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Watchet Seminar Group2013

Watchet Seminar Group 2013

I enjoy teaching at kendo seminars. They offer the opportunity to try to make to make a difference to the kendo of a group of people from various dojo in a short period of time. As I mentioned in last week’s post, this was the weekend of the annual Watchet seminar and the theme was “making opportunities to attack”. Obviously this is a broad subject and encompasses the whole gamut of shikake and oji waza. I was privileged to work with the senior group and I and Terry Holt sensei ran through numerous drills, making the connection to how these techniques fit into the sansatsuho.

As there is a grading examination on the second afternoon, the seminar lasts for a day and a half and includes kata practice and keiko as well as warm-ups and basic kihon. The second morning is mostly a reprise of the first day with a chance to work on any problem areas. The timetable allowed us an hour to run through the whole range of men, dou and kote techniques, trying seme waza, osae and harai waza and then progressing through debana , suriage, kaeshi, uchiotoshi and nuki techniques. Although we had spent a more leisurely three hours on these on Saturday, the review session felt like it was happening in fast forward and the students did a great job to keep up with the pace.

Some waza were new to some people and old favourites for others. In some cases different instructors bring a slightly different approach to techniques that you already know and that sometimes is the catalyst that turns a never used technique into a favourite. In most cases the biggest improvements happen when you take the seed of technique back to your own dojo and work on it. Although kendo associations try to combine seminars and grading examinations for convenience, a seminar held three months ahead of an examination would probably show the best results.

The one thing that I am sure was obvious to most people is that in kendo, as in the rest of life, you have to “make it happen”. Shikake waza does not work unless you break your opponents centre and oji waza is effective only if you control your opponents timing and pull him into your counter attack. I am delighted to say that everyone bought whole-heartedly into this concept and the quality of kendo in the keiko sessions and the examination lifted accordingly.

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3_Shikakewaza_Men2I have been asked to put some thoughts together on the theory of creating opportunities to strike in preparation for next weekend’s Watchet seminar. With kendo being such a well-trodden path this requires very little creativity from me; it’s more a question of opening the kendo books on the correct page and reading what our predecessors had to say on the subject.

The whole spectrum of attacking opportunities in kendo is summed up in the Sansappo  (or Sansatsuho) ,  which translates as “the three methods”. These are:

  • Ken wo korosu – kill the sword
  • Waza wo korosu – kill the technique
  • Ki wo korosu – kill the spirit

While these terms sound suitably esoteric, if you rearrange the order and group the techniques that represent these categories, you get a basic common-sense list of which waza work in which circumstances.

  • Ki wo korosu – equals seme. Using your whole body and more importantly your mental strength (kizeme), you push firmly into your opponent’s space and destroy his mental composure, creating the opportunity to strike.
  • Ken wo korosu – You break his kamae by moving his shinai with your own. Ways to do this include harai, osae, uchiotoshi and maki waza. Effectively you sweep, push, knock down or twist his shinai away from his centre, leaving the door open for your attack.
  • Waza wo korosu – This covers the whole range of oji waza. You make him attack and take the opportunity to destroy his technique and beat him with your own. To do this you can select from a menu of debana, suriage, kaeshi and nuki techniques. Which you use depends on how advanced his attack is before you strike. Debana waza is used when he starts his attack, suriage waza when his shinai is on it’s on its way down and kaeshi and nuki techniques when his cut is almost there.

Using the sansappo to order techniques in this way helps me to put them into a framework, but there are a number of other useful ways to understand the theory of timing and opportunity. The concept of Sen, Sen no Sen and Go no sen is equally effective. This relates to striking before your opponent does, as he starts to strike and finally after he starts his attack.

Another way to think about it is by putting yourself in your opponent’s place. In this case the Shikai or four sicknesses of surprise, fear, doubt and confusion (kyo, ku, gi, waku) can be exploited as attacking opportunities.

With kendo’s long history, successive generations of teachers have given us the basis to understand how and why we do things. The challenge for most of us though is not to understand the theory but to put it into practice. In this case the answer is “more keiko”.

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Many people have read the theory of sansappo or sansatsuho – The threeways of making an opening:

  • Ki wo korosu – Kill the spirit / mind

    Thanks to Eurokendo

    Thanks to Eurokendo

  • Ken wo korosu – Kill the sword
  • Waza wo korosu – Kill the technique

For many of us this is a concept that is difficult to translate into physical action. At the recent seminar, Chiba sensei did a great job in demonstrating how this concept works as part of his instruction on seme. He did this in the following way:

  • Ki WO korosu – Take a deep step into you opponents distance with full spirit. The movement has to be deep and aggressive. Merely pushing in past the point of his shinai is not enough. The movement must be sufficiently strong to break his composure and force him to lose the centre. As soon as he does this, strike men.
  • Ken WO korosu – In essence this means to knock the shinai out of the centre, so harai, osae, uchiotoshi or makiotoshi can all justifiably claim to fit this purpose. The key point with these is that they should be accomplished in the same movement as the following strike. For example with harai men, you only make one step from approach to strike, knocking the shinai away as your right foot travels forward.
  • Waza wo korosu – This means to break the attack against you and counter, so debana, oji, kaeshi, nuki, suriage etc all fall into this category. The key point here is not to wait, but to aggressively force or invite your opponent to attack and take away and return his waza.

If you are an experienced kendoka, there should be nothing new or surprising in this description. I was however impressed how Chiba sensei made the theory understandable to students of every level, by a great practical demonstration.

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