Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Centre

Last night we began with a bunch of joguburi, which I always find a nice way of warming up and stretching out the arms especially on a colder session like last night. We then went on to exercise in different sizes of cut, starting off with joguburi style cutting of men, followed by smaller wrist snappy cuts, and then interleaved, with the point of maintaining distinction of sub-movements in the arm, while contracting them into a smaller overall cut.

We then focused on maintaining distance when the opponent moved, stepping forward and back, at random but without trying too much to catch each other out, as the point of the exercise was just getting used to the feeling of maintaining proper distance. The next logical step of course, was to put actual cutting into the exercise, so the motodachi would lead with the stepping and occasionally give up the centre (as subtly as possible was advised by the sensei), at which point the response should be a cut. This went on for awhile and was a very good way of focusing on who's got the centre without noise ratio typical of jigeiko. One thing this illustrated particularly for me was just how small an opening in the centre can actually be, and really helped me 'calibrate' my sense of scale when looking/feeling for openings. The next step of course was a very nicely restricted jigeiko free practice, essentially with both sides leading/following. It was a well pared down jigeiko, and really was a good live exercise that had built on the principles examined in the time leading up to it. In addition, despite the word jigeiko thrown in, everyone I fought seemed to keep to the actual exercise rather than just having a ruck, which isn't a common thing for free fighting.

Over the course of the night I was paying special attention to where my feet were placed and how extended my arms were. I was doing my best to keep the arms up and in a little bit more. I certainly felt they were lacking the excessive tension that I always have felt, even while wearing kote. As long as I'm not holding the shinai up too high, it should be an improvement, though I suspect its going to take some attention and tuning.  as for the feet, it was a constant battle to remember to keep the left heel right up, though it 'felt' better than previously, again its going to take practice. From last night I can already tell the key isn't to put the mind on where the feet 'are' per-se, but rather ensuring that I put them in the right place whenever going into chudan. So it can be approached as a component of properly stepping into chudan, and stepping properly while in chudan. The other thing this is bringing me to is keeping the feet the right horizontal distance apart, which I wasn't focusing on so much last night, as the objective was to bring the back foot up, so I'll have to give that some attention next practice.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Jamaican Beer

Thursday we went straight into jigeiko. Always takes one or two rounds of it to get warmed up and fluid. Have to think about some ways to mitigate that for shiai, when that first fight counts. Also for the first few rounds we started the jigeiko with kirikaeshi. Still lots of work to do, lots of work.

So I spent these fights 'trying to attack more'. I'm not sure how well it worked out, I can only remember getting hit pretty often, while my brain was focused on trying not to do a load of the usual stuff I do in an attempt to have a clean slate to just attack more without thinking too much about it. Had a conversation afterwards in the pub and form the result I'm still missing crap loads of opportunities. Apparently I was making them but failing to do anything with them. Unfortunately I wasn't consciously seeing them so I need to focus my attention on improving my sense of opportunity. Another note from the pub conversation worth mentioning is that the centre goes pretty far beyond geometry. That's all I'm going to say for now as that's got to roll around in the head for a little while.

Heh, got some good advice on the chudan from a few different sources. One was a talk afterwards regarding my arms and that essentially they're too straight and extended and should be brought up and a little more 'elbows bent'. Will definitely try this out next Thursday. In the beginning of the lesson (and the last few practices as well) my left calf has felt particularly tight and I've had no idea why. During a round of jigeiko I was told my feet are far too far apart (specifically my left foot too far back), which is something I hadn't realised. Lately I've been trying to work out what 'feels' best for foot placement. To make a long story short after this advice apparently my feet slid back apart and I got a good crack from the sensei's shinai as a reminder on the left calf. Better that though then months/years of blisters and/or screwed calf muscles. Needless to say for the rest of the evening I focused on keeping the feet in the right place, which turned out to be harder than I thought, as the foot placement seems to be dug into muscle memory pretty good.

My left calf.

We also had a little bit of light oji-waza kihon, and during this I focused on keeping the shinain in the centre line, and forward, trying my best to cut down on pulling the shinai back on things like suriage-men and kaeshi-do. It felt like it worked, though it's of course opened up the ol' chestnut of timing and distance, so thats the next step!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Handy Work

On tuesday the first thing we did was rolling up our right sleeves for the purposes of gauging correct right arm positioning. We spent the first half of the practice without men/kote on. This practice was much like the other night, but our focus was almost entirely on handwork, ensuring the thumbs were in the correct forward position.

Over the course of the evening I developed a very light tennis elbow that I'm trying to figure out. Obviously its from excessive tension in chudan and/or cutting, but my arms dont feel like they could be any less tense and still maintain correct chudan. Perhaps the way so solve this is some outside view on wether the chudan is indeed correct, either by camera, mirror, or asking someone. if it's cutting then I think it probably stems from overextending, and reduces back to maintaining correct cutting distance and managing that distance with the arms and not the legs. To be honest I expect to gain improvements from both of the above measures so will probably take both steps.

