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!
Last Friday we had a short shiai-geiko. I was in the less strong division, so I won all except one. My problem was that there is a tendency for me to return to kamae before any strikes, so when my opponent just comes up and strikes relentlessly, I just defend... Need to adjust this mentality for competitions.
Ho-Sensei told us:
In Shiai, one cannot wait until the opponent shows a complete opening before striking. One should strike when it appears just a little chance.
After reading a document written by Toshio Matsumoto (松本 敏夫), 9th Dan Hanshi, talking about various detailed fundamental aspect of kendo, including body postures and weight distributions in kamae and during strikes. It got me excited after reading it, because I have noticed a few things which worried me at the back of my mind:
1. I lose the ai-men strikes very often, and my shinai tends to miss and drift towards my opponent's left-side.
2. Most sensei's kamae appears that their left hand is not exactly aligned with the tip of the sword, but shifted very slightly to their left. And I have also seen black and white pictures of some renounced 9th and 10th Dan Senseis, holding kamae in this way.
3. Kuroda-san once mentioned when I visited him in Tokyo that shifting the left hand slightly to the left and pointing the shinai towards the left eye of opponent. But I haven't actually gone out and try it.
After reading the document by Matsumoto Sensei, I think I found that could be the answers to these questions. The following are some main points:
The bottom of the waist would face directly towards the opponent, however from there above until the shoulders, the body is twisted naturally towards the left, with the direction shown by the dashed straight line in the picture at the top.
The root of thumb of the left hand is placed in front of the navel, and because of so, with the upper body facing slightly to the left, the left hand is slightly off-center, which is drawn as the solid line connecting between you and the opponent.
The tip of the shinai should, however, be on the solid line pointing towards the opponent's left eye or between the eyes. So that a triangle is formed by: 1) the line connecting the two shoulders, 2) the tip of shinai to the right shoulder, and 3) the tip of shinai to the left shoulder. (As shown below.)
This triangle should be maintained during movement, and is the basis to all attacks and defenses.
The left hand should be at the "body-centerline" (the dashed line in the top diagram) always.
This is what Matsumoto Sensei called the "natural stance (自然身構)". Because this is the most natural, without the unnecessary tension, for example, on the left wrist if it were to be exactly on the center-line (to the opponent).
He also said that there are following three advantages to stand this way:
The opponent's tsuki-attack slides off easily.
When you strike men, the opponents shinai slides off easily.
Difficult for the opponent to strike the kote.
However, one should be careful that if the shinai tip is too much to the right side, the men would be left open.
I experimented with this last week, and had good results. My ai-men was stronger, and suriage-men felt more natural. It seems that because I wanted my shoulders to face directly forwards before, my left hand tended to shift to the right during the strike, which is very self-destructing. Maintaining a natural angle with the shoulders seems logical since the right hand is much farther than the left hand. I remember once I asked Ozawa Sensei if it's ok to have one shoulder extending farther than the other, he said promptly: "Ok, ok!"
For some reason, in the last training while practising with Ho-Sensei I could do clean and solid cuts. I could bring my body forwards, and could feel that my posture was straight from the beginning of the strike to the end zanshin. Ho-Sensei gave me some encouraging words because of that.
However I then asked myself, how can I do this in every training? For that, knowing the reason why I did well is important. I suspect that it was because I was very focused on every strike, partly due to the weather condition, the ONLY thing I was able to put on my mind was me in kamae, and my opponent in his kamae. In other words, focusing on just myself and the opponent is essential in bringing out powerful and committed strikes. I need to remember this and try to do this every time.
Another good news is that we have another young visitor, Marek Novak, from the Czech Republic, in addition to our already old friend Adam Urban, training for the summer in our dojo. Welcome!
It's summer now in Taiwan, and training in a dojo without air-con is one hell of an achievement itself. One constantly need to regulate his own training tempo in order not to dehydrate or faint from this crazy temperature and climate.
What I do is that I shift more from using the shikake-waza to the oji-waza in the jigeiko, and take more time to seme and experiment with the different seme techniques.