About this blog..

This is a blog that I started in April 2006, just after I first put on my bogu (kendo armour). It collects the advices given by more experienced kendo practitioners as well as those from my own experiences. Both technical and the mental aspects of kendo are written in the blog. I hope someone will find them useful or interesting at least!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Knee posture in kamae and seme

Two things that I continued practising this week were my aggression and pushing the hip during my men strike. In all the jigeikos, I started putting pressure from the start right after standing up from sonkyo.

It seems that I have improved my hip problem. The solution for me was adjusting my kamae stance. I used to keep my left knee too straight during seme, which kept the centre of my gravity high. So while launching my body forwards, the result is to go up instead of going forwards. However, adjusting kamae is not the only thing to be done. During seme, the angle made by the thigh and the lower leg should be kept the same. In other words, while the right foot glides forwards only the angle between the two thighs is stretched. Why is this important? Because this lowers the centre of gravity just slightly, so that when I launch my strike, I can push my hip forwards.

A little geeky maybe? Well, can't help it. I'm a physicist.

I had very good jigeiko this week with many good kendokas. My mainly kept the attacks simple because I still need to improve on my basics. Perhaps 10 % of the time, I put in more tactics like stepping to the left, do a harai first as though to strike men next, but switch to kote promptly as soon as the opponent raised his kensen to defend.

Over the X'mas period the dojo is closed - this means suburi at home!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Relax and strike

Two weeks are almost gone. Last week I made three trainings. I reckon it's going to be difficult to make 4 trainings a week, but I'll keep at least 3/week as the minimum. All the trainings I've been to was great. One of them made me realise that I need to be more aggressive. I want to be aggressive, without letting the body tense up.

I noticed some kenshi in the dojo are really good at letting the body relax in kamae and during seme, but releasing the energy at once when striking.

The Saturday's trainings were tricky because the dojo is always packed with people, but since I am usually free, I will go to that one. Wednesday's advanced training with Yoshimura sensei is of course a must. So then I have one more training either on Tuesday, Thursday, or on the Friday's free jigeiko. A little flexibility will make life easier.

A question about Kirikaeshi 2 - Discussions

I posted the question of the previous entry in the Kendo World Forum, which evoked a series of interesting discussions. See here: http://kendo-world.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16622

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A question about Kirikaeshi

A question about kirikaeshi came up after visiting several dojos. Some dojos do proper taiatari with the strong impact, while the others, like Imperial College, Budo XI and Kobukan, do very soft taiatari, which I probably wouldn't even call it so. What they do is, after the sho-men strike, the hands are dropped so that the right hand is roughly the chest level. The motodachi does the same and, upon gentle clash, he goes backwards and receives the sayu-men. It feels more like a tubazeriai.

So that question to you is, what does your dojo do, and if anyone knows, how come there is such a big and fundamental difference between dojos.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

First practice in Paris

Yes... I feel so good having practised this morning at the dojo Budo XI, after a stressful day yesterday. Yesterday morning I unfortunately miss my 6 am flight, for which I had to get up at
4 am, but my reflex (in kendo, we'd say the debana-waza) was to grab the clock and shut it off. Only two hours later when it dropped from my hand to the floor did I wake up, like waking up to a nightmare. Finally I had to book another flight from Berlin and a train ticket to Berlin, which cost me almost 200 Euros in total. Bloody hell!! Anyway, so much so for the whining.

Today's training was for everyone. Perhaps due to the Saturday, many people (about 40+) turned up. So queuing took a long time. But I managed to do a jigeiko with Jean-Pierre Labru 6th Dan, who was the instructor today and a former European Champion. At the start he quickly scored two men-strikes. I was not concentrated enough. Then it got better afterwards when I tried to have stronger centre. The best moment for me was when I struck a straight-men cut with very simple forward seme. I crept my right foot forwards like Kuroda-san taught me, and struck. The strike landed perfectly in the centre and my left hand was in control. All of which happened when Labru Sensei was still in kamae. He nodded in acknowledgment of the strike. The motion felt so smooth that I thought, "This is it. This is kendo."

I think as in many good institutions, how the reputation is does not guarantee the success of its members. It still takes a lot of hard work if one wants to compete with the top players from the other dojos. However, a place like this dojo where there are a 8th Dan Sensei and many high grade kendoka means that, one gets very useful advices from time to time. So there is always something to work on, which is fundamental and important. But without the hard work, the advices remain as only theories.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Across the Atlantic 3

On Friday I had the last training with the Quebecoise. As usual, the Friday's trainings are for yudansha only. About 10 people turned up, which was not a lot, but enough to have a good session. The advices I received were:
  • Taiatari correctly with the hip. The hands should be below the chest.
  • Strike sho-men and sayu-men with the kensen swung farther, making clear snapping sound.
  • Shaper on the kote strikes.
Towards the end of the session we had shiai-geiko (1-min Ippon shobu), part of the special farewell treatment for me. I won 2 matches, lost 4 and drew 1. I was not careful in the matches I lost, which ended all in men-cuts. They were, however, really good cuts. I won one of my matches with kote, and the other with kote-men.

The three trainings I had here were very enjoyable and, at the same time, helpful, because practising with different people always gives one something new to learn. Their style (more mature compared to the "student kendo") also enables me to work on my seme. For me, 3 times were too little. I wish I could stay here for longer. But for sure I will come back. So until then, ou revoir!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nito Kendo Video at the 55th AJKC

Finally I managed to upload the video of the Nito kendoka, Yamana, at the 55th All Japan Kendo Championship this year. This is his first round, which he won with a clean kote point.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Across the Atlantic 2

The training just got better and better. Yesterday more people turned up for training. We did a couple of interesting exercises apart from men- and kote-men-uchi. First of them was kote-taiatari-men-taiatari-kote-taiatari, and we executed it across the dojo from one end to the other. I really found that my taiatari was too weak, which was something I didn't train at all when I was in Tokyo. Back in Dresden, everyone else's taiatari improved a lot as well. Improving my taiatari might help bringing my hip forwards when doing strikes. The second exercise was kote-men-dou. Following from the previous exercise helps to keep the upper body straight during the continuous strikes. So it made complete sense to put the two exercises together. Kimura Sensei came to tell me that I should make my kiai louder.

After the kihon exercises we did a few rounds of jigeiko with rotations (mawari), before the free-jigeiko. I again went flat out fighting with Kimura Sensei and Awaga Sensei. At one point I was frustrated that his kensen was against my chest when I struck his men, despite that I waded his shinai off centre. So I continuously made the same strikes, but none of them succeeded, which made me even more frustrated!! He told me that very often I was too close, and at this distance his kensen is already in the middle. Our jigeiko finished with me doing kakarigeiko, and I made sure I gave the loudest possible kiai for my last strike.

There are many people here who have strong centres, and I think it is a good opportunity to explore different footworks during seme. I also want to make sure I strike kote in the way that, if it fails, I can immediate strike men. [Edit: Georg wrote in the comment a list of one can do when kote-strike fails, see below.]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Across the Atlantic

Last night I practised with the Quebec Kendo Kai, based at the Laval University. Luckily, Shigeo Kimura Sensei (7th Dan) from Toronto visited QC and lead the training. It was one of the most exhausting practice I've had in a while. I had long jigeiko with Martin Dore (5th Dan), Hiroshi Awaga (5th Dan) and Kimura Sensei. With Awaga sensei I really couldn't do much, because he could almost predict my moves and had a very strong centre. When I was completely exhausted, he announced, "Ippon." Oh, my goodness me. But that was when the real training began. My fourth and last jigeiko was with a less senior member, with whom I had more successes.

Afterwards we went for a beer and some snacks in a nice cosy pub. Kimura Sensei said to me if I cannot make the training I should do suburi at home, so that my body remembers the movements, which will help the next training and make it more efficient. He said ideally one should train 4-5 times (!!)

The coldness in Quebec is just beyond words. It was -15 degrees last night, and it's just the beginning of the winter! The bunch here are very friendly and fun. They told me that they don't have visitors often, and I guess they are very curious about me!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Shyugyo 9 - final thoughts

It's been a week since I left Tokyo. The time in Tokyo seems much too short, and the past week too long. I miss the people and the kendo at Kobukan, not to mention the great food and dynamics of the city. I think I quite simply haven't left there.

I want to write a small summary of the kendo-related things I came to realised while I was there.

