Saturday, 17 December 2011

Happy xmas!

I've managed to pick up another cough/cold (third in two months!), which ruined my chance of attending the last practice of the year. I'm a bit concerned why my immune system is shot to shit, i'm wondering if it's due to the increased stress/poor sleep i'm suffering due to uni studies? These colds seem to coincide with periods of heavy training (i.e. squad), apparently the immune system dips after intense exercise.

Looking forward to 2012 which is shaping up to be a big year. I am planning to take my sandan grading in July and I'll hopefully graduate with a degree in September.... a culmination of 5 years study (nearly as long as i've practiced kendo).

I hope everyone has a good xmas, here's to successful kendo in 2012!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Birmingham Squad Training Weekend

I missed November squad so was keen to get back into it.

Unfortunately, the day didnt start well. I was late into the dojo so my mind was switched off, combined with a drop in stamina (lack of practice) resulted in me blowing after 3 rounds of kirikaeshi. I really struggled during kihon. I did manage to sort myself out for motodachigeiko at the end though.

Goodwin sensei's aim for the day was to concentrate on engaging the back leg/foot to be ready to cut at all times, while maintaining soft arms and wrists. This should present the ability to strike for ippon even if the body is bent or out of position - However, the resultant posture MUST be perfect forKi-ken-tai-ichi and zanshin. I was pretty pleased that this was our focus as i've been working footwork for the last few weeks.

During the session we performed exercises intent on engaging our back leg, sharpening our concentration and developing seme. Including basic seme-men, seme ai-me/kote and 'fighting for centre' ai-seme men. The aim was to try and cause a reaction then capitalise. Blake sensei reiterated the fact that we need to maintain centre when engaging our opponent, spinning away or running at a tangent means we are not ready to attack again.

After kihon we had an hour of motodachigeiko . This was Mano sensei's farewell visit so we had a number of sensei from around the UK turn up (including O'Sullivan and Blake sensei). I managed jigeiko against Goodwin and Starr sensei but just missed out on Mano sensei, I was next when time was called.

The second day dealt with the shiai league. I fought in five matches with varying success:

Match 1: I was against a lad who seemed pretty inexperienced. I scored a quick men then tempted him with a kote - nuki men for the second. Felt good.

Match 2 : My opponent was much wilier and my attempted seme + men attacks proved pretty ineffective. I did notice he was straying near the shiai-jo edge, so attempted to keep him penned in to worry him and maybe grab a hansoku. Didn't work... I merely switched to pushing mode which must have looked pretty shit. Bad kendo. Finished in a draw.

Match 3: The guy knew exactly how to fight taller opponents. I telegraphed and he scored two sweet degote - no complaints.

Match 4: Managed to give as much as take against a more experienced opponent. In spite of this, I switched off near the end and she moved in and took my men. Arse. My fault.

Match 5: Lost to two degote again. Strange match, dunno what to say about that one.

Overall, not a great performance again. I tried to maintain my new footwork, my left calf and arse cheek ache so I must be doing something right. Nevertheless, I found I fell back into old habits when the pressure was on. This means much more kihon before it automatically sticks.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Bit of Progress

Not updated for a while.

I've had a horrible month with lots of things in my life kicking off at once. Combination of increased university studies (Graphic Design degree), buying/selling our house and busy time at work as eaten into kendo time. I've had to accept the need to re-prioritise which wasn't easy as I hate missing practice... still been managing at least one session a week though.

On the up side I think I've managed a major step forward. For the past 12 months something's not felt right.. I've managed to improve my waza during kihon but struggled with imposing myself during jigeiko. I've been scratching about, changing my kamae, posture and weight distribution with little success. I could never put my finger on it.

However, 3-4 weeks ago Geoff Salmon sensei observed that I break/bend my left leg and raise my heel too much when I seme forward and/or cut, this occurs before the cut and during hikitsuke (drawing up of left foot) . As a result, my fumikiri (launch from back foot) is very weak as a lot of the forward energy is taken by my bent left knee and raised heel.

I took sensei's advice and tried to keep my heel down as much as possible. I initially found it impossible to do and concentrated on it so much I was getting mullered. Yet after a few weeks something clicked during a random jigeiko. From somewhere my leg and back straightened up and I seemed to be able to launch forward quicker than before, I began to feel much more mobile moving forwards and backwards. I tried to remember how this 'epiphany' felt so I could repeat it again.

Over the last few weeks I've been attempting to work this into my every day kendo. I still fall into old habits and have to mentally check myself. Yet, I feel this has been one of the biggest leaps I've enjoyed for the last 18 months. It has been working well for men cuts but I now need to re-engineer my kote and do.

Still lots to fix but pretty pleased over all.

Finally, two of my teachers Geoff Salmon and John O'Sullivan sensei passed their respective ZNKR Kyoshi and Renshi shogo exams. Pleased for them.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Posture Problems

First day back after two weeks off with a chest infection, it hurt. It's gutting how fast you can lose cardio fitness.

Anyways, back to Mumeishi for another dressing down by the locals... my main fault of the day was my posture. Holt sensei observed that i'm leaning back too far which is slowing my reaction time. I was instructed to straighten up and place slightly more weight on my right foot than my left (but not too much), I should be ready to "pounce like a tiger" as he put it. I found it hard to break my bad habit so this will be my 'thing to fix' over the coming weeks.

In addition, he also instructed that when I cut do I should turn with zanshin before the shinai completely moves past the opponent's do (I should have turned as the shinai 'lets go' of the do). This means I will be ready to cut again if the opportunity arises. If I run through in a similar way to a men cut that opportunity will be lost.

Visited Tora on Thursday which was fun. Its the first time i've been there for a while and there were lots of new faces, they've managed to generate a good atmosphere at that club. Impressed.

Back to Nenriki on Friday and managed to practiced with Mansfield sensei (6d Kendo, 7d Iaido, 7d Jodo), who's a very generous teacher. He immediately highlighted my hesitancy due to 'thinking too much' and tried to draw me into cutting instinctively. He had his work cut out!