Again like before the practice of the evening was 'reverse engineering' from the final step of the cut back down to the cut itself, anf finally the pre-cut creation of the opportunity. In the other nights case we practiced this taking of the centre line by stepping off-angle (very very slghtly) and inwards.

Things to improve from the evening are better distinction between lifting with the shoulders and snapping down with the wrists/hands, and making distance with feet instead of hands, allowing a correct cutting shape in the end rather than a compromised over-extended posture.

Friday, 29 January 2010

More Kirikaeshi work...

We started last night with queuing kirikaeshi practice. I decided to take this opportunity to slow it down and deconstruct it a bit, trying to focus on each cut being a cut, rather than them bleeding together. It was pointed out that my head faces far too upward an angle during the exercise, which I hadn't noticed but was able to keep in control with a bit of attention. I also tried to use arm-work building on Tuesdays practice, though I still have a long way to go. Tonight felt better than other nights, but so far 'feeling better' isn't very indicative of real progress. It was also brought to my attention that (in my distinction between cuts) I had let my kiai become a series of separated shouts/breaths. Once that was sorted it became an interesting exercise with a continuous shout while trying to keep the different cuts from bleeding into each other. Practice practice practice.

The lion's share of the night was spent in jigeiko. The night again like the previous rounds felt middle of the road. Nothing too bad but nothing great. I'm finding the occasional tendency to try and 'force' a second cut into what isn't really an opportunity, but sort of resembles one. I'm finding I'm also doing this almost entirely by doing odd right hand things, so I'll have to pay attention to this and with attention this should dissipate with sufficient practice. I was told I wasn't attacking enough, and that oji waza should be saved for later years (when older). I was told 'not to wait' awhile ago so it appears to be an issue worth sorting out.

What's going on in my head when I'm not attacking is that I'm looking for opportunities and/or attempting to create them. Now people feeding back that I should be attacking more tells me 3 things:

- I'm not seeing/recognising opportunities that are there.

- I'm not creating them properly

- I need to act more on the fleeting ones that I do see.

The best way I can see through this is is to ignore everything and just attack more. Over time and practice after attacking more I should be able to develop a decent intuition about opportunities in front of me anyway by virtue of trial and error over time. It will take a bit of ego management not to worry about barreling in and getting hit, just remembering its trial and error for sussing out opportunities and not a match should be enough.

Kept an eye on that sliding right hand issue, and managed to keep it from happening, though it still did a few times, so will have to continue the attention to it. On top of that is going to have to be some revision of tenouchi, and building a better distinction (in a body conscious/muscle memory sense) between the snap of the right wrist and its evil cousin 'more right arm'.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Some nice coverage of our kangeiko and winter taikai at our dojo's blog.

Smaller sharper cuts

Last night was a very technical lesson. The main focus of the evening was producing smaller sharper cuts, while retaining proper technique.

The way we did this was de-constructing the cut into two larger portions, beginning with the end of the cut. We began with our shinai on the opponent's men, and in rotating practice just did the last wrist tap of the cut, from the position of a correctly completed cut. This felt quite good, though it felt a bit awkward what with being separated from the normal beginning of the cut. It certainly helped cement the finishing position of a cut.

The second part of this exercise was focusing on the raising of the shinai, and how minimalistic it really should be. Specifically the focus was on how it should be done almost entirely with the shoulders, then followed by the elbowy-wristy downswing. This was accomplished by again starting at the connecting point of the cut, taking a step back, and then returning to chudan. Special attention was given to splitting the two actions. I liked this because it maintained a good distinction between the components of the cut, without "zooming in" by making it very large.

Our sensei also gave us good instruction regarding keeping the tension in the left leg, and about maintaining intensity while staying relaxed, specifically by taking your mental and physical tension and pushing it down into the lower torso and left leg, so that it doesn't interfere with the arms which need to remain fluid.

We then did a small exercise in debana timing, which was a sort of culmination of the previous exercises. We did debana men and debana kote, using the same deconstruction as before but in 'realtime' beginning from a 'live' chudan.

Afterwards I was told by a senior kendoka that I'm letting my right hand slip down the tsukagawa, which is giving my cuts an 'artificial' snappiness. I was a bit disappointed as I was quite happy with how fluid and left handed my cuts were feeling, but if its wrong its wrong, so on Thursday I'll have to pay extra attention to my right hand and make sure it's also contributing to the snappiness of my cuts. It may take awhile to work out as it wasn't that conscious, but its certainly doable and shouldn't pose an overly large problem. The advice to fix it was to keep the right wrist flexible and moving rather than keeping it locked and sliding. I also think that the recent theme our sensei's been talking about lately about avoiding overextension of the cuts will help. The sliding shouldn't happen tooo badly if I'm not outreaching my right hand with my left.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


[Insert cliched apology for stretch between posts here]

So a few things have happened since the last post.

first there was Hizen's Kangeiko, which was just right for getting back on track after all the holidays. It certainly felt like it was needed! During this time was all the huge snowfall in and around london, so the week was an exercise in logistical perseverance alongside the actual kendo practice. Overall it was a great way to get back up to speed, and was a good challenge. Managed to make all days this year, which always feels nice.