I arrived in Kobukan with a very open mind, not very sure about what I was going to see, and how I could learn. In the first two weeks I was practising with 7th Dan Senseis during the kihon exercise and did only basic cuts, such as men, kote-men, kote-dou, and kote-men-dou, etc. Everyday I got up in the morning to first wipe the dojo floor and 500 suburis. I learned all over again how to do suburi and men-strikes. While from the Senseis I received simple yet important advices on the basic cuts, other sempais tend to give more specific comments on jigeiko and techniques. Kudora-san showed me many wazas and the related foot works. He trained often with me alone to improve my men-strikes, and told me I should use more kote-men in jigeiko. Akita-san told me the importance of never stepping back during practices. He said, "it is safer if you step backwards, but you'll never imporve." This quite applicable to life in general, I find.

I now could appreciate the importance and beauty of kata, and am able to do it up to the 7th form. Though not perfect, I received many helpful guidances.

Many Seneis gave me very positive feedbacks on the style of my kendo. They are all surprised that I have done kendo for no more than two years. Nonetheless, I am still a beginner to them.

So what should I do from now on?

Ozawa-sensei once told me I should do big men-cuts for 5 more years, and suburis everyday. Kuroda-san's effort on improving my men-strikes was very helpful. I couldn't yet strike a good enough men before I left, but I know what I should do, and I will continuously work on it until the next time we meet.

As Mr. Chow described, the kendo of Kobukan is one that never steps back. I will continue this spirit. Honda-Sensei encouraged me to continue what I was doing at Kobukan and continue the style of kendo I played.

Iinuma-san told me not to back down after striking kote. Kanji-Sensei told me when doing men cuts in kirikaeshi, I should put more kisei in.

The most important thing about kendo I learned was to be able to appreciate its true beauty. Before this, I had seen the videos of 8th Dan kendoka playing kendo, but never thought that this is the style I would like to try at this moment. However, from what I saw and was told by the Senseis, I realised that this is a goal that I can and should set for myself now.

What is beautiful kendo? In my humble opinion:
  • Good kamae, good posture during and after strikes.
  • Strong centre.
  • Always apply pressure (seme) forwards. Never step back or move side ways without the intention to strike.
  • No bending of head or body to avoid strikes.
  • No meaning less strikes.
  • Striking from issoku-itto-no-maai, instead of chikma (close distance), as Kuroda-san said.
So long my friends from Kobukan. I hope I will see you in the near future!

Off again - to Quebec!

I have been to every training so far after coming back to Dresden. On Tuesday night the nastiness of my fellow Dresden kendo mates far exceeded my expectation :). They gave me another farewell training which involved again with me fighting five people. I won against Lilli, Martin and Jens, but lost to Tino and Georg. To me, it was sort of a trial to see if the kendo I had learned is actually applicable. I have to say I'm pretty happy with the result, not because of winning the matches but being able to maintain my posture and apply pressure forwards instead of hopping forwards and back all the time.

Two main things to improve:
  • My hip is still not following me during strikes. Really need to work on that.
  • React more quickly to seize the moment to apply oji-wazas.

My next stop:
21st Nov 07 - 6th Dec 07,
Quebec City, Canada

Here is a clip showing all the matches from Tuesday night (many thanks to Thomas, who took the video!):

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shyugyo 8 - last training

In the last few kendo trainings, Kuroda-san has been very nice to practise with me alone on basics. Men-strikes in particular. It probably looks a little strange to the others that we are doing such basic cuts while the others were doing jigeiko. But neither of us cared. I'm really grateful for his effort, and I'm somehow flattered as well. After my last training, which was yesterday, he took his charm inside of his dou, and gave it to me. I couldn't be more touched.

In my last training on Wednesday evening, many people turned up, and the dojo was very full. About 10 7th Dan Senseis turned up, so it was an eye-candy to see them doing jigeiko with each other. I first had a "goodbye" jigeiko with Ozawa-sensei, which was of course very exhausting and more like a kakarigeiko. I didn't manage have jigeiko with anyone else apart from training with Kuroda san because the huge number of people and limited space. During the final kakarigeiko Kodama-san "thoughtfully" pushed me to Ozawa-sensei for the final kakarigeiko, something that I am so glad to have done. During the cool-down exercise Ozawa-sensei asked me to give a short speech in Japanese after meditation. I was "a little" unprepared, but as I know pretty well what I would like to say to all the people. So I used very limited vocabulary to say,

``Tomorrow I am returning to Germany. Three weeks of kendo practice in Kobukan. Kobukan's kendo and nin-jou-mi (人情味) (hospitality) I like very much. In these three weeks, I made many many friends. Thank you all very much.''

I thanked all the senseis whom I have practised with. Kaji-sensei wished me the best and keep training hard. Honda-sensei, who surprised me with very elegant English, told me that he likes my kendo and that I should continue this style of kendo when I go back to Germany.

After the training we sat in the dojo and had some beer before moving to another Izakaya for more drinking with three other senseis including Hashimoto-sensei. Iinuma-san, and Kodama-san were there too. I had many many fun and enjoyable conversations with them.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Taiwan and Japan

In the past I have to explain to many people the modern history of Taiwan and how its relation with China and Japan is. A clear irony is, even ethnically most Taiwanese have Chinese heritages, people like Japanese very much whereas Chinese in mainland China dislike them. This clip on YouTube basically summarises the reason behind this. Note that, I won't say I'm Japanese in my heart as the old lady said in the video, and neither would the people in my and my parents' generation. But this is perhaps true for many people in my grandparents' generation, as I mentioned in a previous entry.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Shyugyo 7 - one goal

I'm rather sad that I've got only less than one week left to be here. Not only the kendo but many nice people I have met, and the city. There will be four more trainings, from Sunday to Wednesday before I leave on Thursday.

Tonight's training put me right back to the basics. I fought with Ozawa-sensei, Kuroda-san, and Kodama-san (a mint female 5th Dan). My men-uchi is too weak, so I always loose on debana-men. Kuroda-san told me that I shouldn't use my wrist too much but my shoulders to lift the shinai, and simply extend my wrist outwards. Kodama-san told me to push my body, and strike with my body. I will be happy if I manage to improve this in one year, since this is so important.

I went to the Meiji-shinku today and took some pictures. At the kyudojo there I saw some kyudo in action, which I think was an examination taking place.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shyugyo 6 - weekend away and counting down

Just before and after the training on last Friday, Kuroda-san taught me many fundamentals of different techniques. I memorised the theory in my mind, but it will take a much longer time to be able to do them and refine them. Right now I would be very happy if I can strike a perfect men-cut with a good fumigomi-ashi.

On Saturday we went to the 55th All Japan Kendo Championship (with Kuroda and Leena). I was very excited to be in the Nippon Budokan, because watching the past championships on videos made it a very special place. I felt like a pilgrim finally reaching my final destination.

I found it a pity that the last year's winner Nichimura lost in the quarter final. His opponent struck a men-cut in the first 10 second or so and made a point, after which he was just defending and even got a hanzoku for wasting time. Nichimura lost with 1-0.

Another interesting event was the appearance of a Nitto kendoka Yamame(?). It's perhaps the frist time ever that Nitto has appeared in the AJKC. He went to the second round, but lost there.

Over the weekend I was in Nikko with my family, enjoying the rare occasion of our family reunion in a place with beautiful scenery, good food, and hot spring bath.

On Monday I managed to arrive in the dojo early enough for the training. I remembered a sensei told me last week to execute the men-cut in kirikaeshi with more kisei and bigger swing, so this time I did it better. My do-kirikaeshi has become more fluent.

In jigeiko I fought with Hayami, Nakajima, and Akida. Akida told me that I should move forwards more. It might be safe to step backwards to defend, he said, but one will never improve.

This morning I resumed cleaning the dojo floor and the 500 suburi after being away for a few days. I felt my legs are stronger and it's now much faster to clean the whole floor. Hope it'll be a good training tonight.

Some videos of musicians on the streets in Shinjuku:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Shyugyo 5 - beauty of the kata

Kata and form is an emphasis of Kobukan. Every Thursday evening is the kata practice. The younger members work on Nihon kendo kata, and the more senior members who have mastered it to a certain degree work on Itto-ryu Mizoguchi-ha kenjutsu. The Mizoguchi school was brought to Kobukan by the late Ando Konzo sensei (8th Dan Hanshi). He looked at all the schools of kenjutsu of Japan and preferred this particular school. He went to the soke (the head of school) and learned directly from him in only one week. At the end of the week, seeing that Ando-Sensei had mastered the technique, the soke gave him the permission to teach the kata elsewhere. This is the origin of Mizoguchi-ha kenjutsu in Kobukan.

