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Posts Tagged ‘Seiza’

Kendo Ritual

1312_sumo_mainThere seems to be a division of opinion between kendoka who are attracted by the ritual involved in kendo and those who feel that some of the ceremony is out of place in a modern martial art. Sonkyo is used only in sumo and kendo and whilst we don’t engage in salt throwing or have our referees dress in Heian period hakama and signal with gunbai, we are asked to pay a lot more attention to etiquette than our friends in judo or karate. I am aware that Kumdo in Korea does not use sonkyo, but as my only experience with Korean kenshi has been within the context of FIK kendo where they are gracious enough to use the Japanese system, I am not in a position to comment.

Personally, I like the ritual aspect of kendo. I believe that the reiho of bowing correctly to the dojo, to kamiza, to sensei and to your opponent help prepare your mind for the intensely serious business of keiko. Mokuso before and after each practice is the time to change your mind-set from that of the working day. Sonkyo particularly aids the transition from not fighting to fighting. We start with an empty mind as we make the initial bow and make three steps forward.  As we draw our shinai and drop into a squat we engage with our opponent. This is where we make mind contact.

As a referee I can see when two shiasha have locked on to each other and are ready to start. This is the time to call hajime. From my very limited knowledge of sumo, this also is what the referee is looking for, but it is even more evident amongst the salt throwing and false starts.

The down side of a complex etiquette framework is that we have to devote much of our training to learning not just when and where to bow but how to bow correctly. I mentioned in an earlier post that last year I had the privilege of a private kata lesson in Yoshino with Uegaki sensei, who has just gained Hanshi. Three quarters of the lesson were devoted to the correct way to enter the enbu-jo , take seiza and bow.

Watching newer kenshi, it is easy to judge the length of their experience by their command of reiho. We all start with dropped chins and sticky-out bottoms when we bow and I defy anyone who has not done a considerable amount of keiko to produce anything other than wobbly sonkyo. The bad news is that when we get to the tail end of our kendo careers and knees wear out, sonkyo starts to get wobbly once more.

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Seiza 5I once spent an enlightening thirty or so minutes sitting in seiza listenting to a post keiko lecture from Kaku sensei in Nara. Kaku sensei’s theme was Hidari de motsu, hidari de utsu. “You hold with your left (hand) and hit with your left” The driving force behind the lecture was that kaku sensei had observed that many of the students at the practice were using too much right hand power and were therefore not striking effectively.

The extended seiza must have helped drive this lesson home, because it is easy to see that many of the problems of overextension, poor posture and inaccurate cutting are caused by the application of too much right hand power. The stiffness that we looked at in my last post is often “one sided” caused by the overuse of the right arm.
Many people overuse the right hand in an attempt to make small waza. The left hand becomes a fixed pivot and their cutting action is based on pulling the shinai back and pushing it forward with the right hand almost as if they were trying to touch their own nose with the shinai. Whilst this might appear to make the attack quicker it typically has the opposite effect.

Correct cutting whether large or small relies on the left hand raising the shinai to a point where it can be brought down on the target. The right hand is very much the junior partner and follows the left hand on its upward path and only makes a real contribution by squeezing to make tenouchi after the point of impact. In the case of men uchi this means raising the left hand to a point above your own men gane and then striking down. The right arm should be relaxed and not over straightened on the point of hitting. There should be a very slight flexion in your elbow and both shoulders should be square-on to the target.

With small techniques such as kote, the left hand should play its part, even if it is to lift the shinai no higher than the point of your opponent’s shinai. In this case it is a matter of striking sharply forward rather than down, but it is the left hand that does most of the work.

The benefits of doing this are enormous. It allows you to stay relaxed and to keep your posture correct and remain square on to your opponent. When your posture is correct you can push more easily from the left foot, maintaining correct ki-ken-tai-itchi and the shinai is more likely to hit the correct part of the target with sharp sae. The added bonus is you use far less energy.

So whilst my knees complained at the time. I owe a vote of thanks to Kaku sensei for the lecture.

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