Posts Tagged ‘Tsuki’

old-tsukiLast week’s post prompted some interesting questions. Tsuki as a technique is as important as men, kote and dou. As with attacks to all of these targets ippon is generated by a sharp, accurate on-off strike. Debana tsuki like debana men is made just as the opponent starts an attack. You should strike just as he starts to lift his hands, so it is up to you to step-in and hit the men dare.

Mukaetsuki is a tsuki that meets your opponent’s forward movement as he steps in to attack. Not only are you holding him off with the shinai’s point, you are increasing the force with which you receive him by pushing your hands forward at the same time. This is not only bad behaviour, it is dangerous as the shinai can cause damage if it slips under pressure and goes under the tsuki dare.

Daniel made reference to some kodansha hitting the target and releasing the tension in this situation. He also mentioned holding the shinai against the attacker’s dou mune.  To make sense of this, it is essential to realise that practice between juniors and seniors is different to that between peers. This hikitatgeiko is similar to jigeiko or gokakugeiko, but the senior takes the lead in encouraging good strikes and in using his own technique to pre-empt or block bad ones. This holding (but cushioning) kamae against a forward moving kenshi is normally done to teach the student about distance and timing.

As for walking away after striking, kodansha develop bad-habits like everyone else, although this could be an initiative by sensei to move you back to the right spot for keiko and to avoid leaving you in a space where you might bump into other players. Senior level zanshin may well be on the spot and not involve excess movement, but the strength of the attack and kiai and manifestation of kigamae would make it very clear that sensei had made a successful yuko datotsu.

Sumi sensei’s show of dropping into sonkyo after kaeshi  dou is as suggested a humorous way to emphasise a point. I have seen him do this too. He is not alone in concluding keiko in this way. Arima sensei of Osaka police was well known for taking kote or tsuki and immediately squatting, but he amplified the effect with his distinctive high pitched kiai as he wrapped things up by calling out something along the lines of “otsuki, otsuki, sainara (sayonara with a Kansai accent).

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1909_kendoA number of people have asked me where fighting spirit ends and good manners, or concern for the welfare of your fellow kenshi begins.

In keiko your objective is to break your opponent’s kamae and strike a target as soon as you have created an opportunity. There are many ways to do this you can make him start an attack and strike as he begins his movement. You can use kaeshi  waza, suriage waza or nuki waza to counter the attacks that you encourage him to make. You can take his centre by stepping  in and making a strong tobikomi attack, or you can use your shinai to knock your opponent’s weapon up, down or to the side, even to twist it out of his hands. All of these are permissible with the rules and spirit of kendo and you should do them as energetically as your stamina will allow

It is equally permissible to move your opponent by striking with your body, but only in the form of correct tai-atari where the contact should be tsuka on tsuka with the hands at waist height and the power coming from the lower body. Pushing to the chin or face, using your feet to sweep or trip, trapping your opponent’s shinai or using your own to push any part of his body constitutes an infringement. Taiatari should be one quick body check followed by an attack rather than a long concerted pushing match.

Tsuki is a valuable kendo technique but must be done correctly as a sharp on-off attack.  Mukaetsuki, with your arms locked as your opponent makes a forward movement against you is considered the height of bad manners. Even a good attacking tsuki against a teacher or senior in poor taste, if it is done when they make an opening for you to hit men.

Most of these are obvious violations of the rulesa of kendo and would be penalised in shiai. There are other less obvious breaches of etiquette that are undesirable in keiko. Using your shinai to block without countering is wrong and spoils the flow of the tachiai, as does starting and stopping an attack mid flow to prevent your opponent from hitting you. Hitting your partner off-target in order to create an opening is equally bad, as is showing contempt by celebrating or walking away after striking.

Some of the rules invariably get bent in shiai, but there are 3 referees in the court to stop you from transgressing too much. In keiko it is up to you to train as hard as you can whilst still showing respect for your dojo mates.

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Perfect MasterFollowing a recent post on kaeshi men, Helton asked for more information on which techniques work for tall people against shorter people and vice versa.

One of the best guides to understand which waza work in which situation is Chiba sensei’s book and DVD set “Perfect Master” , where he devotes a whole section to which techniques should be used in which circumstances. If you can get your hands on a copy this explains a lot about kikai or opportunity, whereas most kendo books describe technique in isolation.

There are of course some very obvious examples of shikake and oji waza that have a probability of success in different circumstances. Men works for tall people against shorter opponents, dou and kote are more likely to help smaller kenshi against the tall. Tsuki too works for small people, which was regularly demonstrated by Arima sensei of Osaka Police.

As we discussed, kaeshi men is difficult against a taller opponent as their hands or shinai get in the way of the target whereas kaeshi dou or nuki dou are much more likely to succeed. Helton points out that at a height of 2 metres suriage men works for him. Strangely enough at my 1m 73 it also works for me, but I think that is because we are sliding up against a downward strike so both shorter and taller people can use it successfully. On the other hand kiri-otoshi is almost impossible against a much taller opponent.