Sensei explained that I had to 'feel' my opponent rather than seeing -> thinking -> reacting as this makes me 'jump' to my opponent's pressure and react slowly. I understood what he was saying but damn, how the hell do you 'feel' an opponent? When he opened a target my body just seemed to freeze, I could see it but couldn't immediately attack, it was very frustrating.

By the end I managed to achieve a few 'instinctive' cuts but I don't know how the hell I achieved it.... will I be able to reproduce them again on another night?

Again this all seems to come down to self confidence and taking on a forward positive attitude.

It's the Mumeishi 3's in two weeks, I hope I can regain some sort of form for then.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Another Cold

Yes, its that time of year again. Looks like this week's training will be screwed due to a honking cold.

//edit: I'm now entering my third week of a cough I can't shift (thus no kendo).  Gonna visit the docs on Monday.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Shiai Time

Wow.. not updates the blog for a while. I'll give a summary for October so far which was mainly concerned with injury and shiai.

First of all our club held the Lidstone Kyusha Taikai for the first time in six years. Due to past UK kendo political upheavals, this event was cancelled in 2005 (the year I started kendo) which meant I never got the chance to compete in it. Fortunately, the club is now in a position to relaunch the competition and we ran our 36th event on the 8th October.

We had 39 competitors this year, mainly from the southern region although we had a few travel down from Stoke way. Club members helped with running the comp and I was taked with operating one of the scoreboards. I was surprised how much concentration was needed to avoid missing the type of point/hansoku scored.

The competition is centred around providing beginners and inexperienced shinpan with their first steps into the world of shiai. You could see the full spectrum of abilities from fresh '6 monthers' to guys that are pretty much dan grade ability (the cut off was 2 years experience max). It was enjoyable to watch and I think most people who attended benefitted in some way.

Other than a fire alarm disrupting our post competition keiko the event ran like clockwork, full credit goes to the organisational skills of Tony the club Secretary. I hope 2012 is just as successful and able to attract more competitors.

The following week was the British Open based at Mumeishi. This proved a bit of a disaster. I was drawn against a lady from Oxford dojo, who was half my height. Sh*t. I always struggle against short people.

As I prepared to enter the shiai-jo I knew I had to expect debana kote. But you guessed, I walked straight into it. Full credit to my opponent as her two kote were very sharp (she finished second in the ladies comp), she was much more skilful than me. However, I still left annoyed that I let her do what I knew would happen.

Time in British Open 2011 = 1 min 30 seconds.

On a positive note, I attended squad training up in Wolverhampton last weekend which proved more productive. We were introduced to Goodwin Sensei the new GB coach. Sadly Mano sensei is returning to Japan which is a shame, he was a great source of advice.

Goodwin sensei is an ex-squad member and spoke very passionately when he addressed the group. His approach was different from Mano sensei's which seems to mark a diversion from a holistic 'intensive training' approach, to 100% focused on improving the squad. Not to say they are discouraging people like me in attending, who are there to improve rather than gain selection to squad.

The focus of the weekend was to raise our effort, energy levels and engagement during shiai. This meant we concentrated on fast footwork and soft hands/arms. The aim is to engage with full intention and spirit in order to 'explode' at the opponent.

Sensei wasn't afraid to kick us up the backside if he didn't see 100% and the results were marked. By the end of the second day it was visible that people had raised their game and were giving all they had during shiaigeiko, the energy levels were great. I felt that I'd improved over the weekend, i hope I can replicate this intensity during club practices.

Various seniors picked me up on some key points:

* Stopping after kote-men which leaves an opportunity to be hit. I need to explode through after all cuts, either forward or backwards. * Wake up in tsubazeriai - I was caught napping with hikiwaza on quite a few occasions. * I'm reacting too much to my opponent's seme ('jumping' my shinai etc). I need to be more proactive rather than reactive.

October has also been awkward in regards to my damaged ankle. I've been wearing a brace which has helped but it still hurts if I twist and land on it in a certain way. Luckily one of the squad guys is a physio and identified the offending ligament, he taped up an area on my shin which helped relieve the pain slightly. The difficulty will be trying to replicate this taping for myself.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Great to be back

Managed my first practice for weeks last night, I was pretty rusty and conscious of my ankle..... But it felt ace to be back!

//edit: Spoke too soon.  Three practices in and it went again.  Bugger.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Oxford Shinpan Seminar

One of the grading requirements is that we attend a ref seminar once a year.  Unfortunately, there are so few courses run by the BKA that we have to grab any that appear.

Last weekend's course was run by O'Sullivan and Mano sensei assisted by senor squad members.  Sensei opted for a relaxed style of teaching, encouraging plenty of Q&A audience participation.  They focused on the topic of 'What is ippon' as opposed to the actual mechanics of reffing a shiai-jo (e.g. flag signals and commands).

We spent the next few hours learning what a ref should look for in regards to the five elements of Yūkō Datotsu, which we all know is:

  • Fullness of spirit and intention;
  • Striking a datotsu-bui (striking zone);
  • Correct striking region of own shinai;
  • Correct ha-suji; and 
  • Correct zanshin.
Sensei also suggested there was a 6th unofficial requirement of maintaining correct posture during the strike.  Basically no body contortions or spinning around after a kote cut.

We also discussed the tricky subject of 'grey zone' situations which are open to interpretation.  For example, high level oji waza which may appear weak in power can be given credit in order to encourage the use of complex techniques.  There are too many to list (not that I can remember them all).

Finally, sensei outlined different fouls and which warrant hansoku.

The afternoon session consisted of a fighting group who were refereed by a rotating shinpan group.  I was  part of the first reffing group up and found it very difficult to maintain triangulation with the Shushin (main ref), while paying full attention to the fight.  

As the fight progresses, it's very easy to find yourself 'ball watching' and miss something important.  I also found acting as Shushin quite stressful, first of all you need to make yourself heard, you have to be aware that the other shinpan are triangulating off you and you have to act decisively with quick commands.  Any delays confuses those fighting.  

This experience demonstrated to me how tough acting as a ref can be, especially for those who are relatively inexperienced and are 'press ganged' during a competition.  It's very easy for a competitor to slate a dodgy decision but it's a bloody hard job!