Yesterday I practised the first three forms of kendo kata with a sensei. He told me many fine points of kata - how to show the kisei. This completely opened my eyes. I used to think that kata is just like a sequence of movements that catalogs the techniques of kendo. So it wouldn't matter if you learned it while in bogu or not. For most people, it is just a formality to past the exams. But I realised that there are much more to the kata. Every little movement counts. It is amazing to see that even 7th Dan sensei's are still trying to refine their techniques.

I learned the 4th Kata from Hayami (4th Dan, currently Australian team member). I remembered all the sequence, but I need to practise it many more times with different people to get the details correct.

One mistake I tend to make is not cutting farther enough. I halt my bokken too early.

After the training, we went to a restaurant nearby specialised in Okonomiyaki. Here is a video!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shyugyo 4 - friends and teachers

Yesterday was the end of my first week here. I feel that I had only been on a beginner's course, and now gradually I'm starting to receive more specific advices. In the afternoon I went to the Nippon Sport Science University (or Nittaidai) which trains the sportsman of the highest calibre in the country and the world. Sensei teaches once a week kendo here, and he invited me to come along. The session is short. Only about 1 hour - 30mins exercises and 30 mins jigeiko. They started with kirikeishi, followed by men-uchi, kote-taiatari-kote-taiatari-kote-taiatari, and ai-kakarigeiko. I had a jigeiko with a sempai of the class, and Hakamada sensei (7th Dan).

Advices from the class members and sensei:
  • Take large steps for taiatari.
  • Sharper cuts for kirikeishi.
  • Put more pressure forwards and don't retreat once during attack.
A couple of hours afterwards the training in Kobukan started. During the kihon Ozawa-sensei was watching me. He told me to cut do sharper. I did as told and from my peripheral eye-sight I saw him nodding his head. I think he is emphasizing that now I should work on speed and sharpness.

I had only the time yesterday evening to have a jigeiko with Ozawa-sensei. I was happy enough with my performance. I wasn't caring that much about winning but holding my centre and my posture. I tried to go through every time when I struck men regardless of if my kote was hit (which happened a few times yesterday). I think sensei thinks jigeiko for me is not important at this stage, instead I should concentrate on Kihon. So, my jigeiko was a combination of sparring and uchi-komigeiko. Afterall, I never expected I can win a 7th Dan at the stage of kendo I am in. Perhaps I hit target, but so what? The beauty of kendo is what counts. In the past week, I have learned that the kendo style many people consider amazing and powerful in Europe are considered as kids' kendo in Japan. The past week has been overwhelming for me just to look at the people in Kobukan training and having matches with each other. There is a goal which everyone is working towards, but in their own different ways. Sometimes even how they hit is different. Some people use more shoulders and less wrist, and some people do the opposite. Sensei told me one should always do big cuts in kihon for ten years, and then he can start to think about doing small cuts. For me, he said, 5 more years.

After the training I went for a drink and some food with Kuroda-san. It was a very pleasant chat with him, and I am very happy to see him and Yasuko again in Japan. He was watching my match with sensei this evening and gave me some very valuable advices.
  • The chance for debana-kote or men is when the opponent moves his left foot forwards. So one should be careful about this, and also try to identify the chance.
He told me that I have centre and, in his opinion, only 5% of people have the centre. So that is very encouraging despite I have only done kendo in such short time. I told him the story about how I wanted to do kendo when I was little but couldn't because of the difficult education system in Taiwan, until I was old enough to decide what I wanted to do, plus a few years of hesitation. We exchange many interesting kendo-related and non-related ideas. I have a feeling that he will become a great kendo teacher one day.

I said to him that in five years we will have a shobu. :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shyugyo 3

Yesterday evening I had a very good training, in which I had jigeikos with Kuroda-san (first time seeing him in Tokyo), Ozawa's son, Gibbo (the British Champion), and Yasuko. Kuroda plays very beautiful kendo, not the competitive type, but the type that everyone in Japan considers as beautiful and as the ultimate goal. This is mainly due to having a very good posture. Ozawa-san has blitzing fast attacks. His kote-men fumikomis are virtually indistinguishable from each other. He could use keishi-men to avoid the shinai which I put in the centre line, and struck
my men beautifully. Yasuko was also difficult to fight though I could defend better then when I was fighting with the others. Gibbo does a more active kendo. He doesn't put as much pressure as the other people I have fought with in this dojo, but he sees the openings and seizes the moment.

I had many valuable advices from them, especially form Kuroda-san who corrected many fundamental mistakes I make on men-uchi.

The advice from Kuroda:
  • Use more kote-men in jigeiko
About my men-uchi:
  • Don't use fumikomi. Just let the gravity to do the job. If take a larger and faster step then it sounds naturally louder.
  • My hip was not even while striking. The left side is lagging behind.
  • My right wrist is turing the wrong way while doing the tenouchi. The inner side of the wrist should not be facing downwards.
  • The left-right weight ratios of the feet, and hand grip are 7-3.
From Yasuko:
  • My kote timing is good but it's a shame that I tend to go backwards.
From Gibbo:
  • I ran into his kensen many times. I should try to take the centre. ``The solutions are there, and you just have to find it''.

This training really made the whole week worthwhile. I'm starting to find mistakes I make and things that I have to improve on. It's one of the main purposes of being here.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Shyugyo 2

I've only been in Tokyo 3 days but the experience has been exhilarating. Both in terms of kendo and generally speaking. I've made already many friends here, whom I go out to have some food and drink after trainings. The people have been extremely friendly and kind to me, and I get the comments very often, saying that I look like a movie star?! Maybe I should change a career and move to Japan instead.

Today there was a jigeiko session for the Rikadai (Tokyo University of Science) alumni at Kobukan where Yamanaka sensei (8th Dan) was present, who won the All Japan 8th Dan Championship 3 years ago.

The greatest difference in kendo I found between here and back in Dresden is that, in jigeiko, people have very strong centres. If one doesn't break the composure of the opponent, he simply runs into the kensen. Therefore techniques are very important. As for me, I need to improve on my basics: men and kote-men.

Ozawa-sensei gave me a new job: 500 suburi and clean the dojo floor every day. Gambarimasu!

Yamanaka sensei, ozawa sensei, and another sensei.

Yasuko and Suzuki san (right). Suzuki-san passed the 6th Dan test at the first time!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shyugyo 1

Yesterdays training was a taster's session for me. There were about 40 kendoka, among which at least eight 7th Dan senseis. Because I didn't have bogu yet, I did only kihon, including uchigumi-keigo and kirikeishi. Ozawa sensei said my kendo has improved. To my delight, the other three 7th Dan senseis who were in my small group also gave me very nice comments, comments that are too good for me to accept. Perhaps because I was not wearing the bogu so they expected something much worse. It was exhilarating to see 7th Dan senseis doing jigeiko with each other.

Today I'm going to buy new a set of new bogu, and tomorrow will be my first session
in Bogu. I will give my best. Tonight is kenjutsu. My first session.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shyugyo begins

Last night I dropped by the training session to return my bogu to Stephan. In the past fewdays, I was just so happy to be away from work for the weekend, but now thatI have returned and am leaving for a longer time, I started to miss the people here. In London, I felt strongly responsible for representing the Dresden kendo, and I recognise myself as having started kendo here. As I was explaining to them how our training is like, I realised that how proud I am for everyone here, praising their kendo.

Now I'm righting in the Milan Airport, where I have my flight transfer. To Tokyo from here is a 12 hour flight. It'll be 10 am when I arrive, but for my internal clock it will be 3 am. I hope I will be fit soon enough.

The second stop:
23th Oct - 15th Nov,


Monday, October 22, 2007

Imperial College and Grading

I'm waiting for the Ryanair flight to Leipzig from London. This weekend was a very good one. One training on Friday evening with the Imperial College (my old university) kendo club, and another on Sunday after the exam, with the Mumeishi dojo members, not to mention that I
passed my Ikkyu grading.

