Monday, 20 December 2010

Waza Against a Defensive Posture

Attended squad training again where Mano sensei taught us a series of waza against a defensive posture, usually found in shiai situations.

The image isn't the best as it was difficult to find a good example. However, you should get the idea.

Mano sensei identified three key areas when this posture is taken by the opponent - kote, tsuki and gyaku-do. Distance and height of arms will dictate which target to attack.

Tsuki - If the arms are high enough then there is an opportunity to attack tsuki. This can be followed up with ni-dan waza (e.g. tsuki-men) if the initial thrust is ineffective. If the arms are low, covering the tsuki then there is an opportunity to attack men.

Gyaku-Do - Mano sensei explained that a right sided do cut can be made if the opponents posture allows. Sensei encouraged a follow though to the left rather than hiki waza style retreating zanshin.

Hidari Kote - This is a small target to attack. If the opponent's hands are far over defending the men/Do then it leaves the bottom of the left kote open

The main problem with these waza is that they have to be performed without hesitation. If too much time is taken to decide then the opportunity will be lost.

[edited 02/03/11]: I have since found out this defensive posture is called 'Sanpomamori'. Kenshi247 writes a very good article about it's use in modern kendo here.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Interesting Article on Loss of Form

An interesting article on Kenshi247 which rang a bell.

I also experience occasional inexplicable loss of form (a slump), usually after a break in practice - sometimes as short as a week. I know this effect is purely psychological and I can be my worst enemy at times. Is this a personality trait which i'll never rid myself of?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Snow Joke

Again the UK grinds to a halt due to snow meaning this week's kendo has been wiped.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Back Up North

I had to travel up to Glasgow again due to work so I arranged another visit Taisedokai. This time I was lucky enough to meet Gerry Kincaid Sensei who taught the class. Keiko consisted of seme and oji waza, concentrating on using suriashi to focus the seme.

The main tips I took from the class:

  • Seme should be moving forward (varying speed). Don't move into distance then stop and wait.
  • Seme is driven with right foot and left hand moving forward.
  • Don't open out the elbows too wide when making a big men attack, it exposes tsuki and do targets.
  • Misdirection - fake a kote then cut men or fake men then cut kote if the aite lifts their hands. I have practised the fake kote for a while but never the other way around, this is something I will try in the future.
Kincaid Sensei was kind enough to explain these points to me in detail after practice.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Cool Quote

I recently read this quote which was posted on Andy Fisher's (British squad member) blog:

‎"Notice everything! Look at what is happening in Keiko, when you have a good opponent, or even if you are stood waiting, look at your Senpai and Sensei, try and figure out what you like about their movements. Do they have a 'Tokui' Waza? you have to notice them, and then in your own Keiko try to imitate. This will lead you towards finding your own way..."
Tanaka Takeshi Sensei (2006 WKC 2nd Place).

Sunday, 21 November 2010

M3's 2010

We entered two teams into this year's Mumeishi 3's which was the biggest yet with over 65 teams competing from all over Europe. I think what make this competition so popular is that three men squads (two dan and one kyu grade) there is fast turn around of matches and it gives a chance to blood beginners.

I was fighting as number two (chuken ) and our first match was against Mumeishi 'A'. Seyi our kyu grade performed really well and won his match 1-0, I started well in mine with a quick kote... however, I did the same as in the British Open and threw it away by losing a men and kote. Was very annoyed with myself! This left the match all square at 2-2 points. Oli fought into encho and took it with a winning men cut.

Our next match was against Tora 'B'. I know these guys pretty well so knew the quality we were facing. Seyi fought Josh, who graded shodan this year. Seyi didnt give him any room to manoeuvre and drew 0-0.

I fought their kyu grade, I could tell he'd been given instructions to stay close and keep in my face so I couldn't attack from distance. He was doing a good job well until wakare was called and we were parted. This then gave me room and I got him with a small men on the restart. 1-0.

This left Oli to fight Dipak who was their best fighter. Dipack went ahead early but Oli managed to tie the match late on giving us the win.

We were drawn against Portsmouth 'A' in the next round. Again I knew these guys from visiting their dojo in the past. Seyi was paired against a Japanese lady and did his usual straight cuts without letting them settle. Another 0-0.

I was matched against the kyu grade again which upped the pressure as people were expecting me to win. However, things didnt't do to plan as I couldn't get a clean cut. I did notice that he was lingering next to the shaijo line which gave me the opportunity to cut then nudge him out for a hansoku. After the restart he again retreated near the line so I attempted a cut/taiatari to send him out for a second hansoku..... i'm unsure if I hit him with a genuine taiatari or a shoulder barge but I sent him sprawling across the floor. I felt really bad as I don't usually fight dirty (I hope they let me train with them again!). It finished 0-0.

It was down to Oli again to win it for us again who was matched against their 3rd dan taisho. Both fought well and it stayed 0-0 though full time, encho and ended with a judges' decision (Hantei) which was given Oil's way. A tough way to go out as both sides fought hard.

This win meant we'd made it to the quarter final against Wakaba.

Seyi again drew his match 0-0 against their kyu grade (meaning he was defeated in every match), and I was drawn against Andris who i've practiced against many times before. I felt I kept my end up well during the match but he caught me with a kote, ending 1-0. This meant Oli had to beat their taisho to keep us in it. Unfortunately, Takuya was too strong and won the match.

We performed our expectations to make it into the quarters although my team mates did carry me though most of the matches. The main positive I've taken from this competition is the vast reduction in nerves while in the shiaijo. Hopefully I will start to loosen up for future shiai and help score a few more points.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Further Footwork Advice

I attended two days of squad training last week which proved very useful. Mano sensei was away so Honga Wright Sensei (Godan - Tora Dojo) took the two day event.

