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Getting the basics right. Correct cuts and better zanshin.

Recently at training we had the first night for some newcomers linked in with the borough councils Re-Active8 program.
As usual as soon as I start looking at the newcomers, it makes me focus much more on my own form. If you’re going to show someone how to do something, you have to get it right or you’re just teaching someone bad habits. It’s a great thing to be in a dojo where the correct form is cared about instead of simply trying to score ippon.

Now I’ve talked about eureka moments before and I had a big one this time. I’ve realised that for some time now, I’ve been doing my cuts all wrong. Not just a little bit wrong, ALL wrong.

We are constantly told not to use our right arm to cut, just simply to use it to guide the cut. All the power comes from the left. I’ve generally thought I was doing this and recently I worked on improving it in this aspect to good effect, but now I’ve realised that I’ve been not extending my left hand correctly. I’ve been keeping the arm bent.
It’s another one of those bits of information I’ve heard over and over but it’s never stuck exactly as to why.

If you stand with you right arm straight out in front with your left hand where it should be, your shoulders straight and your left arm straight, your shinai will be pointing pretty much up. Not good for performing a cut and means that you compensate by bringing your arms down and hitting the front of the men.
To counter this, pushing the left hand forward instead of concentration on bringing it downwards will also push the right hand forwards, twisting the shoulders slightly and causing the final snap to happen, striking the correct part of the men. This also gives you a bit more range and means you don’t have to come in as far to cut, giving your opponent less opportunities to perform their own cut.

It is these subtle things that make all the difference. Unless you are a complete natural and instinctively feel what you have to do, you have to get scientific about these things. Appreciate the mechanics of how the body works and also what your body can do.

Only a couple of sessions later and I was very kindly shown my lack of decent zanshin by being hit repeatedly on the head. It leads back to one night when something similar happened and I wasn’t coming back to chudan effectively.

First after a going through, on the turn, I’d been keeping my shinai to my right just leaving my center line open, the shinai coming back into chudan from my right shoulder. This leaves me open. I’m not trying to get back to chudan as soon as possible after the cut so when I turn I’m already in the correct position.

Second one is that after a dou cut, I’ve been withdrawing the blade towards me to my left side thus making myself open. I adjusted this to try and draw the tip of my shinai down the front of the men.

I’m really starting to work on my zanshin which I’m realising is decidedly weak at the moment.

Fast forward to the most recent session and I had probably the best session I’ve ever done, in my own opinion. We spent the first hour and a half working on bokto kihon. A good thing for me as I feel like I know the kata way better.
After this I’m no quite sure what happened, if it was the speed that we did the warm up or my own state of mind but I was fired up for jigeko like never before. I landed way more decent cuts than I ever have before. My kiai and ki were well up. I even remember doing a kiai at one point when we had finished a bout.
Every single one I just felt like I had to dominate my opponent and not let up for a second. When I did let it drop, I got hit more so I just didn’t let it go. Maybe it was because it was only 4 of us in bogu and the more experienced amongst us that meant I didn’t have to hold back at all.
Also just to make it even more interesting, I pretty much ignored all ideas of doing any waza. The basic 4 cuts, debana and not much else.
Now with my newly found men cut distance I was cutting out of range of my opponent.

A night where everything changes.
This is why I love kendo.

!m!

What makes a good fumikomi?

At last Mondays training session we went back to basics a little more.
We have a couple of beginners coming fairly regularly again so we did some basic footwork exercises. During this I had a small eureka moment when something finally occurred to me about how fumikomi is meant to be performed. I’ve always known what and how to do a decent fumikomi and mostly these days it’s second nature but I’d always missed the part about when your front foot lifts. It’s a very small part that as usual has a great degree of significance.
If you watch most people doing their fumikomi, their foot lifts quite high into the air quite high before coming down again. We all know that this is not correct. The theory says that you should slide the front part of your foot along the floor and then only lift just as you are about to hit. The thing I never appreciated before is exactly what you are meant to do to make your foot come off the floor.
Most of us will simply lift the foot using the right leg and probably just lifting the toes slightly. Everyone does this, mostly. I now realise this is wrong. What you should be doing is using the push from the back leg not just forward but in a slightly upward direction just at the end, keeping the front leg fixed and the toes level. It’s like the final snap of the cut with the wrists. Shoulders, elbows wrist all unfurling in order. The step should be hip, knee, ankle with the ankle effectively making the final snap, pushing the body upwards at that last point. In that split second, your back leg has extended all the way and wants to come off the floor, your front foot is off the floor, the fumikomi is a natural reaction of gravity. There is no actual intention to hit the floor.
This also makes me realise why there is such a distinction between these flying shiai cuts and the kind of subtle cuts I see from the higher level sensei. The fumikomi is just as powerful, but the movement is very small.