Then there was the Hizen winter taikai. It was my first taikai I've fought in since returning, and it was nice to get in the shiaijo again. I lost in encho to a hiki-men, to they kendoka who then took 2nd place in the tournament. It's always nice to win, but I'm happy that it was a good, hard fought match, and will take the experience with me.

Ok, back to the point of this blog after a brief catch up, day to day notes.

Last lesson on thursday was entirely motodachi queuing practice (with some jigeiko in the end). we started off with some kirikaeshi, which for me still feels like a dyslexic octopus having a siezure would be better at. I got some on the spot advice regarding the cut, lots about using the left arm (though I'm not applying any pressure with my right and was practically doing the practice left handed, whatever I'm doing must look like I'm using too much right arm force, so I'll need to sort that.) I also got a more audible explanation in the pub later about the use of the wrist and the ;eft hand in general. Specifically the axis of the rotation of the shinai is too far from the end of the handle, and it thus looks weak, so the advice was to work on that and also to relax more (this is something that people have mentioned to me for years, though hopefully my new perspective and ability to at least recognise what 'relaxed' feels like).

In addition we also did some uchikomi geiko, and in it I got some very good advice about posture and focus, which felt very useful during the rest of the lesson, and I can remember vividly what the feeling was like so should be able to hang on to it in subsequent lessons.

Something weird was going on in my left leg, the left calf was feeling very tight and sore near the end, so I think I need to pay attention to keeping it straight and watching the height of the heel. we'll see.

We finished up the night with some jigeiko, which felt well enough. was a very middle of the road quality it felt like, not bad but not great either. This I believe should improve with consistent practice and attention.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Suburi Notes

It's probably a good time now to take a few notes on the holiday suburi. I wasn't able to do any my first morning here due to my luggage having been left in Houston by the airline. On the 1st morning of suburi I decided on the following setup.

50 haya
50 joguburi
100 shomen

38 kirikaeshi sets (8 cut)

100 shomen
100 sayumen
100 joguburi

100 shomen
50 joguburi
50 haya

The haya was to get warmed up right off the bat after stretching, the joguburi was to make sure everything was nice and loose, and shomen for a little 'real' cutting before going into the kirikaeshi exercise. I'm still having trouble with the armwork in kirikaeshi. I'm starting to feel a creeping doubt as to whether my mental picture of what a proper kirikaeshi feels like is actually correct. It is muddled at best. I believe I'm going to have to get some outside help in the matter as without that image to go for it'd be very easy to hammer some bad stuff into the muscles. We'll see. I do however believe I'm not actually getting any worse at doing it, in the sense that I'm still paying attention to left/right balance, and keeping the left hand on the centre line rather than floating. The problem I have is that the more flexible and loose my cutting feels, the more my left hand floats about, I'm not entirely sure how wrong that is. The difficulty I'm having is how widely varied people's kirikaeshi is, so comparing to a 'known good' kirikaeshi isn't easy. I reckon the way to solve this is to start looking for the consistencies in the higher grade's kirikaeshi, in addition to actually asking people about some of my mechanical issues with the exercise.

I've also taken along the oar bokken just for an extra challenge and for the extra visibility it gives to errors in technique (due to the weight all th elittle muscular sorenesses and skin wear get exaggerated). I've of course promptly given my hand a peppering of blisters and sore muscles that make for really good tells. There's a particularly bad one on the left palm, telling me I'm levering the handle too much in the hand, so I've got to get my left hand on the top of the handle rather than to the side of it. It's not -too- bad technique-wise, but unfortunately I have had to stop today (my 3rd session, as I took christmas morning off) at around 300 cuts to let the thing heal up. It's tended to properly so will see how it's going tomorrow, but typically it takes 2-4 days for the skin to toughen back up to a usable state. Really it depends on how much one can avoid direct wear on the exposed layer, and depends on what exercises are involved. Tomorrow may be doable without any yoko-men exercises. We'll see.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Kendo is About Your Life

We've had our last training of the year on thursday. The mechanics of the lesson were simple enough; we began with a few rounds of kirikaeshi, followed by jigeiko for the rest of the night.

As usual the kirikaeshi felt pretty wooden. I still have this thought of basic ki-ken-tai when doing the exercise but just as before the more fluid I become on this exercise the less correct my arm movements become. The footwork is ok when doing it that way, but then suffers when I focus on correct armwork. Indeed ki-ken-tai also breaks quite a bit while focusing on correct armwork as well as it becoming slow and tense. I'm still convinced that I can solve the speed and fluidity issues by putting the correct armwork into muscle memory with a large ammount of suburi. This will likely be my main focus over the course of the chistmas break suburi.