The day started very energetically with footwork exercises and lots of kirikaeshi (the width of the dojo), knackering! Wright Sensei highlighted that my steps are too small which doesn't take advantage of my long legs. To fix this she demonstrated that I should push further with my left to create more of a lunge, I then draw my left foot forward to overtake where my right foot was (right foot airborne and pushing forward so they do not cross on the floor). I've drawn a diagram to try and illustrate this:

This technique will hopefully increase my distance and speed across the floor.

Wright sensei also picked up that my elbows are too wide when cutting big men, I need to keep them closer together which should help my wrist snap.

The second day involved lots of debana kote and shiai practice. I had three shiai matches at the end of the day and lost all of them (without scoring). Haha, i don't think shiai is my strong point.

The downer of the weekend is that I feel crippled! Muscles in my legs and arse aren't used to being pushed to these extremes, I also hit my bad toe which has blown up again :(

My plan is to concentrate on increasing my stride over the next month.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

New Suburi Technique

Terry Holt sensei (7th dan) from Mumeishi dojo visited the club on Friday practice and taught a basics session.

Holt sensei focused on cutting and using the wrists but without rotating the hands - 'touching your nose with your shinai' as he put it. To practice this we were told to hold the shinai in the middle of the tsuka (no space between hands), then cut men, kote, do. The close positioning of the hands meant it was difficult to rotate shinai vertically. The aim was to finish the cut with a wrist 'snap'.

During Jigeiko Holt Sensei pulled me up on my spirit and kiai. I tend to kiai then let my spirit drop before I attack.

Blake sensei taught me an alternative hiki waza technique (i forget the name). Instead of cutting by launching back with standard footwork, step back right then left foot then cut men moving forward. This gives the impression you are disengaging which can make the aite drop their guard.

Holt Sensei during Jigeiko

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Ouch v2.0

Another bloody injury.

A week last friday I was fighting a clubmate during Jigeiko and I slammed my left foot into his, resulting in a knackered second toe. I taped it up against the neighbouring toe but I still suffered a stabbing pain ever time I launched for a cut.

After a week hobbling about it was rested enough for Thursday's club visit to Tora dojo. I've not visited those guys for a few months so it was fun to take part in their kihon again. However, this made me realise that i've lost all the fitness built up over the summer with UCL :(

There was no Friday practice due to building work at our gym so I visited UCL. It was much busier than the summer due to returning students and new beginners. They also have a good contingent of Japanese kendoka who are handy with a shinai! This includes a Jodan player who has a cracking katate kote. I thought I held my ground pretty well against these guys but the difference in class was pretty apparent. Kihon was a killer though, three string kirikaeshi swapping with 3x men, kote men, waza etc... i nearly died. I also stubbed my bad left toe again and the knuckle has swollen right up.

I feel that i'm improving with my kamae. Since i've been working on moving my balance from back to front foot I seem to be able to launch forward quicker. Still lots of work but I think i'm changing.

Blake sensei has also set me a task to work on. I have to improve my attacking attitude and not kill my spirit after one cut. Therefore, he told me to try and take the last cut in an attack (e.g. kote - men or hiki waza) in order to raise zanshin and dominate my opponent. The trick is to do this and avoid turning it into kagarigeiko.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Slack Month

Due to a number of events over the last month or so i've been unable to practice much kendo. A combination of illness (the dreaded yearly autumn cold/flu outbreak), my brother's stag do (Munich beerfest. yay!), wedding and house decorating meant I missed a lot of dojo time.

However, i've now been back for just over a week. I'm short on form but still managing to concentrate on my footwork. I have worked out that i'm balancing more on my back foot in kamae which could explain why i'm lifting my front foot up high and stamping when i launch forward. Consequently, i'm trying to shift my centre of balance more to the front foot (40/60) which helps raise my heals and bend my knees. I'm finding it difficult to retrain my muscle memory but I need to persevere.

I also fought in the British Open Taikai last Saturday. Unfortunately, I lost in the first round after going 1-0 up with a men cut, I lost my concentration in the latter part of the match and lost to two kote. I should have closed the match down instead of fighting for a second point... oh well, i'll mark it down to experience.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Learning to Breathe

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on a number of things suggested by seniors. First was to soften my right knee and ensure my right heel isn’t touching the floor (suggested by Sempai Will Wright). This helps me redistribute my weight so I’m slightly back on my left, ready to spring forward in an instant (in theory).

Second is to control my breathing (suggested by Katsuya Sensei). I have started holding my breath as I engage my opponent and slowly breathing out for up to 15 seconds. I’ve found this focuses seme and helps kiai. However, I occasionally think about my breathing rather than fighting which makes me a sitting duck. Perseverance is required. It also felt like I’d smoked 20 cigarettes after practice, my lungs aren’t used to this type of breathing yet!

Hopefully these two adjustments will help address some of my other problems.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Home Truths

I managed three practices this week, two of which were at UCL.

Practicing at this dojo has really highlighted my poor footwork and zanshin. The locals are very good at attacking with speed from distance and maintaining attacking spirt (allowing nidan and sandan techniques). I find myself creeping close to try and match their speed which isnt working due to my height. I'm also dropping my spirt after an attack (because i'm so knackered) which stops me from performing hiki waza etc.. I feel like i'm constantly hanging on to their coat tails to keep up!

I asked Katsuya Sensei in the pub why i'm suffering with this and regular injuries. He explained that kendo is natural and the reason why I injure myself so much is that i'm making my body do things it shouldn't. He gave me a number of things to look at:

  • Uncontrolled breathing - I practice enough kendo for fitness not to be the main reason. Katsuya spotted that my shoulders are too far forward. I need to open up my chest to allow deeper breathing. This is a fundamental change to my posture, not just kendo but every day because I sent to slouch. This will be a very difficult habit to break.
  • I need to take pride in my kendo. I don't fight with confidence which i major problem when trying to defeat my opponent mentality.
  • I need to concentrate - I tend to drift and get frustrated when I mess things up. This is also linked to the previous point regarding confidence.
  • My problem left knee (I wear a brace), could be due to me launching mainly with my leg muscles which over extends my knee rather than generating the power in my foot/ankle.
  • I'm not attacking with speed because i'm not using correct footwork. Katsuya said the speed of the cut/run though depends on the effectiveness of the returning left foot. I need to snap it back faster.
  • I'm stamping short and pushing all my power down when I fumikomi (disrupting my run though). Again, this is footwork. I should push my right foot forward more when cutting and not worry about 'stomping'. The noise is a consequence of the cut, not the aim of the cut.
This advice along with other suggestions about relaxing my grip etc. means I have to pretty much go back to scratch and think about re-educating my body. The question is, what do I try to fix first?