This leads me to another question. Should a fumikomi be really hard and reverberate through the entire dojo floor or should it be just enough to efficiently rebalance the body and demonstrate the cut?
A question for sensei I think.

Proper men cuts, distance and tenuchi.

 

IMG_2156The other Thursday at training was one of those evenings where everyone seemed a little less than 100%. You could feel it coming during the warm up and kata. Everyone was a little slower, injuries seemed to be more troubling than usual. My own right ankle was playing me up for some reason. It just felt tight an difficult to move.

The feeling was obvious and sensei seemed to get it and as such didn’t run us ragged, instead he got very technical.
He made us concentrate on doing proper men cuts with proper tenuchi at the proper distance. We’re all guilty of various different violations of these rules so it was really nice to concentrate on these specifics.
Personally I’m guilty of getting too close and hitting men too hard. Someone told be a couple of weeks ago that my men cuts are too hard and my kote hits too soft. Some consistency is required.
The other thing I have been really guilty of is not doing is correct taiatari. I’d never really considered the correct way of doing it before and sensei fixed my lack of stability here. What I was doing was not keeping my elbows locked in correctly so that my hands would come back against my dou. This gives no stability and means that I get too close. Tucking the elbows in creates a triangle with the forearms and a solid base to push against.

Next came the distance. I’ve been hitting with the wrong part of the shinai too much. At my last session with Bofa Sensei, he kept telling me to move my body before the shinai, which I had tried to do and it was only this time that I realised that I’ve been getting too close because of what I’ve been doing.
I’ve been pushing forwards, hard from too close and starting my cut straight away. This leads to me leaning forward while doing the cut and forcing me into an overly hard taiatari with my hands too close to my body. WRONG!!!
What I should be doing is starting the cut from further out, pushing in with the body first and then cutting so that the correct part of the blade hits the top of the men, then taiatare correctly. This means I can stop quicker and also have more room to go through properly as well.

Next part is the correct tenuchi which is something I think I struggle with for a lot of reasons. We’re all guilty of lifting the shinai too high before cutting so that the shinai point is too far back. This slows down the cut reaction and then requires more power to perform the cut and makes the tenuchi wrong because there’s too much power in the cut.

This has given me a heck of a lot to think about and areas to improve for the foreseeable future. It’s interesting that Sessei Marley has often told us that kendo can become like a plateau of non-improvement for some time and also no idea of what to do next. I kind of felt a bit useless after the last major training session and now I have a great chunk of things to think about.

!m!

 

 

Spirit, dojo unity and weakness.

This weekend we were visited by our shihan, Boffa Sensei.
He took us through a fairly rigorous training session consisting of footwork drills and a specific drill designed to make the specific distinction between small and big men cuts. Along with this was a small eureka moment about when and why you would chose a kote or men cut. I’ve always wondered how you can do either from your normal cutting distance. I’ve always kind of thought that I have to be at the correct distance to perform a cut but for some reason I’d never considered that the simple difference is just performing a different distance on the step of your hit. Stupid really.

In all honesty it was one of the hardest training sessions I have done and afterwards we were rightly lectured on the need for greater spirit and unity. The hall we were in was quite a size and as such, we ended up spreading out rather a lot during keiko. Doing this made our rotations slow, kept us further apart and sensei said this reduces the overall spirit in the dojo making us weak.
It’s a very interesting point as I have done more physically demanding sessions but not been as tired or felt so physically drained. I had never figured that the simple physical closeness of the kendoka in the room could build the overall spirit.

I think back now to the old dojo which despite its faults, was a good spirit venue. Being quite small meant that we were close together, fighting next to each other and helping to build each other’s spirit while building our own. We practiced in there in the coldest part of the winter with broken heating, so there must have been something about it. In the larger hall, all spread out, no one else is close enough, you can see only your opponent and as such you become inner focused and the overall dojo spirit suffers.
You could feel the difference on Sunday and Monday. Everyone was a bit tired, a bit injured or both and as such the spirited movement was not there. Despite training everything as hard as I could, when it came to jigeko at the end, I was somewhat disappointing. Sensei constantly told me off for doing something I was trying hard not to do. Even when I thought I was not doing it anymore I was still told off for it. ThIs was even worse on the Monday evening.
It was one of those evenings where I could very easily have thrown my men on the floor and quit for good, because I felt so low. The blister on my foot made everything worse and I didn’t propel myself like I should have done. In short, I felt like I was terrible. If you asked sensei he would say the same, I’m sure.