The jigeiko fights were, for the most part, of the same quality as Tuesday. Lots of too fast for thought reactions to opponents shinai movements, minimalistic as well. Had a very nice practice with Humm sensei, the first I've had since returning to Hizen. The only thing I can remember from the match was focusing on not losing my head; it's all too easy for the ohshitimfightingthebigbad7thdanoshit to take over, but fortunately it didn't. During the practicing the sensei stopped us once for feedback on all our fighting. What he said was that while we were in chudan we pawed our feet around like cats do before they sit down, and we're doing too much with our shinai's as well. He then went on to talk about all the unnecessary movement, and about how the less you do the less you give your opponent to read, specifically little 'comfort patterns' we all fall into from time to time. Later that night in the pub I was told (by a kendoka that managed to intercept my cuts A Lot) that mine is 'harai -> move'. I'm not sure if he's talking about form chudan, harai>cut, or little tap in chudan > step. Either way the message is clear. Do less in chudan. Well I'd guess more specifically, 'each action in chudan should have purpose'. Any thing else shouldn't be happening really. For the rest of the night I was much more still in chudan, as there was now a gap open to be filled with intention rather than semi conscious faffing about.

So what then, should I be doing in chudan? My first reacton to this is that I need work getting the proper decision trees into the muscle. I've noticed I test things out a lot in chudan, and I'm realising more and more that there's not much time for repeated testing like that. Opportunities are fleeting, I've got to be able to act on the ones that arise when they arise, not when I'm lucky enough for them to happen again. The other side of this is also going to be observations of people's own stance, and being able to pick up on holes, and cut through them. I'm not too sure beyond these two main themes, and they'll become a main focus during practices over the coming weeks/months.

Once we were through with the jigeiko, Humm sensei took a few minutes to talk about the larger arc of learning kendo. He talked about how his sensei a long time ago jokingly said he'd never be any good at kendo becaue he passed too many gradings. What he was talking about was that after kyu grades and 1st dan, the prrogression stops being so quick and smooth, and that it can be a pretty rude awakening for people. He talked about how after that time, things like doubt start to creep in about weather or not this is what you want to be doing etc. etc. The what he was getting at was not allowing our 'sense of expected progress' to mess with our heads. In the end what he said was "Kendo is about your life... sort yourself your life out, and your kendo will follow."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Zone

Well last night was a blast.

It was very cold (we could see our breath in the dojo), and there weren't many people. We started off doing slow kirikaeshi, and they felt like the worst ones I've ever done. For some reason I could really see my left hand moving all over the place instead of keeping on the centre line. No good. Definitely have work to do during christmas suburi. We then did it fast, and out came the same wooden armwork that's plagued my kirikaeshi for years. Ki-ken-tai was broken, and footwork was totally uncoordinated and distancing was off. Again this is something to be worked on over the course of lots of suburi. There's a certain looseness/flow that needs to be achieved to enable proper technique at the proper speed, and I get flashes of it sometimes, but need to find it properly and learn to cultivate it.

Next we did an intresting exercise in cutting men. The sensei asked us to pay close attention to not letting our left foot do any small 'preparation' steps, and to make sure we were really earnestly launching into our cut from 0. Its amazing how big something can be and yet still live outside ones consciousness. I'd always felt just like I was launching relatively properly, but when focusing on that left foot staying still, it was so hard! Good its out in the open now to be worked on! I feel a similar way about the extra left hand movement tha I get carried away with when I kirikaeshi with good ki-ken-tai.

We then went on to do the 3 hiki waza, first on their own, and then following 1 round of kirikaeshi. Now this was the same exercise at which I absolutely ravaged my left foot with, and we were all expecting this exercise to just go on like the previous lesson, and Iwas steeling myself for the slog ahead when all of a sudden, the sensei called Jigeiko.

And I spent the rest of the evening performing miraculously what felt like a grade and a half above my normal level of practice. It felt like everything just magically clicked. Shikake waza landed. Oji waza were tight, sharp and perfomed on drawn out cuts. Nidan waza were landing two in a row, I was snatching people's bait while avoiding the traps; I felt like all the motodachi of the past who were ordered not to let us do anything. I was just countering people's cuts right at their beginning moments and then cutting the hole that as opened. I can't explain any of it. It didn't feel remotely tied to any conscious effort I was making, It was just like lots of the stuff I normally try to do and fail, but instead it all just worked. I have no idea why the night was how it was and I'm not going to try to understand it now, I just need to remember how it felt, and look at what the conditions are if/when nights like that happen again.

Absolutely cracking evening! Probably the most enjoyable night of kendo I've had in many years.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

More Technical Work

On Thursday we had another more or less technical lesson, carrying on the wristy/oji waza theme of the last few weeks.

We began with few rounds of kirikaeshi, and though it felt nice and loose I was able to get a bit of feedback about it that its all very right arm, and the left isnt doing anything. That's something now to focus on when doing it later. Also that ssomething that can be worked on over christmas-break suburi.