The training with the Imperial College guys was very interesting. I was quite overwhelmed by how much etiquette is practised there, though I already expected much stricter code of conduct than we have in Dresden. I made two grave mistakes, one of which resulted in me lying on the floor. First was when I did jigeiko with Miyoshi-san, a senior in the dojo, I used tsuki. This switched his ballistic mode on, and he just showered me with strikes, at which point I actually though, ``Cool! Now comes the real goodies.'' But right after the match he talked towards me and told me, ``You're good. But you're a visitor, and I don't know you. You should not do tsuki against the senior in this dojo.'' I apologised afterwards a thousand times to him about it, and expect my gratitude for practising with me.

The second mistake was when doing jigeiko with Yung-sensei (6th Dan), 48 years old originally from Hong Kong, who still represent it in the World Kendo Championship. When I struck I very often ran into him. Like I'm used to, my zanshin in this situation was raising my arms high and springing backwards with a kiai strong enough to make an earthquake (well, ok.. it's an exaggeration). But it turned out that it can be disrespectful for the Sensei. Again, I switched on his ballistic mode, though this time not so fun any more. I tried to wade off his attack and counter-attack, but he's so fast that I could not do anything. At one point he feinted a men-strike, and I tried to block it while having my kote covered. He then struck three consecutive times harai-kote that put me in complete awe. At one point he pushed me very hard while I ran into him again with my arms over my head, and that just sent me to the ground. I felt I almost penetrated the ground to the floor beneath, and I really had to struggle to get up. What made it worse, he walked backwards shaking his head, which he did a few times. I was thinking at that point, oh dear, what have I done. But he explained to me later that I should go straight through and was very kind.

The exam on Sunday was rather easy for me as the Ikkyu grade in the UK is aimed for people having done kendo for between 6 months and a year. Having said that, I was shaky on the Kihon Kata because in Germany we've never done that, and the sequence of the steps are entirely intuitive. I even forgot to take the Dou off, and no one realised until the end of Ipponme. It was a hectic moment when everyone waited for me.

Not being so eager to know the results of the exam (because there's something that interests me more, and that's to meet the UK kendo community and see what the level and the atmosphere is like), I joined the free-jigiko session of the Mumeishi dojo, where Yung sensei lead the training again. I had very enjoyable matches with three senior kendoka (Ayers, Biscomb, and Foster), and one of them asked me, ``You do kendo like this and you are testing for Ikkyu today?'' I explained that I did almost two years of kendo, and just didn't have the time to come back and grade, he said, ``Nidan, nidan.''

My last jigeiko was with Yung sensei, before I got totally exhausted. We had a decent amount of time. I tried this time always to go through head-straight, and for the couple of times when I could not, I quickly put my arms down and did hiki-men. One time I got a kote with sufficient seme, which I am rather happy with. Some times I knew that sensei will do a men-keishi-do to counter my men, but I went for it anyways. Maybe just to play down myself to respect him? I don't know. Anyhow my centre was strong enough to prevent the strike from reaching my do in time. We ended the match with kote-men uchigomi-geiko. I just kept the thought in my mind, ``Just one more, just one more.'' And kept going until the end. Yung-sensei was very please with my performance.

The practice with Mr. Ayers was memorable too. He had just a strong debana-men technique that really REALLY frustrated me. For three consecutive times, when I went for men I was overpowered by him. How frustrating! It gives me something to think about.

This weekend I slept extremely well, and felt relaxed. In the two training sessions I felt fit again, ready to push myself like before, which is an encouragement for the forthcoming intensive 3.5 weeks of training.

I'm truly grateful for the guys at Imperial, Daniel and Tim, who really took care of me and made me feel home. I hope this is a starting point for new friendships.

Some thoughts from the weekend:
  • Review my kendo etiquette.
  • Larger stride when doing men.
  • Increase my wrist power.
  • Try to go through head-straight more in jigeiko.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Confucius says

I'm on the train to Leipzig right at this moment, on my way to London. I'm really supposed to get some more sleep, but as soon as I close my eyes, thoughts start to come in my head. What thoughts? Thoughts on what kendo means to me, and how it has integrated in my life in the past two years.

Kendo is a reflection and manifestation of someone's own personality, and therefore experiences in life. Some people play aggressive kendo -- continuous attacks and plenty of taiatari -- some play calmer kendo -- move little, but strike sharply when the right moment comes. It is important to bring the daily experience in life to kendo, and the experience in kendo to life. Thus kendo is alive, instead of just a physical sport. It's perhaps why there is a minimum age for testing for the hachidan. One must mature as a person to qualify for the highest grade in kendo.

In my family and at school, as the majority of Taiwanese families, I was educated with Confucius. It's an attitude of treating the people around you and treating yourself. One must be strict with oneself but be tolerant with others. Be humble and self-critical. The true confidence is when one can admit his own weaknesses in front of all others. The truly intelligent people appear na\"{i}ve, as Confucius said: ``Da Chu Ruo Yu". One must let go of his own ego and be a student of everyone else. As Ozawa Sensei signed in my book: "All are my teachers but me".

In Europe, however, this education does not help one to elevate his status among the society. People need to know how to sell themselves. In Germany, this is even more important to show other people that you are strong, and people really do take it for granted as to what you say about yourself. Often when I criticise myself in front of a person as a sign of modesty, it is usually taken as a lack of self-confidence, and I see the person's face changing from an approving smile to an awkward and rigid expression, avoiding the eye-contact. People do believe what you show and say, which perhaps has something to do with Germans' directness. When I say the same thing to a Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese or even Thai or Malaysian, the general reaction would be a violent head-shake with disbelief, followed by a few no-no's, ending with a demand to correct myself to say that I am good.

Fascinating isn't it? Hard to understand maybe? Impossible to do the same perhaps?

But this is part of kendo. I'm not saying everyone should also do it in the west, as this is not the culture here. After all, it doesn't work in the western society. But at least to understand it, and perhaps everyone can learn something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Farewell Dresden

What can be a better lunch break than sipping a cup of tea and writing the blog? Well, this is the only time I've got at the moment for other things than writing my thesis anyways.

Last night I farewelled with the Dresden kenshi. We did first 30 mins of little exercises, especially to practise the wrist action for the tenouchi. Stephan asked us to keep the shoulder, arms and the elbows relaxed while only using the wrist to hit the target. We started doing it a couple of rounds while standing still, hitting the opponent's men without the gloves. Then gradually we work towards the complete action - raising the shinai with shoulders and fumigomi.

For the next 30 mins, I had to fight in shiai with every person who wore bogu. It was in fact a lot of fun for me because there was no pressure for me to win, but instead to fight with everyone who I haven't fought in a few months in shiai. Though it was exhausting I have to admit. At the end I had to do ai-kakarigeiko on everyone, during which I got a few times cramps on my left calf muscle. You can see from the video that I jumped on the same spot a few times trying to loosen up the muscle... Unfortunately only the first 3 mins of the series of matches were taken on the video. But I won't forget the rest. Thanks to last night's training, I had the best night of sleep in the past month (only 5 hours everyday, can you imagine that!).

From now I will be all over the world until March, when I'll be in Dresden again.

The first stop: 19th Oct Friday - 22 Oct Monday

I love this one. Everyone looks so casual!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dresden Sports Day and more

I used to hate presenting kendo on the street in front of people who don't understand anything about kendo, never heard of kendo and lack the open-mindedness to appreciate it. Especially in a complete different cultural environment, like Europe, many people think kendo (as well as other martial arts) is an obscure hobby. I guess it's probably true to say that some of them look at us in the same way as we look at the so-called "backyard ninjas".

Perhaps because I understood now better kendo, perhaps I felt like making an effort to promote Dresden kendo and kendo in general, or perhaps just because I wanted to flex my muscles, I helped out to perform on stage in the Dresden Long Night of Sports (Germany: Lange Nacht des Sports). When I did some jigeiko in front of our stall, a few on-lookers laughed out at the moment when I kiai'ed. What went across my mind at that point? Not much. If you don't have the guts for it, then fine. It's not for everyone. But after a few minutes fighting in the cold. I was exhausted. Maybe also because of my cold.

Our performance on stage was successful, at least from our perspective. We had a good blast, for 6 mins or so. The music, a remix of some indie and rock, went really well with the action. Funny thing was, I usually hate watching kendo clips on YouTube with these kind of music, which I think are shallow. But I think if that's the way to catch people's attention, and the purpose of this event is to do so, then why not. Though not the best representative, it appeals to the younger audience.

Lilli, Stephan, me, and Conny

Yesterday, I went to my first training in two weeks (!!). I didn't try to exhaust myself that much as usual, instead, I wanted to make sure my body hasn't forgotten the basics. I felt good with my men-strikes, going fully forwards. It was of course due to that, I could push my hip forwards with my left leg. My kote-strikes have become weary.