Injury Update: My left big toe nail fell off this week. A bloke stamped on it the day before my grading which made it go black, it bloody hurt!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Toilet Injury

Bah... stupid injury strikes again. I pulled a back muscle while scrubbing the bloody toilet on Sunday.

I missed Monday practice at UCL in the hope that it eases off later in the week :/

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Working on my Lift

Been suffering with a streaming cold this week which ruined my planned practice. Managed one session on Thursday though.

O'Sullivan sensei commented that I need to quicken my sword lift to improve my total cut speed. I'm ok cutting down but its the lifting part which is messing things up.

I've been practicing lifting as fast as possible at home using a suburiko (short shinai). I lift stright up and push with my left foot, half a cut. Rinse and repeat.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Sumi Sensei POV

I'm just posting this vid because its wicked.

Its the closest i'll ever be to becoming hachidan!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Homeless Wanderings

Summer plays havoc with regular practice. My regular club and emergency Tuesday practice are both closed so I've had to experiment with a few new places.

I was up in Glasgow on Tuesday for work. Faced with an evening of sitting in a hotel room with crappy TV I searched to see if the local Kendo club practiced that night.. they did - result!

I contacted Gerry Kincaid sensei to see if I could visit, he arranged for me to be picked up from town by a fellow dojo member. David (one of the clubs seniors) kindly drove me in and leant me one of his shinai, as I could only bring one bag on my flight.

The class was taken by Jim Corey sensei who taught us taiatari and how to keep moving our feet in chudan for shiai situations.

Corey sensei explained that taiatari should be performed with body and that the force should be directed downward, if the 'body strike' pushes upwards then there's a chance that you can lose balance or even injure your back.

I found constantly moving my feet while in chudan quite difficult. I have been taught to 'lock' my left foot ready to launch in a split second, changing this feeling took me outside my comfort zone.

I really enjoyed practice and the guys up there are a top bunch. I hope to visit again in the future if i'm in Glasgow again for work.

Thursday was Mytchett practice. O'Sullivan sensei is currently working on improving our cutting speed. This involves us practising a wrist based 'tap tap' exercise on a partner's shinai. The aim is to create a fast, powerful but light cut, not slow and heavy. I'm finding this very difficult as I tend to hit heavy when trying to cut faster.

Friday practice involved visiting UCL which is another new club for me. Unfortunately many of the regulars are in Japan for their annual summer gasshuku, so the session contained mainly visitors from other clubs. However, luckily a few visitors were dojo leaders from other clubs (Katsuya - Wakaba, Will - Tora) so there was plenty of experience at hand. Kihon was good and I had to perform quite a few unfamiliar techniques/drills.

Sharpe sensei gave me a few pointers. I need to use my wrists more with do cuts and i'm stretching my arms out too far (raising my hands too hight) against shorter opponents. My cut should terminate with my hands around mune height.

I had a quick chat with Katsuya after class and asked why i'm having difficulty relaxing my arms/wrists which is destroying my 'snap'. He suggested my body's tension is focused on my arms and hands making them stiff. Therefore, I need to redirect my tension down to my stomach muscles and core. This should loosen up other parts of my body.

I shall try this next week.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Nidan Passed

I've had a couple of busy weeks due to work, combined with the summer closure means I only managed a few practices before my grading. Not ideal preparation.

The grading went ok. My two jigeiko fights weren't spectacular. I managed a few kote-men nidan waza and got a few solid men cuts. However, my seme wasn't brilliant. Nerves turned my legs to jelly... it didn't feel like I created much pressure on my opponent. Anyhow, it must have been enough as I was one of the only three that passed out of 10.

Kata was a skin of the teeth job. Luckily I was Uchidachi for nanahome so didn't have to do the 'kneel down of death', unfortunately for my partner (a dojo mate) he fluffed the knee and has to retake the kata section again. I felt bad for him as he was 99% there.

I think this is a good opportunity to revisit my basics and try to develop a sharper seme and cut.

Luckily i've managed to find a vid of one of my grading jigeiko. I did ok I think, I just seem really slow! I was happy with the kote men at 2:07 until I realised I didnt kiai for the inital kote.

Maybe I should have attempted a few hiki waza? I didn't want to get into a in-out brawl or spoil the fight by blocking, so kept my composure. However, this allowed my opponent to get a few hiki cuts in.

Note for the future, don't break off and walk back to the middle otherwise i'll fail.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Chiba Sensei and Tatsuo Hayashi Sensei Seminar 2010- Day 2

The second day and my feet were prepared for another pounding.

We started off with a recap of the techniques we learned the day before. Chiba sensei emphasised the importance of observing the opponent and using the reaction from the seme.

We then progressed to taking it in turns to cut men while the opponent cut kote. The idea was to beat the opponent. Sensei introduced a surprise intensive, whoever lost had to perform 20 hyasuburi. However, most of the time both sides admitted defeat and did the hyasuburi together (I suppose no one wanted to appear superior).

O'Sullivan gave some advice to me which struck a chord. He said that seme should be indication that i'm ready to cut, not an indication that I will cut. Therefore, I should use it for pressure rather than the first part of a men/kote etc..

