Monday, 17 October 2011

What you need for Ippon (a point)

Hi all,

Hope you are enjoyed the first session of term if you are returning and the first practice if you are just starting.

Here is a short excerpt from show by NHK that was found by Alan Thompson, the events manager of the British Kendo Association, a description about how to score ippon:

The aim of the beginner's course is to teach you to perform attacks which fulfill these criteria.

See you at the practice tonight!


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Debana waza

As some of you may already know, 'waza' means 'technique' in Japanese.
I would like to introduce you to some waza in kendo now that everyone who started in October last year have gotten into armour.

The first one is 'Debana waza'.
Debana roughly translates to "when about to go".
It's a technique to capture a moment of opportunity, when the opponent is about to initiate his/her move, and strike first.

The sequence usually works like this:
  1. Watch your opponent at to-ma (far distance), make sure you have good kamae.
  2. Kiai, showing fighting spirit.
  3. Without breaking your posture, step into issoku-ittou-no-ma (one step, one strike distance).
  4. Apply pressure to the opponent by holding centre. Watch the opponent carefully.
  5. When the opponent 'thinks about an attack' (which you can detect by their balance falling forward, or their shinai tilting up slightly) you strike. You can either do debana men or debana kote.
  6. All the rules for yuko-datotsu (a valid strike) applies.
Sounds simple enough?
It's a very effective technique in shiai!

However, you would notice that this technique requires you to react and move fast.
It may not work very well when you are making a large cut (mainly because the opponent will have time to respond, or will hit you first), but the principal is the same.
Remember to watch the opponent, and remember to be ready for it. Once you master the smaller, faster cuts, you WILL be able to use this technique effectively!

There are a couple of things to think about.

1. You have to be ready, first.
Check that you are in a comfortable distance to make a strike.
There's not much point in being too close or too far from the oponent, because even if you see the debana oppportunity, you can't make a valid cut at a wrong distance.
Holding a good posture is crucial as well. Be ready to go!

2. Don't 'wait'.
Often, people think that you have to wait until the opponent makes an obvious move before you initiate your strike.
It's usually too late at that point. You are not looking for the initiation of the strike (ie shinai swing), but more for the tilting of the body balance forward before the actual movement of the body.
So opponent's shinai may move very little or not at all when it's the right timing for debana waza.

3. Don't make it obvious you are waiting.
This is slightly advanced stuff... remember kendo is about mind-game as much as it is about physical abilities and good technique.
Don't make it obvious you are waiting for your opponent to do something so that you can go for debana.
Always keep your attitude positive, and make the opponent feel pressured. That's usually when they initiate their move, because they 'feel' that they need to do something.

Many sensei will tell you that you are not supposed to wait for your opponent to make a move --You make your opponent do what you want him/her to! ;)
Some people also make a deliverate opening (so that opponent is tempted to hit men or kote) but this is a bit risky, because if the opponent is a lot faster than you, then they WILL hit you.

Hope this articule helped you understand debana-waza a bit better.

See you all next week!


Saturday, 28 May 2011

Flow of an exercise

Hi all,

It's been a long time since the last update! But now that most of you who started at the beginning of the year are in armour, it is important to understand the flow of the exercise and how to receive a technique. This post will describe the order of events between kakarite
(practice side) and motodachi (receiving side) when practising any particular exercise.
  1. Kakarite and Motodachi start at tooma (long distance).
  2. Both sides kiai to indicate readiness and will.
  3. Kakarite moves into a distance at which the exercise can be performed. While kakarite is doing this, motodachi holds centre and tests the pressure of kakarite.
  4. When motodachi senses that kakarite is ready, motodachi responds to the pressure and provides the opening. When practising shikake-waza (attacking techniques), this will involve showing the target. When practising oji-waza (counter techniques), it will be making the prescribed cut.
  5. Kakarite performs the technique.
  6. While kakarite is finishing the technique and displaying zanshin, motodachi moves to a position such that when kakarite returns to kamae (stance), both are once again at tooma. This does not need to be at the centre; the position motodachi moves to will be dependent on how far kakarite moves through or back at the end of the exercise. Return to the centre only at the end of the exercise or if it is dangerous to perform the technique where you are.
  7. Repeat the exercise the required number of times.
Following this flow improves interaction between motodachi and kakarite, very important to improving the kendo of both sides: it trains spotting the opportunity, making and responding to pressure, and timing. It is important to remember that kendo is between two people, even when practising the most basic of techniques.

