« Archives in October, 2013

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.




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.


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.


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.



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.)