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!
A big congratulation to Aki Suzuki san for passing her 7th Dan at age 39 only! And the pass rate was 11%! What a splendid young age to obtain such a high rank especially for a FEMALE kendoka. I practised with her several times in Europe and in Japan, and all I can say is, she is by far the best female kendoka I have fought with. And she certainly has the appropriate rank to go with it.
I met Suzuki san (right) for the first time in 2007.
The below is a video clip showing Suzuki san (in blue) demonstrating the kakari-geiko with a femail Czech kendoka. Notice her swift footwork!
This is the 3rd time I participated in the Taipei Chung-Cheng Cup, since I came back to Taiwan 3 years ago. It was the toughest competition experience for me so far, as I fought about 8-9 matches with my teammates.
The competition was teams-only, no individual matches. I was the least experienced kendoka in the 7 men team representing the Taipei Kendokan. However, my sempais continued to encourage me to fight, even though at one point I really wanted to give up, and wanted to let the other team mates to take my place.
The pressure built up tremendously as I got more and more tired, and seeing my teammates scoring points, while I could only drew the match or sometimes loosing one point. In my mind, I felt like a failure being the one who pulls down our overall performance.
Su Senpai, our Taisho, looked at me and asked if I wanted to stay on and fight, I was really hesitating. Then he said, "I'm not sure what your problem is. But if you don't want to fight because all your teammates are winning, that is because we have at least 13 years of experience, much more than you have. If you are getting tired, we are getting tired, too and so are the opponents. Of course, if you are injured, then that's another story." Hearing his words, I felt there's now no reason for me to back down. So, I continued to fight on until he asked me to take a rest in the last match.
We obtain the 3rd place in the end.
There are so many other things I learned by fighting alongside my teammates.
Strategy and controlling the mental pressure. Apart from fighting as the senpo in the first match, I fought as the jiho for all the other matches. What I did well (apart from a couple of times loosing) was to draw the match, or if loosing, try not to loose the second point. This maintains a neutral mental pressure for my teammates.
Ho Sensei said at the end of today's training, that as we advance into higher Dan-grades we should start to be more aware of ourselves, and at the same time develop our own kendo styles. It will come naturally with the personality and the physical conditions.
Below is the video from Monday's training between two Senpais (there's HD version if you click on it)
A little thought: In Kamae, if I apply equal force on both hands to grip the shinai, I tend to strike with the right. However, I found that if I grip harder using the left. I naturally use the left hand to strike, which evidently much more powerful.
Now this is a video in yesterday's training, between Chang senpai (5th Dan on the left) and a visiting Ogawa Sensei (7th Dan) from another dojo. Good kendo and a good fight!! Enjoy!!!
Previously, I mentioned in the article on passing my 3rd Dan the things I wanted to work on. From then on, I have been working on these skills. Indeed, the foundation to all possible improvements are the kihon kills built up before now, for example, footwork, kamae, simple men/kote/do strikes, and kirikaeshi, etc. So, I sincerely advice all beginners to work on them step-by-step patiently and persistently. Especially, for the adult beginners, who usually tend to THINK more than to DO, sometimes you just have to switch off your brain and follow what the sempais and senseis are telling you. Perhaps, my past articles on kihon (basic) practice would help.
Recently I've become more aware of how my body postures can affect my striking range and the various wazas. No wonder athletes or students on sport sciences can learn kendo faster, because they are trained to understand and use their bodies well. Other people might start late, but with determination and perseverance they can still succeed.
Now when watching senseis or sempais fighting, there are things I can see which just didn't register in my mind before.
Kendo has just become more and more interesting.
To whose who find it difficult to make to the training for whatever reasons, please don't give up and keep on practising!!
Recently, I have been working on getting the correct distance, or the maai. Maai is the distance between the two opponents, and it is basically like the "shooting range" for guns.
However, not only the distance is important, the kamae also determines whether one is ready to jump forward or not, and whether one can jump far or close.
For example, if one were to strike debana-men, he must not jump too far because it would be slow, and also it is unnecessary since the opponent moves also forward. So, doing a successful debana-men should be aiming at "touching down" quickly with the right foot, in order to be faster than the opponent's men attack.
The separation between the two feet is also crucially important. At to-maai (far distance) and issoku-ittono-maai, the separation must be close to each other. To seme from to-maai, the left foot must draw towards the right foot quickly as the body advances forwards. However, to seme from issoku-ittono-maai ("one-cut-one-step" distance), the left foot should stay put, getting ready to strike at any moment.
It varies with the ability and the height of the person, of course. Generally speaking, when the opponent comes into the "shooting range", the left foot should not move, so that one can strike immediately when there is a chance.
With my calves still sore, typing an article on kendo training is like the cool down exercise for the mind.
