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!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Taiwan 4: Travelling with Senseis

The next few days after coming back to Taiwan, I travelled with Ozawa Sensei (who came with me on the same flight), Hara Sensei (flying from Miyazaki), and Mr. Chou in several cities to practise kendo and some sight-seeing. I joined them on the second day to Shin-Ju, on the 3rd day to Tao-Yuan, and the 4th to Jia-Yi.

In a Taoist temple in Shin-Ju

From what I have seen and heard, the kendo styles in Taiwan is diverse to say at best, chaotic at worse. I have been very impressed by many young kendoka in their 20s doing strong kendo with good postures and basics, but have seen also high grade Sensei with loose centre and basics. The people here attribute the differences to the differences in "style". But I think (or educated to think) that kendo without a strong centre is simply bad kendo. So this is one aspect of Taiwanese kendo for me hard to accept. Another aspect is the ugly politics in kendo here. Uhh.. I don't even want to get into to it.

Shin-Ju Kendokan

A feast from the host in Shin-Ju

In Jia-Yi, I practised with Chia-An Liu Sensei, 8th Dan Kyoshi. His kendo is indeed very strong and I tried very hard to break his centre. Once I fell onto the floor backwards due to his pushing and my loss of balance during taiatari. Bloody hurt, but I went on.

His young students are very well trained indeed - fast with correct movements - which made me believe that he is a good Sensei. This reflects how important it is for a student to do his best in order to bring a good reputation to his teacher. Before I went on this trip with Ozawa Sensei I knew I had this responsibility. It was a heavy one, but I felt I had to do it and do it with dedication. Especially not to shame his name and the name of Kobukan. Fortunately, the feedbacks from the others were mostly positive.

Liu Sensei's Dojo in Jia-Yi

Oh, I forgot to mention that another thing I dislike in Taiwan is the drinking culture.. They make you down glasses (about 10 cl, two shots) of whisky or other kinds of strong liquor, as a gesture of friendliness... This happened with us at almost every dinner after the training.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Japan 2008 - 4: Nittaidai and Rikkadai

Kabuki Theatre in Ginza. From Japan 2008

In the 2 weeks I spent in Tokyo, I went to Nittaidai twice and Rikkadai 3 times. In Rikkadai, Ozawa Sensei taught me Kihon apart from training with the (few) students there. In Nittaidai, the class was huge, filled with a pool of about 60 students majoring in kendo. Ozawa Sensei told me they are the top level kendo students in Japan. Certainly their kendo foundation and speed are above me, especially the 3rd/4th year students. What impresses me is that they have what Senseis would describe as "正しい" (proper; righteous) kendo: strong centre, good posture and straight kendo. The students in 1st/2nd year are however less so. One can thus see how the kendo of the students progresses in time.


In Rikkadai, first Sensei taught me one way to strike men that I have seen but never tried before myself. It's between the usual small-men and big-men cut, so he used "medium"-men to describe it. When raising the shinai to strike, the left hand lifts until the nose-level, and the right one is in front of the forehead. The kensen points about 30-45 degrees backwards. When striking, simply strengthen the elbows and snap out the wrist to apply tenouchi. I think this way of striking is good for practising the wrist snap and tenouchi.

Yamanaka Sensei also was present in one of the trainings. After a couple of minutes of jigeiko, he made me strike men continuously to practise my footwork. I was very tired in the end, along with my cold, and still couldn't get it right :(.. He told me to move my lower abdomen forward instead of up and down.

I practised some kihon with Suzuki Aki Sensei while Ozawa Sensei was teaching. This is truly a rare chance to get some feedback from a high grade sensei, since she can sense the mistake from the opponent's point of view. On the kote-strike, she told me that I should push my hip forwards more and use my left hand, both during the strike and the zanshin afterwards.

The students in Rikkadai, of course, are not as strong compared to the Nittaidai kendo-major students. This was only good for me, since I could be more determined to win (In principle I shouldn't think differently I know..). I enjoyed very much practising with the 4th Dan students, Ishizu-san and Shimizu-san.


In Nittaidai I could sense a strong solidarity amongst the students. When doing kihon and waza-geiko, the students waiting in line shout out kiai to encourage the other students. The senior students give genuine advices to the junior students after the keiko. I think solidarity is very important for people from the same dojo. One can be mentally stronger and more determined knowing there are a bunch of people supporting you regardless.

With the more junoir students I could get points, but my posture was no way as beautiful as when they make points on me. They gave me the examples of how to be a strong kendoka doing proper straight kendo.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Japan 2008 - 3: Kihon 基本

From Japan 2008

Since coming back from Kyushu I have been training everyday apart from the weekend. The training time in Kobukan is temporarily shortened to just more than 1 hr due to neighbours' complaints. Hopefully after putting on sound-proof walls the training time can be extended to normal length. For this reason, training in Kobukan is not enough, I feel. Fortunately, I have also been to Nittaidai (Nippon Sport Science University) and Rikkadai (Tokyo University of Science) about once a week.

When striking...

Up to now I have received much more advices and instruction from Ozawa Sensei and other Senseis on Kihon and Waza than last year. Footwork is the most urgent thing I have to improve. He told me that one should attack from the lower abdomen. One should tense up the muscle when striking and stomping. He made me feel his lower abdomen when he struck. Indeed, the muscle tensed up rock-hard momentarily and relaxed.


