Uchikomi

This year lets, with the goal of polishing our kihon, endeavour to spend a lot of time doing ‘uchikomi.’

Kyoto Budo Senmon Gakko’s (Busen) head instructor, Naito Takahuru, emphasised ‘uchikomi’ (what we now call ‘kakari’) – as transmitted by Hokushin Itto-ryu in Mito (Tobukan, where Naito started kendo) – as an important part of training. All five of the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) awarded 10-dan’s were students of Naito at Busen. That is, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Saimura Goro, Mochida Moriji, Nakano Sosuke, and Oasa Yuji.

The content of the ‘uchikomi’ itself could be repetitiously attacking the motodachi’s men (left or right) using small cuts, or could be doing large shomen cuts, or even cutting the left and right dou, etc etc. At this time, the motodachi’s job is not simply to stand and receive but, if he sees and opening, he should strike men or kote, and should endeavour to receive with the same feeling as the kakarite attacks (the person doing the uchikomi).

You must be careful never allow the connection between the kakarite and motodachi disappear after a single strike (i.e. it must be continuous). You must grasp the correct spatial distance (see prior article on HYOSHI), strike small and fast without large swinging motions.

It takes a lot of training to be able to grasp the others (both sides) hyoshi.


The above was written by Sakuma Saburo sensei (see the ‘About the author’ information below). When translating this very short piece I realised immedietly that it could possibly be a cause of confusion – which is it, uchikomi or kakari that he is describing? Basically, the title of the piece is UCHIKOMI, but he goes on to describe KAKARI(geiko). In it, he states quite clearly that what we call ‘kakarigeiko’ nowadays, was actually called ‘uchikomigeiko’ back in the Busen days (I don’t know if this is actually true, or just hearsay). This is very illuminating because, over the years of living in Japan, I’ve met sensei that (at least to me!) seem to be confusing the two. The official ZNKR definition (and the one I have in the Kendo Coaching manual) is simple. These are my descriptions:

  • Uchikomigeiko – the motodachi opens an area to attack, the then kakarite attacks it. Motodachi leads the pace and cuts are generally large.
  • Kakarigeiko – the kakarite attacks at will, making openings by various ways (kuzushi). Strikes are small, fast, and repetitious. The motodachi may allow strikes to land or may strike back or perform oji-waza.

However, it isn’t always as clear cut as this here in Japan. For example, in both these (great) videos below, you can see the high school students performing uchikomigeiko, yet both are called kakarigeiko, and in the second video there is a slight mixing of both (again, something I mention in the Kendo Coaching manual).

It probably still seems confusing, but its not actually. The safest bet for the non-Japanese-speaking kendoka is that they should stick to the above (ZNKR approved) definitions in general, but be aware that particular sensei or dojo may have their own understanding of the term. At least now – with the aid of Sakuma sensei – we might understand a little bit where the confusion sprung from!


About the author

SAKUMA SABURO sensei was born in 1912 in Fukushima prefecture. He started kendo at around 10/11 years old in Fukushima Butokuden. After graduating from what is now Fukushima University he started teaching kendo at various high schools. In 1939 he began to work in Mitsubushi’s mining operation and taught kendo throughout the country whilst visiting various mines. After the war, he became a student of Mochida Seiji hanshi and – while running his own kendo club – began working as a director in the Tokyo Kendo Renmei amongst other things.

He died at 84 in 1997. He was hanshi hachidan.


Source
平成・剣道 地木水火風空 読本(下)。佐久間三郎。平成9年発行。

Objective

A month or so ago – I can’t quite remember – I was reading a piece in one of the local kendo mags about someone who had, after many years of kendo practice, decided to quit. Of the many reasons he gave for this, one stood out: that there was no special ‘polishing of the character’ to be had through kendo practise. That is, through kendo there is no sort of ‘bettering’ of the person. This topic is actually something i’ve struggled with for a long time, so it made me (as occasional I do!) re-examine my rationale for doing kendo.

