Last week I published an article on Kirikaeshi. When I posted the link on facebook I jokingly asked the question: “I love kirikaeshi… what about you?” I got a bunch of replies, but the one that immediately struck me was from Ralf in Germany: “Depends on the motodachi.” I strongly agree with Ralf’s opinion. Rather than write a brand new article to explain why I do so, I decided to cannibalise content from my previously published Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills manual, specifically the complete text of the chapter entitled “The most important person in practise: motodachi” plus another section about how to receive kirikaeshi from the “Drills: acquiring basics through repetition” chapter. If you haven’t picked the book up yet, it is available in both print and digital formats.
The first section below is the entire text of “The most important person in practise: motodachi” chapter.
Without a good receiver progress is limited
As of yet, we haven’t really discussed putting men on and actually doing what – for most people – would be defined “real” kendo. Before students can get that far there are numerous points that they should be aware of, as well as at least some requirement for basic movements to be, if not mastered, at least heading in the right direction. This takes a very long time, especially if you start as an adult, and even more so if you are practising only 2 or 3 times a week (if even that). However, delaying putting on armour until basic movements have been mastered would take so long that I think most people would quit due to boredom. It’s therefore very important that – whilst practising basic body movement and footwork, to ease people into bogu.
At this point, one of the most important things you should focus on is not only on how to strike, but how to receive. Often the former is emphasised over the latter. This is a mistake and can have serious consequences for the future development of your student’s kendo. This applies not only to beginners, but to more experienced students as well.
What is a motodachi?
A motodachi’s role is to receive strikes. It sounds easy enough I guess, but a bad motodachi can be the cause of bad technique in their kakarite. You must spend a lot of time creating and moulding motodachi in order to avoid this.
Once the basic ability/form of receiving is acquired the next step is to look beyond the mere “shape” of being struck, but actually look at the feeling of pulling the best out of your kakarite, offering appropriate targets at the right time, and using your body and spirit as a means to mentally encourage the kakarite. This takes time to acquire and is probably one of the physically hardest parts of kendo to master. The difference between merely a good kendoka and being a superior one, I believe, lies in their ability to be a good motodachi.
How to receive basic strikes
There are a few different receiving styles to be found, but here I will introduce the most orthodox method. I have received for hundreds if not thousands of Japanese kenshi over the years, from 6 year old kids, up to receiving uchikomi for hachidan, and have done uchikomigeiko with sensei from different parts of Japan, different professions (police, teachers, business men) and different levels, and have never found myself at a loss, whether being on the receiving or executing side.
Please note that the methods below generally follow the receiving rules as defined in bokuto-ni-yoru-kihon-keikoho.
Receiving men: drop your shinai to the right and open your men to your partner. If you are taller, dip your head slightly so your receive the strike on the top of your head and not your mengane. Never, under any circumstance, raise your head and receive a cut on the mengane (metal grill). It doesn’t teach you or your partner anything about striking, and it’s considered very rude.
Receiving kote: lift your right hand up and move it over to the left, so that the kote datotsubui (striking area) is in the center of your body (i.e. under your nose). The kakarite should be able to cut straight and not have to come in diagonally to hit this.
Receiving dou: the normal method involves raising your hands up above your head and opening your dou. As I will explain a little bit more in the kihon section, this is too high. Simply lift both hands up enough for your dou (left and right) to be open. Never twist your body to receive a cut as this presupposes that your partners dou cut is bad. By twisting to receive, they will never learn how to cut properly.
Receiving tsuki: this is similar to men. Drop your shinai to the right and it helps to tuck your chin in. In an uchikomigeiko situation I tap my tsukidare (target area) with my hand to signal that this is where I want the kakarite to attack.
Receiving renzoku waza: multiple consecutive techniques follow all of the rules above. The only difference is that if the technique is large (e.g. big kote-men) you will want to take a step back between cuts. For small, sharp techniques, you should aim to eliminate any movement between them. When the renzoku technique includes tsuki the motodachi should be struck with enough force to move him back.
Receiving taiatari and associated waza: taiatari (body blow) is signalled by bringing your fists close to your chest. Upon receiving taiatari you have two choices to signal the hikiwaza (technique while moving backwards): using your voice or by action.
* for hikimen push the kakarite’s hands down then open your men up;
* for hikigote push the kakarite’s hands to your left and open your kote up;
* for hikidou (left or right) push the kakarite’s hands up.
