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!).