo, Nito was excluded from high school and university competition in Japan and therefore went into decline. A number of pre-war exponents picked up where they left off and I personally had the privilege of practicing with the late Kasahara sensei of Tokyo, Arai sensei of  Itami Airport dojo and Yamamoto sensei of Nishinomiya in Hyogo.

Yamamoto sensei was particularly helpful to me in my early days in Japan. As a fluent English speaker, a former Fulbright, Harvard Scholar and a fellow student of Matsumoto Toshio sensei, he took enormous pains to help me understand the historical and philosophical aspects of Kendo. He was a pre-war member of the Tokyo University Kendo bu and  a strong campaigner for the reintroduction of Nito. He asked for my support which I gladly gave in publishing some articles in English to help his cause.
Let me make it clear. I have never tried to practice Nito, but as you may have gathered, I have great respect for some of the older generation who did it well.
The theory with Nito is that the seme is applied with the kodachi and the strike is made with the long sword. I was told at the recent European referees seminar that ippon is never given to strikes made with the kodachi as  Nito is a “special”  form of Kendo. Reading between the lines, this means that it has been included against a great deal of debate and that there have been some necessary trade-offs to warrant its reintroduction.
As I mentioned, I have been privileged to practice with some of the pre-war greats and as in all encounters with great kendo sensei, I was overwhelmed by the strength of their seme. The kodachi was not used to physically trap the opponent’s shinai but to manifest kizeme to destroy the opponents composure.
Of course their are some strong Nito players at the moment. Toda sensei comes to mind immediately. Okamoto-san (I forget his personal name) from Osaka, was an outstanding  young Nito player, I hope that he has continued in his path. On the other hand, there are people practicing Nito in a way that I believe, is diminishing kendo.
Incorrect tsubazeriai, using physical force to close in and trap the opponent, overly close maai etc. have all recently been used extensively by Nito players in shiai. This may afford an easy win, but does nothing to build on the achievements of the great Nito players that went before.

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