Posts Tagged ‘Shikai’

HeijyoshinChris Meyer from Thailand sent me a question on Facebook about the four sicknesses of kendo as the answer is required for the written test of his coming yondan examination. He asks:

“It would be really appreciated if you could elaborate on each of the sickness, their consequences, and in overcoming them, the difference between Mushin and Heijoshin? They seem rather contradictory, the presence of mind and absence of thought, yet both I think could be the fix for shikai.”

I am sure Chris has asked because his intellectual curiosity has been roused and not because he wants an answer to cut and paste, so I will try my best.

“Shikai”, “the four sicknesses”,” kyo-ku-gi-waku”, “surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation” are terms that we often hear in kendo, yet as far as I know, there are very no in-depth explanations available in English. This is therefore my own guess at how these emotions might affect our kendo and there are numerous other scenarios that are equally valid

Taking them one by one: –

  • Surprise will happen when someone breaks your mental composure or kamae or both. If an opponent makes strong seme, either physically, or by showing a strong attacking spirit (kizeme), then you will be off-guard and they will have an opportunity to strike. An unexpected technique such as a katsugi waza may have the same effect.
  • Fear – The obvious example is when you are drawn against someone in shiai who is either significantly higher grade or who has a serious record of success in major competition. If you are conscious of their superiority then you are as much defeated by your own fear as by the stronger opponent. Another example is if you frightened of losing, all your time will be spent on avoiding being hit and you will miss the chance to strike.
  • Doubt – is perhaps the other side of the coin, if you are unsure of your ability or the effectiveness of your technique, then there is a tendency to not commit to an attack. Unless an attack is made with “full spirit” it is doomed to failure, therefore doubt has to be suspended.
  • Hesitation too is about lack of commitment. If when you see a chance, you stop to think about the merits of attacking or not, the moment will have passed.

The antidote is usually given as heijoshin which is often translated as “normal mind”, but it can be read as calm, constant mind, or unfettered mind. This does not mean clear of conscious thought as in mushin, which typifies the moment when you make a perfect strike without knowing that you have done so. Heijoshin means that your mind should run smoothly without fixating on your thoughts, therefore allowing you to react naturally to circumstances in the keiko or shiai as they occur.

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Mumeishi-History13I enjoy my Sunday Morning keiko at Mumeishi dojo, particularly when Holt sensei takes the Kihon practice. It means that with the exception of deciding what to eat for breakfast and whether to buy my wife a copy of the Sunday newspaper before or after keiko, I do not have to think.

Even when I am leading the training, it does not take a great deal of conscious consideration, because we have done most of the routines so many times they have become second nature, but it is even more comforting to position myself in the usual corner of the dojo and be taken through a familiar routine without any thought for what comes next.

This combination of Sunday morning lethargy and someone else calling the shots is my ideal antidote to the hectic work week and the preliminary session of repetitive kihon training sets me up for the following jigeiko by taking me to a state where I rely on ingrained technique rather than planning how to deal with each opponent.

I have jokingly suggested that the ideal kendoka should have the stamina of an endurance athlete, exceptional leg and core body strength, lightning fast reactions and an IQ of not more than 80. In reality I believe that it is more a question of temperament than intelligence, but it is true that some of my obviously brainy friends do occasionally tie themselves in knots by too much analysis.

Today one of our Japanese members mentioned that he was having trouble hitting my men. It was difficult to see why, as he has great kihon and posture, very strong kihaku and good timing, but then he confessed to thinking too hard about each attack. For some reason the harder you think about a technique the more difficult it becomes use it. The best thing is to do any analysis outside the dojo in the comfort of your home, favourite bar, or coffee shop and to spend your dojo time practicing with minimal consciousness.

As we have discussed before on numerous occasions, the only way of combatting the Four Sicknesses (Shikai) of surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation is to make or take your opportunity and then to attack with total commitment. The only way to gain the ability to do this is from regular, hard, intense kihon geiko.

