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Posts Tagged ‘Osaka Shudokan’

3_Shikakewaza_Men1When I trained last month in Osaka Shudokan, Hayashi Kozo sensei introduced us to a method of practising kiri-kaeshi slowly with suriashi footwork. He explained that the objective of the exercise to learn to use our shoulders in a relaxed way whilst concentrating on correct tenouchi and hasuji. Since returning to the UK I have copied this in a number of our sessions. We start with 3 or 4 repetitions at this speed then build up to normal speed kirikaeshi before going on to other kihon drills.

Watching people go through this routine, it is fairly obvious that most of us can make big cuts correctly in slow motion, but when we make the action smaller or faster, shoulders tend to stiffen and we make too much use of the strength of our right arm. This is particularly true of kote, where many people keep their left hand static and use just right hand power to deliver the strike. I have even seen examples where the downward force of the strike is exaggerated by also pushing the left hand down.

Preventing such bad habits is the reason for constantly coming back to basics. We need to train so that we can strike with relaxed shoulders, elbows and wrists and add snap with tenouchi. Whether we are cutting kote, men or dou, large or small, fast or slow, we need to do so with the timing of one; lifting and striking in the same movement. This works in exactly the same way for shikake and oji waza.

To strike men all you need do is push your left hand up and let gravity do the rest. For kote the shortest route to the target is best, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the cut is made with a forward movement from the left hand, not a downward movement from the right. If your shoulders and arms are relaxed you will feel the impact of a successful hit not in your hands but in your abdomen as you move forward.

Kirikaeshi is not the only way to achieve this, but we need to practice cutting in a fluid relaxed way. If not through kirikaeshi then through suburi or repeated strikes against a partners shinai. We should start big and then if we can hit in a relaxed way then we can make the movement smaller. As an afterthought, small does not necessarily mean quick. I have seen accomplished kendoka make a big men strike in less time than a less experience kenshi needs to make a small kote.

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shudokan-dojo-osaka-castleI am currently in the midst of a flurry of emails to friends in Japan as I am extending my 16th WKC trip to Tokyo and adding a week to travel in Kansai. I used to work in Osaka and live in Kobe and I have been back to the area many times. This time however I am going as part of a group. My travelling companions are my wife who also lived in Japan, a kendo friend who briefly spent some time in Tokyo and his partner for whom this will be a first visit.

The challenge will be to create a trip that has something for everyone. My old kendo friends in Osaka have already sent me a schedule which includes keiko every day with the option of staying in a hotel just a short walk from the Shudokan. For the benefit of our two non-kendoka ladies I am opting for a place just a few stations away in Kyobashi and a shorter distance to the rail network for sightseeing trips to Kyoto. This is no hardship for me, as although I have been to Kyoto on numerous occasions, I have still not seen all of the many tourist attractions there.

We are also scheduled to spend some time in Yoshino and Nara City. Although the primary purpose will be sightseeing, there will certainly be some kendo practices while we are there. I have not yet got round to explaining the keiko schedule to the girls, but I am sure they won’t miss us for an hour or so each day. I have also not yet told them that our compact Japanese hotel rooms will be enhanced every night by the fragrance of sweaty hakama and keikogi. If I do have to defend my position, I can always fall back on the “He said I have to do it and he’s an eighth dan” gambit.

Being generally optimistic though, I think it should work out well for all concerned. I and my chum should be able take advantage of some great keiko opportunities, my wife and I will get the chance to catch up with old friends in Kansai and we will have the pleasure of seeing some of the most beautiful parts of Japan through the new eyes of someone who has never seen them before.

As for the daily keiko sessions and the smelly kit, I might hold back on mentioning that until after the first helping of nama beer and takoyaki, unless the Mrs reads my blog.

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I briefly mentioned in my last post that a friend who recently returned to Japan was surprised at having to wait for 45 minutes of a one hour practice for keiko with a hachidan sensei in the Osaka Shudokan. George who witnessed and commented on the scene, will I am sure, back me up when I say this is not an unusual situation.

At the shudokan, or any of the big civic dojo in Japan, you have to be quick and determined to practise with any of the senior sensei. The rule of thumb when I was regularly training there, was that you could have 2 keiko with hachidan , 4 with nanadan,  or up to 8 at peer level in the allotted hour.

Getting face time with senior sensei is an acquired skill. You need to put your men on faster than any of your rivals and be prepared to run to position whilst pulling your kote on. Some kendoka train themselves to tie their men in record time, others develop ingenious ways to pre-tie their men so that it can be slipped on instantly.

These skills are equally useful for the monthly godokeiko sessions at the Nippon Budokan or asa-geiko at the Kyoto Taikai. Even though there may be 200+ hachidan in attendance, the chance of getting to your favourite hanshi is close to nil. On one occasion in Kyoto I made it my goal to be first in line with Sumi sensei.  I  got up at 4.30 a.m. , arrived almost an hour before practice started and placed myself approximately in front of the spot where he would be sitting. Fortunately for him, not so for me, he had been awarded hanshi the previous day, so whilst he initially sat facing the spot where I was waiting; he was pushed up the line by the longer time served, but still kyoshi sensei. I had to run an extra 20 metres to beat the queue and finished 5th in line. Nevertheless I got my keiko.

