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!

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.