Sunday, 15 February 2015

Best add another post

I can't believe its been nearly 18 months since I last posted.  To be honest, I don't really have a lot to say about my progress other than its sssslllooowww.  The realisation that this is my 10th year of kendo prompted me to write a new message.

2015 should have been 4th dan grading year.  My ruined wrist has put an end to that :(

Quite a bit has happened to me outside kendo since 2013.  I started a new career in graphic design last June which has affected my availability to train - I have to drive for an hour to get to my Thursday practice and anything London based during the working week is a write off as I work long hours.

I've also started cycling to work as its 10 miles from my home.  All was fine until I hit head-on by a tool overtaking a bus, smashing my shoulder into his windscreen.  This means i've been unable to train since last October and still undergoing physio due to issues with my right shoulder blade.

I'm hoping I can start back at kendo within 4-6 weeks.  However, I feel like I can't remember anything....

I have also discovered that a kendo club has recently moved to the sports centre all of 5 mins walk from my house.  Result!  The only down side is it clashes with my cycling club runs.  Once i'm back in the saddle and built up a little bit of form, i'm planning to visit once a month.  Can't pass up an opportunity like that!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Jodan Techniques Article

During a recent internet trawl I found this great translation of a kendo nippon Jodan article.  I've copied/pasted here in case the original (neglected) blog disappears.

Jodan techniques & tactics for fighting jodan

Kanaki Satoru 8 dan kyoushi's view.

When Kanakisatoru, passed his 8th dan test using chudan, this made him think about taking jodan again and looking a little more deeply into it. 

Every practice he started taking chudan for 7 minutes then going into to jodan for the remaining three every practice. He has been doing this for 5 years now.  He says 'I can see the problem but I still can't put my finger on it...'

Kanaki Satoru takes this study and explains the jodan techniques he has kept to him self so dearly.

Cut in a circle from the tip!

When I was in the second year of university (Tokai-university) I was transferred to the sports science and budo department. The senseis Iue, Hashimoto and Koyanagi were all teachings there at the time. Although I was in the kendo club my schedule got in the way, so I couldn't train with these great teachers. I really wanted to try and get the most out of my training so I asked for a transfer.  

When I was at high school (Tokai-university No.4 campus) there were few teachers and this had a great effect on me.

The first time I thought about taking jodan was the fall of the second school year. It felt so sudden. One day Iue-sensei just said 'Lift it up!'. Not really such a theoretical explanation but he said 'Feel like you are taking very large stance' and 'Cut a tire cutting like you want to cut from the belly button 3000 times a day'.

So I started to cut the tire as he said. I practised from noon until 1:30pm every day. It was impossible to cut the 3000 cuts. I only just made 2000 (laughs). The seisei said 'Well how’s it coming along?', I said 'Yes I'm doing it all well'.

So what about foot work? That was down to kakari-geiko. And I was to practice first with Iue-sensei every day.

Then one year later I won the Akado championships and then the club championships. This was out of 140-150 students. It even surprised me because before I had continuously loosed all of the time. Its natural to have lost 50 times in jodan.

I just couldn't seme correctly, my distance didn't work and I couldn't see a chance to cut. I just didn't have it at all.

The thing which turned it all around was when Mr Hashimoto said ‘cut sharply (use tame [see bottom])'. When your opponent just stands firm and even performing seme wont make him move. Hold it and when he comes at you hit him without a thought (naturally).

What I had in my mind was that jodan was about, just getting one cut. I failed because when I took jodan I just cut when the opponent frightened me into cutting..

Don't rush into cutting, take another good look and prime for making a cut. This is really difficult although you can say the same thing about chudan. All the more difficult is making an opening.
Even said, I felt I realised some thing at the time. After I won the Akado championships I continued to hold the top position. I felt if I hadn't have taken jodan it wouldn't have done me so much. But for me jodan is altogether a difficult and and enjoyable part of my kendo. In one word just as Inue-sensei said 'Just lift it up'. I really admire Inue-senseis teaching.

I've practice jodan up to my 40s and then chudan. At my 8th dan test I preferred chudan. I passed in November 2000 and decided to take up jodan again. To me the 8th dan great was a turning point and after that I wanted to work on jodan.