Due to my bad ankle I didn't fight during the seminar and I'm going to give it another week of rest.  However, during my time off i've managed to sell my house and have an offer accepted on a new one, at least this dead time hasn't been wasted. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Admitting Defeat

It looks like i'll have to skip training for a few weeks to give my knackered ankle a proper rest. I visited Mumeishi yesterday in the hope that it will hold up, but I pulled it again with about 20 mins of the session left.

I did manage jigeiko with Holt and Salmon sensei. Both commented that I need to work on pressure and creation of an opportunity. Holt sensei in particular highlighted the need to develop an ability to keep centre, build pressure, concentration then make an opportunity though technique (e.g. harai) in order to pass Sandan. I'm merely performing 'brainless kendo' at the moment.

All stuff to think about during my recovery and plenty of gym work ahead.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Lack of training opportunities mixed with a number of injuries have resulted in a frustrating last few weeks. First of all I damaged the second toe on my left foot after crashing into a dojo mate, this requires taping up for every practice. In addition, a twisted my left ankle is also plaguing my training, this brought Thursday practice to a premature end as I couldn't launch from my back foot. I also missed our first Friday back at my home dojo. My missus hates it when I miss practice as I end up sulking on the sofa!

I've also had a change in work circumstances which means I cant leave early to travel into London for Tuesday practice. Consequently, I have started to visit Mumeishi dojo as its only 30 mins drive away.

All I can say is I feel like a beginner again. Holt sensei (7DR) has pulled me up on my zanshin and ki-ai into seme. He spotted that I ki-ai then let my intensity/concentration drop before attempting to engage the opponent. To try and fix this, he had me shouting like a madman for 4-5 seconds then maintaining contact before he opened a target, it did make me feel sharper but I was out of breath very quickly. Holt sensei suggested I need investigate the use of my diaphragm to help breathing. Mumeishi is a high level intense practice, I even get beaten up by their ikkyus.

edit: i found this article on breathing that could prove useful  Here and Here

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Liverpool Squad Training Weekend

Squad training again, this time it was held in Liverpool. I didn't really fancy the drive up there but I was able to break the journey by staying with my folks in the midlands on Friday night, this left only a two hour trip in the morning.

Turn out was good and it was nice to see lots of new faces. After everyone was changed and ready, Mano sensei gathered us around and explained the theme of the weekend - Tame.

As you can see from my blog i've spent a bit of time collecting online sources which focus on seme and tame (they are directly related with each other). However, reading up and putting into practice are different beasts.

Sensei instructed us on entering our Issoku ittō-no-maai and applying pressure to the opponent in order to unbalance or urge them into striking for oji waza. This is done though a combination of seme and tame.

Now i'm still learning these concepts and my success is still very haphazard. Therefore, i'll leave the detailed theory to the 6th-7th dans (see links on right hand side of page). What Mano sensei made clear though is tame isn't simply waiting, its an attacking mind and intention without physically rushing in. This is where kendo's battle of will and minds emerges.

Mano sensei outlined these points, apologies if I've forgotten anything:

  • Identify your own Issoku ittō-no-maai as this is where you will apply pressure.
  • Seme can include a step in, once in Issoku ittō-no-maai further seme can manifest as a movement of the shinai or bending of the right knee (see here). There were others which I can't recall.
  • Remain stationary but project intention/spirit with posture, kamae and body language - we've all been done by a sensei this way i'm sure.
  • Tame isnt simply waiting for an opportunity - its creating an opportunity without resorting to rushing in.

Overall, this is a very high level concept which I'm still battling with - I tend to move in too close without applying adequate pressure. I think once someone has cracked seme/tame they are on the road to an advanced level of kendo.

Over the two days I experienced enjoyable jigeiko with quite a few new people. My only shiai practice match finished in a draw (no points). I was matched with a squad member specialising in jodan, I think I did ok but I was far too defensive which spoiled the fight. I'm still unable to score ippon :(

On the injury front, I managed to complete an impressive toe-in-hakama-arse-over-tit technique which left me sprawled across the dojo floor. Spent the last few days hobbling about with a sore right big toe.

I also caught a nice tsuki in the throat due to my rubbish tsuki-dare - check out the kensen asterisk!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

More Homeless Kendo

Its been a few weeks since my layoff with a heavy cold and kendo has been very sparse during this time. My main club and most backups are all closed for the summer so its been a case of hunting down suitable sessions outside my usual Thursday practice. Kendo in London seems particularly quiet this summer.

First of all I visited UCL at their temporary dojo. This is located in the university gym in Bloomsbury which has good facilities and a nice floor (with the exception of a few holes). However, the room was uberhot - combined with UCLs intense kihon and a drop in my fitness, I was left shaking by the end. That was the hardest practice i've had for a loooong time, it hurt.

The practice was enjoyable nonetheless and the only downer was a big cut on the ball of my left foot when slid into one of the holes.

I also visited Wakaba which had a good turnout of dojomates. During the motodachi-geiko section of the session I asked one of their seniors (Junji) if he could help my cutting from distance. He instructed that I need to move forward from the hips, maintaining my kensen in a central position - as if I was going to attack tsuki. I should then finish the cut with a small men.

Last night I drove over to Mumeishi after work for their Tuesday training. I was a little nervous as this was the first time I visited during the week, the practice was well attended with 10-12 people including two nanadans.

Practice turned out to be a night of 'home truths'. Training with new people meant they were able to look at me with fresh eyes, they spotted many of my old habits which I thought I'd resolved and my regular dojo-mates have become used to. These include:

  • Inability to build up ki during Issoku ittō-no-maai which resulted in no 'mind contact' and pointless attacks. 
  • Crap Zanshin. 
  • Not launching fast/strong enough from back foot/leg - I suspect my weight balance isn't correct. 
  • Leaning forward from the shoulders when cutting from distance.

I honestly thought I was getting on top of these issues but it seems I still have a way to go. I feel a little disappointed as its the same old problems of posture and distance AGAIN.

On a more cheerful note. I received my new men and kote care of Miyako Kendogu. I tested the kote at Mumeishi which require a bit of wearing in, i'll try the new men this weekend -ahh, the joys of breaking in new armour!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Another cold, kill me.