The following technique we learned was Hiki waza. By now the soles of my feet were raging and my fumikomi suffered. Chiba sensei showed us ways of attacking the opponents kamae in tsubazeriai.
  • Hiki men - Keeping the body active with the top of your tsuba pressed against the edge of your opponent's. Push the tsuba against your opponents body then quickly step back left then right foot, then cut men while performing fumikomi moving backwards.
  • Hiki do - Same as above but lipping your tsuba over the top of the opponent's. Quickly jam it downwards causing the opponent to fight and push up. This allows you to step back and cut do.
  • Hiki kote - Push the sword left across the opponent making them fight back, let go making them move to the right. Step back and strike the open kote.
I think this is how we were instructed - my memory is a bit hazy on this.

Chiba sensei gathered everyone around and spoke about keiko and fighting shiai. He said he'd let us into the secret of winning shiai, this was translated as:

"The secret to winning shiai is to practice until you are good enough to win"

Ha! I think he was saying that we wont be good enough after a weekend seminar, we must go back to our dojos and practice hard on the techniques we have learned. Then we'll be good enough to win.

The latter part of the day involved a mock grading and I was paired with a good fighter from Hizen. I was hoping for a good performance considering my nidan is only two weeks away... however, disaster! I choked at the critical time and failed to score a good ippon. Very disappointing as I know I can do better.

Hayashi sensei took notes during the mock test and explained that I showed good posture and a strong kamae (he said I initially looked threatening). Then it all went wrong, my men cuts were feeble. Hayashi sensei said i need to work more on my men cuts - worrying!

The day finished with sensei jigeiko. I managed to get my men on early and queue for Chiba sensei. The fight was inspiring, but again I didnt cause any upsets. He could see right though my attempted seme.... how do you fight someone so strong?

I also practiced with Hayashi sensei. I started ok with my seme but I then switched to 'headless chicken' mode, sensei stopped this by blocking away my pointless cuts which made me consider pressure again. He said that I managed to cut him once when I spoke to him afterwards, but I don't remember it.

All in all it was a very enjoyable seminar. I hope they return again next year!

A better explanation of the two days can be found on Salmon sensei's blog here.

Chiba sensei jigeiko

Hayashi sensei jigeiko

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Chiba Sensei and Tatsuo Hayashi Sensei Seminar 2010 - Day 1

The first day of a two day seminar run by the famous Chiba sensei supported by Tatsuo Hayashi sensei and based in Reading, Berkshire. During this session we concentrated on basic men, kote, do and maai/seme.

I have listed what I can recall from the lesson:

  • Suburi
We instructed on how to hold the shinai correctly. The left hand must grip the end of the tsuka with three fingers, ensuring that the bottom of the shinai its on the 'ball' of the palm (unsure the correct term). You shouldn't have any part of the tsuka poking beyond your palm.
The right hand must have a loose grip with the index finger about two finger widths from the tsuba. No hand should hold the shinai in a 'axe handle' grip.
Chiba sensei then instructed us how to 'snap' a cut using soft hands but powerful wrists. Its was amazing to see the power he can generate with such little effort.
Sensei instructed that we should aim to cut to the chin to 'pop' the cut. The cut must snap and not land heavy.
  • Men, kote & do
We instructed in how to make small, sharp cuts. We started at chikama with one step cut (no run though or tsubazeriai), then progressively moving back to find our own comfortable cutting maai and running though after cut. This exercise was repeated for men, kote and do.
  • Seme
Chiba sensei then instructed us to create pressure with our opponent when cutting a target when the opportunity presents itself. This was done by stepping into distance, motodachi then waits for approx 3 seconds (building pressure) before reacting and providing either a men, kote or do opportunity. It is then up to the shidachi to immediately cut the target using the small cut technique taught earlier. The aim is to cut without hesitation.
During this period I asked Chiba sensei on his opinion of seme for taller people as I am constantly told to cut from distance (being 6ft 4). Hayashi translated simply "do what works". This topic lead to a discussion between 4-5 sensei. I'm unsure if I got the gist of the full conversation but to my understanding Chiba sensei meant that I should try to create pressure from distance, if it is ineffective then I need to move in closer to disturb my opponent and create an opportunity.
  • Oji Waza
Our seme work moved on to a higher level of kendo. Instead of motodachi simply presenting a target, they were told to cut either men or kote. Shidachi's job was to step in with seme to create pressure then perfom oji waza (defensive waza) when motodachi cut. We were instructed in:
  • Men kaeshi do - Sensei told us to thrust the shinai forward above his head to collect the parry before the do cut. The parry had to be with the monouchi and not too far down the shaini.
  • Men suriage men - Again the parry had to be with the monouchi part of the shinai. This was to be performed with forward motion.
  • Men, kote men - Sensei emphasised we must step forward with the right foot only for kote cut (dont move the left forward). The left is then brought up after the men cut, this results with a quick pow-pow footwork.
  • Debana kote.
  • Kote nuki men.
  • Men nuki do.
After a period of rotating kihon with these techniques we took a short break in preparation for jigeiko.
For the final hour of the day we had rotating jigeiko. During this time I was lucky enough to practice with Chiba sensei for 5 minutes. I attempted to use what we had learned during the lesson but of course I couldn't connect with anything I tried. I did manage to touch his kote once but it was well messy, no way ippon worthy! One thing that struck me was when I attempted harai or suriage I couldn't move his shinai, my weak attempts just bounced off hahaha.

I did gain some success of a few other people I fought, connecting with some good fake kote men and suiage men.

Looking forward to tomorrow's session although my feet aren't.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Bring on the heat

I visited Wakaba again on Saturday on one of the hottest days of the year. Blimey, I dont think ive ever sweated as much as this before. At the end of the session my gi, hakama and even the top of my tare were so drenched I could wring out the sweat. Luckily we had enough breaks during the three hours to drink fluids to keep us going.

Over the last few years i've tried to manage my hydration levels before practice. I keep a 1.5 litre bottle of water at my desk (I work in an office) and sip throughout the day. As a result I usually drink about 2.5 litres before I leave work. In addition to this I drink 500ml of carb powder mix as I travel on the train to practice (High5 Orange), with an additional bottle to drink during the session for long training sessions.