After this was more of the same. Men-harai men, men suriage kote, and some others. We then did some of the live style cutting didstance chudan stuff that we've been doing as well. A particularly difficult one was kote-men-kaeshi-do. The reason for this was getting the distancing just right on the initial kote cut, leaving enough room for the kaeshi-do. There's a -lot- to be learned from this exercise. Int order to get this sort of thing to work properly, the initial cutting step has little room for error, and the kaeshi motion in addition has little room for error (sizewise), as well as how extended one's arms are. This is a time to remember back to before during Satoshi's exercise about just how close to your opponent you should actully be. This of course comes back down to step size, which often comes down for me to left leg energy. More stairclimbing then.

Speaking of left leg. Lately everything below the left knee has been rather tight/sore. I need to look into this. It could be a few things:

- Improper loading of the left leg in chudan.
- Simple lack of strength
- Poor angling/efficiency of the left foot.

Time to start the investigation.

Because of this in jigeiko later in the lesson I found myself again more reactive that I should be. This is also in part to a relatively foggy recognition of flaws in people's chudans, as well as a sort of hesitance to act on the testing harais/suriages that I've been doing lately. Still get the occasionally solid 2nd attack in after a foiled 1st, which is a goo sign. I can't explain them, and at this point I dont think I really need to, It's more important now to continue to train that moment to moment opportunity awareness fter the first attack. This awareness is much stronger after an attack than while I'm in chudan so I'll have to work that one out.

I'm also still getting some solid men-ippon straight on me from isoku-ito so I'll need to sort out my chudan I reckon. I'm not conscious of what giveaways I'm giving so may have to find some feedback somehow or look at video/pictures. This also goes for that left foot optimising I need to do, its not the easiest thing to look at.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Another good technical lesson last night. We began with men/kote off, and broke the cut down into its conponent arm movements. So for awhile we were cutting moving nothing but our shoulders, and then nothing but elbows, and then nothing but wrists, doing a number of repetitions of each. Its nice to be able to unpack the cut like this, it makes it so much easier to assess the quality of one's cut when doing it in realtime.

After awhile of doing this we went on to do much of the same in armour. Smelled a lot more burning bamboo than normal during these exercises. We eventually put some more footwork in like simple fumikomi, and had some good instruction from Satoshi about keeping the weight on the left foot, allowing proper fumikomi for quick attacks in succession, which is something I had been wondering about for some time, and this helps put some sense into thinking about the normal cutting step. There was also a lot of emphasis on moving the body in and not trying to cover distance with your arms insted of the feet, and it was also noted that when you're doing that you give your opponent a great handle to swing you around with because your momentum is far too invested in your arm/shinai's direction, forcing you to follow where your opponent sends your outstretched shinai.

I feel I need to work on this quite a bit. Over the course of the evening, I ended up with a sore mack/neck telling me I'm a bit head down, and a bit too forward. Something to pay attention to during practice. In addition, a bit more explosive left leg will help, if not solve, the arm forward thing. If i'm launching properly then my arms wont need to 'reach'. To help solve this I've decided to take the stairs instead of the lift at work (work being 6 floors up from the ground floor) doing that once each morning and once at lunch should help get some kick into the legs for almost no time investment. Especially on armour carrying days.

The remainder of the practice was repetitions in pairs of: step in - men, opponent steps in - men, and harai men. again there was huge emphasis on wrists, and relaxed shoulders etc. For some reason I seem to have been hitting a lot of mengane last night, rather than that clean connect i've been getting lately. I reckon it means arms not coming up enough. Will have to watch that over the next few weeks.

Friday, 27 November 2009

food for thought

Last night is the sort of night I started this journal for. Some big concepts we went through, so we'll have a long post today.

We started the evening with words from the sensei regarding the dojo's performance at a tournament over the weekend. The jist of it was that he was seeing a lot of people losing control, both of themselves and their matches. People lose control of themselves in matches primarily because of adrenaline. This is something to be trained out of ones self over time. When this happens to one or both people the fight becomes very chaotic, and ones ability to score becomes largely a matter of luck. Do not want this. In addition to this when the adrenaline takes over the tendency is to get pulled into moment to moment reaction (not in the good way), and this more often than not leads to you playing the other swordsman's game, as you're not producing much of anything your own. The sensei went on to say that the best remedy for this is to be the hunter, actively searching for opportunities, and playing with your opponent to produce them.

So the first exercise we did was without kote/men, practicing simple parrying. There was a lot of emphasis on keeping the tip of the sword within the sillhouette of the opponent, and very very minimal movement. We paired off and practiced this in our own time. After a bit of that, we put on the rest of our armour and did the same, but with realtime hitting after a few rounds of kirikaeshi. Foot felt fine and these were the first fullspeed kirikaeshi (hizen style) that I've felt were even approaching decent. Woo! Still need much more practice though. Once this was done we started working on men harai men. Sort of. He described it as a sort of harai-kaeshi hybrid, with minimal footwork. We also did simple harai men cuts. Now while we were doing all of this the sensei was talking to us about building pressure and tension between yourself and your opponent. When you're fighting with someone theres a rising and falling level of energy, and gauging this is key to the exercises above. We were all told especially to have a bit of a play in one-step-one-cut distance before doing these exercises and mess about with pressure, tension and energy where our shinai crossed. The focus of all this comes back to what he was saying about hunting. These are almost all "reactive" techniques. The quotes are because while you're doing them off of your opponent's technique, the technique begins with drawing out their cut in the first place. You can really see the difference between a case of "Whoa my instinctive parry stopped their cut (mostly) I better swing at them" and a fluid natural parry-cut where all the thinking was done long before you've even raised your arm for the parry. The point is that you're not even really reacting at all, but instead you've made an opening that just happens to be your opponent's cut. We also practiced a sort of 'full body suriage' that starts lowering the shinai using your whole arms. From here you've got predictable options:

your opponent cuts -> you finish suriage and cut.

