Tenouchi for men cutting

Editors comment

I have a load of kendo books and magazines at my desk at work. In amongst these I have a couple of kendo-specific scientific sports conditioning and training books. I use these as reference and pick them up for a leaf through quite regularly. Last December I randomly took a picture of a nice diagram from one of them and posted it on the kenshi247 facebook wall. It showed the action of how the shinai moves in your hand as you start and complete a strike. The picture caused a bit of debate on facebook (for and against) so I decided to translate and present the text that goes along with the picture here. I must stress that this is only PART of a larger topic and urge you to read the original book if this topic interests you (see source).

As I noted on facebook, in a dojo of 10 sensei you will get 10 different methods of striking men. I know this through experience. Although kendo does have a general ‘set’ method (defined by the ZNKR) it does – in fact – allow for a breadth of style. To exclaim that this or that is ‘wrong’ shows, I believe, not only inflexibility of mind, but potentially of method also. So, even if you don’t adhere to the method explained here, at least realise that many people actually do. What would be nice, however, would be that the people who don’t use this method to actually try it… a bit of research and self study (called KUFU in Japanese) is required in budo after all.

As implied by the above, please realise that this is not some ‘how to do kendo properly’ article at all, but is presented for your (and my) study purposes. One of the well-known kendo phrases is:

我以外皆師
‘Everybody but myself is my teacher’


Tenouchi for men cutting

Look at the picture. It shows the tenouchi, specifically the rather unique usage of the pinky, and its role in energy manifestation in a kendo competitors left hand (as the muscle is extended power is generated). As you can see, as finger/hand muscles are being used the shinai-gashira (the bottom of the shinai) moves/slides between the up and down swing. This unique manipulation of the area around the pinky allows for faster control of the shinai, e.g. when you do kirikaeshi. It also allows for a finer control of the shinai tip.

Although this picture mainly demonstrates the action of the left hand in kirikaeshi, let us think about the position of the thumb and index finger and its role as a fulcrum for the pinky leverage. In this situation the wrist is in a fixed position (i.e. it doesn’t move). If the wrist bends the leverage mechanism will disappear and shinai speed and the ability to do kirikaeshi will be compromised. It follows that if the wrist is fixed then the fulcrum power of the hand can be used and kirikaeshi speed will increase.

If you move the wrist further than needed you risk compromising the ability to snap the wrists when you strike. Please be careful of this.

Lets think about it a little bit more. What we found out before (read the book – see sources) is that – when raising the shinai tip to strike – you risk losing energy in the strike if you bend your wrists in an awkward or crooked manner. Instead, as you raise the shinai tip to strike, keep your wrist fixed and allow the shinai to ‘slide’ in your hands. Ok, so where does the energy start from when you start to raise your shinai tip?

This energy comes from the elastic energy produced by the fumikiri movement (pushing of) from the left foot. As the body is being pushed forward the movement transfers energy (inertia) from the lower body to the left side of the body and arm, and the leverage of the left and right hands causes the start of movement in the shinai tip. Using the elastic energy that is transmitted up from and through the left side of your body plus the coordination of the bend of the muscles in the left shoulder, hand control, and the angle of the raised shinai tip, allows you to the possibility of changing the timing of your men strikes.

Elite competitors say ‘technical ability = the knack of striking men’ (i.e. if you can master how to do a men strike the rest will naturally follow). Once you have this control/knack you can attack with various timings, strike from various positions, be able to turn/rotate your shinai at will, and strike with correct hasuji (‘blade angle’) etc. For example, once you have this control you won’t lift your shinai tip up further than you have to when you strike.

The control of the shinai tip is found through the transmission of elastic energy from lower body >> body trunk >> upper body >> tenouchi (hands) >> shinai.


Source

剣道選手の打突のしくみ。今福一寿。剣道日本。2009発行。


Bonus

UPDATE: Check out some youtube footage of the DVD that comes with the book that was released prior to the source listed above:

Sequencing your kendo DNA

(this article mentions kendo specifically, but can apply to any budo)

I often get email from people abroad wishing to join Eikenkai or Yoseikai pracises when travelling through Osaka, and the odd email about people wishing to look for dojo in places outside of the Kansai area. The usual format is “Hello, my name is X and I am Y grade.” After that I may get more information, for example where they practise, the duration of their experience, and – less commonly – their teachers name. People with experience in training in Japan, however, find that when first entering a dojo they are usually asked these questions in the reverse order, i.e. the initial question asked is “who is your sensei?”

