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!

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. :)