Last month on 7/31, we traveled down south to Tainan City to participate in the annual North-South Competition. The main event is the match between the North Team and the South Team, which consists of kendoka from the northern and the southern Taiwan, much like the idea of the Tosai (East-West) Competition.
Each team has almost 80 players, and there are two courts. 40 players from each team fights in one court with the "point-scoring" system, where one player fights with only one player (the most common system); The other 40 players fight in the other court with the "advancing" system, where one player stays on the court to fight the next if he wins.
There is also team competition between dojos. The North won overwhelmingly on the day, and the matches were exciting accompanied by lots of cheering.
I won two matches and lost one. Our dojo's team were not able to advance, and lost to a team whom we should have won. I think I played a big role in our defeat, because I was the Senpo and lost 2-0. My opponent wasn't impossible to win, but he was more experienced and calm. He made me think that I had the chance, so I launched a kote-men strike. He scored with a kaeshi-do. Then I became impatient, and wanted to get the point back. He caught a debana-kote.
It's a classic example of not being calm enough, making enough seme before striking. A good lesson to be learned!!
The event took place in a very special place called the Butokuden "武德殿". It's officially classified as a national heritage, and there's a similar one in Kao-Hsiung, where we also went for a competition 2 years ago. It was built during the Japanese occupation period for the police to train kendo and judo.
Though victory didn't smile upon us, we did had a bit of fun taking a day trip down south in a nice weather. And I did learned a lot from this competition!
Recently I've been trying hard to improve my waza skills. It is very hard to practise against my sempais, because they are so fast. A little mistake in the posture and timing renders the waza ineffective. They have also been giving me lots of useful advices.
Debana-men: taking the center line is important. And since the opponent comes forwards, the right foot does not need to take such a large leap as usual. This makes the strike also faster.
Debana-kote: taking the center line is also important here. Make sure also that the left hand is pushed forward.
Sometimes my left heel is raised too high.
Although there are always difficulties here and there, I think my skills improve little by little anyhow. Especially, recently I have been able to "see" the winning strike at the moment when the opponent is about to strike. I seem to have a better feeling of what situation is the right moment to execute for which waza. Now I just need more practise and against more different players.
Haven't written the blog for quite a while already, because there is too many other projects going on right now. One being my new website for promoting science communication in the Chinese speaking world, combining art, design, entertainment and science education. It's http://dr-i.info/ and the facebook fan page is http://facebook.com/newartandscience. For those who can ready chinese or have friends who can, please support my joining the fan page!!
Anyways, back to the main subject. I became 3rd Dan as of today. It was 2 times kirikaeshi and 3 times 3-mins jigeiko(which I think are too long). If one passes the above then comes the kata.
There are three things I concentrated on:
Show a good Kamae, especially with a straight back. I found that only half of the examees below 4th Dan held a good kamae with the back straght. And most wiggle the shinai too often without a purpose. So having a steady kamae immediately stands out and gives the judges a good impression.
Show the understanding of seme. Not striking relentlessly like 1st Dan and the 2nd Dan holders. Every time before launching the strike, I made sure I applied the pressure to my opponent, and showing it by inching forward with the body.
Show a few (2 or 3) oji-waza, and kote-men strikes. Ok, in my opinion and many otehrs, kote-men is an essential technique to master in order to pass the 3rd Dan. So I have to show that I can do it regularly and fluently. And I struck also debana-kote and kaeshi-do.
Fortunately, I didn't make any major mistakes, despite being a bit last minute. I should practise it more regularly!
Where to go from now on?
Being a good 3rd Dan I need to be much stronger than I am. I need to work on:
striking at the right moment. Meaning I have to create the striking moment. Put more effort on waza practice, and use them in jigeiko. Especially concentrate more on the seming and timing.
Bring more explosion into my strikes. That also includes bring my whole body forwards instantaneously.
Last but not least, I really appreciate the Senseis and Sempais who have constantly helped to improve my kendo by giving good advices and pointing out my weak points. Thank you!!
The weather in Taiwan is getting more and more humid, and in last Friday's training I felt that I could throw up in any minute after 30 mins into the training. Fortunately, the kakari-geiko stopped just in time. Phew~
When I practised with Ho Sensei, my kote strikes landed several times on the fist-part of the kote, which isn't valid for a point. I think the problem is that my right foot didn't step to the left side.
Last Saturday was this years Taipei Youth Cup. It's been almost half a year since the last competition, which had been a major disappointment, not being able to even show a good kendo style. Since then I went to the training persistently, worked on the basics as well as trying to find what wazas work for me the best. And at the same time slowly building up more confidence. I can't say I'm totally satisfied with my performance this time, but at least there is significant improvements. Including:
I don't attack without first putting pressure on the opponent.