Over the net, if someone tells me their age, duration of experience, and grade I can make a pretty good guess of where I think they should/may be technically. Generally. However, this is just what it is: a guess. I can’t possibly know how they do kendo or – more importantly – their attitude to it. This is where telling me your teacher becomes very important. If I know your teacher – either personally, through word of mouth, or reputation – its a much better indicator to me about your method, style, and purpose for practising, which is arguably more important than simply how good you are. Even if you are not so experienced now, if your teacher is well thought of then I know that you are going in the right direction. These people – i.e. those I can easily profile – I am more inclined to spend more of my time to help out. In the same vein, I know that the initial treatment you receive when attending a new dojo in Japan can be affected (both positively and negatively) depending on your answer to the initial “who is your sensei?” question.

Of course there are many times when people mention instructors whom I don’t know, and at that time mentioning your teachers-teacher can be useful. Since I study mainly under a couple of teachers, one being relatively well known (in Japan) the other not so, I often qualify the other sensei when I go to a new place by telling a little bit about his background.

How many people actually know their teachers teacher and what qualifies as a ‘teacher’ anyway? These questions might seem sudden, but they are an important part of this discussion. Let me tackle these questions in reverse.

A teacher is someone you learn from and study under for a (somewhat long) duration. Someone – at least in the earlier stages of your kendo career – you simply copy. If they are a good teacher you will never outgrow them. They should hopefully also be someone who has reached a proper teaching level. It follows that I do not – and I hope you don’t either – consider someone my teacher if I do kendo with them at seminars once or twice a year, even if that spans multiple years or even decades (if they are Japanese then they almost certainly don’t consider me their student in that situation anyway, despite what I or you may wish to believe).

Your teachers teacher is obviously someone that your teacher spent many years studying under, and is possibly someone who you have never met. What good is it knowing about them anyway? If your teacher is serious he/she probably limited themselves to a small number of instructors and studied under them for a good many years. What they learned from their teacher is what they imparted to you. So your teachers teacher has, in effect, influenced your own kendo as well (fundamentally so). So when someone asks you “who is your sensei?” or “whats your experience?” its not only much more useful (to the experienced questioner) but may even be more ‘correct’ (in a traditional manner) to tell them not only your immediate teacher, but your teachers teacher as well (especially if your teacher is not well known). If you list a few dojo’s or multiple names (or heaven forbid, you can’t think of anyone who you would gladly call your ‘sensei), then I’d say you’ve not just gone of on a dangerous tangent, but you are not doing ‘Kendo,’ at least in an orthodox manner.

Kendo is – as I’m sure you don’t need a reminder of – a physical tradition that is taught not through websites, books, and certainly not through video, but is a living tradition taught and learned physically and verbally. If knowing your teachers teacher is to (start to) know your own roots, then it follows that not having a teacher means you have no base.

Unnatural selection a.k.a. the bespectacled watchmaker

Like a lot of people when I was in my teens I often wondered if the strange people living in my home were actually my relatives – their ideas seemed so alien to me I suspected that I might have been adopted!!! As a poor student living hand to mouth I was often bitter about being born in a family that was far from wealthy. As you can guess, I was (am?!) quite an ungrateful son! We can’t choose to whom we are born nor (at the moment anyway) whats going to pop out in the maternity wing. Luckily, kendo-wise, we DO have the ability to choose, for want of a better word, our parent(s) and our genealogy.

What we are taught and study in the dojo is simply the physical (and verbal) teachings of generations of instructors. From your teacher you simply inherit what they were taught and these teachings are, if you will, part of your kendo DNA. Naturally, choosing a ‘bad’ teacher leads to a dubious (even bleak at times) future.

So when you go to new hospital or visit a new doctor and you are asked about any congenital conditions in your families background, maybe you will recall your first visit to a Japanese dojo when they asked you “Who is your sensei?”


Addendum

Obviously peoples learning experiences and situations are different. Some people may not even be interested in their teachers teacher or further down the line. But for those of us that take the study of kendo seriously, researching and discovering your roots is, I believe, vitally important.

The kanji for KEIKO means – as everyone knows – to ‘reflect’ on the ‘past.’ One basic meaning of this is ‘repetition’ – to repeat what you have (and your teacher, and their teacher, and… has) done before, polishing and refining it.

I remember *Ken-Zen dojo’s Ebihara-sensei stop and tell the class one day:

“Everything you do in the dojo has been done before. You might think you have made up some new technique or strategy for attacking but thats rubbish. Its all been done before. Just repeat kihon. This is keiko.”

(I paraphrase – I have a strong memory of the scene and the gist of what was said, but not the exact words. I was a young and immature kendoka in Ken-zen in the mid/late 90s… I hope my understanding of Ebihara-sensei’s words are correct, in content if not in words.)

kenshi247 selected articles

Presenting our first publication – kenshi247: selected articles 2008-2011. Available online now in printed (20 USD) or digital (10 USD) version it contains over 20 of the best kenshi247 published articles, revised and reformatted. Printed in America using Hewlett-Packard’s MagCloud POD service you can pay with credit card or paypal. If you choose the printed version there are a number of delivery options available.