Being in the environment I am in, I have the chance to do kendo with a large variety of people across all experience levels. Of-course, there are many reasons why people do kendo, and thats cool, but it struck me during a couple of instances lately that my partner and I’s goal of doing kendo were mutually incompatible. In both instances the level of my partner was low/middle (around 3rd and 4th dan) and their kendo was – for want of a better word – random. Attacks came suddenly, without buildup, and at odd distances, and they attempted to block almost all of my strikes… including pulling their hands down to stop a (men-kaeshi) dou. They also enjoyed showboating strikes that they deemed good… as if their partner (me) didn’t exist. ‘Maybe, at that level, its to be expected?’ some may think (not me btw).

‘Ippon shobu onegaishimasu’ I said, admittedly trying to hurry up and put to bed what was for me a tiring and – dare I say it – boring experience. In both cases the people started attacking aggressively (and randomly)… not such a dreadful thing, so I remained cool and aimed to practise my debana or maybe kaeshi waza. One of the guys scuffed the left side of my men and then – much to my chagrin – chuckled when he saw that I ignored it and was prepared to fight on. The other spent all his time blocking any attempt for me to strike and – when he did try to attack – he found himself running into the point of my shinai. I finished one of the ippon by resorting to an overly flashy waza and then promptly going into sonkyo, and the other by letting the person hit me and say ‘thank you’ … both unfortunate and unsatisfactory results of keiko for me at least, if not all concerned.

The above are just 2 simple examples of keiko I’ve had with people whose purpose for practising kendo I can’t fathom. There is no polishing of technique, there is no respect, they show no understanding of when to strike… their kendo seems like a childs to me. Of course, I assume that 8dan sensei think like this about my kendo, but I do hope that I can recognise these actions in myself and can at least re-aim myself in the right direction if and when needed.

I’ve seen yet other people, of much higher level, acting in ways that have nothing to do with the concept of kendo, so much so that I couldn’t write a list if I wanted to. The worst include grooming of girls in the dojo for nefarious purposes (yes, you read that right), outward racism, and bitter political struggles in organisations that end up in the courts… all extremely selfish acts and nothing to do with the spirit of kendo.

Despite these examples, I do believe that there is a spiritual worth in practising kendo, and that if you subject your body to hard discipline it can help you mature into a more moral adult. The caveat of this is that it is not automatic… it has to be something you want, and you have to surround yourself with people that have, if not the exact same aim, then something similar. This may or may not be easy depending on your particular situation.

To go back to the person in the first paragraph: I’m not sure, but I suspect that he had an unfortunate experience or/and was not in the right environment to aim at what he was seeking. I know from personal experience that it sometimes hard to continue the daily routine of practise, sometimes because of personal issues, sometimes because the people around you don’t live up to your ideals, and sometimes because you yourself don’t live up to your own ideal (probably the hardest to overcome). Kendo should be demanding, both physically and mentally, and to ensure that you have a healthy, long term kendo career, its best to re-examine your reasons for subjecting yourself to such training. If you don’t bother, have only a short term goal, or have none, its only natural for you to quit when things because a little harder than usual. If you think about quitting perhaps its better to take a break, re-assess, pick a good teacher, and surround yourself with like-minded kenshi. Don’t give up!!

Recently some of my articles have been of a more rambling, personal type… and thus probably of dubious value to the general kendo community. Apologies!!!!

Ladder drills

This is an abbreviated/casual version of a chapter that was originally in my just-published Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills book, but which I removed in the final version as it didn’t really fit in the way that I wanted it to (and also because I am terrible at making attractive visual charts… which is why you only get a scanned version here!). Some small footage of my ladder drills can be seen in the Kendo Coaching vid at the very end.

Basically, the brunt of a good kendo training regime is built solely on the repetitive business of practising basics: kirikaeshi, uchikomi, more kirikaeshi, more uchikomi etc etc… with the odd shiai thrown in for fun. At least, this is how it is for me, and what I (and all orthodox kendo teachers) make their students do. Theres a bit more to it than that of-course, but as the years pass by, you start to see how simple the kendo pedagogy actually is. I’m older and somewhat experienced, so am ready and accept the repetition, but younger people sometimes don’t. To make things more interesting, one of the things I like to throw in the mix every so often is some pattern ladder training. (of course, this training isn’t just limited to younger people!)