After the kihon practice, we're split in a women's team and a men's team. I went up as senpo against Lilli. I was particularly careful with her nuki-waza, fortunately that didn't happen. But I got hit on the men when I missed the kote, a mistake I have made numerous times in the past, including the final in the Leipzig Championship, where I lost a point exactly because of that. A lesson to be learned. This of course should be attributed to Lillie's fine defense. After that I landed on do twice (one of them was hiki-do), but they weren't convincing enough. And the match ended with 1-0. I was happy with my men-strike, but unfortunately wasn't able to bring surprises. I lacked that one small stepping-in to break her posture, and when I struck I should keep a small distance so that I can change the target and strike again without always ending up in taiatari, which nullifies all the pressure I kept up to that point.

Here are a couple of clips from the presentations of other (dance) clubs. Unfortunately, no one video-taped us, but I'm sure ours would be as .. errh.. "exciting" as them.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Squeezing in a practice

These past few weeks I have only managed to practise once a week. But it has to be this way unfortunately because this is a really critical time for me, finishing my thesis. Recently, I've also started learning Japanese, partly for the Tokyo trip next month, and partly just because there are so many Japanese things that I do, read, and listen since my childhood in Taiwan. I mean, for god's sake, my grandparents spoke better Japanese than Mandarin Chinese!

On Tuesday I went to the training at the uni. Warming up with the basketball game. It's fun, though sometimes I feel that people can be a bit too absorbed and it can be a bit too long.

We practised suriage-men and keishi-do. I haven't practise keishi-do for a while, so it didn't go that smoothly. I need to speed up the action between blocking and striking.

Suriage-men is something I've never quite got, and I still haven't got it complete. More practise!

Good thing was that I felt I really pushed my hip forwards while striking men. The way I distributed my body weight led to this improvement I think. I'll try it again next time.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tsuki as defending technique

Ok.. I don't mean when the opponent launches his attack, you should just do a tsuki and poke his brain out along with his adam's apple. The situation which I'm talking about is, when the opponent's seme is strong and one feels threatened. I realised that when this happens, I could extend my arms slightly towards the opponent's tsuki-tare. This action simultaneously protects the kote (since I twist my wrists inwards slightly) and the men (since I have the centre). Now, the subtle point is that, if I stretch my arms fully it would leave no further possibility for me to attack. So the best is to send kensen towards the tsuki-tare before the arms are fully stretched, and see what the opponent's reaction is. If he attacks my kote, then a kote-suriage-men is easy and fast, because the initial preparation is already done. One just need to twist the wrists slightly counter-clockwise, to wade off the attack. But even without this, most of the time it lands on tuba anyways. If the opponent decides to go for men, then debana-kote can be done quickly, again because I have prepared for this action already by putting my kensen closer to him.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tsuki with kensen, not fists

Originally I intended to go to kendo on both Tuesday and Friday, but Tuesday's training was missed because I realised that I didn't have my contact lenses on in the last minute. The disadvantage if you combine a heavily short-sighted person with a mega forgetfulness. Nonetheless, I didn't miss yesterday's training, though turned up late due to work.

I tried to shift my weight more to the left foot, but it's still hard to do.

I noticed that when my tsuki worked, it's due to these few reasons:
  • fully committed
  • a good control of the kensen
  • pushing the hip
The second point might seem obvious, but very often when it fails, I realise that I'm punching forwards with my fist. My fists might be going in the direction of the tsuki-tare, but the kensen not. My concentration should be put on the kensen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Training with Tatsuro 2

Yesterday evening we had the last training with Tatsuro. 15 people with bogu turned up and we had plenty of time for mawari jigeiko. It was a bit embarrassing that Tatsuro got a straight men-strike in the first few seconds during the jigeiko with me.

I took his advice from the day before that I should fight for the centre, but then I forgot about the maai and I was often too close to the opponents.

Lately I started to use tsuki when training with certain people during jigeiko, and got nice surprising results. But at the moment I'm still exploring this technique.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Training with Tatsuro 1

We practiced yesterday with Tatsuro, a Waseda University student who already visited us once earlier this year. We did the usual kihon-geiko until the last 30-40 minutes, when we did jigeiko.

During kihon-geiko, we did a couple of round of butsukari-geiko (two consecutive sets of men-taitari-hiki-men/kote/do, and finishing with a men-uchi). I was lucky enough to did this with Tatsuro. He corrected me that I should never move as a motodachi when the kakarite execute taitari. The lower abdomen should be pushed forward, and be brought to clash with the opponent. It's one thing training with the others and another thing training with him. It felt like being hit by a bull. So I had to almost exaggerate (from our normal standard here) my movement in order to stop him properly. I tried it again and it worked.

I also practiced sashi-men with him. What stood out from his men-strike is the forward movement of his hip and abdomen. The moment that he seme'd and launched his strike, it felt like he was "falling" forwards onto me. The power and the speed was tremendous.

I was extremely tired towards the end of the jigeiko. Maybe because I trained only once a week in the past month due to various reasons.

Tatsuro gave me some advice after the jigeiko:
  • He noticed that when he seme'd I tended to back out. He told me to have patience and seme back.
  • The distance between the left feet of both players should be kept the same most of the time. The right feet, however, moves forwards or backwards during seme.
  • I pointed out that when he retrieved while I attacked, I tried to do rezoku-waza with men, but I couldn't keep my momentum up. He said the left arm is important, and I should do more katate-men. One should also strike with the hip.
  • He said, in kendo, the body is relaxed, and the hip is very important.
Stephan told me after the jigeiko:
  • My seme leading up to the men-strike is not enough. I have to hold the centre while bringing my shinai up.
Tonight there's the last training with Tatsuro before he goes back to Japan.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Zanshin 残心

What is Zanshin? What is the manifestation of Zanshin? The wikipedia says:
... the continued state of mental alertness and physical readiness to instantly attack or respond to an attack or counter attack by ones opponent.
The kanji's are 残心 (Zan-Shin). Zan (残) means residual or remaining; Shin (心) means heart or mind. So the literal translation would be something like the remaining mind. Of course, as we know, it is used in the world of martial arts, but in a general way, it is simply the state of mind after one has performed a task. In kendo, one teaches that Zanshin should be the alertness after a strike, accompanied by clear physical postures and movements to manifest this state of mind.

For me, however, I think there is an element of "declaring victory" for the attack just made. This goes to the aesthetic part of kendo. When I execute Zanshin, I want to show with my kiai and movement: "I wanted it, I went for it, and now I am claiming it!"

What is Zanshin for you?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Collaborative training

I led the training yesterday again, with 8 people with bogu and 2 without. We first did 400 various suburis, and then do- and kaeshi-do strikes without the helmet on. Then with bogu, as usual, 4 x kirikaeshi was the starter. The following exercise were:
  • 2 x tsuki first from issoku-itto-no-maai, then 2 x tsuki from toma with one step in to seme, afterwards with proper zanshin to propel the body backwards.
  • kihon: men, kote, do and kote-men with the feeling of the shinai reaching for tsuki just before striking.
  • Before the jigeiko, we did men-taiatari-hiki-men 3 times, whereby the last hiki-men should be executed with loud kiai, arms raised high-up and quickly propelling backwards away from the opponent, as though claiming the point.
Kendo is best done going forwards, therefore if one uses hiki-waza, one must show something special. This is the reason why one should keep the spirit high.

In jigeiko I had the opportunity to practise with David. I now realise more and more the difference in people's styles, and how important it is to practise with as many people as possible to make my kendo more flexible. David has a strong centre and defends well. He can change the direction of his shinai quickly, which means that I can not have a moment of hesitation. His height is a challenge for me as well. He shows also a genuine will to learn and humbleness, which made him a nice partner to train with, because the mood is a more positive and collaborative one.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Yesterday was my first time after ten days from the previous one. I missed two session to spend time with my parents who visited me last week, and have absolutely no regrets.

There were 13 people yesterday, all with bogu. We divided into groups of 3-4 and practiced kihon for half-an-hour, and then did jigeiko. It felt really good exercising again, but somehow my body felt strange after a ten-day's pause.

We also practised oji-waza against kote- and men-strikes. My waza worked very well against kote, but it was much more difficult against men-strikes, mainly due to the opponent's arms blocking the men.