Please click on the image below or in the side-banner (or here) to see a full preview and to purchase.

kenshi247: selected articles 2008-2011

By George McCall

50 pages, published 4 DEC 2011

A collection of the best kendo articles from kenshi247.net spanning 2008-2011.

Contents:

1. About kenshi247
2. Kenshi (swordsmen): Takano Sasaburo; Fujimoto Kaoru; Takizawa Kozo; Ikeda Yuji; Furuya Fukunosuke; Kendo no kata creators.
3. Oshie (teachings): The reality of seme – Furuya Fukunosuke; Kendo Is – Sawaki Kodo; The Concept of kendo – Nishino Goro.
4. Waza (techniques): Kobayashi Mitsuru hanshi’s katatezuki; Dead or dying.
5. Shinsa (gradings): A brief investigation of the shogo system; How to pass hachidan (2 versions).
6. Extras: The formation of reiho in modern kendo; Some naming guidelines.
7. References and sources.


Why publish something now?

From the start kenshi247.net has always been free and will remain so in the future as well. All the articles in the publication above are still available online for you to enjoy completely free. So why bother? Basically, I had 2 reasons why I decided to publish now:

1. Over the years I’ve had many people ask ‘how do I donate?’ or ‘how can I support you?’ an answer to which I’ve never really had. Rather than just accept money, I thought I’d collate some of the articles for posterity and give people the chance to donate by buying them. Any profit made will go into hosting and domain costs and theme purchasing. If a miracle happens and 10 million copies are sold then I’ll build a dojo!

2. Next year I am aiming to publish at least 2 kendo books, one is a completely original book written by yours truly, and the other is a top secret translation piece. This ‘selected articles’ is a sort of dry run for these. I have never published anything online before, and never done any book design or what have you, so this is all new to me.


Some pictures


Thanks!

Just a final word of thanks to the kenshi247 readers out there. Hopefully we can continue to produce interesting and informative content (online and in print) for many years to come!!!

Cheers,
– George
Osaka, December 2011.

Kamae equation

The prerequisite of beautiful kendo is a beautiful kamae

The importance of developing a good kamae is stressed by every kendo instructor that you meet: without a correct kamae, many sensei state categorically, you cannot do correct kendo. Only once your kamae is correct can this lead to execution of correct technique (and thus “beautiful” kendo). It naturally follows, then, that a kamae that is flawed can only lead to flawed strikes, even if the execution is fast and strong.

But what is a correct kamae?

Although I could easily show you a diagram of the definition of a “correct” kamae, the fact of the matter is that individuals develop their own kamae based on their own body characteristics through years of experience. The length of peoples arms and legs, their height and frame, the length of their trunk in comparison to their legs, etc etc, all these parameters are part of what I will call the kamae-equation.

As an individuals kendo career advances, they undoubtedly change their kamae many times. This is a natural part of kendo growth and teachers should not only encourage their advanced students to think deeply about their kamae, but be considerate of individuals physical differences. We should also be aware of physical changes that occur over time and there impact on an individuals kendo. For beginners or less-experienced students, however, its best to try to fix their kamae into a single style until they get more experienced.

The following will not attempt to explain or expand on the above in full, but simply look at a single difference that can be explored when studying kamae. Its up to you as an individual to research further.

Chudan-no-kamae

Walking into a dojo today, each sensei has their own (based on experience) kendo style including, naturally, their own kamae. Even though this is the case, we can say that, very broadly, chudan-no-kamae falls into one of two main – and equally acceptable – types:


From l-r (all sensei are hanshi 9dan): Ota, Shigeoka, Ono, Nakakura

* Straight kamae (chudan-no-kamae)

As you can see by looking at the first 2 sensei in the picture above, their body is straight on, hips are square, and the shinai/sword is pointing directly straight. This style is universally taught to children and beginners, and is the way you must kamae in kendo-no-kata. This is by far the most common way to kamae for the general kenshi.

* Open kamae (seigan-no-kamae)

Looking at the last 2 sensei in the picture above you can easily see that their body is slightly open to the left (hips are diagonal, left foot is sometimes slightly splayed), their left fist is moved to the left, and their shinai is pointing to the right. This is very common kamae seen in elder and/or more experienced kenshi in Japan (I sometimes see it in very good high-school and university level kenshi as well). This is almost probably the more classical or orthodox shape of what we refer to as “chudan” nowadays.

