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Posts Tagged ‘shodan shinsa’

4th DanI am lucky enough to travel regularly for kendo and have been a panellist for or assisted with grading examinations in a number of countries over the past few years. During this time I have noticed that it is generally becoming more difficult to pass 3rd dan.

In the past it was often enough for a candidate to show correct waza and good posture to pass this grade. In some ways it was seen as a more polished version of 2nd dan.  Now, I feel that it is becoming the watershed that 4th dan used to be.

An experience that I have not had for quite a few years is to watch a prefectural grading in Japan, but I have been told by a number of senior sensei that the bar has been raised there too. Japanese grading panels now look for sharpness (sae) of strikes and for the ability to make opportunities through seme (breaking your opponent’s centre) or hikidasu (pulling him in), for third dan candidates in the way they looked at 4th dan in the past.

Although  purely conjecture on my part,  I imagine that this is a reflection of the fact that since 9th dan was discontinued, the kodansha grades of 8th, 7th and 6th dan have become more difficult to attain and slowly but surely there has been a trickle-down effect on the grades below.

Third dan seems to be particularly in the firing line, because 4th dan was traditionally seen as the point where strong kihaku (strength of spirit), seme and hikidasu were required to augment the technique learned up to that stage.  These elements now seem to be required for 3rd dan too.

Third dan candidates still need the basics of good cutting technique, posture and ki ken tai-itchi, but must now demonstrate the ability to control and dominate the opponent and to make sharp effective attacks at the right time.

Show the examiners that you mean business by ensuring that you are tuned into your opponent from the time you step into the shinsa-jo. Engage your partner’s attention and keep eye contact from the moment you start to bow. Then take three confident steps into simultaneous sonkyo before standing-up together. Allow the time to read each other and show strong kiai before an attack is made.

To prepare you should ensure that you work on creating correct opportunities in jigeiko and by including seme and hikidasu in your basic uchikomi drills. If you are able to combine good basic kendo with the ability to control your opponent at this stage, you should have a great foundation for the rest of your kendo career.

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Back in 2009 I wrote a piece about tsuki http://wp.me/stBQt-tsuki . Since then, I have continued to see the occasional Youtube video of this technique resulting in brilliant ippon in the All Japan Championships, but I never see the technique practised.

I have enjoyed keiko on four continents (I still hope to get to Australia), and have hardly ever seen anyone doing tsuki drills. I have witnessed numerous university practises and the occasional police tokuren session in Japan where tsuki has been ignored. This begs the question – how do those athletes who excel in tsuki get to be so good at it?

There are lots of implicit embargos on tsuki. It should not be done by beginners or children, or used by more experienced players against the same. It is also thought to be impolite to do tsuki against a senior teacher. This does actually make sense as keiko between instructor and student tends to take the form of hikitategeiko, where the senior partner subtly makes openings for the junior. In this situation it would be extremely rude to charge in with a heart-stopping tsuki when sensei kindly opens for you to attack men.

There is also a feeling, although I have never heard anything definitive on this point, that tsuki should not be attempted in grading examinations. Having watched the hachidan shinsa five or six times, I have only seen tsuki from one individual who has become a minor legend. At every grading, his reputation causes a knot of anticipation where the watchers go through a “will he, won’t he?” speculation. Every time I have seen him in action his very impressive tsuki emerges before the end of his second tachiai. I am a long way from being able to understand whether this is the reason for him not getting through to the niji shinsa, but his kendo looks pretty good to me.

Perhaps I am painting too negative a picture. Tsuki is included in most courses and seminars, but normally its inclusion is brief and it seems to be there as the token fourth technique. Nevertheless the kendo world seems to be split between those who can’t do tsuki and those who excel at it. It is probably the result of my over active imagination, but I have the suspicion that those who can spend their nights away from prying eyes practising tsuki in the dark.

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