I have been told carb mix is only effective combined with the correct nutrition. However, I have found it does help, especially during long hot keiko like Wakaba. Maybe its just a placebo effect? This article suggests that commercial products are a waste of time and that a home made alternative is just as effective CLICK HERE.

I feel hydration is an important consideration for kendo which is commonly overlooked. I'm amazed that a lot of people do not prepare during the day and end up sinking a quick pint of water 30 mins before practice. All that happens is you pee it out without any benefit. Dehydration destroys energy levels and occurs before you feel thirsty. Therefore, thirst is not a good indicator.

During Saturday's practice Katsuya Sensei observed that i'm not using enough footwork. He said that i'm leading with my arms too much which is making me slower and predictable. I will concentrate on cutting more with my feet/body over the next few weeks.

Manny observed that I need to clean up my kendo a bit before grading to provide a good impression. This means looking confident with good posture, not scrapping at close range, not showing any emotion or disappointment when I am cut (accept it and keep a positive attitude) and lifting my arms when I turn after the cut.

Its the Chiba Sensei seminar next weekend. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Dodgy Kendo Brain

Was out and about visiting a few clubs this week. The guys at Hizen extended an open invitation for members of other London clubs to visit their Thursday practice, so four of us from our club attended to represent our dojo.

I've Hizen few years ago for a kata seminar, but this was my first shinai kendo practice there. All in all it was an enjoyable night, the guys there were very friendly and accomodating (I know a few of them already due to Wakaba and other events). The only problem is it was so bloody humid, I felt like keeling over after about 15 minutes!

During practice Geoff Humm Sensei (7th dan) gave me a few pointers:
  • Relax shoulders;
  • Dont bounce up shinai after cut;
  • Push/run though after cut, dont stand still; and
  • Dont step so deep for seme. If i'm already at Issoku ittō-no-maai then use my arms to push the shinai forward instead of moving my body.
During jigeiko I was again suffering with terrible form, I couldn't complete a successful cut and was becoming very annoyed with myself... I was thinking "why cant I do kendo anymore?". Then the weirdest thing happened, I suddenly flipped my mind focus from myself to my opponent. It was if someone had flicked a switch in my brain. I immediately started to cut correctly and felt good.

This proves I have some sort of retarded kendo brain which fights against itself for no real reason.

I attended Wakaba on Saturday which was its usual intensive but enjoyable practice. During the session Katsuya Sensei reinforced the importance of cutting with the body and not focusing on the arms. He said that cutting speed is driven by the body and not how fast you can swing the shinai.

My performance was ok, I'm still not moving as quick as before my holiday but its still miles better than the last few weeks.

I've also been hit on the right index finger again on a number of occasions. However, I think ive worked out why this has been occurring. After my cut i've been pushing my hands forward to run though. As a result, I think i've been catching my opponent's men strike on the hand because it's in front of my head. I'm unsure how to stop this, do I lower my hands when running though or push the sword horizontally forward more?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

After pleasure comes the pain

Hectic last few weeks which has left little time for kendo.

I got married at the start of the month to my long term missus (bless her for putting up with my kendo habit). We flew over to Dubrovnik in Croatia for a week of holiday and wedding, its a beautiful place and couldnt have asked for a better setting.

However, a week of boozing and late nights as trampled over any kendo form I had before hand. My return to Thursday and Friday practices were AWFUL. I had no timing, distance or movement. Are these dips in form after a break mental or physical? I seem to be my own worst enemy at times.

The guys at my club had a nice surprise for me on my return. Ippon Shobu with everyone..... it killed me. I think I handed my kote to nearly everyone there :(

Grading is 5 weeks and counting! Need to sort my head out.

Saturday, 29 May 2010


I received a whack on the left hand index finger on Friday... it's swollen up so much I can hardly move it. Hopefully it will calm down again in a few days.

Another relatively quite week finished with a hard Friday practice. I'm still working on my distance which means i'm losing a lot. However, Manni commented that he can see an improvement. The intent is there even if the technique isnt!

O'Sullivan Sensei taught us how to Harai using out body instead of just whacking the opponent's shinai away. It involves moving the left hand to the left (using right as pivot) then slamming it back against the shinai while clenching your lower abdomen, arse muscles and moving right foot slightly.

I tried this on Friday against a number of opponents. It was a waste of time against seniors as they battered me (nuki waza usually), I did manage to make it work ONCE against another shodan which made his shinai ping to the side. This pleased me.

Nic commented that my small cuts are using too much right hand. Glen observed that i'm not taking immediate action after my seme, I shouldn't pause because my opponent will take advantage.

No kendo for me for the next week. I'm getting married.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

AGM Practice

This week I trekked up to Northampton for the BKA AGM. This is my first so didn't know what to expect.

I have to admit I went for the morning practice rather than the 'serious bit', which proved a bit dry to be honest (lots of budgetary talk). The most disappointing thing I heard during the meetings is that UK Kendo membership has been falling during the last two years, this comes as no surprise considering the economic conditions. However, Kendo doesn't seem visible enough in the UK compared to karate/judo where we have some of the best competitors in the world. Its a shame really.

During keiko (which was bloody hot) I managed practice with Davis Sensei (BKA Kendo Bucho). I told him that I was grading in July and could he point out some things I need to work on. He highlighted that I'm running though too far. I need to turn quickly after a few steps then step immediately forward, thus showing positive intent. Also, footwork needs to be short but fast when running though. He also picked up that I raise my hands too high after cutting and my kiai is too quiet.

During Thursday practice I asked O'Sullivan Sensei why i'm susceptible to being skewered when I attack from distance. Other than the obvious 'taking centre' problem he suggested that I might be raising my arms too early, this opening me up and takes away the threat of the kensen thrusting towards my opponent.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Concentrating on distance

Distance seems to be my biggest problem at the moment, its the thing i'm picked up on the most. Distance is affecting the quality of my cuts and seme.

This week I decided to concentrate on improving this aspect of my kendo, it will be my number one priority up to my grading in July.