Putting it all together: Uchikomigeiko
Once your motodachi can safely and accurately receive and signal strikes during basic practise, then uchikomigeiko becomes a lot easier as it’s simply an extension of this.
Motodachi no kokorogamae – the job of the receiver
Learning how to signal and receive attacks is extremely important and learning how to do so correctly should be one of the main focuses of any kendo coach. However, motodachi’s job does not end there. Motodachi should aim to:
1. Signal and receive attacks correctly
2. Apply constant pressure to the kakarite
Do not simply stand there and get hit like a scarecrow. Even in the case where you are receiving strikes you must have an indomitable spirit.
3. Use your voice
Kiai is not only used to inspire confidence in yourself, it can also be used to draw-out the spirit of your kakarite. This usage of kiai is different from when you are on the attack and you can even shout out encouragement like “Come on! Hit harder! More kiai! Larger strikes!” etc.
4. Assume an appropriate distance at all times
Depending on the waza being performed ensure that you are in a correct distance so that the kakarite can actually execute it. This distance depends also on the experience level and the ability of the kakarite, as well as their kendo type.
Advanced motodachi skills include:
Constantly being aware of your kakarite’s ability, age, and condition, and tailoring your receiving to this is very important. What and how you do even the easiest things should be based on this. Also, people have good days and bad days; a good motodachi can read this quickly.
6. Being in study mode all the time
Constantly watching your students/kohai is important to help address any problems that they have. If you are lucky to receive someone whose level is higher than yours then you can learn from them by watching their body movement, footwork, shinai movements, eyes, etc., and most importantly by being struck.
You cannot study nor practise kendo on your own: you need a partner. Before we get to the point where we are free sparring, or competing in shiai, we need to spend a long time doing repetitive basics in the dojo. It is here – with the help of a good motodachi – that improvement is made. If you have no one to hit, or your receiver is inexperienced or simply not very good, then your progress will be compromised from the start.
As an instructor, building an environment where people learn from and help each other progress is vital. Ego should not be tolerated. When it comes to pairs of students executing and receiving techniques, both sides should be aware of what the other is doing, and the point that both are equal should be emphasised. More often than not, the motodachi ends up correcting the kakarite for perceived errors, but the opposite is not only valid, but more important: errors or modification in technique execution can sometimes be the fault of the motodachi. This point deserves attention.
The following chapters (in the Kendo Coaching manual) will start outlining a basic kihon practise, plus drills. In all cases strict attention must be paid to how the motodachi signals, receives, and acts in general, as it will affect the entire level of your kendo club.
The following is from the “Drills: acquiring basics through repetition” chapter of the Kendo Coaching manual, specifically the “Kirikaeshi and Uchikomi: traditional kendo pedagogy” section.
As explained in the motodachi section, receiving is a skill that is of vital importance. There are many receiving styles for kirikaeshi but there is a basic rule that must be followed when doing an orthodox kirikaeshi:
When using the shinai to receive yoko-men it must be held in a manner whereby your yoko-men is available to strike. In particular, do not hold the shinai diagonally.
There are times where the object of kirikaeshi is not sayu-men, but in general the above should be carefully monitored at all times. Some alternative ways to receive kirikaeshi:
A. Shomen kirikaeshi: all cuts will be to the center of the head, and not the side. This is a good version for beginners;
B. Hold shinai in the middle and allow yourself to be hit sayumen: again, a good version for beginners;
C. Place your shinai’s kensaki on the kakarite’s mune: good for use with people who strike too deeply;
D. Hold shinai lightly and allow yourself to be hit: hold the shinai straight and with little power. Useful to ensure kakarite is striking the correct area;
E. Normal: holding your shinai straight and without using force, receive the kakarite’s strikes;
F. Strongly stop the kakarite’s shinai: as above except don’t let the opponent strike your sayu-men easily. Good for people with weak strikes;
G. Lightly flick the kakarite’s shinai: a more advanced version which is useful for encouraging rhythmic, fast striking. Good for people who strike slowly;
H. Strike the kakarite’s shinai: meet your opponent’s shinai with yours, almost as if striking sayu-men yourself. This is a very tiring version of kirikaeshi and is good for training someone’s spirit.
This promo vid for Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills shows a couple of different kirikaeshi variations as well as demonstrating motodachi mechanics.
Kendo Coaching Tips and Drillsby George McCall. Published 2012.