No kendo tonight.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Putting into Practice

I recently missed a week of practice after the Chiba sensei seminar due to a boozy stag do in Albufeira (Portugal). I was fearful that missed training combined with excessive drinking would kill off my kendo fitness but I managed some satisfying sessions on my return.

My focus was to try and put into practice some of the techniques taught by Chiba sensei, mainly relaxing the body. I made a concerted effort to loosen the hands and arms and not choke the hell out of my shinai when attempting te-no-uchi, it's early days but I felt like i've made an improvement. During kihon I managed to remain relaxed and relatively energised compared to a few dojo mates who were tiring due to increased arm/shoulder power. I also received some encouragement from seniors during jigeiko, I think improved relaxation allowed me to concentrate on the opponent rather than fight my own body to perform techniques.

In conjunction with this I am also reading 'The Inner Game of Tennis' by Timothy Gallwey which a dojo mate recommended I buy. You may wonder what tennis has to do with kendo? I did... however, the premise of this book is to define a mental approach to training which can be applied to any sport. You can probably tell from my posts that I suffer a degree of self doubt and over analysis of my kendo (maybe this blog is a product of it? Oops).

'The Inner Game' splits a person's personality into "Self 1" and "Self 2". Self 1 is the term given to the conscious ego-mind which tries to control and dictate Self 2. Self 2 is your subconscious ability, muscle memory, waza 'toolbox' and your fighting personality. In other words, Self 1 is the "teller" and Self 2 the "doer".

You can see Self 1 and 2 in action when you observe people cursing themselves after a wayward cut (or tennis forehand, poor shot on goal in football or pulled golf swing for that matter). This is the conscious ego-mind Self 1 chastising the 'doer' Self 2. This internal conflict means that Self 1 tries to take over the action, resulting in tightened muscles, clenched teeth and increased spent effort in trying to mentally drive a certain technique though (a.k.a 'trying too hard'!). We've all done it, mentally instructing yourself to "cut faster", "draw up left foot quicker" or "straighten back" etc... usually resulting in another part of your cut going wonky.

It seems more effort does not necessarily mean better results.

The aim of the book is to quieten Self 1 and trust the internal ability of Self 2, thus reducing conflict in the mind and aiding relaxation. One method Gallwey suggests is to try and remove self judgment from practice (e.g. "my kote is shit" or "my hiki waza is ace"). By removing emotive 'good' and 'bad' judgements means reviewing performance is based purely on facts (e.g. "my kote needs to be performed from greater distance to improve success"). This then leads to a clear plan of action for kihon. There's much more to this concept which is explained in the book.

I'm only a 3rd of the way though the guide so far but it's like it was written for me. It's very insightful. I feel it has helped me start to clear my 'ego-mind' during jigeiko which in turn has improved concentration. I'm no way there yet, but its definitely boosted my enjoyment during the past week. The trick is to retain this methodology and not fall back to my old ways.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Chiba Sensei Seminar 2011

Just enjoyed four interesting days of kendo.

Last week Chiba sensei made his annual trip over to the UK for a weekend seminar. However, I was lucky enough to attend two additional practices on Thursday and Friday before the ‘main event’. This was because Chiba sensei, accompanied by Salmon sensei, visited my regular Thursday and Friday club night.

This meant I was lucky enough to experience two jigeiko with Chiba sensei in as many days. As a result, I was happy that if I missed out on any further opportunities over the weekend (which ended up being the case).

Right, onto the seminar….

The main themes of the day was Te-no-uchi and Seme.


Chiba sensei main focus (as with previous years) was the use of correct Te-no-uchi in order to achieve a correct cut and Ki-Ken-Tai-Ichi (KKTI). This was our first lesson on day one.

Firstly Chiba sensei instructed how to hold the shinai correctly with the base of the tsuka in the heel of the palm with it running diagonally across to the index finger. The tsuka is held lightly with the little fingers while the right hand grips very loosely, also with the little fingers.

With a light grip the cut is performed with a snap from the wrists, at no point did he strain his arm muscles or elbows to create Te-no-uchi. He simply tweaked his little fingers, I could hardly see any movement in his right hand while doing this.

Chiba sensei’s cut was made though the target. So to stike men he cut to the chin, kote was though the wrist (but with less power). Performing this with a relaxed grip and Te-no-uchi created a very quick cut with a powerful *pop*. Sensei explained that cutting with an ‘axe grip’ with too much arm power, the shinai will finish at the wrong angle (point too high).

This lead onto KKTI training with large cutting with correct Te-no-uchi. We were instructed to raise the shini slowly before stepping forward, then using hips/left foot push, increase the speed of cut down using the wrists. This should be performed fluently without a pause (timing of one), with fumikomi, cut and kiai all landing at the same time.

During all our drills, sensei emphasised the need to maintain a soft grip in kamae.

Sensei also has us practicing continuous do cuts without moving our feet (image a static do kirikaeshi). I’ve always been taught to cut do at a 45 degree angle down, yet Chiba sensei advocates an almost horizontal cut. I have to admit I had difficulty applying this alternative method.

From what I could see, this style od do involves moving the left hand up and down for each cut while the right hand moves over either to it’s left or right. It’s imperative that the left hand remains centralised and moves above the forehead for each cut. This results in a quick wrist based do stike that reduces the heave created by a shoulder based cut and possesses an advantage when performing techniques like men kaeshi do.

Salmon sensei better explains HERE.


Chiba senesi outlined the fundamentals of seme. He explained it was a combination of distance (different heights and techniques = different distances) and forcing your opponent to react.

There was a lot to take in on this subject so my recall is a bit patchy, I might be able to fill in the blanks when I get to see some video footage.

Sensei split the use of seme in shikake and oji waza.

Shikake waza

We were urged to step in and harai to open up the kote or kote-men, this involved using a sharp deflection to the right using the wrist, opening up a target.

We were also instructed to use a slower push to the left hand side of an opponent’s kensen. This encourages the opponent to push back which leaves his kote open if you lift your sword slightly – letting his kensen jerk right.