Keiko with senior teachers offers two opportunities, one to practise with them and benefit from their advice; plus the chance to watch them with other students whilst you wait. The watching or mitorigeiko part becomes more interesting if sensei’s opponents are other kodansha. The downside is that usually they have the right to queue jump.  This is a sensible arrangement as it allows them to get back to acting as motodachi with a minimum of delay. If however you are last in line and there is five minutes of keiko time left and someone steps in front of you, you may not see it that way.

Returning to the challenges of making the most of your time in the dojo, the Japanese system for adult kendoka is essentially, well, adult. You can invest your time in waiting to train with the top teachers, or if you think it is needed, you can stay at the shimoseki end of the dojo and practice kihon geiko with a buddy of your own grade. As long as you take your keiko seriously no-one will mind.

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In the light of the original curiosity about my early kendo experiences and the subsequent comments on my last post, I thought that I should complete the story with a brief account of my time in Japan.

After arriving it became apparent that my ability to improve at work and in the dojo was being severely handicapped by my lack of Japanese language skill. As a remedy, my evenings were divided between the Shudokan dojo in Osaka and the Kobe YMCA language school. I was spending my days with Japanese colleagues and clients and 3 evenings a week in an all-Japanese kendo environment, so I started to reach a get-by level, quite quickly. I benefited (or suffered), from being one of very few foreigners practising kendo at the time in Osaka. There was an Iranian kendoka named Sadat who I infrequently met at practice and Mark Grivas from the US was also around at the time. Mark however did the day-shift with Osaka fukei and I did nights at the Shudokan, so we only met occasionally.

3rd dan grading in Osaka

Keiko in the Shudokan attracted most of the senior sensei in the region and took the form of an hour’s session based on one-on-one motodachi geiko. For some reason, the rule of thumb seemed to be, that in an hour you could practise with 4 hanshi or 6 kyoshi, or you could settle for eight to ten lower level partners. I invariably went for the former. This meant queuing for ten minutes or so for Nishi sensei or Ikeda sensei and other high ranking teachers. Keiko was always stretching, to put it mildly and consisted of sensei taking shodachi followed by me doing kakarigeiko for what seemed like an eternity.   

The younger seventh dan professionals such as Onno and Ohta sensei were a little more inclined to give advice and encouragement and some of the 5th dans took me under their wing, (and to various drinking  establishments for a post training debrief). Feeling mildly encouraged at my progress, I passed the Osaka 3rd dan grading at first try.

Shortly after this, I was invited to stay in Kyoto for the duration of the Kyoto Taikai. I was so impressed by the atmosphere and the quality of the kendo, that I made myself a promise that I would take part as soon as I got renshi. I managed to keep that promise and have now participated in the tachiai on four occasions.

I was visiting some other clubs on an infrequent basis and was occasionally invited to the dojo of the Hankyu department store company. On one notable occasion I waited for 45 minutes to practice with their then ninth dan president, only to be told that he reserved keiko for 7th dan and above. I was however, invited to bow to his departing limousine. I also started to add regular Sunday visits to Kobe’s Oji dojo to my schedule. Keiko was held in an old wooden building (now replaced) that overlooked Oji zoo. There was no inside changing facility, so we got ready outside, under the watchful eye of the giraffe.

Matsumoto sensei’s keiko kai members

Whilst training here I made friends with some of the senior members of Nishinomiya Kendo Renmei, who invited me to join the monthly keiko kai at which Matsumoto Toshio sensei, hanshi, 9th dan regularly taught. This was probably the most important development in my kendo career, as unusually for the time, Matsumoto sensei would explain the technical aspects and riai of each waza in detail. A typical practice would entail him spending 3 or 4 minutes physically shaping me like a bendy toy before inviting me to strike men. This was the one real “deshi” relationship I formed during my stay in Japan and I took my turn carrying his bogu, and as backwasher in the dojo ofuro.

As I lived outside of the UK I was not available for selection for the 1979 4WKC in Sapporo, but I was fortunate enough to join the scratch team of ten put together by Oji dojo for a friendly match against the visiting French national squad. I am relieved to say that we won all ten matches.

Farewell party with Matsumoto senseiJust before the end of my stay, I had the opportunity to take 4th dan in Kobe. All went well until the “paper test” exam. Being incapable of making any written sense in Japanese, I was offered the opportunity to be grilled by the ferocious Murayama Keisuke sensei who headed the grading panel. This was less intimidating than I expected, as he simply asked me why I did kendo. For some reason, I blurted out “because I like it”, at which he grunted assent and signed the pass slip.

Although I moved back to the UK shortly after, I have continued to stay close to Japan, returning regularly for seminars, grading exams, the Kyoto Taikai and on several occasions just for keiko with old friends.

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