All Japan High School Championships (preliminaries) インターハイ予選会

A couple of posts ago I talked about renshu-jiai, or practise competition, what they are and what sort of benefits can be had from doing them. Since making that post I’ve spent three whole days (two Saturdays and one Sunday) at shiai with my students while they competed in the Osaka preliminaries of the All Japan high school kendo championships. This shiai takes three days because of the sheer amount of competitors: the first Saturday was the individual competition (boys and girls), then the following weekend was the boys and girls team competitions, each taking an entire day. Even though I didn’t compete, I’m knackered !!!!

iPhone-video footage I uploaded to the kenshi 24/7 facebook page proved popular, so I put together another short vid with some better quality footage to share. Most of it is of the warmup sessions, with a little bit of shiai action at the end. Turn your speakers to 11 before clicking play:

Lastly, here is a small gallery of pictures:

Practice bogu (KendoStar) 稽古用防具

Earlier this year I was delighted (jealous!) when my friend Andy decided to break free of the shackles of Japanese company life and go independent. Out of his new projects, his new online bogu company with a super cute name – KendoStar – is what interests me the most. The idea behind KendoStar is to provide Japanese-made bogu tailored specifically for the international kendo community (rather than for the domestic Japanese market).

KendoStar’s flagship Kaisei model looks delicious but, since I don’t reaaaaaally need something of this quality at this time, I couldn’t justify picking up a set (maybe later!). The more reasonably priced Shinsei model, however, I could.

As the website description stated that it is designed “to be a functional and practical armour set… with a simple, yet elegant design” and “a fantastic option for experienced Kendoka, who need a second set for travel, or as a good-value main set to replace a borrowed, or worn-out armour” I had a couple of jobs perfect for the Shinsei model:

1. to act as a rotation-set for my work keiko sessions;

2. to use sometimes when I travel directly from work to a degeiko session.

I used to keep two full sets of bogu at work for these reasons, but I was forced to retire one after it fell apart after 10 years of abuse (that men was also very heavy and not conducive to lugging around). So with these two excuses in mind I ordered myself a set.

After using the set for the past two weeks here are my thoughts.

(Note that I got the men, kote, tare value set, no dou)

Men:
KendoStar: Shinsei (men)

I had two immediate impressions of the men when I unboxed it at first, first that it looked really nice (as you can see on the picture above), and second that it was super light. Putting it on that first day it basically felt like I wasn’t actually wearing anything it was that light. At first this was quite disconcerting, but eventually I forgot about it and got on with keiko.

Despite being so light the men stood up to getting struck repeatedly during hard kihon sessions over the past two weeks easily. I think this is the 6mm tighter stitching working it’s protective magic. Off-target strikes on the mendare also benefited from extra protection/durability due to the use of gunome-zashi (check the description on the website).

I do have one aesthetic caveat about the men, which is complete personal preference – I prefer longer mendare. It is the fashion here in Japan nowadays to have shorter mendare, and I do know many people that have taken their old men and cut them down, but I personally prefer them long. YMMV.

Kote:
KendoStar: Shines (kote)

The kote are excellent: the wrist area is super flexible, they felt comfortable from the get-go (they fitted snuggly into my hand after about 10-15 minutes of practice), and the 6mm tighter stitching and extra padding/cushioning protect you from overly heavy strikes.

But what I actually like best about the kote was the shape when holding a shinai. Some kote are kind of inflexible around the wrist area which leads to an uncomfortable or compromised grip position, these kote didn’t have that problem. Happy George!

Tare:
KendoStar: Shines (tare)

The tare is basically a tare. It does it’s job! One thing of note is that the obi is of a less thicker material than normal, making it easier to tie and to tuck-in in front of your abdomen.


Conclusion

A nice, no-frills set that does exactly what it sets out to do: offer a reasonably priced yet good quality (and nice looking) bogu that either beginners or advanced people will be happy to use. I plan to use this bogu mainly at my work dojo over the next few years (where I do my most intensive keiko sessions) but I can also see myself using it when I travel due to it’s lightness.

In the future (as soon as I can justify it!) I’m looking forward to picking up one of the more fully customisable sets from KendoStar, but at the moment I’m happy with this one!