On kirikaeshi, I practised with Kaji Sensei in every training when he was present. First time he told me to swing the shinai up and down along the centerline. And to extend the right wrist more when striking sayu-men. On the second time, he asked me to relax me shoulder more. On the third time, my strikes slid off sometimes. It's hard to be perfect indeed, but I'm on my way...


On our way back from Rikkadai Chiba Campus to Tokyo, Suzuki Sensei looked at my left and right palms to inspect the calluses. The right one should not have any callus, as for the left one she said the following. "The sides of the thumb and index fingers that touch the shinai grip should not have calluses," she said, "because they are not used to exert force. The important part is the muscle below the thumb. This part is used to grip the shinai when doing tenouchi. " "When gripping, the thumb wraps the shinai in the direction of the middle/ring finger, and not the index finger, which is a common beginners' mistake."

Are you making this mistake?

I will write about my trainings in Nittaidai and Rikkadai in the next entry.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Japan 2008 - 2: Kamae 構え

In the first few days, some conversations popped up between Hara Sensei, Ryuzo and me (on the listening side) about the importance of Kamae.

The literal meaning of Kamae says already a lot of things. The word Kama "構“ means structure. It is the foundation for all things. Needless to say that a good Kamae is what every one should achieve. But what is the importance of Kamae? What is a good Kamae? What is a bad Kamae? Moreoever, there is a mindset that prevents having a good Kamae. I'm going to summarise what was mentioned in the conversations in the following. 

First I will mention the story that Ryuzo kun told me. He started kendo at a very young age, 6/7 years old, training at the police dojo in Miyazaki. Of course, as almost all kendoka in Japan know that Miyazaki has very strong kendo, the training is tough and the style is orientated towards competition and winning.  Over the years, he developed very strong kendo and had always been in the school and university team to represent in the competitions. However, he said only from 3 years ago, when he changed his view about kendo, it has become more interesting, and he thinks it's what kendo should be. "Between 19 years to 28 years old," he said, "my kendo performance depends on how much I trained during that time, and my kendo level stayed roughly the same. There was not much playing with mind." His kendo at that time consisted of much blocking, and dodging. His kensen was also flying every where. However, influenced by Yoshimura Sensei, 8th Dan, from Paris, he started to understand kendo from a new perspective, one that grows with time after each practice instead of solely on physical condition.

"The first and the most important thing is Kamae." He said. "A good Kamae is the perfect defense, and is also the best preparation for an attack. One should learn first Kamae, then learn seme, and finally the use of Oji-waza."

During the conversation with Hara Sensei, Hara Sensei talked also about the importance of Kamae, and what kendo is. "A good attack must have a story," and he asked me, "why did Liu-san hit my kote?" I could not answer it. "If the Kamae is not broken before attacking, there is no story, and no communication." I will always remember this. He continued, "To become Hachidan, the story needs to be apparent to not just the two fighiting kendoka but also the audience."

From Japan 2008

[Hara Sensei and Ryuzo kun reflecting on the essence of kendo over some sake and food.]

Monday, December 01, 2008

Japan 2008 - 1: Miyazaki

Arriving in Japan

On the first day I arrived Tokyo, I was too late for the kendo practice. I only had 5 minutes of kirikaeshi and uchi-gumigeiko with Kuroda-san. I was quite touch because he had been very busy for a few months due to work, and the new working place is too far from Kobukan, so he had only been there five times in the past 4 months. He went especially because he knew I would be there. As soon as I put on the bogu, I heard him shouting: "Liu-san! Come here!" Then I had my only practice.

From Japan 2008

A snap shot of the members practising on the first night just after arriving in Kobukan.

From Japan 2008

In the next morning, I flew to Miyazaki, Kyushu, to visit my friend Ryuzo and his wife Eriko. The whole trip was filled with good food, beautiful scenery, friendly people and nice hot spring baths. Eriko san's family also embraced me whole heartedly, and I was very grateful for that.

Training with the members of the police riot squad

On the third day, Ryuko kun took me to the police dojo of Miyazaki City, where the Miyazaki Riot Squad trains. The members play very strong and competitive kendo, one of whom is the member of Japanese national team.

The dojo is lead by Oshie Sensei, 7th Dan Kyoshi. Ryuzo told me how much he is still scared of him because Oshie Sensei used to be very harsh when they were children and they used to cry, because of his difficult training. He introduced me to the Sensei and also the other members. I started to be a little scared because of the level of caution put into the etiquette. "This is a very traditional place," I thought, "and the first thing I need to do is not to make any mistake in the etiquette."

From Japan 2008

This dojo, according to Ryuzo kun, is one of the 4-5 kendojos survived the war. Since Miyazaki is the origin of kendo, this dojo has a very significant kendo history.

From Japan 2008

Members of the riot police.

The practice is only jigeiko for one hour. I first practised with Oshie Sensei. I think because he knew I was Shodan so he did not put much difficulty. There is also not so much story I can say about it.

My second and third opponents were fast and strong. When they struck kote-men, is was as though the two strikes were one. I really had no time to react. I tried men-nuki-kote several times but my backward footwork was not fast enough to make a good kote-strike.

Hara Sensei, who was in Dresden earlier this year, came towards the end of the training especially to practise with me. Practising with him was a total pleasure. His kamae is very strong and has very strong kisei. He made me work to open a striking opportunity. There were a couple of moments when I felt connected to his thoughts, but unfortunately I made too premature kote-strikes which were not able to overcome his strong kamae.

From Japan 2008
Hara Sensei, Me and Ryuzo.