Later posts will have me attempting to describe the more advanced waza that having armour now make safe to be practised, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Beginner's Course Week 7

Hi all,

Well done for getting to the end of the training sessions for the beginner's course in Michaelmas Term 2010! The only thing left is the grading this Saturday. Make sure to practice the suburi and learn the counting used in the kiai. The counting can be found on a previous blog entry
here, the types of suburi described here, and more details on the kirikaeshi can also be found here. As always, reading of previous blog entries is encouraged and should be useful.

There are a few additional points to those made in previous entries.

I observed in Monday's session was that cuts, posture and footwork for kirikaeshi were all excellent when practised without a target, but once there was someone to be hit, the shoulders and upper body hunched, arms tensed and feet became unsynchronised from the cut. The purpose of suburi is to practice the cutting, and so the point is that the strikes should be the same with or without a target. So, when practising suburi, visualise a target in front of you, and when practising on a target, try to cut as you do in suburi.

If the motodachi (person receiving the cuts in practice) is much taller than you, it is still possible to hit the correct part of the men, but it is essential that the shinai be extended and the wrists and shoulders relaxed. If not, the angle of the shinai will be too close to vertical and will hit instead the mengane (bars of the men). As always, use the shoulder rotation to control the height, instead of trying to reach with the upper body or jumping higher.

Each cut in the kirikaeshi, the first cut, the diagonal cuts, and the final men, must all be complete cuts, with te-no-uchi, large swings, and ki-ken-tai no icchi. Do not throw away any cut just because it is part of a sequence; each cut should be strong enough to score on its own. This is practice for sequential cutting.

Finally, the grading will involve suburi, a sequence of cuts, and kirikaeshi: effectively what we have learnt over the term, so there should be no nasty surprises! It is natural to become tense and nervous when grading or doing kendo in front of many people; in these cases it is even more important to keep everything relaxed. Remember that this is just a way of seeing how much your kendo has improved, so just do your best and take in the experience!

See you Satuday!

location of Cheney School. Number 15 goes straight there from Castle Street via High Street. The grading will be in the sports hall.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Beginner's Course Week 6

Hi all,

This week the practice was on the strikes to two different targets of men (head) and kote (wrist).

Cuts to the men are what we have been practicing for the last few weeks, and so should not require much addition or comments. However, remember to bear in mind all the points that have been mentioned previously when practising, and when making the cuts do not make them mechanically, but instead concentrate on the technique. Check if the movements are correct and if anything can be improved. It is particularly important to correct any mistakes now, before they become bad habits and worked into muscle memory, as it is more difficult to correct them later.

In the case of strikes to the kote (wrist), the movement should be the same as men, with the only variations being the height of the cut. The strike should still be made with the arms extended and relaxed, reaching out as far forwards as possible. The arc should still be straight up and down the centre. Do not try to cut kote at an angle and from the side, as that will likely result in hitting either the tsuba (guard), shinai, or knuckles, none of which are a valid target. Additionally, it will cause you to use the right arm in cutting as opposed to the body. Use the angle of the shoulder joint to control the height of the cut, as opposed to leaning forwards and down. The tip of the shinai should finish at a slightly higher height than the hands. If the target is lower than your own wrists (such as when the opponent is shorter than you), bend the knees to lower the upper body so that the kote can be reached without hyperextending the wrist. Do not forget to use te-no-uchi, the wrist and finger tension, to add a snap at the end of the cut and control the impact of the shinai.