Although I referred to this open kamae as “seigan-no-kamae” above, this nomenclature has fallen out of general use in recent years (or is sometimes used to describe the shape taken when facing a jodan kenshi*). In fact, either of these kamae can correctly be called ‘chudan.’

* this is sometimes called ‘kasumi(-no-kamae)’ but this branding is, it seems, a product of internet forums.

Chudan type vs center line

Commonly the ‘center’ is usually taken to be the line of extension from your kensen to (usually) the vertical line from your opponents forehead down to their stomach/abdomen. ‘Semeai’ is the battle to see who can control this line and, by extension, be in the best position to execute a successful strike. This works fine for the general chudan described above, but for seigan the extension of the kensen tends to be from the opponents left eye, down the left side of their body to their stomach/abdomen. It naturally follows that semeai will be slightly different in this state.

Another often heard explanation is that the ‘center’ is not a line, but a (sometimes triangular) ‘zone’ in which you can freely move your kensen in order to pressure your opponent.

Either way, the ‘center’ is generally a nebulous thing, with a strong psychological element as well as physical aspect attached, the understanding of which only comes after years of training (not that I understand it of-course!!).

Chudan vs Seigan

As a teacher of kendo who is still very much first and foremost a student himself it is, I believe, worthwhile thinking about who uses which type of kamae and why, and which shape leads to easier use of what waza. Not just that, however, I also believe its important to consider your own and your students kendo in total (e.g. age, experience, body type, etc) when it comes to studying kamae and what springs from it (seme(ai) and the execution of techniques, etc). In this way you can develop a correct kamae that fits the individual, and by extension bringing yourself and them closer to our goal of correct and (thus) beautiful kendo.

Summary?

Although this small article is called kamae-quation I didn’t expand the description on that part on purpose. I also chose not to talk about other elements that spring up from the description on chudan types, for example the difference in semai. This to was done on purpose. Japanese kendo manuals are replete with the terms “kenkyu” and ‘kufu” (to research, study, and work things out by yourself), i.e. the final responsibility for the kendo that we do is ourselves. In that way, I offer no summary here, just (maybe) pause for thought.

Kakashi jodan 案山子上段

There are some people that take jodan-no-kamae whilst sparring their sempai or sensei. Jodan is about overpowering the enemy and forcing their technique, spirit, and power to cower before yours, all the while unreservedly attacking any of their openings wholeheartedly (sutemi). To reach the point where you can do this requires a long and arduous training regime. Even skilled masters take 30 or 40 years after first putting on their bogu to reach this level… so its only really these people that are ready to take jodan. People that try jodan without first reaching this level have a kamae that is completely open to attack and – whether they are on the attack or are attacking – they just look clumsy. Their attacks are strangely groping-like, relying only on luck and good fortune for success. This type of jodan has been called KAKASHI-JODAN from a long time ago.

(‘kakashi’ means someone who takes the outward form of something for the sake of status or pride despite their lack of ability to do the thing they say or attempt to do. It can also refers to scarecrows – they look human, but they aren’t.)

It we gathered all the current active hanshi and split them into 4 groups and ask each “What do you think makes good jodan?” we’d have a lot of discussion on the matter… jodan is that difficult to master.

In other words, it is only superior level kenshi should be taking it up and beginners or low-skilled people using such a prestigious kamae against their sensei or sempai are simply rude. For people that wish to make their opponents look foolish (i.e. use the kamae in order simply to strike their opponents, win at shiai, or to get prestige and look cool through using it) I want to tell you that this is an unacceptable attitude.

Even if our partner is of the same level we are taught to say “GO BU-REI SHIMASU” (‘I’m being impolite’) before taking jodan; people using the kamae must fully understand why they say this.

My point is that there are many more important things worthy of study than simply the desire to hit people, and I want you to think of and work on these things instead. I’ve other things to say on the matter but I’ll leave it here. I hope this can be of some aid.

– Nakayama Hakudo


Editors comment

The above small piece is Nakayama Hakudo’s comments on jodan. He has a particularly strong opinion on who is eligible to practise jodan. Takano Sasaburo, senior to and probably a more influential kenshi than him, forced all of his students at Tokyo Shihan Gakko to practise jodan in their 3rd year of school (he was training people to be kendo teachers however). As a hanshi active at the same time as Nakayama, he serves to illustrate a different approach than the one above.

Although the era and the style of kendo in which Nakayama wrote the above is different from ours, it doesn’t take a close inspection of youtube to see that many people attempt jodan far to early on in their careers (never mind nito…). Kakashi jodan, as Nakayama would recognise it, is sadly still very alive today.


Sources

中山博道剣道口述集。堂本昭彦 (原者:中山善道・稲村栄一)。スキージャーナル株式会社。2007年発行。