Against jodan we have a whole new set of challenges regardless of the respective height of each player. I would guess however that many jodan players are relatively tall. In this case as well as the text-book tsuki, keeping your shinai in hirasegan and threatening  kote and switching to men or threating men and switching to hit kote are worthwhile  ploys. Kaeshi men too seems to work against jodan regardless of height as the jodan players men is open once he makes his attack.

Nito is a nightmare. Variations of techniques against jodan are still relevant, but the kodachi is always there to block men attacks. In this case tsuki and dou are the major targets.

In all of these situations practise and experimentation are the only way to find what works for you against different opponents, and if you train regularly with the same few people, it is worth visiting other dojo to broaden your selection of partners.

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Tsuki in shiai

Copy of untitledWhen I have written about tsuki in the past it has usually been to describe it as a technique that is seen occasionally at “All Japan” level, but never widely practised. I am now starting to change my opinion. I am trying to get over a dose of “man-flu” so did not get to see yesterday’s British Open’s, however during my visit to the previous week’s Swedish National Championship I saw three good tsuki scored. This seems to be part of a trend.

There are an increasing number of European kendoka who are adding tsuki to their list of tokui-waza. Whether this is because we are seeing more players take up jodan and nito or because we are generally becoming aware that it is one of the four basic techniques of kendo, I am not sure.  My own pet theory is that the current popularity of tsuki owes much to Naoki Eiga’s decisive point in the team final of the 12 WKC. However when considering that this happened almost 12 years ago, some of the kenshi now successfully using the technique in shiai, were in junior school at the time, so Eiga san’s tsuki must have left its mark on kendo’s collective consciousness.

I include both single and one handed tsuki in kihon drills. Obviously it requires a degree of care when practising, particularly from newer kenshi, but doing tsuki safely and successfully is as much the responsibility of motodachi as kakarite.  If motodachi is afraid of receiving tsuki, the chances are that kakarite will miss the target. If motodachi leans back or twists his body away from the tip of the shinai it is highly likely that it will slip in by the side of the tsukidate, grazing his neck or worse. If he tilts his head back, then there is a strong probability that the kisaki will go up and under the protector, causing even greater discomfort.

The way to meet tsuki is full on, with your body square to your opponent and your chin down, so that there is no gap between the tsukidate and the dou mune. Posture is also important. If you are erect with your balance centred in your hips and core, then the strongest tsuki should not disturb your equilibrium. For the attacker tsuki should be short and sharp, made with the body and the feet and with the hands applying tenouchi correctly at the point of contact.

I aim to do lots of tsuki drills over the next few months to help understand the technique as a player and as a referee.

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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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Eiga tsuki

Eiga tsuki

With the increase in recent interest in jodan and nitou, tsuki is becoming an important part of the kendo toolkit. Unfortunately, most of us are not particularly good at tsuki. This is probably due to the fact that we do not practise the technique often enough.

Reasons for not doing so are plentiful. You are advised not to try if you are a junior or kyu grade. If you are a dan grade holder, it is standard practice not to use tsuki on junior or inexperienced players. On the other hand it is considered disrespectful to try tsuki against a senior teacher, so targets for tsuki in keiko are, depending on your level, limited to kendoka of your own grade and slightly above or below.

You also see very little tsuki practice within kihon geiko and of course its use within kakarigeiko is a no no. Even teachers who are experts at tsuki do not always teach it; perhaps they rightly assume that most of us are not to be trusted to use it correctly. Tsuki is certainly my weakest technique, which is logical when I realise that of my total lifetime kendo practice, probably less than 2 or 3 percent has been devoted to tsuki.

I have however, in the spirit of better late than never, started to include tsuki in my own kihon practice and I can’t confidently say, teach it, but I include it in basic drills for my students.

In terms of technique, there is the choice of kotatetsuki and morotetsuki. The former gives you more reach, but needs work to ensure that you do not compromise your posture and that you keep your body square. Simultaneously pulling your right hand back to your hip as you strike is perhaps the best way to maintain your body line.

With two handed tsuki, the challenge is to ensure that you hit with ki-ken-tai ichi and do not just push out with your arms. With either version it is important to make the technique sharp and hit and instantly pull the point of the shinai back. The cardinal sin is to make tsuki as your opponent comes towards you. This is known as mukaetsuki, which is dangerous and regarded as disrespectful.

Certainly, tsuki is a valuable technique, not only is it effective against jodan and nitou, but it works against strong chudan, where it is difficult to make a successful men or kote attack. Done correctly it is also a beautiful technique. If you are lucky enough to see Eiga san’s tsuki or that of Arima sensei, I am sure you will agree with me.

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