your opponent doesnt cut -> you finish suriage and cut kote.

These seem the same thing but thats just I'm a lazy typist and havent covered the permutations of cuts your opponent can do in reaction to your lowered shinai. Suffice it to say you're very very close to a solid chudan already, and suriage is already loaded in your mind so you'll deal with whatever comes.

We did quite a few of these exercises with the sensei stopping us and explaining about making the cuts with our bodies and not the arms, and essentially how all of these 'reactive attacks' should be done in a completely proactive way, from initial seme, to the proper kime of the cuts etc. Very nice. This has really given me a whole different framework to look at my own kendo from. In previous lessons and fights I've had trouble with my ability to mentally handle a strong chudan in front of me. Now i've a set of things I should be doing: drawing out cuts, picking the safest ways of breaking the symmetry, messing with energy levels. None of this without any actual thought of what the possibilities are after doing these things, and now there's lots of work to be done in sort of mapping these little games in chudan. Wohooo I have stuff to actually think about in jigeiko that will last me years!

Mechanically the night went well. Foot was fine, even did some hiki waza and survived. Kirikaeshi felt very fluid, though I was focusing so much on fluidity and ki-ken-tai that I've little idea of how correct any of the the geometry was. Still a little right sided but not too much, and left heel touched the ground very few times, which im happy about. Going through after oji waza still needs a LOT of work. I'm actually following through on the majority of cuts now, which is good, but every time it's because I consciously remember to, and occuring at the sloooooooow speed of conscious thought. Time will sort this providing I keep remembering to go through. I still worry a little bit though if that will be enough to join the cut and the follow through into one action. If not I'll need to give it a LOT of attention during kihon when there's time for thoughts outside the immediacy of the fight.

Great Lesson.

Friday, 20 November 2009


At the time, going to practice felt like a huge mistake, and in a short term sense, it was. Foot hadn't healed enough to handle the oractice and I spent an evening doing horribly compromised kendo. Left heel on the ground for the entire practice. We started off with kirikaeshi in pairs, which to be honest felt great. Good speed and felt like a a nice warm up for a good practice. Then we did a bunch of half kirikaeshi, followed by men hiki men, men hiki kote, men hiki do (just what we were doing. the previous night). At this point I promptly tore off the lyer of skin that had been exposed before, which sealed all hope of doing any real kendo. The remainder of the night was an exercise in simple perserverance. Indeed I don't recall ever experienced that level of pain before.

The rest of the night was spent in motodachi lines, doing rounds of:


Now I'm not sure about you, but when I'm in unusually high levels of pain my muscles get tense fast. Bad Bad Bad. Tense muscles are very bad for a few reasons:

1: They burn up oxygen just like a muscle you're actually using.

2: They get sore/fatigued just like a muscle you're actually using.

3: They stop you form moving your body properly. Literally. When you hold your arm still your body executes that by tensing both opposing muscle pairs.

So this means that I was absolutely knackered by the first few exercises. On top of that my efficiency of motion was completely screwed by not being able to plant my left foot correctly. This means poor kendo in all respects. Feet not going forward with the rest of you means you're leaning forward with your weight (which I have much more of than during previous years of practice) overcommited.

This also brings to light how much the mind has to do with the kendo you're doing. Now it's easy to confuse not thinking about one's kendo with mushin. It's not. The reason is that mushin is a state that allows your mind to be exatcly at the pertinent place at any given moment due to not being 'stuck' anywhere in particular (this is commonly called "thinking"). When your mind is completely stuck on the red hot coal burning its way through your foot, it's unavailable to be put to what you should be doing at any moment. Now at shodan level there isn't enough kendo in you for it to come out properly without a certain ammount of mental effort. When that's not there then one's practice collapses.

Was going last night a real mistake then? After a bit of thought I'd say no. The reason for this is that over the course of kendo you end up dealing with a lot of pain.One of the things about kendo is that when done correctly it shouldnt be hard on the body in any damaging sense. this is why people can and do practice well into their 70's or 80's, and mop the floor with any young whippersnapper that comes along. So this means that often when you feel pain in kendo its from using the body correctly to its fullest and you're safe to push through it and it really becomes an honest exercise in will. This is the good kind of pain. The bad kind of pain comes from genuine injury (usually from Doing It Wrong). When you've got an injury then often you're forced to compromise what you're doing to the point where what you're doing can hardly be called a practice in any meaningful sense. So last night my foot condition changed very quickly from the good kind of pain to the stupid kind. At that point all I felt was left in the practice was not giving up torn up foot or not. What I took from the night beyond pride for not giving up, is the ability to judge correctly how much practicing in rough condition will actually benefit ones kendo.