The flip side of this is though, that I have to feel something good from this weekend and feel like I have learned something. I trained even though I was completely tired, for both days. Monday night was the worst of it though. I ache everywhere and do feel much worse than when I started, mentally and physically. Despite all this I did this because it’s a test. A test of my physical and mental limits. Those limits are meant to be broken and meant to be pushed till you can’t go any further.
Training when I feel weak and not 100% helps to show where I am lacking. I don’t want to do it all the time. Why would I want to train so much it makes me want to quit? I want to enjoy kendo. Sometimes though you have to go to that point. Being so tired and drained that you want to quit means that you have to gather more spirit to come back from that and regain the level you were at.

I’m starting to understand why some people just quit and never come back. Kendo is not an easy thing to do and sometimes the training does kind of chew you up and spit you out.
I am left feeling quite low and despondent after this weekend. It proves that my spirit is not good enough but in order to to get a better spirit I must train harder and raise my mental game.

!m!

Merinkan 2nd Anniversary

Meirinkan September 2013:Dave Keech (Nidan), Harrison Marley, Scott Young, John Hollingsworth , Neil Rogers (2nd Kyu) , Steve Ivins, Paul Roman (Ikkyu),Andy Cakebread (2nd Kyu), Trevor Trleven (3rd Kyu), Matt Marley (Sensei, Sandan), Juno Doran (3rd Kyu), Chris Gordon (Shodan), Marc Beaumont (Shodan)

Meirinkaan September 2013:
Back Row: Dave Keech (Nidan), Harrison Marley, Scott Young, John Hollingsworth , Neil Rogers (2nd Kyu), Steve Ivins, Paul Roman (Shodan),
Front Row: Andy Cakebread (2nd Kyu), Trevor Trleven (3rd Kyu), Matt Marley (Sensei, Sandan), Juno Doran (3rd Kyu), Chris Gordon (Shodan), Marc Beaumont (Shodan)

On Saturday 31st August 2013, Meirinkan, Bedford Kendo Kai, celebrated its 2nd anniversary. It was made even more special that we were able to have the celebration on the actual anniversary and in Bedford’s new Japanese restaurant, Hoku Hoku. Even better was seeing our more sporadic members there as well to add to the festivities.

Following this on the Thursday we managed to get a great turnout at the dojo for keiko and our club picture (see above). As we are often reminded, it is us who keep the spirit of the dojo alive. We turn up, sweat, shout and train hard and that what makes Meirinkan.

At this time, I should go back to the beginning and describe how I have seen the evolution of the club. I still remember that first open day and the fact that I nearly missed it. I had been out getting dinner for the evening, at the local chipy, and there on the wall was a poster advertising the first open day. It was that very night and after a couple of quick discussions with my wife while waiting for food, I decided to go along while my wife went shopping that evening.

To be honest, evening was a bit of a blur as I really only had time to be there for about an hour and it was all so new that I barely remember any of it, but I do remember thinking that I would be going back. I reflect on that night thinking that we were a group of fairly dissimilar people in most ways, that probably would not have met other wise, but we would be spending at least one whole evening a week with for the next 2 years. Many of the established kendoka where there helping out and demoing to us and although we’ve lost a few along the way, the same faces and familiar people will always crop up and be around. I’ve already discussed the fact that as kendoka, we are in a minority.

Sensei always tells us that it is not the hall that makes a dojo, but it is us kendoka who bring our spirit to the dojo and make it a place that means something. The spirit of Merinkan is strong for the simple reason that there is a dedicated core of us that train week after week and when we do, we give it everything we’ve got.

Collecting blackberries, hard keiko and blood offerings.

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This weekend I was reminded while out collecting blackberries with the family and the dog that most of the good things that come in life, need a certain amount of pain to achieve.

As I stretched my hand over a particularly large bunch of berries and caught my left hand on a stinging nettle, my right on a bramble thorn and my bare legs across a load more nettles I began to wonder why stinging nettles seem to love growing under brambles. Maybe it’s a mutual protection pact between plants, if you believe that plants had some level of rudimentary intelligence, or maybe it’s just life following a rule I’ve always believed.