I had little chance to practice on Tuesday because I was teaching basics to the beginners (who are coping very well.... I am pleased how they are progressing).

Thursday was my first attempt at keeping distance and attacking from my comfort zone, not my opponent's. This proved a bit of a disaster, I found it very difficult to break centre and cut successfully. I even got a tsuki in the throat for my troubles. The main issue I can't get my head around is how you seme/keep centre from distance when my kensen is hardly touching with my opponents? I feel like i'm creating little pressure and end up either moving within distance to threaten or running onto my opponents sword.

I visited Wakaba on Saturday and tried to concentrate on distance again. During Motodachi Keiko I asked Rukas to help, he spotted that I lean forward before launching an attach which telegraphs my intentions (something which O'Sullivan sensei has also warned me about). I need to move with my hips/left leg more and speed up my fumikomi, concentrate on cutting with footwork as opposed to arms/hands. This could be one of the reasons why I don't create enough pressure especially against seniors), they can see when i'm about to attack!

I have a feeling this will be a difficult problem to overcome and I have to accept I will lose many times before I improve.

I also had advice from Hiro who said I should push my shoulders back because they are too narrow. This will help my posture.

To keep with the hypochondriac theme I have split my right big toe again which is causing quite a bit of discomfort during the day. I have started wrapping it in tape again for practice.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

All stop for the election!

No practice this thursday due to the dojo doubling as a polling station. This means friday was the only regular practice this week because tuesday was for beginners (thus limited jigeiko time). However, to compensate I attended saturday's squad/intensive training at Brunel Uni.

This was a full on three hour session of kihon and jigeiko. Most people were whacked by the end. Mano sensei focused on footwork position and hiki waza during the session.
  • Footwork
The position of the front foot during the cut should be adjusted depending on the target. When striking shomen the right foot should land between the opponents feet. For kote the right foot should land in line with the opponent's right foot (no twisting the cut around with the body). Finally, to cut do the right foot should land in line with the opponent's left foot.

  • Hiki Waza
Unless the kenshi is very experienced, hiki waza should be made with a big cut. The point of the exercise was to retreat at speed after the cut and show strong zanshin (don't wave the shinai too far behind your head).

We were encouraged to run though after all kihon cuts and make use of the large hall. The motodachi was told to turn and follow shidachi, with an attitude ready to attack.

During jigeiko I managed to practice with Alan Thompson. I was again pulled up on distance (I never learn). However, one bit of advice proved an 'a-haaa' moment. I tend to start my seme at Issoku ittō-no-maai which means i'm too close when I creep in and cut. Alan suggested I seme in from distance then cut when Sakigawa (tips) cross. What I need to work out is how to implement this when my opponent rushes in and I dont get a chance to seme from outside distance.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


An usual week this week.

Its my turn to take the new beginners group for the next 8 weeks. At our club Shodan and above take it in turns to run the course so we all gain experience in teaching kendo (under supervision from sensei). The course introduces basic big men cuts, kirikaeshi and an introduction to Bogu.

This was my first one so I was pretty nervous about taking a class of 25 people. I broke the class into basic footwork, kamae and men cut (split into 3 then 2 'phases' of cut). The class was finished with 10-15 mins of hyasuburi. Hopefully I can keep the newbs interested for a few weeks, but we all know how bad the attrition rate is in kendo ;)

Saturday and Sunday was the London Cup. I fought in the first pool match for us in the team comp, we had more than 5 people in the squad so we were allowed subs. Nas and Oli took turns for later matches.

I fought against a lady from the Dutch national squad (Chung). She was much shorter but quicker than me and won with a degote. Two disappointing things about my performance. One, my usual problem with attacking too close allowing the kote and two, crap zanshin/kiai. I spoke with one of the shinpan afterwards who said I would have scored at least one men cut if i'd claimed the point more convincingly.

Sunday was the individuals and I was paired against Lee from Shiraoka in Scotland. I didn't last very long against this lad, he was too strong for me.

Not a very good couple of days really. However, the one improvement from previous shiai is that I didn't feel as nervous as before. Maybe in another 10 years I will be able to get into the second round?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

"A relaxed mind = a relaxed body"

Hmmm... don't you love the way Kendo can slap you around the face when you think you've improved?

Last week was really good and I felt like i'd progressed. This week was a case of one step forward and two back. I think that I was trying too hard to keep the good feeling going and started to tense up too much instead of letting things happen naturally. At Friday practice Glen said I was using too much power instead of relaxing. "A relaxed mind = a relaxed body".

Feedback from the week included:

  • O'Sullivan sensei = Started to cross feet during suriashi before kirikaeshi big shomen cuts. Bad, bad, bad. Tense right arm. Move left foot up quicker after cut/seme.
  • Young = I'm dropping and pushing with my arms instead of powering though after my cuts. Second cut during nidan waza is too weak.
  • Glen = Relax.
  • Manny = Seme is too big leaving me too close to cut. I should 'nibble' away to increase pressure. If I aim to seme 5cm I end up taking 10cm, 2cm I end up taking 4cm etc... therefore, I should aim to move 1cm at at time. I need to drop my hand further for chudan.
I've also caught myself using my right hand more which has started to give me a bit of tennis elbow. I suspect this is a result of trying to strike too quickly and losing proper cutting form.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Good end to the week

After a disappointing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday proved much more productive.

Something seemed to click on Thursday and my concentration was bang on, I'd love to know why this happens because I didn't consciously change anything compared to previous weeks. I felt like I was aware of my distance much more which produced more pressure to my opponent, I even managed a couple of suriage men cuts on high grades.

I visited Wakaba on Saturday which turned into one of the most enjoyable days of kendo for a while. There was only a few of us there for the initial kihon lesson which slowly grew in numbers, by then end we had a good 20 or so. For the last 90 minutes of motodachi keiko and jigeiko the numbers had swelled to 50-60 kenshi as late comers and people from the neighbouring shinpan seminar joined. I even met a few guys from my club. It seemed that most people there were nidan or above.

