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Posts Tagged ‘oji-waza’

Seiza 5Different people have different ideas on what constitutes the perfect practise session. Some are happy to arrive at the dojo, have a quick stretch, put their men on and enjoy an hour’s jigeiko. Others may prefer to concentrate on kihon drills for the whole session.

In my view there is no right answer. The way you structure your keiko depends on how much time you have to fill and the level and physical condition of those taking part. If you are lucky enough to have a number of kodansha in the dojo, then jigeiko can be a great learning experience. To be more precise what you are getting is hikitate-geiko, where sensei is taking a view of your strengths and weaknesses and stretching you to do a bit better. If there is one instructor teaching a class of students then a structured session built on demonstration and repetition is likely to be the best way forward.

The length of your training session also dictates what you do. My ideal kendo week would consist of five or six 45 minute to one hour practices, each conducted at maximum intensity. When you have two or 3 hours to fill, you need to bring in more variety and exercises that offer a change of pace. For example, start with kata or boken ni yoru kihon keikoho, move on to kihon drills, keeping them short and changing partners frequently and finally move to jigeiko.

With kihon drills it’s best to keep to a theme. It might simply be improving ki-ken-tai-itchi, or could be something more ambitious like incorporating seme into the attack. You can work on shikake-waza  one day and oji-waza on another, or you could practise men attacks and the oji-waza to use against them as part of the same session.  In drills like this it is important for both motodachi and kakarite to approach each technique with total commitment and not anticipate the others movement, otherwise you are in danger of producing the counter attack before the attack.

One other word of warning, don’t try to do too much. I have seen sessions which have included almost every technique in kendo. In this case it is difficult to remember what you have covered, let alone get any benefit from it.

However you approach each training session remember that the purpose is to improve your kendo, and to enjoy your time in the dojo.

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3_Oji_Men_Kaeshi_men4_5As part of yesterday’s kihon-geiko we worked on some oji-waza against men. The three techniques we practised were men-suriage-men, men-kaeshi-dou and men-kaeshi-men.

The first two techniques are old favourites, probably because raising the shinai to deflect or block a downward cut is relatively easy for a smaller person against a taller opponent. Kaeshi -men however is a challenge, because taller opponents will often have their hands in a higher position than mine, so that when I try to return the men strike I hit their shinai rather than an open men.

For anyone who is not familiar with kaeshi-men, this is a technique where you receive your opponent’s strike on one side of your shinai and to return it on the other side. So if you block on omote you return the strike to ura and vice versa. As I mentioned this technique is most effective for taller people against shorter opponents and at my unexceptional 173cm, the logical question is “why bother?”

On a practical level, I teach kenshi of all heights, so I need to know the technique well enough to demonstrate it to people who might find it useful. I also do from time to time come into contact with shorter opponents, so it is worth keeping in reserve for these rare occasions. I also think that we should practise all kendo techniques on a regular basis, whether or not they are our favourites.

Reasons for regularly working on a wide repertoire of techniques are numerous. Doing so ensures that you don’t rely on one or two waza, that you can select the most appropriate response for each attack and because trying different techniques generally helps with your timing, balance and movement.

Oji waza in general is about using your opponent’s momentum to make effective strikes with an economy of movement. With kaeshi-waza you usually meet your opponent’s shinai as you step forward on one foot and return the strike as you bring the other foot up to position. So for example, if you are receiving on omote, you do so as you make a diagonal step with the left foot and strike as your right foot moves into place. This is therefore a great opportunity to develop ki-ken- tai -itchi  with hiraki-ashi footwork.

So for me, whilst it is unlikely that I will get any taller, using this technique at least acts as a reminder that my feet should be in the right place when I make a strike.

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IMG_0259I am constantly surprised by the difficulty that many people have in striking dou correctly. Because it works best as an oji waza they wait until their opponent makes a men attack and attempt nuki or kaeshi dou. In most cases they wait too long and hit when their training partner has entered their distance. The result is that they either strike the front of the dou or have to push both hands over to the right so that there is no power behind the strike. In either case it is a waste of time and effort as neither is classed as yuko datotsu.

The other common misconception is that dou is a diagonal cut. This probably was the case when cutting with a katana. The objective was to cut from the armpit to the hip. If however you try this with a shinai it simply slips down off the target. When combined with late timing and too close distance the result is hira-uchi, striking with the side of the shinai, which is probably the worst sin that you could commit in the long list of crimes against correct dou.

Coming back for a reality check, we need to hit the correct target with the correct part of the shinai with correct intention and “high spirit” followed by zanshin. In my view this means giving the side of the dou a good whack with the datotsu bu of the shinai ensuring that we hit with the bottom take. To do this you need to be in front of your opponent at the time of the strike and consciously punch forward with your right hand whilst turning your wrist sharply inwards. Your left hand should be more or less in line with the centre of your body. Only after you have done this should you think about breaking your grip on the shinai and moving through diagonally. It is also essential to keep your eye on your opponent and to retake kamae as soon as you are in safe distance.

One of the excuses often given for cutting dou incorrectly is that the opponent moved too quickly and did not allow us the distance to get it right. The way to avoid this is as with all successful oji waza, we should control the timing of his attack by maintaining and the breaking pressure when we want him to move. This and the flexibility of your right wrist are the keys to success.

There is an exercise developed by Chiba sensei that helps you gain this correct cutting action. You practice yoko men or dou suburi, but do so turning your hands inwards on each stroke so that the path of the shinai is horizontal or parallel with the floor.  It is a way to gain the wrist flexibility that you need to make your dou attack effective.