  • Suriage: I need to practice more suriage, with two main goals: footwork to the side, and the sliding/warding-off action.
  • Men: I also need to push with my left leg more to launch my body farther.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

In shape again

Yesterday, I went to the training after my neck recovered from the shock last week. I led the training at the university's club, as both Georg and Stephan are away at the moment along with most of the more experienced kenshi, because of this, the event at the Baltic sea. Surprisingly, 7 people still came to the training, among which 5 had bogus. So we could do some decent training.

I emphasised at the beginning and the end of the training that the basic requirements for doing good kendo are perhaps the fighting spirit and body posture.

After some rounds of suburi, we started with 4-5 rounds of kirikaeshi. I stressed the breathing and its importance. This was pointed out by Ozawa sensei in last year's seminar in Prague. I repeat here again:
  • Kirikaeshi: (1) men-strike, (2) breath, then 4 sayu-men forwards and 5 backwards, then men-strike, (3) pause and breath again (4) repeat (2) and (3).
Like jogging, when one breathe systematically, he can run for longer.

Then we did more kihon. But this time I asked very one to start from toma, where they should kiai and move their feet, before taking one step forwards to take the centerline with the tip of the shinai, and strike. After the strike, they should push their body diagonally to the left of the opponent to go through.

Then we did like this for kote, kote-men (motodachi stay still), and kote-men-men (motodachi take one step backwards after each strike). I emphasised that distance and footwork are the key points in these exercises. At the kote-men it is a common mistake to take too large a step at the kote-strike, so that the men-strike is too close to the motodachi. At the kote-men-men, the point is that because the motodachi is going backwards, one must draw his left foot quickly forwards to prepare for the next strike, at the same time maintaining a good posture.

I'm glad to see they take kendo seriously with lots of intention to improve themselves. It's very important to train yourself as well as to think of exercises to do so. I'm glad to see two of them stayed after the training to do even more exercises themselves. They obviously care about their own kendo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Neck pull

Today I twisted my neck during the training, and now I could hardly move it. The same injury occurred before, last year, in exactly the same way. My head tilted backwards too much when I launched the men-strikes, plus I didn't do enough warm-ups (I was late). It'll definitely take 3-4 days to recover. Hopefully not longer.

Good news is that my trip to Tokyo at the end of October has been set. Which means I will have to finish my thesis at the end of September (!). I have to work towards it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Holy Schmoky! I was completely exhausted from tonight's training. I got up this morning having a sore throat. (Incredible isn't it.. getting a cold in the summer. I blame it on the weather. ) And wondered if I'd go to the training. Anyhow, I brought my armour to the office, and at the end still went to it.

The training was about an hour. But we got on with it very fast, spending relatively less time on kihon than usual, in order to have more time for waza and jigeiko. We did some men-uchi, kote-uchi, kote-men, and hiki-men. I'm quite pleased that I now don't forget the zanshin after the hiki-men strike, namely, arms straight up, loud kiai and quickly shooting backwards.

  • The men-strike of the kote-men is still too weak. The problem is the feet.
  • Stephan adviced that I should fight for the center instead of just moving my kensen around.
In the jigeiko I fought with 6 people, the last one being Georg. Four of them were new in the armours, so I had to take some care to motivate them instead of just trying defeating them. I was pleasantly surprised that most of them were making nice straight men- and kote-men strikes. The major problem is that they tend to be afraid of strike and also move back during the jigeiko. A common mistake when a beginner fights with a more senior person. How the sempai motivates the beginner is not always easy. A good kendo player doesn't mean that he is necessarily a good teacher. Which is kinda true for almost every other things. Teaching is itself an art.

The jigeiko with Georg was the climax of the training. I completely switched off my brain (especially the parts that respond to pain), and just gave everything. I made some good continuous strikes occasionally, though sometimes I was too tired to care about passing through the opponent from the side instead of running into him and be knocked out. This always happens to me if I fight with a much taller person. The solution is the fast footwork. FOOTWORK again!

One interesting moment to note is that, at one point when we were at the chikma distance, we both froze. I had my kensen upwards point to his men, and he had his off-centre point to my left side. We held for 5 seconds still. WHAM. He did a men-debana-kote. When thinking back I was not active at all. I was waiting to see what he wanted to do, and this slight hesitation was enough for him.

After the fight I could hardly keep my back straight, while we still had to do ai-kakarigeiko!

Well, time for bed! おやすみなさい!

I attached the photos of the Omamori (お守り), or the Japanese amulet, that my brother sent me, who lives in Taiwan and regularly visits Japan for business. He got it from the Astuta shrine in Nagoya. Now I tie it to the inside of my do for good luck and safety! It reminds me of my childhood when I'd take similar amulets from Taoist temples.

Sashi-men 刺し面

The benefit of knowing Chinese is that I can read about 70-80 % Japanese text. Sashi-men, 刺し面 in Japanese, is what we normally refer to as the "small men cut". In Japanese Kanji, the first character "刺" means to fence. The phase, therefore, literally translates to "fencing the head". We can understand from it that, the motion should resemble fencing as opposed to swinging.

Friday, July 06, 2007

At the core

My graduate study is approaching towards the end, and, in order to ensure that I work hard enough to finish it on time, training will be kept at maximum twice a week. If every training goes well, this would not be too bad, though I can probably more or less only try to make my existing techniques more proficient. Not a bad situation. As there are still plenty of space for improvement.

Yesterday, about 14 kenshis with armours turned up. The kendo population in Dresden has really been climbing steadily in the past 1.5 years. When I started around that time, only a handful of people with bogu would turn up at each training. Once a few more beginners advanced enough to wear the bogu, a few with bogu would drop out. So the population had always somewhat maintained at an equilibrium.

So why has it grown so much in the past year? Well, I attribute it to the fact that we now have a handful of kendo fanatics, regular practitioners, whose will to improve their kendo is so strong that it surpasses the desire to engage in other activities. This tight circle of people makes up the core on which the Dresden kendo community builds. As they make effort to improve themselves, the rest feels the passion radiated from them, and sees a reason to learn more and to train hard.

Who belongs to this core of kenshi? Well, you know who you are.

So back to the training itself. Because all of us had bogus, we could concentrate on waza. After 10 mins of warm up, we did 30 mins of kihon and debana-kote. Then 30 mins of jigeiko.

When doing jigeiko with beginners, I practiced debana-men and uchiotoshi-men. With more advanced players I used more renzoku-waza. I still find it hard to make my left foot follow up quickly enough, especially when I am tired. But how fast the follow-on strikes can be executed depends largely on if the left foot is close enough to the right one. Other notes are:
  • remember when executing sashi-men, the initial motion resembles tsuki to secure the centerline, and at the same to prevent debana-kote.
  • keep the center of weight lower so that it's easy to launch forward to attack. But still need to try to maintain the posture.
Stephan's feedback from jigeiko:
  • In seme and kamae, keep the right arm relaxed while the left fist stays in the centerline. Do not push the shinai too hard.
  • For debana-kote don't think about avoiding the attack before the strike. Otherwise the posture would be broken.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tying tenugui

Today I tried to used another way of binding tenugui or the head towel. Instead of the cap style, what normally kids use in Japan, I used this way - see here for a video demonstration. It's definitely for me the best one as it covers the ears (unlike another common method which leaves the ears exposed) and at the back it covers the lower part sufficiently so that the himo does not tangle up the hair. It also has the most of the material around the forehead, where the impact is the strongest, therefore offers a good protection. Moreover, it's fast, at least not slower.

Stay humble

First before the training started I helped Tina to improve on her fumikomi by first running across the dojo with okuri-ashi a few times with shinai locked behind the back under the arms, and then with fumikomi. After she managed that, we repeated the same exercise with shinai in kamae or men-uchi. It seemed to have worked.

Some notes from the kihon practice:
  • Kote: bring hip forwards. Don't take the shinai off the centre. Left hand should stay in the centre.
  • Kote-men: the tenouchi at the men-strike not sharp enough.
I should really work on both of them if I want to keep on improving.

We also practiced kote-uchiotoshi-men. The movement is very similar to kote-men, except because the opponent is moving forwards, the kakarite should not go too far forwards. The most difficult thing is perhaps to judge when the kote comes.

Jigeiko: I need more variation of waza. Should keep my posture while doing renzoku-waza, and quickly draw my left foot towards the right.