I also hold this strange thought that any time I do any kind of DIY work, or make anything, if I don’t cut myself one way or the other, it won’t work. Someone once told me then that I must believe in a good old fashioned Pagan blood sacrifice. It’s a bit of a joke but the concept is not new and has been around for thousands of years. People would deliberately spill their own or an animals blood to appease their gods. I’m no religious nut though. I don’t believe in gods or spirits, but I do believe in energy and that you can effect change in things indirectly through utilisation of various forms of energy.

20131002-142902.jpgAs mentioned before, I’ve dabbled in the magickal arts, researched all sorts of different philosophical viewpoints, behavioural ideas and physical areas of science. The majority of what I have learned has points out that nothing is achieved without practice, but I also believe that pain and hardship is an important part of that learning process. It’s also the process of learning that certain things are not bad, they are indicators that something is happening.

Spirit or ki is the important thing in kendo and training the spirit through hard keiko is a big part of it. As I’ve mentioned before, a good kiai raises your spirit which gets you through any pains.
Anything that is hard to do or is a bit painful makes more of a psychological impact on you. It seems more worthwhile somehow. If a tattoo could be applied without any pain at all, would so many people have them done? If they did, would people be more likely to have them removed? Would tattoos become something less permanent? The majority of people I know with tattoos really loved having them and the pain of having one done is an important part of the psychological process.

 

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Things have to be hard to do or they are not worthwhile. More to the point, they have to be hard work for yourself to have a distinct psychological impact.
This is how it is in kendo. If you are not constantly pushing yourself to the limit of your endurance, spirit and mental capabilities, you will never progress.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to sit back and eat my blackberry and apple pie that taste oh so much sweeter because it cost me a little pain to acquire.

 

 

 

 

 

(Update: I find it quite synchronous that the evening I posted this up, I tore my toe nail open during jigeiko.)

The importance of Kiai or how to scare Sand People

 

20130806-094621.jpgOver the past few months, I’ve been actively trying to develop my kiai. When you first start doing kendo I think you find the concept of kiai quite pointless and also a little difficult to do. This is probably due to ingrained Britishness about these kind if things. It took me a while to realise how much kiai actually can improve your performance in all aspects of kendo.

Despite finding the majority of suburi easier than I used to (maybe not sonkyo or matawari) I’ve realised over time how a good kiai helps during those times when you start to feel it. I find it interesting now that although you are generally told at the start that your kiai is a demonstration of your spirit, kiai can also feed your spirit, building it up. A good shout brings about a change of mind, putting you in a mental state risen for battle. Try and lift something really heavy and you end up shouting. The kiai feeds the spirit which feeds the kiai. I guess it’s just a very base level of neuro linguistic programming.

I’ve also noticed that the majority of more experienced kendoka I have met had a very distinctive and piercing kiai, generally of a much higher pitch and volume that carries round the dojo. The majority of us newer guys have generally much deeper kiai that is more like a standard shout.

I’ve read as much as i can a recently and have been trying to put it into practice, but what exactly is a good kiai? What are you aiming towards? Very little seems to be devoted to the subject except some fairly basic explanations.
It’s falling into another one of the combination of 3’s that I always see in life (that’s another article). Ki-ken-tai being the obvious kendo related one. Sword and body are things you have quite a lot of explanation about, but ki seems to be very much something you have to understand for yourself and develop with minimal guidance. Oh look, it’s my favourite phrase again. ‘You have to find the truth for yourself.’

So now during warm up and suburi, I no longer consider the counting as just counting. It’s kiai warm up and training. During each section of the warm up, sensei calls itch-ni-san-shi and we respond with go-roku-shichi-hachi. I read that kiai should not be separate from breathing and now try to incorporate the kiai as just another aspect of breathing. Breath out during itch-ni, breath in during san-shi, the remaining four counts are kiai level and then any remaining air goes out on the itch-ni, the cycle repeats.
In doing this it gives more to the power of the breath, enabling it to begin to resonate in the body without feeling like I’m forcing it out. This is also helping to train my breathing in a defined way. I’ve often heard it said by various singers that powerful singing does not come from the throat, it comes form the bottom of your lungs. I’ve noticed that when I manage to properly produce decent airflow, I am naturally raising the pitch of my kiai and I can feel it vibrating through my head, specifically the parts just between my eyes and at the top of the nose on the inside. I’m taking this as a good sign.