Theres nothing really new or innovative here, but let me indulge myself and tell you why I think ladder training can be a useful adjunct to a normal regime, and what I do to make the practise slightly more kendo-centric. First of all, what I do to make it more kendo-y is:

  1. The students start in their normal kendo ashigamae;
  2. I require students to stamp (fumikomi) when they come to the end of the ladder. You can add a kiai here as well;
  3. Heavy emphasis on the working of the achilles/lower leg in regards to fumikiri action (bending of knees and keeping the heels up);
  4. The end-point of the drill set – single leg drills – is my goal and its all built around achieving a strong left leg push-of (fumikiri). I don’t necessarily tell the students that this is my aim though.

Benefits of ladder training (in general + my extras) include:

  • A great warm up – you can find your heart rate increasing rapidly;
  • Helps stability – keeping the body ‘grounded’ whilst moving quickly;
  • The ability to empirically measure [improvement] – time students on different drills and record;
  • Left-right balance practise – the kendo kamae favours one side of the body to the other, this is bad. You can easily invert drill training;
  • Strengthening of the fumikiri action – one-leg exercises are great for helping strengthen fumikiri;
  • Concentration on the fumikiri action – removing everything else other than your leg actions, concentration on a single action becomes easier;
  • Its fun!

Theres probably more I could add here, but that will do for now.

To see/download the actual patterns that I use, please click the image below. Note that the numbers with a circle around them denote the RIGHT foot. Note that I sometimes change the legs around, as well as replace a single person running a ladder to two people: one walking on their hands and the other holding their legs, wheel-barrow style.

This file is for your reference only, feel free to do with it what you will.

I hope this was useful. If you have any ideas how to improve on this, please comment here or on facebook. Cheers!

Cheers!

Thanks to everyone who grabbed a copy of Kendo Coaching Tips and Tricks since its release on Saturday 8th of October. Its been a resounding success!! In the first two days alone it sold more copies than I had imagined, and printed copies have been shipped out to at least the following countries:

USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Brazil, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia… all in all about 60 different locations!!!!

I don’t have information about where digital copies end up, but I’m pretty sure it will include a few countries not on the list above.

Since its only just been released I’m sure (hoping!) that copies will continue to be shifted for the foreseeable future. In the meantime I will start to put together some articles for kenshi247 and to work on my other book projects.

Again, cheers… kampai!!!!

Its finally out!!

Its finally out!!! It only took 4 years!!!

The idea for my latest book – Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills – first came to me in August 2008. I had just returned from a short trip to Fukuoka University of Education, where I joined a bunch of British university students at a gasshuku. It was very hot and the training was hard. A large part of the trip for me was getting the chance to see and learn from my old coach and friend Honda Sotaro sensei. I stayed with him and chatted about kendo and teaching.

Watching the students struggle with the keiko I realised how unfamiliar it was for them to train in Japan… everything seemed to be new. Perhaps I took my lucky kendo situation for granted, I thought, having been in Japan for 5 years by that time. So started to think about how kendo was being taught to me and, if I ever returned to the UK, how I could possibly transmit my experience to people over there. I sat down with a pencil and some paper and began taking notes.

Little did I know that my kendo situation – and with it my entire kendo career – was about to change massively. My job was due to change in September but I didn’t conceive that I would end up in charge of a large sized high school kendo club. At first I was a bit tentative: how much of the club could I really control? Can I do what I want? Can I change things? As it worked out, I was to have almost full control of the club. What that gave me access to was a physical dojo, a lot of keiko, many chances to see other schools practise, and time to try experiment a bit. This situation continues to this day.

At the same time I also started Eikenkai, so I could try out different things with adults of varying experience levels, including visitors from outside of Japan. It was all coming together.

So in the last 4 years I’ve developed my own ‘style’ of teaching. I’m happy to report that its nothing out of the ordinary… I’m very orthodox!!! This book, I hope, aims to put some of my experience down on paper. I sincerely hope that it ends up being a positive contribution to the kendo community at large. Fingers crossed….. !

To read more about the book, to buy, or to preview, click the image below. Cheers!