I did a nice men-nuki-kote on Jan with the kote really popped. At the end we had an ippon-shyobu. I wanted to do nuki-kote again but he didn't launch the strike after a few steps forwards, at which point my backward movement was slowing down and I got too close to him.

Bang! My men was hit.

Jan refused to call it a point because he thought it was a bit short. While some referees might think so, I felt I already lost because his kisei was much stronger, and coming towards me like a wall or a mountain. His self-criticism and humbleness are also why I respect him, not just for the physical kendo. It is very difficult sometimes to stay humble for kendo being primarily a competitive sport. But whoever manages to be confident, strong, but at the same time humble will improve faster and do good kendo. It is a long journey ahead.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rising star

In the past two week I have been training three times a week. Not all of them went as well as I wanted, but I have improved on my men-strike to a point where I don't hesitate. But my strike is still too slow, and I need to push my body farther, or otherwise at the end of the day I would be packing home with a bagful of debana-kote.

Sometimes it did happen though, that my strike was further enough. Today Georg praised my men-strike during the jigeiko with him, which he did not expect to reach given the distance in between.

After some jigeiko we had some team shiai practise. Three teams were formed, with a girls team, a Budoclub's team, and a university team. I was on the university as well as Martin, Tino (the beginner), Lino(?), and Stephan, as the taisho. We played the system like the Gyokuryuki competition in Japan, whereby the winner stays on until he either looses or draws.

The star this evening was undoubtedly Lilli, who served as the senpo. She single-handedly eliminated the first three opponents of both the other teams (including me), almost all won on men/kote-nuki-men.

Yes, so here we go, what you guys have been waiting for...
Lilli defeated me with 2-1
(honestly it was 2-0, because my kote was on the tsuba)

Well, deserved Lilli, I have to say. Now it's your time to make a speech here...

We also gave Georg his birthday kakari-geiko. I especially took care to give him that extra push during the taiatari, hee hee.

Lilli (far right) smelt blood..

Georg explaining distance

Tino, I and Stephan's hands

Stephan measuring the depth of Patrick's nose.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Reviews on kendo books

I wrote some reviews and critics on the several kendo books that I have, in case someone needs them before making a decision on which one to go for. This was originally motivated by a thread in the kendo world forum.

The books I review here are, in order:
  1. Kendo: The Definitive Guide by Hiroshi Ozawa
  2. Kendo: Elements, Rules and Philosophy by Jinichi Tokeshi
  3. Looking at a Far Mountain: A Study of Kendo Kata by Paul Budden
  4. The Heart of Kendo by Darrell Max Craig
  5. The Way of Kendo and Kenjitsu by Darrel Max Craig
I will maybe add some more information when I have more time, or when ideas come into my mind.

Kendo: The Definitive Guide
by Hiroshi Ozawa

Written by Prof. Ozawa, a professor a the Tokyo University of Science, and the head sensei of Kobukan kendojo. It is a well structured book aimed on beginner and intermediate kendo players. I imagine advanced kendo players can also benefit from having an instructive book for teaching, as well as the sections on refereeing and correct training mentalities.

It contains a brief history of kendo, maintenance of the equipments, the fundamentals of kendo (inc. Kata), and a comprehensive well-structured description of the wazas. The author, being a 7th Dan Kyoshi and an experienced kendo instructor, included an unique section on the best mindset for improving kendo. He travels regularly overseas to hold international seminars.

This book is a very comprehensive kendo handbook that any kendo enthusiast alike would find it helpful to have on the shelf.

I personally look into it when something didn't work out in the training, and I cannot get an useful advice from the instructor.

Kendo: Elements, Rules, and Philosophy (Latitude 20 Book)
by Jinichi Tokeshi

This book is written in clear language, and explains the basic concepts well, but the weakness is that, the techniques are sometimes too abstract. The footworks in waza (or techniques) are not explained. For this purpose, I recommend "The definitive quide".

This book however contains some (6 pages) on nitto-ryu. But it's mostly for curiosity as for beginners, it's not so useful. Another unique section is the personages of some kendo masters. It's good if you want to know about more the historical development of kendo. It contains a chapter on kendo philosophies and concepts, with the Japanese idioms explained. It is good for your kendo as well as personal development.

Looking at a Far Mountain: A Study of Kendo Kata (Tuttle Martial Arts)
by Paul Budden

Though I haven't read in detail this book, since I don't spend much time on Kata. But in my opinion, this is a good book focused on Kata, which can compliment any general kendo textbook. It contain the historical evolution of the kendo Kata (with nice old photos). The Kata are explained in good detail, with breathing methods, and illustrated with nice photos.

The Heart of Kendo: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of the Art of the Sword
by Darrell Max Craig

Semi-biographic. Some sections. Having alread "The Definitive Guide" I sometimes do wonder why I got this book. (In fact this book was given as a gift). There is a chapter on his conversations with the author's late sensei. Sometimes it feels like a long ramble, when the author asks "But Sensei, why?" over and over again, and the sensei says "Well, this is simply so. Don't you think?"A such example is:

Graig: Sensei, I'd like to ask a question.
Sensei: I know.
Graig: I'm sorry.
Sensei: I know. What is your question?

Not terribly exciting is it? I much prefer a concise writing rather than that of a transcript type. The conversation was also somewhat stiff. The basic waza is not described as systematic and comprehensive as in "The Definitive Guide".

The Way of Kendo and Kenjitsu: Soul of the Samurai
by Darrell Max Craig

Some sections overlap with the earlier book "The Heart of Kendo". I do not see the point of having a book, which is aimed at advanced kendo players, that contains still the very basic parts such as etiquette, equipment, and basic exercises.

The most valuable parts of the book are on the advanced techniques, for example, tsuki, which the author explained with finer details. The techniques covered were not comprehensive, but with a bit of thinking, the reader can apply similar principles to the other techniques.

The rest of the book contains kenjutsu and kendo kata, as well as personal stories. The stories are readable, though not terribly exciting.

Not suitable for beginners and maybe not the best for intermediate players. But it is a nice book if one likes to expand his/her variety of "arsenals".

Apart from the sections on the advanced waza, I almost never read the other parts of the book.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Forward thrust

Yesterday, my men-strike somehow just clicked. I tried to thrust my hip forwards with the left leg, faster than before. The results is a faster and stronger men cut.

I arrived the dojo 40 mins before the session while the iaido had not finished. At the corner of the dojo I did 500+ suburi, and backwards - forwards footwork in chudan to practice seme.

Maybe because of the 30mins exercise, I was already a bit tired at the beginning of the kendo session. Nevertheless, my goal was still to give it all. And I did just that.

3 x kirikaeshi, 3 x men-hiki-men-men-hiki-kote-men-hiki-do, (then the same exercise but with kote-men), 2 x men-hiki-men-men (motodachi) - debana-kote, 2 x 5 techniques against men.

In the hiki-waza combo (I forgot the name for it), there should not be any pause between each strike. I also paid extra effort into the zanshin of the hiki-men, namely, holding the shinai high above my head with arms almost straight, to really show the spirit.

I didn't turn around fast enough for debana-kote as my men got hit most of the time.

I continued to give it all in the 15 mins of jigeiko, and kept on striking men with the epiphany I described at the beginning. It worked wonder. I thought also very little because I was tired. My body took over the control.

I tried also the osae-waza, which is the pressing technique. For me the best is pressing with the ura (right) side of the shinai. There are three main points:
  1. pressing at the middle of the opponent's shinai.
  2. pressing and striking is one movement.
  3. the arc drawn by the kensen should be as small as possible so that the strike can be make as quickly as possible.
In the last round of jigeiko I fought with Stephan, which was a very enjoyable fight even though I lost the ippon-shyobu. I struck men but at the same time he launched kote-men. Both the kote and the men hit the target. I was so tired that I didn't spend enough effort on seme. With a kote-men it's hard to defend, but if one apply seme (pressure) in the course leading to the strike, it is much hard for to opponent to be ready for striking. Perhaps one can also say that applying seme is a form of defence without explicitly covering one's open targets.

I was completely knackered after the training. What a good feeling!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

More men

Today at the end of training I had an Ippon-shobu with Georg, which didn't last that long. I wanted to do a kaeshi-do, but was too slow. I also noticed that I'm not confident with my men-strike enough. What I need is KNOWING (not just thinking) that when I launch the attack I can get a point. Then I can strike without hesitation.

Men-uchi, men-uchi, men-uchi...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Teaching the body

It's definitely not a good idea to eat doener kebab (a type of Turkish fast food, common in Germany) before the training. My body felt so heavy through out the training this evening.