Next during suburi I concentrate on the counting again, using the count at a kiai level, breathing in time with my cuts. It feels more effective and I think it’s a part you can forget about during suburi, part of the ki-ken-tai. By the time this is all finished, I think I’ve warmed up my voice as well as my body.

During each rotation in kihon, my reigi during each bow reaches kiai level.
When sensei asks a question the response is ‘Hai!’ at kiai level.

Now comes the part I am exploring now. What is a good kiai? What should its effect be on your opponent? What’s a good word or sound?
My sensei put it that it should be something that is yours, instinctive and a vocalisation that feels right. Standard training goes with ‘Ya’ and this is good start with, but quickly feels inadequate. It feels like the ‘a’ sound can drag out, softening your kiai, making it feel less penetrating as a good kiai is meant to be seme as well. Go up against a high level kendoka and their kiai will do that to you, it feels disturbing like the cry of your own child when they are obviously in distress (parents will know what I mean). It stirs something primal.
There is definitely something very distinct about kiai at this level, there is a sharper intent and it’s unexpected. I’ve also failed to find any really good examples of kiai on the internet. I’ve found one interesting video from Sumi Sensei and his kiai is seriously intimidating and if you go any deeper in terms of reading on the subject, it’s gets very metaphysical very quickly.

If you want a good example of what kiai should do, I suggest this. It’s the scene from Star Wars where Obi Wan scares the sand people away from Luke as he lies unconscious. I re-watched this the other day with my son and found it really interesting how much of japanese culture has been lifted into the film. Vader’s outfit, Jedi costume is very much like a kimono the use of sword like weapons when guns exist and are quite destructive. The point is that Obi Wan is using his own form of Kiai and it is so good that he doesn’t even have to fight the sand people. He sees off three armed individuals with only the power of his kiai. It’s unnerving, intimidating and powerful. Just ignore the blueray version.

So kiai is just an extension of your spirit within the trinity of ki-ken-tai, pitched against you opponents three. If you train all three, you can defeat all three. As for the actual sound and wording of a kiai, I have settled on ‘Ah-Sai’ at the moment and from time to time ‘Ah-ra-sai’. It came quite naturally and developed over time from a simple ‘Sai.’ I’m sure there is some level of scientific possibility as research must have been done into what kind of noises are most disturbing to the human ear and also what sounds can be produced by the human voice. According to this article the range of sounds that are most distressing to the human ear are in the range of the human voice. I wonder if there is some scientific method to come up with a disturbing kiai based on the frequencies produced without resorting to simple trial and error.
The thing is though, that different people find different sounds distracting and unpleasant. Some may hate the sound of nails on a chalk board but others may not care.

The thing I find is that a strong kiai seems to me what makes the difference between kendoka who seem experienced and those that don’t. It’s also what I think really helps to define part of your individual nature as a kendoka and differentiates you from others.

For further reading, I also found this text on kiai. Although it is mostly karate centric, it has a lot of interesting insights into kiai and ki.

Although I may not have my kiai to exactly the level that I want it to be, I feel like I have a training technique now and I can see actual improvement.

 

!m!

Yuko Datotsu and the incorrect information on the Internet.

20130805-120419.jpgA few months ago when I did my Ikkyu grading, we were all told off quite distinctly by Holt Sensei for getting the written part of our exam wrong. Out of the 25 of us grading that day, he said only 5 of us got it right. We were scolded for just copying what we had found on the internet. I was a little disappointed by this seeing as I had researched on the internet, but had written it in my own words.

The articles I had found matched an article one of my fellow kendoka had passed around at training. When our Shihan, Boffa Sensei visited last time, I asked him about the article in question and he told us it was wrong and how. This is the article in question and I have found more than one occurrence of this description available on the internet, including direct copies of this on many websites. This article, although good in certain ways is not the elements of Yuko Datotsu. If you are going for your first grading and have found this article, IT IS NOT CORRECT! This article describes the preparation to the cut as well as the cut itself. This article would say the 5 points are:

  1. Posture
  2. Seme
  3. Opportunity
  4. Datotsu. Correct strike.
  5. Zanshin

Now after discussions with our shihan, I realised that really, only 4 really encompasses most of it. In fact, the part at the end that describes other aspects and terms is closer to the correct 5 elements.