Sensei demonstrated additional techniques to make your opponent react. This included stepping in and dropping your kensen below an opponents shinai, this ‘should’ make then drop their point opening up their men. Another example involved stepping in and riding your shinai over the top of your opponents (pointing to their right kote), allowing a quick men cut (osae waza I think).

The final method he demonstrated is to seme in and use a high thrust (towards their right eye I think). This makes them lift up/across, instantly opening up their kote or do.

Oji Waza

We progressed onto oji waza after our initial shikake waza drills. For this training we were instructed to seme the motodachi who then performed a pre arranged men or kote cut.

We were shown how to perform men kaeshi do/suriage men (omote & ura)/ nuki do and kote suriage men/kaeshi men/nuki men.

I have practiced all these before, but following Chiba sensei’s instruction I realised the reason why many of my techniques do not work is because my hands/arms are not relaxed when deflecting the opponent’s shinai then cutting.

The biggest ‘lightbulb’ moment was with men kaeshi do. I tend to cut do too close using big movements, meaning I hit the front of the do while facing away from my target. During the drills Chiba sensei demonstrated to me how to ‘catch’ then quickly rotate the wrists to cut using very little arm movement. This increases cutting speed thus creating distance. I’m in no way proficient at this, but it’s a marked improvement in what I have been doing.

Regarding suriage men, again this needs to be performed with relaxed arms and good Te-no-uchi. An important point demonstrated by sensei is to rotate the hands anti-clockwise when deflecting a kote attack from the omote (left hand side). This means at the point of deflection the left hand is almost underneath the right arm, the kensen should still in the centre and the ‘blade’ of the shinai facing outwards… this is performed as a thrust forward and completed with a wristy snap on the opponent’s men.

I landed a few half decent cuts when deflecting men suriage men from the omote (although I was a bit too close). However, I was terrible from the ura – couldn’t achieve any timing. I need to work on this one.

By the end of the two days and 12 hours in the dojo my body was broken, the soles of my feet were in ribbons, ha! The challenge now is trying to remember sensei’s techniques and apply them during normal practice.

The guys at Imperial Kendo Club and Katsuya sensei have kindly uploaded short vids of Chiba sensei's teaching HERE (all 58 of them!).

Monday, 27 June 2011

London Cup 2011

Due to a wedding reception and lots of booze I was only able to attend the team competition on Saturday.  Sunday was a write off with a horrible hang over, i'm glad I didn't sign up for both days.

This year I was fighting senpo for our 'B' team and was the first time I've had the responsibility of setting the pace by fighting first.  I was hoping to put in a good show to try and settle a couple of team members nerves who'd never fought in a competition before.

Well, that was my plan.

Our first opponents in the pool stage was 'International Men'.  This team comprised of a mix of Swedish and Greek (I think) fighters.  They had already fought and beat our second opponents (UCL A) before we lined up in front of them.

I wasn't feeling that nervous when I entered the shiai jo.  However, on the shout of 'HAJIME!' all I can say was I froze... I felt like a rabbit in the headlights and not in control at all.  The guy I was fighting was very nippy and attacked at speed, I seemed to be second best the cut every time.  I could suggest that he was already warmed up from his first fight but he was simply much better then me.  I was finished off before the bell with two men cuts.  The rest of the team tumbled to a whitewash with the exception of Oli (our Taisho) who managed a draw.

I was very disappointed with myself and felt I'd let the team down.  Saying that, 'International Men' ended up taking third place so we were fighting experienced players.

Our second match against UCL A was straight up after.  I was determined to give it a better go so tried to increase my kiai and aggression.  I cant really remember much of the match but I recall chasing the guy around the shiai jo every time he did the old 'cut and run away' thing, it must have looked amusing from the sidelines.  I managed ippon first, I think we both went for men but I snuck my cut in first... unfortunately, he took a point back with a men after I performed a dodgy kote.  Drat.

The rest of the team gave it the best but we defeated in the end with three losses and two draws.  Unlucky chaps.

It was nice to see our team members gain experience in the competitive side of kendo and for the first time I kind of enjoyed the fight.  I didn't feel the terror of previous years, I just need to start winning some matches.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Cardiff squad training weekend

First week back after my holiday and it was hard. Thought i'd try and burn though my dip in fitness so attended the usual three training sessions during the week, with two days squad in Cardiff at the weekend.

This was the first time i've attended squad outside the southeast area so it required a night in a hotel on Saturday. We all had an evening meal together which allowed me to meet and get to know kendoka from other parts of the UK.

The theme of the weekend was kakarigeiko. Mano sensei explained that the ability to strike an open target automatically is helped by practicing kakarigeiko with full spirit, this can make all the difference during competition as it improves awareness, continuous attacking skills and fitness.

We also had practice shiai matches. I only fought once and lost to a lad 1-0 with a quick kote-men..... i'm still having trouble scoring in competition situations. However, speaking to Mano and Starr sensei afterward they explained that my main problem is poor kiai. A senior grade told me that I cut a certain ippon with good ki ken tai ichi and distance, but a feeble kiai let me down.

This made me wonder and I self analysed my kiai during my next jigeiko. The penny dropped.... I found that when I *think* I've scored ippon I kiai properly, but if I'm interrupted or feel the cut didn't connect then my kiai is weak. The problem is I'm to pessimistic when judging my success so there's always a chance I will produce a feeble kiai when i've actually scored. Mano sensei instructed that I should kiai loudly for every attack, successful or not. This will help score ippon, improve my spirit and could even persuade a shinpan to score a cut if they are 50/50 about its success during competition.

Mano sensei also warned me about my use of harai waza.  I'm not using sharp movements which leaves my kensen off centre, this leaves my kote wide open for my opponent.

Overall, I found training was great. Mano sensei kept us at a high tempo throughout both days, managing to avoid us burning out too early. I practiced with some new people and was pretty happy with my performance over the two days. It was an enjoyable weekend.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Kendo Expedition

I’ve not updated my blog for a while because I've been away for nearly three weeks on a belated honeymoon.

We visited various cities on in the north east area including New York City and Chicago. Luckily my missus was happy for me to take my gear and arrange a few practices with US dojos! I contacted Ken Zen in NYC and Chicago Kendo Club who were very welcoming and lent a Do and Shinai to use.