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elbowMost kendoka have had the experience when making a well-timed dou strike, of hearing the dull crunch of shinai against muscle and bone instead of the expected crack of bamboo against lacquer, (or Yamato material). Our normal reaction is to blame ourselves for hitting off target, but in many cases it is our opponent who is at fault for pulling his elbows down to his side to avoid being hit.

The logic of this baffles me. By taking such a defensive action, he loses the ability to respond with a technique of his own and whilst my knowledge of orthopaedic surgery is slight to say the least, I imagine that the pain and inconvenience caused by serious elbow injury outweighs the shame of having your dou hit.

This type of behaviour is not limited to dou and is not just reserved for shiai. I see many kenshi busily blocking attacks to dou, men and kote in their normal keiko as if the objective of their practice is not to be hit, rather than making successful strikes themselves. The mind-set of “not being hit” can go even deeper and some people are reluctant to commit to an attack, even when they have a clear opportunity, because they fear their opponent’s potential reaction.  This is rather like an archer being unable to shoot an arrow because he is afraid of the bow string hitting his hand.

It is worth remembering that kendo is a Zen martial art and that our objective is self-improvement through rigorous, unselfconscious training. One of the many Japanese proverbs we hear regularly in kendo, and mentioned a few times in this blog, is “Utte hansei utarete kanshya” – reflect on your successful strikes, show gratitude for the strikes against you. In a nutshell this means we learn as much from being hit as we learn from hitting.

One practical way to overcome the temptation to spoil you opponent’s technique is to ensure that the point of your shinai is continually going forward. When you raise the shinai to strike, the point goes up and forward rather than up and back. Even when you block to make kaeshi-waza, if your kissaki is moving forward, you are able to block and strike in one movement, turning a defensive action into an attacking move. When shinai tips move backwards, postures often crumble and it is if you are rolling yourself into a ball like a frightened hedgehog.

So next time you hit an elbow, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and encourage your keiko partner to worry about your men rather than his own dou.

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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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KissakiSeveral people picked up on the fact and commented that dropping the shinai point can in fact be a very effective way to make an opening in your opponents’ kamae, thereby giving you the opportunity to attack successfully. I agree one hundred percent.  My last post was about the problem of inadvertently dropping your kensen because of either incorrect posture or too much tension in the way the shinai is held.

Kensen is of course moveable and the kissaki should not be fixed when you face your opponent. Many teachers talk about moving the kensen in a triangle from your adversaries’ throat to his dou mune to his left eye. By doing this you can encourage him or her to move in various ways. Dropping the point can encourage an attack to men or kote which gives the opportunity for debana or oji waza, but be aware that your tsuki is also exposed and that you become a target for uchiotoshi men.

Move the point up to your opponent’s left eye and he sees an opening for men, giving you the chance to take debana men or kaeshi dou. Aim at his right eye and he sees your kote and you may get the chance for kote nuki men or kote suriage men.

It is all about making your opponent move, and as we have talked about before, there are two fundamental ways to do this. We either push in and take his centre, or we make him come to us and take away the initiative. This second approach is referred to in kendo as hikidashi (drawing out).

Kamae like most things in kendo is taught to us in simplified form at the early stages of our learning process. Of course it is easier to think about pointing your shinai at the nodo than being given a variety of choices, but once our kamae becomes established, we can experiment  with the areas at which we point the shinai and  learn how by doing so, we encourage our opponent to move or discourage him from moving.

Kendo no kata teaches us a lot about kamae, and though we rarely use gedan-kamae, hasso-kamae and waki-kamae in shinai kendo, practising them in kata gives us a great lesson in flexibility and adaptability.  Gohon me in the Tachi no Kata gives us a text book lesson in how to combat Jodan.  Point to the kobushi and make him move.

So, sorry for any confusion last week, what I meant was don’t unintentionally signal your next move through the point of you shinai. On the other hand you should use every trick in the book to make your opponent move.

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Ahead onlyIt’s very common for people to move to the side of their opponent in kendo. They either stand up from sonkyo and take a step to the right, or when they attack men or kote, they do so in a diagonal line, so that after striking they pass their opponent on the right. There is probably a biological reason for this. It might be because many of us feel that the right side of our body is stronger than the left, but that’s just speculation on my part.

There are however some obvious kendo specific reasons why people move this way. Those in the habit of veering to the side after hitting, usually do so because they fear a collision with their opponent, injuring either themselves or the other player. What they fail to take into account is that the other party will more often than not, automatically move out of the way after being hit. If he doesn’t they can always use taiatari to finish the forward movement safely.

When you stand from sonkyo, unless your opponent has a very weak kamae, it is unlikely that you will see an opening to attack. Many kendoka somewhat misguidedly think that by moving away from the centre they will have a side-on view of an exposed target. Unfortunately this does not happen as your opponent needs to turn only slightly to face you in your new position.

One of the key things that we have to do to move up the grade ladder is to learn to face and dominate our opponent. When we rise from sonkyo we need to firstly take the time to feel and read our opponent’s mind, then to take the appropriate action to make a striking opportunity. This can be done by pushing forward and breaking your partner’s kamae, by moving his shinai out of the centre with either a harai, osae or makiotoshi technique, or by forcing him to move by showing an opening and beating him to the punch with a debana waza.

This concept of drawing your opponent out is called hikidasu. This can be done in a number of ways. You can slightly raise the point of your shinai, or move your right foot forward, or just slightly bend your right knee. You can also use any of these in combination. Once he commits to an attack you respond with debana, or oji waza if his movement is more advanced.

So don’t be tempted to step to the side. Hold the centre and demonstrate courage and confidence.

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