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Posts Tagged ‘uchikomigeiko’

Grading + KataWe have one of UK kendo year’s biggest grading exams coming up next weekend at my own dojo, Mumeishi. This one goes up to 5th dan there are nearly 90 candidates registered.

I have recently sat in on a number of practise grading sessions and whilst I have seen some good kendo there are a few errors that people fall into time after time. One of these seems to happen mainly with people taking ikkyu and shodan and is a reasonably new phenomenon. Candidates are taking turns in opening up and letting their opponent hit them, as if they were doing uchikomi-geiko.

The alternative seems to be that the two fighters use the limited time available to perform a series of ai-men, hitting each other at the same time. What the jury will actually be looking for is the ability to take or make the correct opportunity to attack as well as the ability to show correct basic technique.

Going up the grades, the big danger is attacking too much, particularly at times when no opportunity exists. Two or three successful attacks are all you need, especially if you are aiming for 4th or 5th dan. (Sueno sensei recently suggested that you need to hit 5 times to make 2 clear ippon). Show that you can break your opponent’s centre and take clear points.

Here are some points to keep in mind regardless of the grade you are aiming for:

  • Be careful of your chakuso. Make sure that all your equipment is tied neatly and correctly. Watch the length of your men-himo and ensure that loops and descenders are of equal length.
  • Make correct rei and sonkyo. You should take kamae at the same time as you make sonkyo not before or after.
  • You must not attack when there is no opportunity and you must attack when there is.
  • Commit 100 per cent to any attack you make. Ensure that your kiai is strong and that you make sae on hitting. Ensure too that your zanshin is present on every strike.
  • If you miss, keep good posture as you move through after the attack. A missed point with good posture and kiai can be more impressive than a poorly executed hit.
  • If kirikaeshi is part of your exam strike sharply and accurately and make sure that you do not cross your feet when you step backwards.
  • Do not try techniques that you are not yet good at. Oji do is a good example. Few people do this well and many others try it in gradings. Even if it means relying solely on men, do only what you can do well.

If you are taking this or any other grading next week, do not attempt to make major changes to your kendo. Do the best you can with what you already have and keep these few tips in mind. Oh, and good luck on the day!

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Sueno senseiSueno Eiji sensei, hanshi  hachidan is back in the UK and has taken us through two evenings and two long but enlightening days of instruction. The seminar evolved from a detailed look at suburi through to the best way to display you skills in grading examinations, but sensei’s overriding thesis was that kendo training should be a step-by-step process, based on getting each stage right before you move on to the next.

He summed this up by expanding on his previous remarks ”that you can’t do keiko if you can’t do suburi” by explaining that you need to be able to reach a good level of men suburi before attempting tobikomi men drills in armour. You should be able to make correct single men strikes before moving on to making renzoku waza. Your renzoku waza should be correct before attempting uchikomi-geiko, which you should perfect before trying kakari-geiko and you should only go on to ji-geiko when everything else is correct. Once you have all of these points straightened out, you should keep them on track by spending 50 minutes of each kendo hour on kihon and the remaining ten on ji-geiko.

Sensei’s most controversial point was that in suburi and uchi-komi our furi-kaburi (upswing) for men should not stop at the 45 degrees insisted upon by many other kendo teachers. Instead our hands should come back in a low arc past the top of our heads. He qualified this by saying that we should not bring them back to a point where he have to open our elbows, but that the swing should go back as far as it can while keeping the arms in correct cutting position.

When asked why 45 degrees is still recommended by many teachers, his answer was that it was written down many years ago but had since been rethought about and that many sensei just keep quoting conventional wisdom. He quoted an example of the seminar held before the All Japan 8th dan Championships where every participant regardless of what he usually taught was bringing his shinai back past the 45 degree point in the warm-up suburi.

Sueno sensei’s other repeated point was that you should relax your arms immediately after  striking men, so that the shinai could bounce upwards, allowing your forward motion and following zanshin to continue smoothly. As he said himself, “there are many paths to the top of the mountain”.

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Block (2)This is definitely turning into a readers’  problem page.

Dave has asked me what to do when his opponent constantly lifts the shinai up to head height at the time when he tries to bring his shinai down on the men.   The way the question was put makes it sound as if the offenders are doing it on purpose to sabotage Dave’s men. I suspect that in many cases it might be an innocent timing issue, but I am aware of some individuals who do this, either to protect their men or, to follow with a cut made on the back foot. In some cases it may be a bit of both.

Dave asks whether there is a way of dealing with people who do this, particularly in grading examinations where you feel the need to demonstrate good men technique. There is not an easy answer to this point. Conventional kendo wisdom suggests that if someone is blocking their men, you should aim for their dou or try tsuki, either to take a point or to gain access to their men by relying on their blocking instincts to cover these targets, leaving the men open.