I can use wazas at the right time (Though not 100% successful).
I can analyze the current situation and adjust my fighting style immediately. For example, if I find myself starting breathing heavily, then I would hold my kamae and spend more time on pressuring my opponent while gaining the breath.
The reason for me being hit was almost the same for all matches: Lack of concentration. This made me not being able to judge the maai, and let the opponent come too close.
Another major thing to improve on is that my left foot still sometimes lag behind during seme. So, when I launch the men attack I couldn't push my body forwards enough.
Overall, I received good and encouraging words from Ho Sensei and So Sempai. It's funny that no matter wining or loosing, I have a feeling that it's all what matters. And I learned a lot from this competition experience.
By the way, thanks to the friends who came to see me. I never ask people to come to see my match, but in fact I deeply appreciate the gesture. Afterall, kendo is such a big part of my life, and I devote so much time and effort on it, although most of my friends have no idea of what it is and why I'm so attached to it. So thank you!!
Recently, there have been a couple of shiai-geikioes in the dojo, and there were wins and losses. I think I had overall a good control of my body, and didn't just hit relentlessly, but tried to pressurize my opponent until he makes the attack first. This means that I am more confident with my oji-wazas, which in turn means that my waza skills have also improved.
However, I still think I should take the center before attacking, including while executing the debana-men or the debana-kote. My shinai sometimes wiggles too much without fighting for the center. I should focus more on it.
One time I got hit on the do while I raised the shiani overhead in order to scare my opponent (Katsugi-waza). However, he didn't fall in to the trap but quickly executed a men-kaeshi-do. Next time when I use this technique I have to choose the right moment. When the opponent has an offensive mindset, it is dangerous. However, if he is defensive, then usually it works.
Two weeks of Chinese New Year break arrived timely for me to catch up some sleep. But in the end, I guess most of you would feel the same, was that I couldn't wait to get to the dojo.
Gradually I am exploring the finer details of kendo. It feels like a natural progression that in order to improve I must understand these details. Like seme and timing, with their associated footworks.
For example, when fighting against fast and powerful kendokas, I tend to not hitting straight because I am too afraid of being hit with a debana-men. The advices I got were:
I need to see and feel when the opponent is going attack. Just before that moment, strike immediately to win the debana-men. The right foot should be ready to jump forwards at any moment, meaning that the left foot should be staying put on the ground.
If the opponent has strong seme and takes the centre, then I must take it back with my shinai. Otherwise, striking when the opponent has the centre is a sure suicide.
Striking kote and kote-men:
One tip to hit on the kote without looking at it is to make the kote strike long the line going through the opponents right eye.
Today at the mawari-keiko session, Ho sensei asked me to stand in the motodachi position for the first time. After a few fights, Ho sensei came to tell me that I should try to use more waza and execute every technique thoroughly and correctly, even fighting with junior players.
When fighting with Yi-Chen (5th Dan), I had a big problem being able to hit him, which had happened also with some other people before. When he steped in to chikma (close distance), he turned his shinai pointing to his right, in sort of a half-blocking position. I knew I could not reach his men because he can block and even do a kaeshi-do. Kote was also protected because of the angle of his shinai. The only target opened was do, which was hard to hit also because the distance was very close. But I did get his do once.
On the good side, I started to analyze more and more the opponent's movements, and try to develop a strategy against them.
I've been to every training in the past month. Not for any particular reason, just because I enjoyed it. There have also been a few realizations of my own kendo lately.
When cutting: One thing particularly important is that, raising the shinai higher and strike down brings more power to the cut. This way I don't loose ai-men easily.
More successes at nuki-do and kaeshi-do: Timing is critical. And to have the correct timing, one should seme until the opponent launches the attack. I found that smooth and slow seme works the best. For example, sliding the shinai forwards against the opponent's just a couple of inches from the issoku-ito-no-maai distance, if the opponent raise the shinai to strike, then execute the kaeshi-men. If the opponent shows no movement, then back out and seme in again.
Kamae: If I have a good kamae then I become confident with myself. Maybe it's the reverse, I don't know. But for sure to check for is if I am holding my kamae correctly, and build up the pressure against my opponent from there.
Kote-men moments: The moment to execute kote-men is rather interesting. Very often the kote gives the opponent a signal to defend and then he blocks the men. The solution one is, to have a blitzing fast kote-men technique, but then the opponent is still be able to block. I think the best way to solve this is to catch the right time for kote-men. One of these moments is when his kensen is low, especially when he is about to attack (debana moment).
Concentration: There is a common problem to everyone, and that is the temporary black-out of mind. If this happens one basically falls into any trap set up by his opponent. Fake-men then striking kote is one of the most effective tricks. So concentrate!!