Renshu-jiai 練習試合

Over the past almost 9-years of being a high school kendo teacher (and the 5 years of teaching at junior high/elementary school level before that) I have been to quite a few shiai. Actually, I lie: I have been to about a million (if not that exact number then it certainly feels like it!). Behind all these official shiai are many many many more unofficially renshu-jiai (practise competition). These practise shiai sessions vary from smallish groups of one or two school kendo clubs getting together for a couple of hours of shiai followed by jigeiko, to massive multiple day events attended by 30 or more schools battling each other out.

In almost all cases there is no overall winner, you simply do as many shiai as possible and catalogue your own or your teams wins and losses. The competitor does his or her best against a – usually – unknown opponent then afterwards receives advice from their kendo teacher.

Apart from being fun, there are many helpful benefits to this kind of training, for example it:

– increases motivation;
– engenders a competitive spirit;
– offers a time and a place for experimentation without fear of loss;
– forces students to deeply consider why it was they won or lost;
– can be a good time to talk strategy with students (rather than purely form);
– allows the students to see if their kendo works against others in a low-stress environment.

Etc., etc. In other words, renshu-jiai offer opportunities to test ones kendo out against other people in a competition-near environment (timed, judged) without the emotional stress that can accompany official shiai.

If you don’t already do renshu-jiai as part of your kendo clubs training process, why don’t you try?

p.s. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t make a final point: it’s important to note that behind all of these shiai (official or practise) is keiko. Day-to-day keiko sessions far outnumber actually competition, exponentially so.


Bonus: Shiai wisdom

… the actual result of shiai is greater than simply winning or losing: it trains you to use the techniques you acquire in your daily practice fairly and justly, and gives you an opportunity to ensure that your manners are correct. Also, by reviewing how you acted during the shiai you can evaluate the degree of improvement in your spiritual and physical self-cultivation, providing you with a valuable reference about how to improve your kendo for the future.

Ogawa Kinnosuke, Teikoku Kendo Kyohon

One more …

Some exponents will tell us that there “is nothing to gain from merely winning in shiai” that the highest aims and the ultimate principles of kendo are beyond victory and defeat, and even transcend the realms of life and death; in this sense we can agree with this comment. However, even though the ultimate aims of kendo may transcend victory and defeat, the struggle for victory remains the only avenue for attaining them. Hence, comments such as the one above are easily misunderstood. Even if one tries one cannot divorce oneself from the confines of victory and defeat (shohai). It is only by focusing one’s mind upon shohai and submersing oneself into it that one eventually man- ages to emerge and transcend it. Consequently, the shugyosha must make it a golden rule that should he decide to enter a shiai he must endeavor to win at all costs.

– Noma Hisashi, The Kendo Reader


Gallery

Some renshu-jiai pics from over the years:

Kokutai Osaka preliminaries 第71 回国体大阪府予選会

The crème de la crème of the Osaka shiai-circuit were out in force today to take part in the Osaka preliminaries for the Kokutai taikai (“National athletic meet”). What that translates to exactly is young tokuren police professionals, jitsugyodan (semi-pro business teams), and teachers. The odd random person tried their luck to (but to little avail): out of the 8 spots on offer (sempo, jiho, chuken, fukusho, and taisho for the mens team, sempo, chuken, and taisho for the ladies) 6 were decided by shiai, and the other 2 (mens and ladies taisho) by recommendation. All the spots save one were taken by professional police kenshi, with fhe final position being won by a prison guard.

I was there not only to support friends who were competing and to take pictures, but also because my students were selected for shiai-jo work (time keeping, score recording, etc.). Anyway, here is a small gallery of pictures from todays shiai. Enjoy!

Time for a break / rethink 休憩中・考え直す

As long-time readers have probably noticed lately, my (written) output on kenshi 24/7 has been a little bit patchy. This is not due to lack of inspiration or because I am not thinking about and doing lots of keiko, but because I have little free time nowadays to spend writing long articles. This is partly (mostly) due to a promotion that I’ve had at work, and also partly due to a deliberate move away from spending too much time online.

What this means is that output on this main website will slow considerably for the foreseeable future. But don’t worry – it won’t stop! I’ll continue to add new pieces now and then, and I’ll continue to update the Facebook page often. During this time I’m going to consult my trusted kendo friends and have a serious rethink about the direction I want to take the site in the future.

kenshi 24/7 has been running non-stop since 2008 and has not only published close to 500 original articles in that time (about 1/2 of those articles have been archived) but also seven publications (though only three are available now). I think that was a pretty good batting run considering the whole venture is a one-kenshi machine!!!!!!

宜しく!

George