  1. Datotsu-bu. Hitting with the monuchi of the shinai.
  2. Datotsu-bui. Hitting the correct part of the armour. Men, Kote, Dou or tsuki.
  3. Hasuji. The angle of your shinai must be correct.
  4. Ki. Having full spirit and posture. (What had ki got to do with posture?)
  5. Ki-ken-tai-no-ichi. (Does this not cancel out 4)

So I’m not satisfied with this description. The first 3 seem right to me. After this I have looked further. kenshi247.net describes it as follows: Making a valid strike. A valid strike which is considered ippon. According to the rules, a waza is complete when the following conditions are met: showing a fullness of spirit and appropriate posture, striking a datotsu-bui (striking zone) of the opponent with the striking region of one’s own shinai while using correct ha-suji, and expressing zan-shin.

  1. Ki
  2. Posture
  3. Datotsu-bui
  4. Datotsu-bu
  5. Hasuji
  6. Zanshin

Wait, that’s 6. how about:

  1. Ki-ken-tai-no-ichi
  2. Datotsu-bui
  3. Datotsu-bu
  4. Hasuji
  5. Zanshin

Okay, that’s five and seems most valid to me. So, I asked my Sensei again who gave me the following:

  1. Ki-ken-tai-no-ichi
  2. Datotsu-bui
  3. Datotsu-bu
  4. Hasuji
  5. Posture

He also recommended that despite these being the actual 5 elements of Yuko-Datotsu, that the additional parts around it are also good to mention in your written exam. Although this is only slightly different from the Kenshi247 version, it seems to be that Posture make the most sense as this effectively helps to demonstrate Zanshin at the end of the cut.

After much deliberation, this is what I wrote and handed in for my Shodan. It must have been okay as we didn’t get a telling off this time.

 


 

The five elements of Yuko Datotsu are what is required to produce and accurate and intentional strike.

The Five elements are as follows:

  1. Ki-ken-tai-no-ichi. The sword, body and spirit should be employed together and directed towards the intentional cut. This also means that your posture should be correct before, during and after performing the cut.
  2. Datotsu-bui. Hitting the correct part of the armour. Men, Kote, Dou or tsuki.
  3. Datotsu-bu. Hitting with the correct part of the shinai, the monuchi, the top third.
  4. Hasuji. The angle of your shinai must be correct to be a valid cut. The shinai is meant to represent a real sword and without correct hasuji on a real blade, the cut would not be effective.
  5. Zanshin / Remaining Mind. To remain ready. Full spirit should have been committed to the cut but you should be instantly ready to cut again.

Additional elements to consider.

The strike is meant to be a correct cut as if it were performed with a proper sword, as such the tenuchi of the cut should also be shown, not just a smashing cut. Without the control of the blade at the end of the cut, there can be no Zanshin.

Sutemi should also be demonstrated as this helps to display your strong ki. Without the complete and total commitment to the strike being performed, you will be slower and thus the strike will most likely not be effective. Only by holding nothing back, will your cut be effective, but there must be Zanshin.

An opportunity must be available before performing a strike. This is achieved through either your opponent giving you an opening, or creating an opening using seme, mental and/or physical or employing a waza of some sort. Harai is a good example of a waza that can be effectively used to create an opening.

Kiai should effectively demonstrate your ki and commitment to the cut.

 

 

!m!

Gradings, seminars and unexpected emotion.

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This weekend Chris and I went to the Stoke seminar and passed our Shodan.

All in all it was a superb weekend that was totally different to my expectations. Meeting and being trained by O’Sullivan Sensei and Howell Sensei was an amazing experience and gives you some very fundamental understandings of some very small concepts that have big implications. I wish I could remember it all but there was so much imparted to us in such a short space of time that I couldn’t possibly remember everything.

