« Posts tagged gradings

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.





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.




Gradings, seminars and unexpected emotion.

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.