First up was Ken Zen two days after landing in the US. I was a bit nervous visiting a foreign dojo for the first time and was still feeling the effects of jet lag (Practice was like stating at 1am in the UK). However, I introduced myself to Ebihara sensei (7DK) and other members of the club and my nerves started to settle a little.

I also managed a look around their dojo. They own the building so have managed to create a permanent shrine area with taiko drum etc and installed a bespoke spung floor. I’d love to see something similar in London.

The lesson itself was mainly concerned with Kendo kata. Ebihara sensei emphasised that all shinai kendo originates from the techniques developed in kata, this was demonstrated by two seniors who displayed 1-7 forms at a very high standard. Ebihara sensei explained the shinai can be used in the same way as a bokuto to ride an opponents attack and return it, the same as the tsuki-counter tsuki in sanbonme, he used the phrase ‘Sen no Sen’. We practiced this in full armour.

The final 20 minutes of the session was jigeiko. I fought a number of their seniors who pretty much wiped the floor with me, they were so quick. My practice with Ebihara sensei went the way as most of my fights with high grades, I tried various things but pretty much hit a brick wall haha.

I found the general standard very high at the club. They were very straight and fast, they did not sacrifice their attractive form/posture to achieve speed. I’d love to be able to do the same.

Main points and advice Ebihara sensei gave to me:

- When moving from the hips, imagine someone is pushing you from the small of your back. - Keep elbows in during chudan. - My hands are finishing to high when cutting men (too horizontal), meaning I’m not cutting the target area above the forehead correctly. I need finish with my hands lower – nearer my chest.

The overall felling I took from the evening was I need to improve my kata (I felt a bit embarrassed of my standard on the night) and integrate it into my shinai kendo.

I felt a bit more relaxed about my second practice as I’d broken my duck in NYC and I wasn’t jet lagged.

CKC is based in a church so wasn’t as salubrious as Ken Zen. However, the floor was sprung and the hall spacious.

To my understanding the club doesn’t have a traditional club ‘sensei’ as such, at 90 years old their founding member Matsumoto sensei moved to Detroit last year. So the reigns have been taken up by his students who are a mixture of 4 th and 5 th dan sensei, Miyamoto sensei ran the class on the night (I can’t remember if she is 4 th or 5 th dan).

Practice started with kata and progressed to kihon (men, kote, do… you know the drill).

We had a bit longer for jigeiko here and firstly practiced against a few of their ‘junior’ members… I fought against one young lad who kicked my arse. He was so fast and positive that I couldn’t deal with him!

I queued up for Miyamoto sensei and tried my best against her. Again, her timing and speed was excellent and took degote on a number of occasions leaving me cutting fresh air. I think I gave her a fight but the difference in class was obvious.

After practice Miyamoto sensei gave me a few pointers:

- Not utilising my distance (yup.. heard that before!) - Not powering though after a cut. She said I’d caught her with a kote-men but messed it up by not running though with zanshin.

A number of things impressed me about CKC. Their level of spirit an kiai was great and the quality of beginners was noticeable.

Beginners are not allowed into full bogu until deemed ready, a few of the guys there had practiced for a year and still not worn men (they were wearing kote and do). I noticed the effectiveness of this style of training during kihon, the quality of beginners cuts were very good for their level of experience comparable to the UK. It still begs the question that wearing full armour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, finding this out after 12+ months of training can be a waste of everyone’s time. I suppose there’s pros and cons with all methods of training.

After practice I joined them for a few beers at a local bar and had a good chinwag. They are a great bunch. They kindly gave me a club tenagui as a present.

My aim now is to work off the extra weight I’ve gained in the US!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Tough Night at Tora

Paid a visit to Tora kendo club this week... phew, it was a tough one.

A combination of reduced practice (holidays), warmest day of the year and the athletic kihon blew me out.

Its times when I visit Tora and UCL when I realise I need to improve my kendo fitness, they are able to handle extended kirikaeshi drills and kihon with enough energy for 15 mins of jigeiko at the end.

By this time I was a gonner with arms/ legs like lead.

I did gain something positive out of it though. For some reason my kirikaeshi has gone to ratshit over the last 6 months, my left hand is all over the place while my right remains centralised.

One of the seniors at Tora suggested my sayumen angle is too flat (coming in sideways) and so I should angle it up. This immediately improved my cuts. Now I know what to sort out I can work on cutting properly again.

I've also ordered a new men from Miyako Kendogu in Japan as my existing one is getting a bit manky. I have to wait a few months for it to be fabricated and sent over.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Portsmouth Visit

Due to the Easter break we arranged a club visit to Portsmouth Kendo Club.

About 10 of us made the trip down to spend three hours of Ono Ha Itto Ryu and kendo practice.  The guys at Portsmouth have taken an interest in Itto Ryu and take every opportunity to train with Blake and Harris senseis, this was no exception.

A few snapshots of Harris sensei's ad-hoc seminar.

The day ended with an hour of jigeiko and it was good to mix it up with a few new faces.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Easter Hates Kendo

It's easter holiday season again which means school closures and disruption to regular kendo :(

My regular place was shut so I planned a visit Tora kendo club. However, first capital connect had other ideas (surprise, surprise) and cancelled my train. Not straight away mind, they let me wait 30 mins on the platform so we could watch the late train wiz past without stopping to make up time – no announcement, nothing (F****** ****s!). I hate that train company.

I have been working on a number of things over the last few weeks with varying degrees of success. Some resulted from another pasting I received from Young (as usual), who explained that I rely too much on Hiki waza because my Shikake waza and attacking presence is weak.

I have to admit my faith in my men attacks is at a low, I can never seem to get though. As a result, I’m using oij waza more to try and compensate for the poor success rate. I suppose I should keep plugging away and not get caught up with ‘must win’ attitude.

On a plus point he did say my footwork is improving, but I still need to increase my distance.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the net to try and get an idea on how to improve my Shikake techniques.

One vid interested me in particular, I’m wondering if this will help me attack from distance. HERE.

