Improving tsuki waza 突き技の向上

A couple of articles ago Stefan asked the following question in a comment:

Hey George, where is the article on how to build a tsuki pad?

In 2008 I published two articles detailing some DIY tsuki-pads I had made. The earliest of the pair was made over 10 years ago, way back in 2006, and both articles were eventually archived. The following article was inspired completely by Stefan’s comment. I hope it proves useful!

tsuki


I strongly advise against treating tsuki as a special technique that can only be learned once a certain level of ability is acquired (this is generally ambiguous or arbitrary). Introducing it early will not only ensure that students learn it quickly, but will make them fear receiving it less. Also, the body mechanics involved in mastering tsuki mean that it’s an invaluable tool in creating good kendo.

Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills (2012), George McCall

As many of my kendo friends know quite well, I love a good tsuki (giving and receiving). Morote, katate, omote, or ura, it’s all good! I’ve probably spent more time working on tsuki by myself than any other technique. Initially, due to it’s supposed taboo status, this was because nobody would (perhaps even could) actually teach me it but, eventually, I worked at it because I came to see it as a critical part of having a complete kendo style.

When I started teaching kendo as part of my job I started to see it not only as an important weapon to have in one’s shiai arsenal, but as a building-block on which you can teach good kendo form, help acquire good tenouchi, create interesting pattern practise, and temper fearlessness in students. As such, I believe tsuki-less kendo to be a compromised kendo.

Here is another quote from my Kendo Coaching manual from the section entitled The path to a confident tsuki:

Most if not all people are wary about practising tsuki. Generally, this is because they are fearful of hurting or injuring their partners. This feeling is easily understood. The best way to combat this is to build up confidence by actually practising tsuki. Avoiding it is not a solution.

At my home and dojo I built homemade tsuki pads for practising on (see kenshi247.net). On these I (and my students) can practise tsuki without concern for hurting our opponent. I emphasis accuracy first then – once accuracy rate is high – firmness. Once accuracy and firmness is acquired, students will naturally be more confident and this will lead to better results during partner practise.

Some people suggest practising at home using a pingpong ball hanging down from a string tied to a light fixture or something. I generally dissuade my students from solitary practise this way as it usually leads to a poking at the ball and not a thrusting and – unlike a tsuki pad stuck to a wall – there is no physical feedback when you start adding firmness. For primary and junior high school level children it can be a good learning game type of activity, however.

– ibid.

The homemade tsuki pads mentioned above can be read about below.

So, how do we improve our tsuki waza?

The answer is obvious as it is simple: practise it. People unduly fear practising tsuki because of the arbitrary taboo placed on the technique. As noted above, actually practising the waza will remove that fear.

If you are in a situation whereby you don’t have an experienced instructor, or your instructor doesn’t favour the technique itself for whatever reason, you can build tsuki pads like the ones I introduced on kenshi 24/7 years ago (re-produced below) and practise by yourself at home. Once you are somewhat confident in your accuracy find someone else who wants to learn the technique and practise together (this is actually how I started to practise tsuki waza when I was a member of the British kendo team back in 2000-03… because nobody would teach us).

If you are in a coaching position yet don’t teach it to your students I’d ask you to consider why this is: is it because you yourself can’t do the technique? Is it because you think it’s dangerous? Is it because you think your students are not at the point where they should learn tsuki? For point 1, if you are a teacher you should not run-away from waza you cannot do, but actively practise them. For point 2, well, I’d argue that someone who actually practises to execute and receive tsuki is in much safer place than someone who doesn’t. For the last point, I’d ask you to re-think. Tsuki can be taught right from the beginning of a persons kendo journey, and should be thought as a building block to creating good form and acquiring good tenouchi.

I’m not sure if the quotes and discussion above will help dispel some of the myths about tsuki or get your practising it, but I sincerely hope they do!

Related kenshi 24/7 articles:

* Kobayashi Mitsuru hanshi’s KATATEZUKI (2009)
* Concerning the problem of tsuki (2011)

Competition in Osaka (2006-07)



Tsuki pad light version (2006)

Light tsuki-pad

I originally built this tsuki pad in 2006 for use in my home. I had the pad in my kitchen and used to practise about 100 tsuki in the morning before breakfast, another 100 when I came home from work before going to the dojo, and another 300 after coming back from keiko. Like a man possessed, I continued this pattern for months!

What you need

  • foam for a sander/polisher (as thick as you need)
  • sticky back square velcro patches (front and back, a little bit bigger or smaller than the foam should work)
  • sticky back tape (1 square piece around the same size as the coasters)
  • soft/flexible coasters (I used 4)
  • strong tape
  • strong post/area to put the tsuki-pad
  • beer (1 or more)

Directions

  1. take your coasters and tape them together as shown in the diagram. Leave a small area in the middle to aim at if you like (as I did);
  2. take the sticky backed square tape and stick the coasters and the sander foam together;
  3. on the strong post / area you have selected to place your tsuki pad work out exactly the height you wish to place the tsuki pad. Ensure that the area can take impact and also that you have enough distance to correctly practise your footwork;
  4. stick the back piece of the sticky backed velcro onto your selected area;
  5. place the other piece of sticky backed velcro on the clean side of the sander foam;
  6. using the velcro, stick the foam to your selected area;
  7. practise a few tsukis. How is it?
  8. drink your beer in satisfaction.

Bonus

Since you’ve used velcro patches to stick the pad to your wall or wherever, you can easily make multiple height targets… for tsuki practise against people who are taller/shorter than you.