I'll practice chudan for 3 minutes then jodan. But in competitions it's jodan.  I found out the problem was to lift up much higher, take a large stance with a large spirit, just as Inue-sensei said.

Every time I see the large Mt'fuji and rivers flowing, this is what I think of when I take jodan, its got to be large. 

Your stance should be as if you were wraping around your opponent with all your energy.
Although when you attack your opponent use small movements and hold your stance. Call on your energy when your opponent attacks you.

Never break your stance and have the feeling that there is a chain lifting your spirit high up.
Cut only when you see your opponents (true) intentions.

Altogether jodan is hard for people who want to take it up.

Well that part was a bit too long. Next we'll move onto cutting the tire, cutting, seme and techniques.

When cutting the tire cut men in a circular motion

Of course I started jodan from cutting the tire, and it had a huge effect on my jodan. Left jodan (Hidari jodan) is almost always performed with just one handed strikes so to score, it has to be fast strong and with cuts performed sharply. This was Iue-sensei's intention when he said 'Perform the tire cutting 3000 times a day'. I was cutting frantically at first but the speed just didn't come out. So I thought hard about what to do. I tried forcing my right hand down and at the same time pulling my left hand in. And then my cuts made a strong 'don’ sound, I thought I had it.

The tire practice has a lot of advantages: It adds speed to your cuts, of course it makes you stronger, the moment you hit the tire try to tighten your hands. When you realise how to do this your grip technique will improve and a sharp and accurate cut will come.

So when you cast your right arm forwards there’s no point in leaving your left arm dead. Although your point must draw a circle as it falls down.

All in all, I think it should be a cut which does not show when it is going to be performed to your opponent.

Now we must think about the difficult points, when we cut men its fine, but not being able to perform kote is always some thing worrying. Even for me.

A jodan player who is good as men also must also good at cutting kote. Men is good when the left fist is pointing to the left. Its not a mistake to believe that kote is the strong point of jodan when the left fist is pointing back, or the palm is facing the opponent’s kote. When I practice on the tire I exclusively hit men, so my fist is always pointing to the left hand side.

Kote really isn't my strong point (laughs).

Seme is like thrusting out from the belly button

Next we will talk about seme, when two shinais do not cross it naturally becomes an attack (seme) from the mind. Most people say seme from the left fist! when doing jodan. Obviously this kind of seme in jodan is common. But in my case its different, I try never to move my left hand at all. I hear you asking, where do you seme from then? The belly button. Seme by thrusting using the belly button. Although this make you unintentionally drop the left fist and twist your body. But do the opposite, keep the shinai over your head and strongly push forwards with your belly button without any delay.

This is scary but even so over come the fear and step forwards even just half a step! If you have to hold your ground, remember seme is both attack and defend at the same time. And when you push out with the belly button, all the tension moves from the upper body to the stomach and your body becomes more relaxed.

Cutting becomes no problem and your cuts flow smoothly. This is what I try to work up to but it still hasn't come to me yet.

I want to say one more important thing about seme that relates to the time when you go into sonkyo and the time when you stand up.

When I go into my stance I bring my left foot forwards and go straight into jodan. Take the first move (sen) that’s what I have in my mind all the time.

So my conclusion is to take the initiative.

If your opponent takes a steps back or moves to one side. This makes me think that my opponent will attack (seme) relentlessly and try to brake my technique. Maybe its just natural for him to move back or forwards, but I think its one of these things you must get a feeling for in kendo.

Two different ways to cut men

Although the techniques are always men there are actually two ways to perform it. To cut straight down, or reach out and cut men. When you manage to take debana you must have the speed to be able to cut straight away. This is for the down cutting (spot cut) type men.

If you are doing the seme andw your opponent steps back trying this down cutting type of men will lead to tip reaching (dropping). Because this cut follows a fast circular line just hit mid air. You have to bring your elbow in and at the same time let your elbow drag your body forwards. This type of cut is best for this type of opponent. This cut is called the extending men cut.

Although these two techniques are the same you really have to think about when to let go with your right hand.

With the (spot), down cutting men you let go when your hand is in front of your eyes.
On the other hand, it is quite important that with the extending men you let go when the hand reaches the chest.