I was also given a few more tips from Katsuya sensei. These included:
  • Attack/seme by bending both knees so it looks like I’m moving forward. Salmon sensei also demonstrated this technique to me a few weeks ago. I have since tried this a few times in jigeiko and I cant quite get it to work. Will persevere.
  • Don’t stand there doing pointless tapping and fiddling with the shinai. These moves must serve a purpose otherwise keep kensen straight.
  • I explained that I have difficulty fighting rank beginners and end up getting tangled up. Katsuya suggested I use straight, big waza with follow though and zanshin. This can help create an opportunity to change target if the opportunity arises which means I can learn something new.
  • I should open out chest with my shoulders back in kamae. Not only does this improve posture and appearance, it also means the shoulders can snap forward slightly with the cut and increase its effectiveness. If the shoulders are already rolled forward in chudan then the have nowhere else to go while conducting a cut.
Blake sensei has also been bashing into our heads that we should sustain our attacks until be mentally beat our opponent. He doesn’t mean unleash in a torrent of kakarigeiko cuts, but maintain absolute pressure. E.g. kote, men…. Hiki men without procrastinating, then zanshin and ready to immediately beat the opponent if they show an opening/ signs of weakness.

He repeats the phrase “Beat the man, not the equipment”. Words which I feel takes kendo from a mechanical process to understanding how to dominate the opponent.

Another phrase I heard last week made me chuckle. This was ‘Statue of Liberty’. This was coined by a dojo mate to describe an opponent who rigidly stands in chudan and allows you to run onto his sword point.

‘Statue’ describes their pose and ‘liberty’ describes taking liberties in thinking you’re going to simply run onto their kensen. Heh, I like it.

Edit//: This is ace! HERE

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai Seminar 2011

This was originally Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai’s annual Ozawa Sensei seminar. However, due to the circumstances in Japan he had to cancel his visit. In his absence Paul Budden sensei (7DR) took his place.

The theme of the two day seminar was ‘The role of the motodachi’, and the aim was to highlight the importance of this task to help improve shidachi’s kihon.

Turnout was pretty good considering the cancellation, I’d guess about 40 people. These were mainly from the midlands, with a sprinkling of northern and southern dojos.

Day 1
The first day was concerned with outlining motodachi’s role. Budden sensei explained what he has learned from Sumi sensei on this subject and takes the form of three key considerations (referenced here):

1) At any time was I in ‘a resting' mode, so did I spend any time without concentration?

2) Did I make the appropriate distance (Maai)?

3) Did I encourage and make Kakarite execute their skills fully? And did I also encourage them to do a little more than their usual ability?

Though a number of drills involving shikake and oji techniques, we were instructed to facilitate good kihon with out partner though adjusting maai (come to one step outside distance –toi maai) and providing encouragement.

We were constantly asked “did you maintain concentration?” throughout the day, it was very easy to ‘switch off’ when tired!

We completed lots of kirikaeshi during these drills. We practiced 1-7 kendo no kata during the second part of the day and finished with jigeiko with the seniors. This was my first practice with many of the midlands based sensei, many of which I’d not seen fight before.

I managed jigeiko against Trevor Chapman and another Kashi No Ki Kenyu Kai senior which was fun, I was impressed at the speed and timing of both their kaeshi do waza… must be a notts favourite.

Day 2
The morning session was concerned with waza basics using bokato, many of which are used in kendo no kata (e.g. kote suriage kote). This allowed us to study correct cutting without the temptation ‘whack’ using shinai.

These were conducted using suriashi footwork in order to retain a strong posture.

We then donned our armour and practiced many of these techniques with shinai, full spirit and fumikomi – ensuring the motodachi performs his/ her role as highlighted earlier.

After lunch we had a few hours of referee training in which we took it in turn to shinpan a shiai match.

I found it very difficult to concentrate on positioning/movement in relation to the head shinpan AND watching the actual match, I ended up missing an obvious ippon as I was concentrating too much on my own movement –doh.

The final part of the seminar was rotating jigeiko with fellow attendees and seniors. This allowed us to fight people we’d only performed kihon with… it was noticeable that some of us were struggling by this stage, many of our legs knackered and had stopped working!

Other than the 4 hour dive home this was an enjoyable seminar. I’ll try to travel up again in 2012, hopefully Ozawa sensei will be there next year.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Happy 45th Nenriki!

I suffered with another cold during the last few weeks.  This included an annoying cough which I was unable to shift for ages. I still attended practice but it knocked me for six every time due to my lack of energy.

This year is my home dojo’s 45th anniversary. One of the celebration events was an Ono ha itto ryu seminar run by Harris and Blake sensei. Both have studied this form of kenjitsu for decades, itto ryu is acknowledged as one of the origins of modern kendo. Due to my cold I was unable to attend the morning session.

The second part of the day was a talk by Victor Harris sensei about the history of the dojo and kendo. Harris sensei is very knowledgeable in Japanese sword art history, one of the dojo's originators, is a retired curator of Japanese Antiquities at the British Museum, completed the first English translation of the Book of Five Rings and has made numerous appearances on history channel style documentaries. His presentation was made in one of the school’s classrooms and was very interesting, a playlist of vids can be found HERE.

The final part of the day was keiko back in the dojo.  I managed 5 fights before flaking out, one was with Fuji sensei who was one of the first sensei to teach at the club during the 1960's.  Keiko with Fuji sensei was fun but must have looked a little odd, i'm guessing he is about 5"1' or 2' while i'm 6"4'! I have attached a few photos of the practice below.
Men wo tsuke

Fighting Fuji sensei

Wait for turn

Sunday, 13 March 2011


Thoughts to all those hit by the Tsunami in Japan... shocking state of affairs.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Practice with the squads

After another missed week of practice, this time due to stinking cold passed on kindly by the Mrs, I made it to Tuesday practice. The beginners we being trained separately so I gave the seniors a full session of kihon.