 

One of the main points I’ll take away is about some of the fundamental aspects of kirikaiesh. Many of us will already know that kirikaiesh is meant to encapsulate pretty much everything to do with kendo, it is not just a warm up exercise but what I didn’t appreciate before was the additional aspects around what you are doing as motodachi. We were told as an exercise, to appreciate that the blocking performed by motodachi is not just about blocking. The point of the exercise is to use this as an opportunity to experience what a genuine block is like and where your counter attack would come from. It comes from the centre. It is hammered into us that we should control the centre and part of creating an opportunity is breaking your opponents centre. So why as motodachi would you not hold centre while blocking?
Holding the centre means that you are still in your kamae, giving kakarite a realistic view of what an opponent would do when you attempt to cut them. As kakarite does perform their cuts, using tenuchi, motodachi can control how much the shinai hits their men. This helps motodachi to understand what receiving cuts would be like is a more realistic fashion. You receive a sayomen cut and because of your shinai position, could counter if you block properly.
So, don’t block fully as this give an unrealistic idea to kakarite as to when to strike and can end up with them hitting the shinai and not actually being close enough to hit men. Not blocking at all gives kakarite a good idea of correct men cuts, but gives nothing to motodachi and if kakarite hits hard, then motodachi has the tendency to return to blocking.
The central, half block gives something to both. I’m not sure how much you should use this and how much it would be recognised by most kendoka but it was an interesting point. It all linked in with what was being taught about maintaining the centre, regardless of which kamae you are in, blocking, striking and body position. Your left hand stays in the centre.

I will also take away the thought that I must relax. At one point O’Sulivan sensei grabbed be by the upper arms, shaking them shouting ‘Relax Beaumont San’. Every sensei I go near tells me this and I think it’s the part I will concentrate on more from now on.

In addition to all this I take away the amazing sense of camaraderie I began to feel over the weekend, not just with my dojo mate but with everyone, student and sensei alike. The ones going for ikkyu who were a hotbed of nervousness. The ones going for sandan that took on a kind of detached seriousness that disappeared right after they had passed. The guy who finally passes his shodan after 7 previous attempts. The student who just seemed to have trouble with all things kata and then did it flawlessly during the grading.
Interesting conversations with the sensei during and after training. The Russian guy (who’s name i forget) who I’ve seen at both of my external gradings now and have done kata with at both.
The list of things like this go on and on.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that there are only 900 paying kendo practitioners in the country, only 300 more than there are members of parliament and as such, this feeling of camaraderie is not unusual. We will mix with the same bunch of people at pretty much every event we go to. Mumeshi this year had say 250-300 attendees. That’s a third.
The stoke seminar had about 40 attendees, that’s about 4%. We’re a very small association and the thing I find particularly interesting is that it’s bound together by people. There’s nothing tangible to the BKA really. A website and a lot of little blue books.

I went into the weekend feeling pretty confident and by the time I got to the grading, my confidence was shot. I felt my kirikaiesh was sloppy on the first part so I tried to tighten it up on the second. I’ve done it many times before, much better. My first bout of jigeko was okay. I think I got one decent men cut in. Receiving kirikaiesh I tried to do what Howell sensei had said about the central blocking and it worked pretty well. My second jigeko was again with my Russian friend was okay and I thought it was going badly. I kept being aware of the panel and pushed on. Then, I landed, what I thought was a pretty good kote, men and they called yame.
I don’t know what it is, but I swear I expend more energy in that few minutes than I do doing an entire weekends training.

The results get posted, only one number is missing and he’s gone in a flash. We watch some of the others going for nidan and sandan but we go off for some last minute kata practice. My Russian friend comes to practice with me and we go through all if them, with me messing them up all the way.

Back into the main hall we watch all only the sandan graders which isn’t many and then it’s done. The numbers are posted for all 4 groups and there isn’t many missing.

After the fairly long first part of the grading, the kata sections are over in a flash. The ikkyu graders line up and are done in a flash. All good, no one messes up and no one gets asked to do it again. Then we’re up. I’m opposite my Russian friend, I’m motodachi we’re done in a flash and I hear O’Sullivan sensei say ‘Very nice’ and its finished.

Watching the nidan graders they all do fine. One of the ikkyu graders is sat on the floor next to me with blood coming out of his foot but he wajts to watch everything. Then the sandan graders are on. There’s only 5 of them and they are nervous as hell, probably not helped by the fact that were all watching them now. There a couple of mess ups from one pair but try go again and it’s okay.
Turning round I see the words ‘All Pass’ on the ikkyu sheet. Then in seconds the same is posted on the shodan sheet, swiftly followed by the next 2 sheets.

We’re all fine then, all of us who got to kata passed. This mass sense if relief permeates the room. The only disappointments are the few that didn’t pass, even then O’Sullivan offers feedback as to why. I remember from our ikkyu grading that he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. If you don’t pass, it doesn’t mean your not good enough, it just means you’re not ready.’ He totally put us all at ease and I remember what he has said at both gradings. ‘We’re not here to look for reasons to fail you. We want to hand out a 100% pass rate.’