All I can say is the atmosphere was electric and one of the best ive experienced (could it be due to the nice weather?). Jigeiko was very cramped but the sound was amazing, everyone seemed to be giving 100%. I was happy with most of my fights, my seme seemed to be working to a degree with similar grade opponents... i still have a way to go with higher grades!

I received advice from a few people:
  • Rukas: Good basics but I need to stop waggling my kensen (agghh!). It shows that I look nervous.
  • Pramalts (I think): Need to keep my centre more to threaten.
  • Hiro: Good basics but I need to aim for the back of the men when I cut because I have a tendency to hit the mengane. Need to stretch my arms out more on the run though and pivot on the right foot when I turn after Zanshin.
  • Mani: Said I produced much more pressure compared to the last time I fought him a few months back. Said I used my height and distance advantage more.
After this I got battered in the pub with Harris sensei. A good end to the day.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Disappointing reaction to pressure situation

I visited Tora dojo again on Tuesday night which proved to be another energetic and enjoyable practice.

At the end of class we we were split into two teams and had a single point shiai-geiko. I was matched against two Tora nidans, the first nailed me with a men in about 10 seconds. I attempted men at the same time but he was too quick for me. However, I lasted longer against the second guy but he eventually caught me with a kote.

I've never been great in shiai but I was disappointed with my reaction to the situation. Speaking with Zeke (a dojomate) he observed that my kensen was all over the place and that I had no centre. I'm annoyed that all my effort into improving seme went out of the window when the pressure was on.

I need to calm down and not fall into the trap of mirroring my opponents movements.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Another New Dojo

I was back home in the midlands for easter which provided a good opportunity to visit Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai dojo in Ollerton (Notts). Considering its only a 50 min drive from my folks I've never got 'round to visiting before.

Due to the easter holls there were only a few people there. I was greeted by Ken (a senior at the club) who was very friendly. Luckily, Alan Thompson who's a key member of the British Squad was visiting and took the lesson as Ken was coaching a beginner.

We started with kihon and progressed to shiai techniques, focusing on seme, sashi men and kote men/do. I found the session very helpful and gained some useful advice:
  • Cut immediately after seme, don't pause after I step into distance;
  • Dont hang my kensen before cutting down with sashi men, cut must be an immediate snap;
  • Dont grip the shinai too tight during seme;
  • Move the Tsukagashira (end of the Tsuka) in a circular motion with left hand to snap a cut for a small do (using Tenouchi). Ideal for kote-do technique;
  • Dont stare at my target before cut. Concentrate on opponent, quickly look at target when cutting but immediately focus back on opponent on contact; and
  • Alan was pleased with the speed of my sashi men. He suggested that I need to build my attacking confidence to be able to use it effectively.
I have been given similar advice from many other sensei. I'm hoping one of these days I will be able to incorporate them into my kendo correctly!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Three parts to the cut

During tuesday practice Blake sensei taught a kihon lesson which broke an attack into three parts.

The first was to step into issoku-itto-no-maai with either an overpowering centre, harai or uchiotoshi technique. Next was to make a big cut (making sure it was timing of '1') and the final step was to step into tsubazeriai.

We were encouraged to cut straight with tenouchi so that the superior cut will win, and to maintain a high degree of zanshin after the third part. This meant that we were aware of a weakness in technique or spirit in our opponent after the initial cut which then allows continuous attack (e.g. second men or hiki waza).

This proved to be an intense exercise which didn't allow a drop in energy or mental concentration.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Happy to be Back

Managed my first sessions back this week. Nothing to shout about other than my timing is totally screwed, i need a week or so to get my eye in again.

O'Sullivan sensei did pull me up on my 'flicking' kensen while in chudan last night.

Friday night was tough, not felt that knackered for a long time. Most notable point of the night was when I was fighting Charles who's a club vet. He started to break his cut timing which threw me out completely, I was left wafting my shinai in the air on a number of occasions after failed suriage attempts.

This proves that I focus too much on my opponent's shinai rather than his whole body. I should do my own thing instead of following their sword.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Out of Action Again

I've been suffering with a bladder infection since last Wednesday so i've been unable to practice. 2010 hasn't started very well :(

I've got to take a blood (and other bodily fluid) test at the local hospital tomorrow so I should find out whats wrong in a few days. I really hope it clears up before Saturday as I was planning to go to my first BKA Intensive Training session.... however, it isn't looking promising.

The clock has started on the count down to my Nidan grading in July. I need to sort myself out soon.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Visiting the neighbours...

The school shafted us again by setting up all the exam tables/chairs the night before so we couldn't practice. Therefore, I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit Tora Dojo again just down the road.

It was a very intense night with lots of kihon drills with uchikomigeiko and 15 mins of jigeiko thrown in at the end. I found it tough to keep up with the young'uns there.

Cho sensei taught us to try and vary our timing/aggression so that the opponent does not become used to our attacks. The idea is to keep them guessing what you are going to do next.

Thoroughly enjoyed the night and left feeling pretty knackered.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

New Dojo

I visited Mumeishi for the first time today which proved very enjoyable and helpful. They have Holt sensei, Salmon sensei and a few high grade Japanese sensei who are nice to practice with. They also have and a bunch of kids who are lightening.

I first practiced with Funaki sensei who immediately picked up on my continual problem of weak seme and not relaxing my arms/shoulders. He also told me not to move backwards (I seem to do this more when I visit an unfamiliar dojo... must be the nerves). I performed a number of shomen cuts with seme and relaxed posture which gained approval. Why cant I do this all the time?

He also told me to concentrate intently, focusing on my opponents's eyes but viewing the whole body (The whole mountain).

I think i'll acknowledge seme and tense arms as a long term issue as it's pointless me repeating the same kind of post all the time. Coincidentally, the BKA recently posted a good article on Seme and Tame here, an article by Kenshi247 is here. A poster on KendoWorld forum submitted an interesting seme vid here.