Skin heals, and it's worth limping for a few days for a better understanding of that grey area between injury and normal wear and tear. It's also a lot better than wondering forever if I would've been able to handle that practice.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Waves on the shore

Well. Last night was an interesting one. The last few weeks have been very jigeiko heavy. This is a good thing, as one has to be able to produce their kendo dynamically and in realtime. The downside of this is is that when you've been out of the dojo for two years the kendo that comes out can be pretty shoddy. So fortunately tonight we had an entire evening of kihon, which I felt was just what my kendo needed at this moment, ie: lots of focus on the basics.

Satoshi has returned and was sensei for us last nigt. We did the usual suburi warm up, followed by men, kote, and the three hiki waza across the dojo floor. We then did these cuts in armour paired up rotating. During this time the cuts felt very good, in a place where just doing more of this will improve the cuts and grind the right things into muscle memory rather than enforce habits. That is until I'm aware of the next set of things to work on. For the moment though, I'd be very happy do be doing this quality of cutting while in realtime fighting. We'll see how long until thats the case.

We also did a slowed down (uncompressed) kirikaeshi, which felt for me again just what I wanted my kirikaeshi to be. The problem of course arises when I'm doing it at full speed, at which point my arms become completely wooden and robotic (shut up... there could be a wooden robot out there somewhere). I'm not sure why this is. I think this will take some thought and experimenting to solve.

The rest of the lesson was: kirikaeshi, followed by the three hiki waza. For what felt like an hour but was probably more realistically 30-40 mins. Very long slow buildup of fatigue (which I'm sure was part of the point). This was a great exercise for paring down unneccesary movement, and those long repetetive exercises tend to be a great wat to bring out some imperfections in hand and footwork. For me this meant losing a very large chunk of skin from my left foot, which crippled my footwork for the last 20mins of practice, as I was limited to my left heel touching the ground after that point (this is A Bad Thing). So after hobbling out of the dojo in the end I'm hoping that my dressing of it today will do the job and allow me to practice tomorrow. My gut feeling is that I've got shoddy hiki footwork, and I'm using my left foot as a brake to stop my entire body's momentum too quickly rather than taking the correct sized backwards steps. We'll see. Besides robo-kirikaeshi though, arms felt relaxed and cuts felt very left wristy which is great.

All in all a good practice.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Steady as She Goes

So it turns out fitness doesnt happen in 3 short weeks. Oh well, It'll come. The beatings will continue until morale improves, as they say. Not a whole lot to report from last night. Our sensei wasn't there tonight presumable due to something rather urgent/important. In all the years I've gone to the dojo I've never seen this happen. So Alex Burch took the lesson, giving us a few rounds of kirikaeshi to start. Now I swapped between normal kirikaeshi and Hizen kirikaeshi, sort of depending on my motodachi's judgement. I'm still doing it a little too slow for my taste, but I need to make sure moving my arms above the elbow and keeping ki-ken-tai make it into muscle memory, so that those things are there when I 'try to do it fast'.

We then did a little bit of kihon, which consisted of exercises of cutting when the opponent:

a) gave up centre
b) stepped back
c) stepped forward

These were very nice and provide a good way to get a cutting response to those actions ground in, and are a great thing to take into jigeiko.

The rest of the evening was spent in jigeiko, whereupon lots of the stuff from the last post pretty much continued. Started the evening painfully hungry as I'd run out of milo at work, wont make that mistake again. fortunately this evening I got -very- warmed up and rather quickly, which was quite nice, and also this was the first night I wasn't needing to compensate or deal with any specific gripes from my body (read: particularly sore/tight muscles, torn off skin etc.) except for, yep, you guessed it: more fatigue. The only solution to that is going to be raw attendance, along with some sort of weekend workout to bridge the increasingly long gap between thursday and tuesday. Not so much of the wrist grinding kendo tonight, as was practicing with more senior people. Still got thoroughly pasted of course, though after my removal of uchikomi style cuts, I wasn't giving out debana kote like they were bloody aol cd's. I did notice at the end of the evening as I became less mobile that my fumikomi got very heely stompy. My right calf let me know what it though of that in pretty short order.

Overall was a good practice which left me knackered but in good spirits. In addition I found out about our winter taikai following our kangeiko (you'll be able to identify this by daily entries of excessive griping, slowly giving way to one word sentences, and ending up in bits of keymashing - it will be awesome). The taikai will add a nice little dash of motivation when my mental chips are down. This also means plenty of suburi over the christmas break.

Good times.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

One more tally mark, lots of wall to go...