Now after this little roller coaster ride was over, we’d passed, we’d taken our pictures, we’d packed up and at that point all I wanted to do was to go home. Then as we stopped for some dinner on our way home it finally hit me what I’d done that weekend.
For Japanese students, shodan is not a massive thing. I’ve heard it said that in Japan, if you do kendo, you will most likely be Sandan by the time you leave high school. Makes it seem a little insignificant but for members of my dojo that started less than 2 years ago, it’s a big deal. I was stood in a motorway service station and suddenly felt quite emotional about whole affair. I’d been so preoccupied with the thought of grading that I had not really fully thought about what I was about to put myself through. Now I’m passed I know it was pretty big. I feel proud of myself for actually sticking at something for long enough to pass something like this.

I think it’s a great thing for our club that from nothing, we’re climbing the ladder as students. We are totally a product of Meirinkan, our sensei’s dedication and good training regime.
There are now 3 regular shodans training and another 3 ikkyus with many others not far behind. We’re building our core in the club and it shows every night of training.

So what now?

For myself I’m going to go back to basics. Concentrate on what I know already, refine it and try to relax. I’ve managed to relax during suburi but I still notice my shoulders tensing while doing strikes in kata.
I’ve got a years worth of work and refinement of practice ahead of me till I can think about taking my nidan. The thing is though I want to make sure I’m not concentrating on that as a goal.

There is no goal, only the way.

!m!

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The body echoes the mind. Mental strength and the power of excuses.

According to many eastern philosophy’s, the mind and the body are closely linked. The body echoes the mind. I’ve often wondered about the power of mind over matter, magickal theory (I’ve dabbled) and how much control, besides the physical movement of your body, your mind has over external things. I also have been contemplating the connection between injury and illness with the mind. I have seen many an occurrence of someone focusing on an injury or illness to the point of making it worse.

People are so preoccupied with making excuses as to why they cannot do things. The simple reason is that people are frightened of failure, they think it makes them weak. They maintain this front of being strong and then making an excuse of why they cannot exercise that strength. This is true weakness.
Facing anything with complete conviction, making no excuses, attempting to overcome ones perceived problems and still failing is true strength.
You cannot know success until you have known failure. Failure is not a negative thing, it is the enabler of learning, understanding and the path to success.

There is a tendency amongst most people to focus on negativity. Events occur as they will, but the mind will generate the negativity of that event. It is simply how you approach things. If during a bout of jigeko, I attempt a technique and it is a failure, I try never to look on that as something negative. I could say “That didn’t work. I’m no good at that technique.” Or I could say, “That didn’t work. What can I change to make it work.” I always assume a failure is my own understanding not being up to scratch yet and something I can improve. Telling yourself that you should have been able to do it is lying to yourself.

This leads naturally to the conclusion that if mind echoes the body and body echoes the mind and in a state of mushin, your mind echoes the mind of your opponent, then also your body will echo the body of your opponent, thus you will feel their intentions and an instinctive counter will be obvious.
This is the nature of debana waza.

Last week I went to training feeling decidedly not 100% but had decided it would not hold me back and as a result, had a very good session. My upset stomach was something that I had to control and overcome. As such by the time we had finished, I’d completely forgotten about it.

It’s like the mental process of how you view pain. Pain is an indicator that something is going on and differentiating between something serious and just tension or tiredness is something I think you develop over time while training.
It leads to mental strength and that is the core of where these excuses and strength to continue come from. I think having children gives you a lot more mental strength than you expect. Dealing with sleep deprivation is probably the first parental challenge. Being able to still get up, look after your child and do day to day stuff, go work after all night in a hospital room on about an hours sleep is just par for the course. True story.
Grossed out by vomit and other bodily excretions? You won’t be after about a month. Children are also very good at making you less attached to your possessions.

During my time fencing, I went up against a guy at a couple of competitions who was in his late 60’s and had Parkinson’s. He was without a doubt one of the best fencers I came up against and he turned up to the piste, with a limp and shaking violently. As soon as he came to en-guarde the shaking stopped and I scored not a single point against him. His movements were extremely small and I never even saw or felt where he hit me.
I’ve always held him in my mind as a perfect example of someone who didn’t let themselves be held back and didn’t make excuses for failure. A prime example of how to overcome challenges.

And if you want another example of someone who doesn’t make excuses…

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Tell me again what your excuse is.