I still practice cutting the tire now and again and whenever I do, I always try to practice both types of men.

Still there is the kote cut with both hands but I unexpectedly scored a single handed kote in one shiai and I am not good at single handed kote. I even scored one kote at the Shizuoka kokutai competition.

If the opponent lifts up his kote when he tries to use tsuriage men (catch men) or leaves his kote in the air, this is the time when you have to swiftly cut his hand. Just like in kata number two.
The thing is when cutting the tire just tighten the grip when you hit the tire and then loosen it.
You can tell that I prefer to cut debana men. If the opponent stays still I just cut extended men.
Pay great attention to your opponent’s techniques and use your mind and think about distance and at the same time try to cut him. I think this is the kind of kendo I am working towards.

Translated from kendo nippon 2006 No.2 Feb
By Eric Hewitt
Original text by
Takayama koujirow
Photos by Kawamura Noriyuki

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Adventures in Jodan ptII

Its been a few months since my last blog, mainly because not a lot has happened kendo wise.

On the injury front, i've picked up a few additional problems mainly through cycling.  I've had on going physio since March for damaged knees which originated from tight hamstrings, glutes and weak quads.  Therefore, I've spent the last six months stretching daily (about 40 mins at the gym) with plenty of squats and lunges to strengthen up the knees.  I have also started pilates once a week to help improve my core.  Although my knees are still a bit knackered (the left ive struggled with for a few years), they feel much stronger now and I can touch my toes!

I've also started to develop Tailor's Bunions outside each foot.  I think this is the result of poor fitting cycling shoes so I'm currently trying to find a way of relieving these.

Regarding my progress with jodan. Hmmm... its frustrating.  I've been working on my kamae as I find its easy to hold the left fist too far forward or left of the head.  This results in a 'fly fishing' style waft instead of a sharp cut or twisting is harsh on the elbow.  O'Sullivan sensei is helping me try to sharpen my cut but i'm pretty much back in beginner mode, baby steps.

I think the most difficult aspect to reprogram is my footwork.  In chudan my fumikomi is respectable but switch it around and i'm landing on my heal or hopping vertically, all the well known beginner traits.  Oh I do miss the days of chudan!  

There's a couple of issues I have which make me feel uncomfortable practicing jodan.   One is kote, I have a fear of annihilating someone's arm because of my current lack of control, the other is boring my opponent with rubbish and predictable attacks.   No so long ago I could at least engage with higher grades to make them work for a point, now I fanny around without offering a genuine threat.  Its a big blow to the ego.

I should be back up to two practices a week again after one of my clubs closed for the summer.  Hopefully this will help me resolve a few issues soon.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Inoue Sensei Club Visit

We had a visit from Inoue Sensei who was visiting before the BKA's weekend seminar.  This will be the first major seminar I've missed for quite a few years :(

Sensei used the time to explain posture and cutting speed.  Firstly he explained that shinai tip must travel fast to make a crisp cut - not laboured which can be commonly seen during suburi (timing of two).  He encouraged us all to cut every suburi swing at full speed and energy.

The second half of the lesson he introduced a new angle on posture which I've not heard before.  I can only remember the broad concept so forgive me if I've forgotten anything important.  Sensei described the area between the forehead (just between the eyebrows) and the middle of the brain at the 'Sunden' (spelling?).  He described some sort of metaphysical association with this area, but I cant remember what it is.

While in kamae the Sunden needs to sit above and in line with the 'Tanden', positioned in the lower part of the abdomen.   When moving forward these should be aligned to maintain posture.  Sensei explained that we should keep a neutral expression - no scary faces!
Overall an enjoyable session with quite a few visitors from other clubs.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Adventures in Jodan ptI

A few weeks into my Jodan odyssey and i've come to realise a few things.  Primarily that its going to be a long and relatively lonely road!

I feel like an absolute beginner again.  I've lost kendo strength and upper body muscle mass (not that I had much to start with) due to my time away injured.  This combined with the need for katate techniques/tenouchi means I need to work on my left shoulder, tricep and forearm conditioning.  The change in footwork is also like a step back to my early years, I have no push drive from the right or fumikomi from the left foot.  This will hopefully come with time.