See you all on Monday!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Beginner's Course Week 5

Hi all,
A short update this time as most of what was covered on Monday has been described in detail in previous entries! This week was focussed on the coordination between the arms and the body.

These are the practice cuts that are done at the beginning of every practice, and are very useful to practice on your own. For these to be more useful than just building up strength, treat each swing as a proper cut. Bear in mind the form and coordination, instead of just doing them rote and going through the motions. Use the chance to improve your technique and movements. For a previous entry on this blog, which describes different types of suburi, click on the header.

Ki Ken Tai no Icchi
This is the timing for which the sword (ken), body (tai) and spirit (ki) all arrive at the same time. This is a requirement for a cut to be valid in kendo and will need to be adjusted throughout your time practicing kendo, as different parts of your body grow stronger or faster, or you correct your footwork and posture. Hence, regularly check if your kiai, fumikomi and shinai impact on the target are hitting at the same time. Again, click on the header for the previous blog entry on ki ken tai no icchi.

See you all Monday!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Beginner's Course Week 4

Hi all! Well done for sticking with the course. Halfway there; 3 more weeks to go before the grading! This week was about how to handle the shinai and retain control over the arc and target of the cut. Important things to bear in mind for this are your grip on the shinai, arm movement, posture (again), and finally, te-no-uchi.

Shinai Grip

The shinai should be held as though you are supporting its weight, without excessive force. Gripping it tightly kills the range of movement available to the shinai within your hand. The little finger of the left hand should be wrapped around the bottom edge of the shinai, resulting in the end of the shinai sitting in the palm of your hand. The right hand should be near the top of the handle, with the top of the hand a finger width from the tsuba (guard). The shinai should be held with the ring finger, little finger, and thumb of each hands. Ensure that the “V” between the thumb and index finger is along the top of the shinai. Do not place the thumb along the top. This prevents the shinai from pivoting back, and if the shinai is forced back by, e.g., running into someone, the thumb will get injured.

Arm Movement
The feeling of swinging the shinai is somewhere between allowing the shinai to drop down from the height that it has been lifted to, and throwing it out as far forward as possible (without letting go, of course). The arms should not be tense, and should unfold at the shoulders, then elbows, then wrists. If the arms (and hence grip) are tense, the cut will become inaccurate, as natural unevenness in strength between arms will pull the shinai off centre. The tenseness will also prevent correction of the arc, and so the strike will miss. It will take practice to get the balance right between relaxing and feeding enough strength into the shinai such that it swings out, hence my encouragement to get used to the weight and handling of the shinai. Try to practice swinging the arms, both with and without shinai, keeping them relaxed but sending them out as far as possible.

Posture (as always)

Two main problems with posture may affect the control of the cut. Hunched shoulders, with the shoulder girdle rolled forward, does not allow full rotation of the shoulder joint. This prevents the arms from being raised up high enough for the cut, and hence the elbows must be bent more to compensate. This then leads to obstruction of your view, a slower cut, and later, when in armour. a opening for the opponent to strike the kote (wrist). Bending the upper body to the side and leaning off-centre will also stuff up your accuracy. The height of the strike is determined by the rotation of the shoulder joint and the bending of the knees. For these to be accurate, the relative position of the spine must be consistent.

This is the use of the wrists and fingers to add the extra snap to the strike at the end of the swing. There are a variety of ways of thinking about how to execute this. One is to think of wringing the shinai handle at the end of the cut, turning both wrists inwards and gripping with the fingers. Another is to think of tightening the fingers on the shinai, together with a tipping forwards of the wrist joint. Either way, the important point is that the fingers and wrist are relaxed all the way up to the point before the te-no-uchi is executed, then tensed to give the shinai the snap, and then relaxed again. The last is an important part which is often missed.

I hope these points have been helpful. Next week will look at coordinating the whole body and introduction of a few more exercises built on this week's practise. See you on Monday!