I also practiced with Holt sensei who taught me improved zanshin. I tend to run though too far after a men cut so sensei explained I need only to run slightly over two shinai distances away (mine + my opponents). In addition, I need to keep my hands up and shinai forward during the run though and as I rotate to face my aite, not pull them into my chest like i'm doing now. This will stop people creeping up behind me and cutting as I turn.

Holt sensei's final point for better zashin is to turn the correct way to face my aite. If they are behind and to the left then turn anti-clockwaise, behind right then turn clockwise to face them.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Need input....

No kendo Tuesday and Friday as the school where we are based is closed for half term (swines!). Need to find somewhere else to practice :(

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Distance Issues (again)

Fridays practice was predominantly jigeiko.

Young wasn't practicing so he spent time watching us and providing advice throughout the night. As with previous weeks he said I should use my height advantage and attack from distance.

In addition, he picked up that my cut trajectory doesn't arc over enough and has the habit of hitting at a too sharp angle just above the mengane. This is because i'm reaching excessively with the arms instead of cutting with my whole body. Young suggested I push forward more from the hips/small of the back, therefore delivering the cut without leaning forward too much.

I'm finding it difficult to improve this aspect of my game.

I also practiced with Katsuya sensei who observed that my shoulders are too tense and narrow. I need pull my shoulders back for a relaxed posture.

Therefore my main points for the night are:
  • Cut with the body;
  • Cut from my own attacking distance;
  • Don't lean forward too much;
  • Arc my cut over more; and
  • Relax and pull shoulders back.

//Offtopic: Kenshi247 posted up a vid on facebook which included Tankendo. I've never seen this style before and I think it looks brilliant. Unfortunately Tankendo isn't practiced in the UK. Check out this video.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Kakarigeiko Practice

During Tuesdays practice we studied kakarigeiko to try and understand motodachi's responsibility during the exercise.

Blake sensei demonstrated the awareness needed to recognise shidachi's timing, distance and cutting style in order to create a fluid kakarigeiko for your partner. The basic principle was to dismiss a poor cuts from shidachi with a block and cut of your own (e.g. kaeshi do) and allow a good cut to complete.

He made this technique look pretty simple but I found it difficult to perform while we were going full pelt. There's so little time to try and judge your aite, assess the quality of their cut and formulate a response. I realise this only improves with practice and I can see how it helps during keiko, as you develop the ability to read your opponent (without the need to think about it).

On the shidachi side I was pretty poor. I lack the mobility to immediately spring back with hiki waza after taiatari, I must be leaning too far forward after my cut or something. As a result my kakarigeiko attacks appear unwieldy with little control.

On a non-kendo related subject... I was well happy last weekend because Derby beat those forest scumbags 1-0. Get in.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Less Power, More Speed

Thursday night practice focused on relaxing our arms and using our wrists to 'snap' the cut.

We started with what O'Sullivan sensei calls the 'tap tap' exercise. Here we practiced repeated small and big wrist based cuts on a partner's horizontal shinai with as little arm power as possible. The aim was to create a satisfying 'pop' while keeping the sword alive.

After the initial exercise we practiced cutting in armour, finishing with kote suriage men and men suriage men. Here we we started to appreciate the benefit of having relaxed arms as suriage waza can be conducted much faster when there's little power in the arms/shoulders.

An additional mental note to take into Fridays practice is to remember not to bob up and down so much as I cut during kirikaeshi. Blake Sensei pulled me up on my poor footwork on Tuesday and said I need to cut with stable posture. This means sinking my hips into the strike as opposed to bouncing up on the balls of my feet.

Young battered me again. He managed to knock the shinai from my hands 3 times, this was because I was pushing him away in Tsubazeriai using my arms (shinai horizontal across his do). Whenever i did this he whipped his hands down and slammed my shinai to the floor. Lesson taught and hopefully learned.

On the knuckle front... its still pretty swollen and bruised after it was hit again. I am booked in to see the doc Friday morning, but I already know what he'll say... "stop doing kendo for a month or so" :(

//edit: Doc says it doesn't look like a bad injury. However, I am bruised the area around an artery and nerve which is causing 'retrograde pain' (shooting pain up my arm). Im guessing i've irritated the Median nerve. He suggested I try and protect it more and keep icing it to reduce the swelling.

Saturday, 23 January 2010


Friday practice Vic (one of our sensei) picked up that I hesitate when people move into my cutting distance. He also said I focus too much on my opponents sword. As a result, my reaction time is slow and stuttered which opens me up to seme and feints.

In my mind I'm trying to be more considered in my cutting (i.e. no 'headless chicken' mode). Consequently, I am missing the opportunity to attack when the opponent steps into my cutting distance. I need to break from this way of thinking, even if i feel it's too soon to attack at the time.

The downer of the week is that I was caught on the right knuckle again and it's bruised up. Gutted. I've been icing it and using Voltarol gel to reduce the swelling, I will also resew extra padding on my kote for next week. I hope i've not done any long term damage.

Friday, 15 January 2010


I've had my first two practices this year after nearly a month off.... they were awful! I'm shocked by the degree of lost coordination and number of bad habits which have reappeared.

Although it has been a very frustrating week, it's been a case of regrouping and going though the basics again. Salmon and O'Sullivan Senseis noted that my back foot has started twisting out and I was stepping too high with my right foot (planting it too short). I was working on this during thursday practice to try and fix my footwork.

O'Sullivan Sensei retaught us 'floating front foot' for fumakomi. We were told to move our body weight to 55% on the back foot, enough to keep your front foot mobile. During the push with the back foot/leg/hips the front foot shouldn't be raised more than 2-3 inches above the floor if possible, the 'stomp' sound will come naturally. Other senseis have described the front foot to me as a stone skipping over water.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


This week was meant to signal a return to kendo for 2010... it turns out that the weather has had other ideas. The UK has suffered a few days of snow and surprise surprise, everything has gone pete tong. Global warming my arse.

Well, here's hoping for better news next week.