Yet I am very heartened by the support my sensei and peers have given me with this change in direction.  All those with experience in Jodan have offered advice which I'm trying to build into my practice.  However, after three weeks i'm still flailing around like drunk fly fisherman, it feels like i'm moving through treacle.

After contemplating the situation, I think what saddens me the most is letting go of what I could previously do with chudan.  Through this kamae I could at least give seniors two or three grades higher a half decent fight..... now I'm back to slo-motion cutting with poor threat level.  But I also feel quite excited about learning something different.

After trawling the usual web and youtube sources (i.e. Chiba sensei), I found this page which is pretty informative

If anyone out there has studied Jodan without a specialist teacher then I'd be interested to hear about your experiences :)

Thursday, 23 May 2013


The last few months have been an aggravating experience regarding my kendo career. I returned to practice with the hope that I could take off from where i left after my sandan grading last year... however, a few weeks passed and I realised that this will never be the case. Firstly I struggled with the problems anyone else would after 8-9 months out of the game, my timing was out, loss of speed and my cardio was blown. However, more upsetting was the discomfort in my knackered wrist. I now have trouble lasting a standard night's practice, if I jar it in either taitari or over doing a 'wristy' waza the dull ache can last for 4-5 days afterwards.

This situation has really knocked my kendo enthusiasm for 6. I've become more frustrated as the weeks pass and even considered jacking it in on more than one occasion. In addition I caught a couple of cracks on the right hand knuckle (probably the return of an old bad habit) which means i've also had to deal with a swollen hand.

All this came to a head a few weeks ago after a couple of particularly rotten rounds of jigeiko. My abysmal kendo combined with injured hand and wrist meant I packed up and left the dojo half way though the night. I was absolutely seething and was the first time in 8 years i've left a session early. If i'd passed the Thames on the way home i would have lobbed my bogu into it.
A change is required.

Firstly I told myself Rule #5 and dug out my old 'sausage kote' with the protective band over the knuckle. This should let me practice without further injury.

Second, I'm seriously considering studying Jodan. I managed a couple jigeiko with jodan last week to protect my swollen hand and enjoyed it (my katate men was pretty bad haha)..... this got me thinking. People have suggested trying it in the past because of my height but i've always been put off by becoming the club tsuki magnet, my low grade and a lack of local Jodan specialist friends I can leech advice from. However, I now feel that I have little choice due to the injury. I plan to discuss with my peers to see what they think as Jodan (the 'kamae of fire') requires a fearless attacking spirit - not how i'd describe myself!

By travelling down this road I have to accept that future grading opportunities will be bleak and i'll have to go back to basics. This will be a test of patience .

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

First Steps Back

Its been a while but i'm finally updating two weeks after returning to training.  I'm only attending one practice a week at the moment so I can rediscover lost muscles and easy my wrist back into action.

Its been an fascinating experience to say the least.  First of all it was great to see familiar friendly faces again, it was great to fight then have a few pints down the boozer afterwards.

I also found some aspects of my performance surprising.  Although my kendo fitness is shot to hell, i found my timing is still ok-ish.  However, movement, accuracy and distance is all over the place!  I'm yet to rediscover the kendo 'feel' - I felt like a fish out of water at times.  I'm hopeful this will improve over the next few weeks.

Another surprise is practising without my previous performance 'obsession'.  This maybe due to my current cycling fixation, but I left both practice sessions with a sense of contentment as opposed to beating myself up over some waza screwup or another.... or perhaps its because i'm just happy to simply train again?  Either way I've forgotten all my old hangups from 7-8 months ago and was able to jigeiko without excess mental baggage.  I'm unsure if it'll stay this way, ha!

As for the wrist, it was pretty sore after both sessions.  I iced when i got home and it seemed to be ok the next day (there's always background discomfort anyway).... maybe this is how it will always be?  I'll bump up to two practice sessions in a few weeks to see how I get on. I'm also wearing wrist braces which are designed for tennis use, apparently this type of injury is common in that sport.

Outside kendo I've finally completed my BA Graphic Design degree after 5.5 years of study.  I managed to sneak a first which I'm pretty pleased about, this has now freed up time for other stuff.  I also have my first 75 mile cycling sportive in a few weeks.