We strive in kendo to achieve rin-ki-o-hen , the state in which we are instantly able to react to opportunities and changes in our opponent. For most of us this remains an ongoing quest. Nevertheless the ability to put the conscious brain on hold however occasionally is both good for our kendo and our lives outside the dojo.

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Renzoki_KoteMenMany years ago in the early days of British kendo, a friend told me that his success in shiai was the result of his secret weapon, kote-men-dou. The idea was that this pre-planned renzoku waza sequence would invariably fool  his opponents into lifting their arms to protect men and they would leave their dou open. At that time many of us were of a level where the technique actually worked, but with time and experience, far fewer people would fall for it today.

To be frank, I am not a believer in planning, at least not in a kendo context. “Fail to plan; plan to fail” may be a valuable adage in business administration, but in kendo the aim is to strike instinctively. So although we should of course build up our ability to make continuous attacks through kote-men, and kote-men-dou drills, these are not set-pieces. To my mind there are only four techniques in kendo – men, dou, kote and tsuki. There are of course infinite possibilities as to how these waza are applied, depending on distance, timing and opportunity. Whether you strike men as an oji-waza or shikake technique, the objective is still to hit your opponent on the head.

Renzoku waza are not pre-ordained sequences, they are more a matter of you attacking a target without success, but because you are moving forward in full spirit, you have the ability to continue immediately to attack another target because your first strike broke your opponent’s composure, causing one or more of the four kendo sicknesses, kyo-ku-gi-waku, (surprise, fear, doubt and hesitation). Of course, if your adversary continues to keep a level mind, then there is no point in launching a second attack.

Renzoku waza depend on good footwork and posture. You should be in the habit of bringing your left foot up in hikitsuke as soon as you make fumikomi with the right and be ready to push off again from the left as soon as you have an opportunity. Breathing needs to be correct: you must keep breath in your tanden throughout the sequence. This is one area where regular correct kirikaeshi practice helps prepare you.

It might be argued that you do not see renzoku waza often in high level, 8th dan tachiai. This is not because high grades can’t do renzoku waza, in fact some senior teachers such as Yamanaka sensei are experts. It is more a matter of their opponent keeping a strong kamae so that there is no opportunity to launch a second or third attack.

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Monkey with stickA number of kendo friends, obviously aware of the gaps in my education,  occasionally lend or recommend interesting books to me. Over the years these have included a several publications devoted to the subject of the unconscious mind.

Some time ago I was exposed to Malcolm Gladwell’s popular business psychology book “Blink” which proposes that snap judgments often have a more successful outcome than considered decisions. As someone who as my wife regularly reminds me, invariably acts before he thinks, I did not see anything unusual in Mr Gladwell’s thesis.

More recently I was loaned a copy of “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey. Gallwey went on to write a series of “Inner Game” books and to found a coaching empire around the idea that:

In every human endeavour there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential”

From a kendoka’s perspective Gallwey’s ideas are far from earth-shattering.  In kendo we accept that the inner game is a fundamental part of our shugyo. In fact it could be said that we use kendo’s outer game as a path to reach our inner goals. The obstacles mentioned in the above quote are frighteningly close to the kendo shikai, (four sicknesses) of surpise, fear, doubt and confusion – kyo-ku-gi-waku.

The similarities between Gallwey’s book and kendo’s Zen roots are not coincidental. He goes as far as to quote Daisetsu Suzuki on Eugene Herigel’s thoughts in “Zen in the Art of Archery”.

This is not a criticism of “The Inner Game”. There are some very positive ideas to be taken from the book. To summarise, the writer proposes that over analysis and criticism have a negative effect on performance whereas demonstration and repetition of correct technique and a less analytical approach lend themselves to a more positive outcome.

Reflecting on the traditional approach to kendo instruction where the instructor shows you how to do a technique and you continue to practise until you get it right, Mr Gallwey’s book pretty much tells us what we have always known “monkey see monkey do”. It works every time.

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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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