If you strike men and their hands go up, try hitting dou and if their hands go down quickly attack men again. You can also subtly show your own men as a target before responding with debana or suriage men, but if your opponent is defensive or confused then he may not be prepared to respond to your attempt to draw him in.

I sometimes set myself personal challenges at the beginning of a keiko with less experienced kenshi. This week in a practice session with a tall opponent with challenging timing, I gave myself the goal of taking men as shodachi, (the first point). As hard as I tried I could not make it happen, so had to resort to kaeshi dou, before offering myself as a target for kakarigeiko.

The chances are, that unless your own timing is fundamentally flawed, an opponent who constantly covers his men with his hands or shinai is doing something wrong. It may or may not be intentional but in either case he should be discouraged from doing it. If you are his obvious senior then you need to help him correct the error through uchikomi-geiko or kakarigeiko. If you are his peer then maybe buy him a beer and have a friendly word.

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KakarigeikoA number of newer students recently asked about the difference between uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko. On asking them what they thought the difference was, many of the answers focused on speed. This is not surprising. People often see kakarigeiko as a series of fast and furious full-on attacks and uchikomigeiko as a more sedate affair. This is plausible but not the right answer.

The difference is about whom, not how fast. In uchikomigeiko it is motodachi who makes the opportunities for kakarite to attack. The purpose is to give clear targets and indications of timing and opportunity to allow the attacker to strike the target correctly without fear of counterattack or of running onto the point of a shinai.

Uchikomigeiko is often one of the first training methods that new kenshi try, either with a motodachi in bogu, or with one person in the centre of the dojo holding a shinai or uchikomi-bo for them to strike as they move through in turn.

For the more experienced, uchikomigeiko can be the simple practice of one technique such as men with partners taking turns at being motodachi, through to more complex sequences with seniors or instructors receiving the attacks. A typical sequence is men, kote, dou, kote-men, kote-dou, men-hiki-men, men.

Kakarigeiko probably suits more advanced students. They have to make the opportunities to attack, either making strong seme with their body and mind or the point of the shinai, or by knocking the opponent’s shinai away with harai or uchiotoshi before striking. If you do not have good basic kendo with correct cutting, posture and ki-ken-tai itchi, kakarigeiko is likely to do more harm than good. On the other hand if you have mastered the basics, kakarigeiko is an opportunity to practise your techniques flat-out with total commitment. It is however essential that you trust motodachi.

Motodachi’s job is to keep you honest. He should ensure that only correct attacks made with strong seme should get through. He has a number of tools available to do this, he can just hold kamae, or use his own harai or uchiotoshi waza to break weak attacks. Poor posture can be punished with taiatari and he can respond to kakarite’s unsuccessful attacks with oji waza. What he must never do is to endanger or injure kakarite with techniques such as mukaetsuki. This will have a wholly negative effect, making kakarite afraid to attack wholeheartedly.

Kakarigeiko should be fast and done with correct breathing, so for renzoku waza you should try to make each attacking sequence in one breath. It is not however just reserved for the young and fit. We oldies can make up for the lack of pace with strong kiryoku.

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Kendo childrenOne of the most difficult transitions in kendo is the move from being kakarite to becoming a good motodachi. Most of us at some time in our kendo careers have to cross the dojo floor and change from being attacker to receiver. To do so successfully calls for a mix of technical ability, judgement and compassion.

As a reminder to set the scene, most of us know that motodachi is the receiver, or high side partner in the whole range of kendo training exercises; for kihon practice we usually take turns as motodachi. The other option is for an instructor to take this role and to use his or her judgment on how to get the best out of kakarite. The most frequently used format for this is a combination of kirikaeshi, hikitategeiko (jigeiko between unequal partners) and  kakarigeiko or uchikomi-geiko. This type of training is generally referred to as shido-geiko

The challenge for the instructor is to encourage the student to stretch beyond his comfort level without causing physical damage, feelings of frustration or eroded self-esteem. For many of us this is a tough task, particularly when we have classes of varied ages and abilities. At Mumeishi dojo we have a mix of male and female members aged from their early 20s to mid-60s, from National Squad members to beginners; so a “one size fits all” approach would not work. The practice has to be tailored to get the best out of each student regardless of condition or experience level.

Whereas you might finish your keiko by asking an older kenshi to make one or two good men attacks, you could up the stakes with a young competition player, offering a tough kakarigeiko session before challenging them to a final one point match. If you get the first point, go to a second which with a bit of luck, (or subtle help) they will take. Ideally they should come out of a tough session feeling positive.

Not all instruction has to be verbal. If a student shows his kote every time he raises the shinai for men you should hit it frequently as a reminder. If he or she is young and fit, but has the habit of leaving their back foot in the air when they strike, a strategic push to remind them that their balance is unstable would not cause too much harm, providing you use a level of restraint. If they have a habit of stepping back, step in and take hikibana men.