In the previous couple of months, I had been working on seme, and, before then, strong-men cuts. I improved in each category separately, but it's still somehow unnatural to combine to both together, which is something I will have to work on. Especially, for kote-men, my men cut tends to be a bit too weak.

Tenouchi is the word here. At least at the moment my left forearm feels sore -- a good sign!

Today a few beginners wore the bogu for the first time. One of them (I'll insert the name later) had very nice posture, by that I mean back-straight, which something, for a lot of people, difficult to do (including me at the beginning). Another debutante, Mathies, who lately has been showing good fighting spirits consistently, did very well again on keeping the spirit up, even though it was obvious that he was at his physical limit. I hope he keeps it up!

Goals for the month:
  • Making the following things my natural instinct:
  • - seme;
  • - fast foot work;
  • - small sharp cut with left hand (wrist and fingers);
  • - push the hip forwards;
  • - and quickly draw up the left foot.
I hope to really rub these things deep into my joints, muscles and tendons.

The past weeks I often went for a 45 mins jog on Sunday, first along the river Elbe and then up the hill to complete a cycle back to my flat. It's amazing how significantly my stamina has improved since a year ago, by just doing kendo. Back then I could only jog continuously for half-an-hour.

Monday, June 18, 2007

32nd Australian Kendo Championship

Here is a clip found from the final of this year's Australian Championship, between N. Barlett (white) and K. Smith (red). A very nice fight.

Originally from this thread in the Kendo World forum

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Beginner again

Many people warmly congratulated me at the dojo yesterday for the win. It's a very nice little acheivement, afterall I have spent much time and effort, not just training but also thinking about kendo. (well, if you're reading this then you'd know it already.) At least it tells me that I'm going in the right direction. My training attitude however remained unchanged. Still thinking all the time, "Why didn't it work?", and, "How do I make it work?"

As for the training yesterday, there were too many beginners without bogu and the pace of the training was a bit too slow. But it's not too bad an idea to let the body slowly coming back to normal after the battle of Leipzig. My body felt rather heavy.

Some notes:
  • men-suriage-men: still didn't work.
  • kote-men: don't forget to keep the distance correct even when trying to go as fast as I can.

  • kote even though one can strike from afar, still one has to make contact with the kensen so that his knows what the opponent thinks.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

16th Leipzig Kendo Championship

Yesterday to my complete satisfaction I came back with a trophy from the 16th Leipzig Kendo Championship! I won the 1st place in the Kyu division, with that I got the chance to also compete in the Dan division. The levels are in fact quite mixed. Some in the Kyu division are definitely better than some from the Dan division. Part of it results from the strict and bureaucratic examination system of the German federation. One has to begin their official test from 6th Kyu, with each year no more than two exams. A shodan would require a minimum of 3.5 years experience.


Last week in fact I went to only two trainings due to large amount of work to do. When I showed up on Friday, some said that I lied on my blog! Well, in fact, you know, it was just a test to see who are reading my blog and trying to steal my secrets. Now I know wa ha ha ha... (Just kidding, of course.) So it takes a year for the others to find out that I'm blogging, that's interesting..

Hej du, schreib auch was. Make some noise here.

Anyways, let's get on to the main story..

Kyu Division

I finished my first two fights rather quickly with 2-0. In the first fight I faught with Moeller from Berlin: 2-0 (hiki-do, debana-kote). In my second match I couldn't remember what I did. But I was quite agitated. Stephan reminded me that I should keep cool. Then I gradually got better. In the third one I faught with Giessner from Leipzig, whom I won 1-0 with a debana-kote. From him I got plenty of tsuki marks. One of which was especially painful. Immediately afterwards, for a while, I had pain at the back of my head. The artillery must have been hit. It is very dangerous indeed if one does not take care and uses tsuki before he/she masters the technique.

I also think that in a competition, one is supposed to show his best and try to show the beauty of kendo, instead of just winning the competition. So, out of this principle, one should always show what he's best at instead of going through all the techniques he knows.

Quarter-final (Kyu): Me (red) - Giessner from Leipzig (white)

In the semi-final, I fought with Tino (also from Dresden). I won 1-0 on a kote-suriage-men. He was full of fighting spirit and did well on putting pressure, so it wasn't easy.

Semi-final (Kyu): me (red) and Tino Lehmann from Dresden (white)

Then I realised that I was in the final, fighting against Martin (also from Dresden). I had much hesitation during the match because I knew that he is fast. The moments when I didn't hesitate I got points. First on a debana-kote. He followed up with a easy kote-nuki-men when I launched my strike from to far away - a lesson to remember! Finally, I finished the match 2-1 with a kote-men. Only afterwards from the video, I realised that at the first kote, with no intention of hitting on target, I used the normal footwork to step forwards. Then with the left foot slightly in front of my right one, I launched the men-strike with that extra acceleration and distance, which allowed me to take a large leap forwards. This combined with Martin's backward movement and low alertness, I was able to get a point.

Final (Kyu): Martin Petrasch from Dresden (red) and me (white)

First medal for any sport, at the age of 26 - a rather amusing fact.

Elisa took a lot of videos of my matches for me (Danke Elisa!). So today I let out the Narcissistic side of me, and enjoyed the recordings again and again.

Dan division

So the rule is that if you are in the top 4 of the Kyu division, you get to compete also in the Dan division. I had not much difficulty with my first opponent. He seemed also very nervous. The match ended 2-0 with my kote-men.

In the second round, I got knocked out by the eventual champion, Mesenholl from Wuppertal, who fought in Nitto. Though I lost, it was a pleasure to fight him because he is stable and powerful kendoka. It was my first time fighting a nitto player. I wasn't sure what I was doing except I kept a good mobile footwork. But only afterwards I thought of better strategies.

He dropped his shinai when I hit his kote, so that I missed it and hit on the tuba or shinai instead. I think a good idea would be to feint the kote and then switch to men, since the men is open when he drops his hand.

My second round (Dan): Mesenholl (red) and me (white)

There was also a moment of opening when he missed and had his men open. Only if I had reacted quickly enough...

The hiki-do would have been better if I move more backwards with my upper body straight

Eventually, Mesenholl won the 1st place, and the second and the third are Marco (Leipzig) and our His Majesty Stephan, respectively.

Third place play-off (Dan): C. Rohde from Berlin (red) and Stephan Hernschier from Dresden (white)

Stephan first gave a blitzing men-suriage-men, and then a straight men when Rohde seemed to have let his men completely open (hear that popping sound!)

Final (Dan): Mesenholl from Wuppertal (red) and Marco Schulze from Leipzig (white)

Team Events

In the team events, I played the Senpo in our A team, consisting of me, Martin, Georg, Jan and Stephan. Apart from another all male team, we had also an all female team.

We won the first match 4-0 against Halle, but lost 2-3 to Leipzig. I drew the first match, but lost 1-2 in the second. A little disappointing. But they eventually won the first place, successfully defended their title from last year.

Summary of results

1. Patrick Koko (Dresden)
2. Georg Schröter (Leipzig)
3. Jacob Mack (Leipzig)
4. Martin Streitz (Halle)

1. Eori Satoh (Berlin)
2. Fanni Fröhlich (Leipzig)
3. Lili Dombrowski (Dresden)
4. Jasmin Rodig (Dresden)

1. Ivan Liu (Dresden)
2. Martin Petrasch (Dresden)
3. Eori Satoh (Berlin)
4. Tino Lehmann (Dresden)

Dan (and top 4 from the kyu division):
1. Torsten Mesenholl (Wuppertal)
2. Marco Schulze (Leipzig)
3. Stephan Hernschier (Dresden)
4. Christian Rohde (Berlin)

A year ago..

I started wearing the bogu almost exactly a year ago. It's really interesting looking back at the videos last year, how much my kendo has improved (which is never enough). By the way, the motion in the last year's videos seem to have accelerated by YouTube. Don't think I was really that fast.

There are however still reflections to be made:
  • Keep calm and don't panic when the other launches a strike. Instead, think of oji-waza.
  • Do not hesitate when a moment comes. In fact better launch the attack before you realised that there is a chance.
  • Be more aggresive, and don't be afraid of moving into issoku-itto-no-maai, as long as the centre is maintained.
  • Do not launch strike from too far away.
For the last year's event, click here.

Some photos (more on my picasa web album):

Dresden style