« Posts tagged basics

Something to work on.


I’ve mentioned before about always having something to work on in Kendo and how much I feel like I’m not getting anywhere when I don’t have something to work on. As usual, just when I think I’m not getting anywhere, I suddenly realise that I’m doing something wrong. It also helps that having to take a fair few sessions in the dojo along with teaching the new comers, I’ve gained some extra insight into what I’m doing wrong. It’s not until you tell someone how to do something and then have to demonstrate it that you have to do it absolutely right.

This time its something really simple.

During training recently I fixed part of my kote strike. Probably due to the fact that I’ve been extra careful not to snap the action of my right elbow and thus further aggravate my tennis elbow, I’ve not been striking as effectively as I should. So in order to fix this, there was just a very simple thing I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t pushing my left hand forward at the moment of the strike. This is probably where the injury came from in the first place as I was compensating for the lack of left hand push with too much right arm.

So I fixed it for my kote hit and then I realised I was doing the same thing for my men cut. It’s funny how something I’ve been doing one way for so long suddenly feels much better for a small change. My shinai isn’t clacking on the men as much and I can strike from further away. Everything feels all round better.

Now once again I had another incident which fixed something. While doing a simple dou exercise, I began to demonstrate how to do a duo cut properly to someone and in doing so, I completely cleaned up my own to a very simple way of doing it, which worked every time with much less effort.
I’ve watch so many people get into the habit, and I’m guilty of this too, of swinging into the duo cut from way out to the side. This only seems necessary if the target area is not completely open. In that case, it’s not open. The beauty of a good dou cut is when it is performed with exactly the right timing when it is fully open. Dare I mention our shihan’s superb kaieshi-dou or nuki-dou. Its not just that it’s quick, it’s the sheer perfect timing. I’m reminded of a saying from Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
I digress.

I now have even more to work on as I recently took and failed my Nidan for the second time.
Unlike last time I thought I had done okay, but to be honest about this, I thought I had scrapped it and done only okay. And that is why did not pass. The feedback I had from Salmon Sensei and Hideyama Sensei was a extremely useful though. And based on what happened last time, I think the feedback was an improvement on last time.

So now I have some specifics to work on, not just in my Kendo but in life. I’ve become to up tight and not relaxed about everything. I get wound up easily by small things. This is fairly big for me to admit it, but I’ve lost my cool.
It’s making my cuts too tense and stiff in the upper body, not fluid enough. Secondly, I’m not fit enough and this is making my cuts come not from my feet but from my upper body. It echo’s what my Sensei has been telling for a while, that I keep putting my left heel on the floor and routing myself too much.
No wonder I didn’t pass.

This is not a negative thing though. It’s positive. I’ve got some very specific details of something to improve. It’s not that my cuts are wrong, their just not performed in the correct way. Contradiction in terms? I don’t think so.

So it’s time to fix things in a serious way. This isn’t just my kote strike is a little off, or my foot work is a little iffy.
This is like a serious milestone. It’s not a grade milestone, or an age milestone. It’s me realising that I either train this kendo lark properly or I pack up now and not bother.
Is it just like reading the paper or am I serious about the lifelong commitment to it?
Am I happy to just cruise along? Do I really think I trained enough to pass? Well if I’m going to be brutally honest with myself, what I did was perform the best kendo I could perform for my grading. My not passing shows that I have not trained my kendo to be good enough to earn that grade. It’s an important distinction for me as it peans I pushed myself to the absolute limit that I could go to with the training I have done. As such, I do not feel disappointed.

I originally told myself I would not try and grade again until I felt ready but I now think that is a stupid thing to do. Why not grade again as soon as possible. I think I learn just as much from grading and from the feedback as from a whole week in the dojo. This time I’m not approaching it thinking that I want to pass, I want the panel to tell me what I need to improve.

And just to finish off, I want to thank all the Sensei who ran and took part in the Watchet Seminar this year. It was a superb weekend that I gained a lot of extra insight and titbits to take back to my dojo with me. I also made a few new friends in the kendo community. I look forward to training with them again another time.





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.