We have talked about the qualities of a good motodachi in other posts and most of us accept that we need to be full of spirit and totally engaged in the moment. It is also important that we exercise impeccable judgement to get the most out of our dojo mates. The objective is to help them be the best kendoka they can, be whether they are aspiring juniors, national team members or senior citizens  and to make sure that we all make it safely to the final rei.

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Kirikaeshi smallInoue Shigeaki sensei has left the UK, leaving behind numerous exhausted but inspired kendoka.  During his seminar he focused on a number of relatively basic points including:

  • Fast and accurate cutting in suburi.
  • Keeping keiko short and intense.
  • Including uchikomi-geiko, kakarigeiko and kirkaeshi in each and every keiko with motodachi.

For me however the one point that really stood out was his view of the importance of kirikaeshi. He believes that by just practising kirikaeshi you could develop you kendo to a level where you could win major shiai.

Obviously to be beneficial kirikaeshi training has to be done correctly. Inoue sensei’s approach is as follows:

  • You start practising slowly and accurately ensuring that distance is correct.
  • You do this by taking just one step forward from the starting position and strike shomen with one step, one cut.
  • You make taiatari keeping your hands low and ensuring that motodachi provides suitable resistance. Neither of you should use your upper body power, but should push from the tanden.
  • You then concentrate on striking yoko men accurately with correct hasuji.
  • After the last yoko men strike you take only one step back (in tsugiashi) so that you are ready to make the next shomen attack  in one step, one strike distance, pushing off from the left foot.

Once you can do this correctly you add speed, concentrating initially on the speed of each strike, rather than the tempo of the whole exercise. Finally you start to work on correct breathing and kiai; breathing in deeply before the first strike, holding the air in your abdomen as you release part of it in kakegoe and then completing the whole kirikaeshi sequence in one breath with continuous kiai.

Inoue sensei asserts that from training with kirikaeshi in this way you learn about correct posture and footwork, timing and opportunity, striking action and hasuji, correct breathing for kendo and the ability to easily and smoothly deliver continuous attack renzoku waza.

If you include this with every keiko and also add uchikomi-geiko and kakarigeiko, it mirrors the training undertaken by the Japanese National Team under Inoue sensei and Kato sensei’s direction for the 14WKC in Sao Paulo.

For us mere mortals, the intensity and duration of training should take our age and physical condition into account and depends on motodachi’s intuition. Sensei did however make the point that you should be able to train in this way well into your 50’s. Hopefully by the time we hit 60 we should be kicked across the dojo into a motodachi position.

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Kendo childrenOne of the benefits of writing this blog is that I get feedback from kendoka in other dojo and other countries about the way they do things and the challenges they face. This often stimulates ideas which I use when physically teaching kendo. Thomas Sluyter’s comments on kirikaeshi following my last post helped me refine the drills for our group at Sanshukan.

One thing that is becoming obvious as we go through these sessions is that the theory is relatively easy to explain, but that it takes constant practice to develop motodachi skills. Hikitategeiko in particular is an area where experience is essential.  No matter how well you understand the theory, unless you are able to read your opponent and build and relax the tension between you, it is unlikely that you will reach the desired outcome.

Just to reiterate, hikitategeiko is jigeiko between a senior and junior partner. Motodachi uses the opportunity to practise his own technique whilst encouraging kakarite to do his best. It works if the more experience player sets the standard reasonably close to the junior’s level, so that he acts as if he has only half a dan grade advantage. By this I do not mean that his technical kendo standard should be lowered, more that the competitive advantage is narrowed.

At the beginning of every keiko you should treat each opponent with the same level of respect. I therefore think that it is your duty to face him earnestly and to try for shodachi or the first point. You may be surprised that the junior player is the first to achieve this. No matter who takes the first ippon, this is a chance to study your opponent; how he moves and his strengths and weaknesses. You should continue to make your own opportunities using seme to penetrate his centre and maintain kizeme (mental pressure) to put him at a disadvantage. When however he makes a strong attack you should allow it to connect.

This is the ideal opportunity to practise your oji waza, so use hiki dasu to invite his strikes and then respond with suriage or kaeshi techniques. Do not however break his spirit by countering every attack. It goes without saying that you should not block, physically stop him with the point of your shinai, or resort to miss timed or sneaky waza to make a point.

Depending on kakarite’s level there will come a point in the keiko when the tension between you breaks down. This is normally because his level of concentration and focus is starting to diminish. By now you should have evaluated any bad habits or mistakes, so make the transition to uchikomigeiko; making opportunities for him to strike. Do this in a way where you use pressure to control distance and opportunity so that he strikes with correct timing and maai. Use this chance to make him correct any errors. You may have to demonstrate how to do the technique yourself, but do so quickly and keep conversation to a minimum. If it requires a long debate, have it in the pub after training.

If kakarite is relatively skilled, then perhaps uchikomigeiko should be reduced to just one or two techniques at the end of the keiko. It may even be that you finish with ippon shobu, but if kakarite is that strong, we are moving into the realm of gokakugeiko.

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