Ok so last night we started without wearing kote & men, beginnng the practice with suriage exercises, followed by suriage men. During this time I felt confident that the footwork was passable (read: actually using the left leg for propulsion). During the practice I was told I need to relax my right forearm, which forshadowed a 'theme' later in the free practice. We also did men kaeshi men, and also men harai men, which was very difficult to get ki-ken-tai working with, that's one to practice later after more basics are ground in. Mostly from this I took away a confident suriage and a sense of opportunity that may or may not follow from it as we were told deliberately to execute the suriage men as two seperate actions, in order to gauge the opponents reaction to the suriage, then cut if you've made an opportunity.

We then went to the other hall (an unused mirror image of our own room where half the lights dont work), and warmed up with some uchikomi lines practice, which for me felt a bit sickly from it being so cold and practicing without being warm (and being . Footwork here suffered as usual from simple fatigue, though my cutting action felt relaxed with better tenouchi than I ever had during my previous years of practice.

Once we were warmed up the rest of the lesson ws spent doing jigeiko. Again this was mostly a battle with fatigue, but as opposed to previous nights, the mind wasn't entrely taken by the fatigue and glimmers of strategic thought began to shine through the clouds. Two large themes appeared during the practice. The first is that I was very right side heavy. My cuts when I saw an opportunity were as if I was just punching with my right arm and leaving the left still instead of driving the cut with a snappy left wrist. The nice footwork from earlier in the practice disappeared again into my usual right leg hopping while dragging my left along. Bad. Also there were lots of nicely connected oji waza that I didnt follow through with my feet. I need to start running or something. The other main theme was kissaki being all over the shop. Mine and the people I was practicing with. This I believe is a combination of my own lack of control over the shinai at the moment, as well as lesser experienced kendoka doing instinctual (read: quick and untrained) large wavy blocks and parries, which I find very frustrating at the moment not being able to control the shinai well enough to punish the wide openings I'm seeing. This also knackers the living crap out of your wrists from all the insane opposing force stuff that this brings with it. Need to get controlled and snappy asap or die. Asap may take awhile.

Later in the pub had a nice conversation with some old sandan buddies regarding the wristkilling shinai waving kenod of mine and my opponents, and he explained that its not necesarily something to beat myself up about but that practicing with instinctual blocking beginners is a skill to be learned like any other. Also asked a question regarding the size of cuts in jigeiko, and came to a much better understanding of the purpose of the big, fleshed out uchikomi men cuts, in that they're not meant to be used in jigeiko and shiai (that'll explain all the debana kote I was handing out to everyone), but that they're stretched out, uncompressed versions of the cuts used in 'realtime' practice, intended to make sure that all the 'pieces' are still there and practiced, so they find their way into ones real cuts.

Monday, 9 November 2009

3 Days in Already... (initial catch up wall of text)

So I've begun this blog already with some things to think about hanging in the air from the 3 lessons I've done already. This post is a bit wall-o-text because I've got 3 initial sessions to recap. Obviously the first thing that comes to mind is physical fitness. You can't improve any kendo if your whole mind is taken by the one thought of perserverance. Granted this is a better thought than 'I can't do this!' but it's still front and centre in the mind at the moment. This is something I believe will have to simply fade over time as the body becomes acustomed to the rigours of the dojo. Also along these lines, I've hit the initial "barrier of exhaustion" very early in these practices, and the result is of course very relaxed kendo (in addition to plenty of healthy feedback from the body), due to muscles 'inability' to tense if they don't absolutely need to. Largest thing to be improved by physical fitness will be more proactive kendo. Not being completely burned out after a few moments of fighting will be the first step to better things like seme and shikake techniques, and I expect/hope later will give me the confidence to deal with looking at a solid chudan. Following on fron this is a theme of big correct, patient cuts. This is a time to be paying attention to what's making it into the muscle memory I'll be working with in the long haul so it feels crucial not to screw myself by doing rushed 'non cuts' for fear of appearing slow. It's been two years, I'm not going to be fast anyway, no sense in doing bad cuts as well. Speaking of bad cuts makes me think of footwork. I'm heavier than when I did kendo last, a lot heavier. This combined with essentially two years of lack of exercise, this means I've got atrocious footwork. There are two things to pay attention to here. The first is keeping the mind on the footwork while doing cuts (always too easy to think of only arms when cutting), and the other is managing proper footwork in terms of my legs ability to carry it out, which I'd say is pretty low at the moment. Like the physical fitness, this will be an exercise in patient diligence, and not getting flustered by not being able to move the way my mind envisions when I cut. The largest part of the footwork for me at the moment is following through. It seems the overall focus is patience paired with persistence, while remaining vigilant/mentally present enough to prevent the sometimes horrible kendo that's inevitabley coming out of me from becoming habit.

First Thing's First

One piece of advice I've heard before is how much it can help to keep a journal of one's kendo after each practice. Heving done kendo for a number of years without doing this, and continually being intimidated by the ocean of things to improve in my own kendo, I've decided to take up that advice and setup this place in an attempt to organise my thoughts outside the dojo and hopefully, as a result, achieve more clarity of mind inside the dojo.