Posts Tagged ‘tanden’

suburi bokken2Most Japanese kendojo have a suburi bokken hidden somewhere in a dark corner. These come in various shapes and sizes including oversized shinai, implements that look like overweight bokken or the massive hexagonal clubs used in some kenjutsu styles. What they have in common is that you see very few people using them.

The few times I have seen people working with heavy suburi bokken, it has been in unstructured sessions without the supervision of an instructor. Based on this limited evidence, I had the feeling that they were doing more harm than good. By this I mean that they had to make adjustments to their posture and cutting action to support the extra weight.

In trying to control a heavy bokken, the grip tends to tighten, making the angle of the wrists more acute and causing the biceps to take the strain. This in turn brings more shoulder strength into play and as a result the exponent may find himself leaning forward, which is at odds with the correct upright posture that we aim to develop.

Suburi bokken  have been used by for many years and by many great kendo masters past and present, obviously this  means that in the right hands they are an aid to developing good kendo. Where they cause problems, is when they are used incorrectly. In the hands of a kenshi who has good posture, cutting action and tenouchi, or under the supervision of a good instructor, they should help strengthen good technique.

The same good be said about katate, or singlehanded suburi , particularly if done for a high number of continuous repetitions. Without guidance a natural reaction is to adjust the position of arm and shoulder to take the strain. This will have a negative effect on cutting technique.

Whereas an adult male’s shinai should weigh around 520 gm, suburi bokken can be three times that weight or more.  An iaito or shinken is approximately double the weight of a shinai, ranging from 900 gm to 1.2 kg and Iaido practitioners are taught to do a good job of cutting correctly with these. Correct technique is the answer regardless of the weight of the weapon.

In kendo we need to keep an upright posture with our weight distributed evenly between our feet. Our tanden should be braced and our arms hands and shoulders relaxed as we make the swing and we should finish with sharp tenouchi at the point or just beyond the point of impact. If we can do this, then the heaviest weapon and the largest number of reps should help rather than damage our kendo.

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Apologies to Milan Kundera for the plagiarism, but I am feeling philosophical after seeing a clip of an Australian newsreader sink an interview with the Dalai Lama whilst attempting to explain the joke about the Buddhist who walked into a pizza shop and asked “make me one with everything”.

One of the advantages of aging is that as you become weaker, you stop wasting some of the energy you did when you had it to spare.  For many years I used far too much power in my arms and shoulders to no benefit other than burning calories. In fact using too much upper body power has a negative effect on your kendo by pulling your weight down and stopping the smooth forward motion needed to make the transition from successful attack to zanshin.

In kendo we often hear the statement “Ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi riki”, one sight, two feet, three tanden (abdomen), four power, (in this instance it refers to the power of technique rather than strength). This adage tells us that after seeing the opportunity, our power should come from our feet through our lower body and then finally our arms and hands conclude the waza.

To make this happen you have to combine the following points:

  • Your left foot must always be in place. As soon as you move your right foot forward your left foot should follow. Your heel should be at a 15 degree angle to the floor giving you enough traction to push off as soon as you see an opportunity.
  • Your abdomen should be braced; you need to breathe in and hold that breath in the interval between entering distance and attack. The feeling should be that of attacking your opponent’s left eye from your navel.
  • Arms and shoulders should be totally relaxed with the left wrist cocked to support the shinai and the right hand in a natural position with just little and ring fingers gripping the tsuka. Elbows should rest lightly on your dou and you should keep a natural bend in your arms.
  • Finally you should make sure that you do not move your hands and arms until your foot and body movement is nearly complete. The sequence should be push off from the left foot, raise your left hand, start to bring the shinai down as your right foot leaves the ground  and strike as you make fumikomi, not forgetting to quickly draw your left foot up again, ready to move through.

Many years ago Sugo sensei of Chuo University tried to reinforce this behaviour in me by grabbing my keikogi and the koshi ita of my hakama and pulling me upwards as I attempted to strike men. Unfortunately it took quite a few years before the lesson sank in.  Whilst I am not necessarily advocating hakama wedgies, my advice as always, is more kihon geiko. Although you get to use more energy in the process, you may find the way to save it while you still have some to spare.

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