Lucky Young was present to take part of the class and explained maai for the kote, men and do. I have been taught this before by O'Sullivan sensei but it was good to run though it again.
  • Men - The individual's distance to be able to cut men in one step. This is usually where the tips of the shinai are just crossing each other. This of course depends on the height/reach of the two fighters.
  • Kote- The individual's distance to be able to cut Kote in one step. Because the kote is closer than the men, this means that the shinai the tips are barely crossing or separated from each other slightly. Again this of course depends on the height/reach of the two fighters, I can sometimes score a kote before the tips cross because I'm taller.
  • Do - Do is further from the other two targets so the starting distance is slightly closer than men. However, higher grades seem to be able to negate this by faking men while moving in, making me lift my arms and leaving the target wide open. This is something I'd like to learn myself.

While fighting Young during Jigeiko , he pointed out that I need to drop my hands a bit in chudan in order to generate more power in my cut. In addition, he noticed that i'm twisting my hips with the right side further forward. I need to fix this.

I was worried that my cold would have killed off my cardio. Perversely, I felt pretty sharp during this and my following practice on Thursday. I think its because I managed to shake off the downer I was having a few weeks ago!

During Thursdays practice Salmon sensei commented that he's enjoying his fights with me a little more as I'm starting to engage him with seme with fewer brainless attacks. It's still early days but this cheered me up a bit.

On Friday I drove over to Brunel University to join in with the 5 Nations Kendo comp warmup practice. This competition is designed for smaller kendo countries (i.e. not France!) to blood new squad members. It was good to see the guys putting on their new GB gi and zekken for the first time, they looked very proud. It made me wish I started kendo younger.... sadly there's little chance of me catching these guys up at my age.

The hall was filled with squads for GB, Germany, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, their team managers/sensei and us hangers on. Practice was with the senseis so the queues were long, I only managed three in the hour.

I didn't know any of the senseis so I picked at random. The first was a Finnish sensei called Salonen , as I queued I noticed how steady he was (no bobbing about), effectiveness of his seme and how explosive his cuts were. Very impressive. When it was my turn I gave it my best shot, I literally couldn't touch him! Seriously... the only time a managed a cut was with short uchikomigeiko at the end. He's the best I've ever fought against with the exception of visiting Japanese sensei. Only afterwards did I find out he'd passed 7th dan in Feb, he's a very young nanadan for a European.

Next was a Swiss sesnsi called Tsherter who's also a 7th dan. Tsherter sensei gave a few smiles as I fought him which put me a ease. He commented at the end i need to attack from a bit further out (agghhhh! I never learn).

My final fight was against a Japanese sensei who I forget the name off. We running out of time so after a short jigeiko I had a minute or so of uchikomigeiko.

I managed a few pics with my mobile phone so the quality isn't brilliant.

Long queues!

Senseis in action.

I'd like to end by saying good luck to all the GB squad today.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Crap Performance

Its been a very frustrating period since the xmas break. A mixture of work and uni studies has messed my training frequency.. and it shows.

I can't seem to do the simple things right, I feel lethargic and I'm getting annoyed with myself during keiko. To be honest I think this is my lowest point since i started training over 5 years ago.

My biggest issue at the moment (still) is distance. I am constantly told to attack from further out and that im a 'small person trapped in a tall person's body'. Therefore, I try to attack from longer maai which results in terrible posture, I tend to lunge forward and flick my left foot up behind me.

As a result, over the last few weeks I've asked a number of higher grades their opinion on the best distance for me. Generally it has been split between (or words to the effect of):
  • "Attack when opponent enters my range"; or
  • "Attack from the distance I am comfortable with".

Both Blake and O'Sullivan senseis suggested I should stick to the latter, with O'Sullivan sensei elaborating that I will be able to attack from further distance as my skill level improves.

Without the constant worry of trying to attack from extreme distance and breaking my posture, I will try to cut from the distance I'm happy with then work from there.

Kendo, makes you wonder why we do it?

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Another Ouch

Tsuba smashed on the knuckle.... ouch

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Return to Basics

I paid a visit to Wakaba this week and managed some time in motodatchigeiko with Katsuya sensei and Manny.

Both pulled me up on similar basic points regarding distance and relaxation.

Katsuya sensei:
  • Concentrate on the opponent all the time, even when passing.
  • Relax shoulders and arms. Katsuya then told me to cut shomen from to-ma and demonstrated that a relaxed posture can help with distance.
  • Move left hip first when attacking. This help reduce telegraphing and leading with upper body.
  • Katsuya said all this will take time to learn so I have to be prepared to lose. By learning to attack from distance will allow me to see and react to an opponent's intention, but this requires practice.
  • Learn to provoke opponent, make them fear you.
  • If people moving in on me first, then I'm not taking the initiative.
  • I've started to to flick with right hand.
  • I tend to retreat a lot during jigeiko. I explained that I'm trying to make distance for longer attacks, Manny suggested that I simply cut from a stationary position (rather than push forward). Simply raise my arms and cut down using required footwork means I should reach ok.
The following practice at my club I was given some a few pointers by Young:
  • I need to increase my aggression and always be ready to attack.
  • Don't take my kensen too far off centre.
  • Explode forward instantaneously, don't learn forward first (I have real trouble doing this).
I'm experiencing some real difficulty with my basic cutting. I think too much focus oji waza has taken my eye off the ball.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Video on Seme & Centre

Happy New Year to all!
Wow, another year gone... they seem to pass so quickly now.

No kendo since December due to loads of uni assignment deadlines :( Therefore, i've posted an interesting youtube clip which Katsuya Sensei of Wakaba dojo sent us on an email a few days ago.

The link if of a kids seminar in Tokyo, he also included a short description on what is being taught. It's times like this I wish I could speak some of the lingo!

Katsuya Sensei's notes:

"This is Kendo Kid's seminar by Tokyo police, Nishikawa (3 time champ), Uchimura (twice champ, wearing Men) and Asano (Tokyo police chief instructor).

Unfortunately there are no subtitles. Basically they explain 'Seme' and 'centre'.

Nishikawa (first teacher) explains that the tall guy always wins if the attack happens at the same time. But if one of them starts from far distance and steps in first, they will win in most cases.

Asano (second sensei) explains 'centre', how important it is and how it works. Basically, he is suggesting use minimum shift on a Shinai for Kote and own body position for Do."