Tsuki pad heavy version (2008)

Heavy duty tsuki pad

This redesigned DIY heavy duty tsuki pad is for use in a high school kendojo. It was made/designed with the purpose of being abused 6 days a week repeatedly and heavily. Once nailed to the dojo wall I don’t want to have to remove it for repair.

Note that as I re-post this article in 2016, these heavy duty tsuki pads are still in daily use… almost eight years later!

What you need

  • Strong wood squares, thicker being better
  • Carpeting (you can normally buy cheaply in big squares)
  • Plastic coasters (shape and thickness is up to you)
  • Hammer and nails

Directions

  1. Take your coaster and place it on the carpeting. Cut the carpeting up so that you have a larger piece than the coaster. Prepare three pieces of carpeting the same size;
  2. Place the three pieces of carpeting on top of each other and nail it to the wood. I used about 8 nails to secure them firmly;
  3. Nail the coaster into the middle of the carpeting;
  4. Attach the tsuki-pad to the dojo wall, either by nailing it in (preferably) or by using strong adhesive.
  5. Try it out!

Tsuki gallery

A random collection of tsuki pictures taken from kenshi247.net because, well, why not ?!

Old style 古めかしい

Takano Sasaburo
Takano Sasaburo

As long term readers of kenshi 24/7 may have noticed, this site strongly emphasises the traditional and historical aspects of kendo. I also find myself – both online as well as off – thinking about and having discussions about how kendo has evolved through the years, for both good and bad. Although there is a lot you can find on the site that is my own thinking or heavily influenced by the sensei and sempai that surround me, most of what is presented here is informed through historical analysis, in particular through lots and lots of reading. Over the years I’ve also harvested a wealth of older kendo videos and images from the net as well (though often these are without context), whose availability adds something to the greater kendo knowledge base.

Looking through older books, pictures, and videos, I often find myself wondering about why is it that, as the movement we use in kendo has changed a lot over the past 100 or so years, bogu hasn’t changed much. Sure, different materials are used over time and fashions go in and out, but bogu generally looks the same as it did in 1915. One picture (shown above) of Takano Sasaburo caught my imagination in particular and – when I saw it at first – I studied it intently.

Bogu-wise, what this (undated, but possibly sometime in the 20s?) photo shows us is that bogu pretty much looked then as it does now. The only difference is the absence of a zekken (a post war invention), the colour of the kote (of the kobushi/kotegashira plus a stripe), and, to lesser extent, the colour of the front stripe (menboshi) of the men. Looking through a variety of material over the years I come to the conclusion that the style (or fashion) of the bogu worn by Takano sensei in the picture above, was not only relatively common, but lasted for a long time.

Check out the pictures in this gallery:

And these videos (the first is from 1914, the second from 1932):

See what I mean?

Although on rare occasions (for example at the Kyoto Taikai) I caught a glimpse of people wearing (sometimes only parts of) what seemed like older-fashioned bogu, it wasn’t until a year or so ago that I actually got my hands on some: one of my sempai whipped out a pair of kote that looked exactly like those Takano sensei is wearing in the top picture. Obviously, my attention was immediately caught. I discovered that a company in northern Kyushu still made this old style but – after further inquiry – found out they were very pricey. I hummed and hawed for a bit (mainly because I generally don’t like to wear anything that stands out … and these kote definitely do!) but eventually I decided to ask my friend Andy at All Japan Budogu whether he could custom make a set. He said he could, so I set him on it and waited.

After a few months I was genuinely surprised when Andy not only made me some kote, but he started offering them online to the public as well !!!!! Here are two pictures of my kote plus one of Andy’s product images (which may be of my set as I think it was the prototype – the difference in colour is in the lighting, image processing and background):

So, I got what I wanted and – I must admit – I was secretly delighted!! Although I only have the kote at the moment, I think I’ll probably extend my range of anachronistic looking bogu parts in the future.


Review: Mugen brand, Renma Type 2 Cho-Mamorigata kote

Although I didn’t set out to write a product review in this piece, I think it’s only fair to write something here about my opinion on the kote after using them for a few weeks.

Feel: well, there’s not really much I can say here – the kote fitted perfectly and – although I was worried that they might have been too large at first (they are sold as a practise/protective kote and are hence thicker and more reinforced than normal) – within 10 minutes of using them in keiko for the first time they were already comfortably sitting in my hand. This is no different to how the other kote I’ve gotten from All Japan Budogu have behaved and I’m extremely happy with them. As pointed out above they are kote that are meant for use in hard, daily practise, and this is exactly what I’ve been using them for. They feel great!

Look: they look super distinct… you will stick out a mile! If you have any deficiencies in your grip you will be unable to hide them from your sensei and sempai anymore – they will spot it from across the dojo. btw, My students reactions ranged from “What the hell are those!?” to “Oh wow, your kote are cute!”

Kote lining: I didn’t think about the kote lining choices that All Japan Budogu give, so I guess Andy just picked for me. I must admit that I probably wouldn’t have chosen what I ended up with (as it’s not inline with my more traditional approach) but, truthfully, I have no problems with it. It’s a pleasant wee touch actually.

Smell: everything that looks beige, as well as the kote palms, are made from smoked deerskin, which means that the kote smell strong. I don’t mean a little bit, I mean they smell strong. If you leave them lying out in your bedroom your entire room will quickly smell. Your non-kendoka boy/girlfriend, your parents, and your pets may all have a problem with the kote. Through time the strength of the smell will diminish, but until then you may want to keep them in a couple of plastic bags or outside on the balcony.

In summary: the kote are excellent. I love the combination of the more anachronistic design with the modern know-how provided by the All-Japan team. In the future I hope to ask for some more custom parts with the combination of traditional styling and modern skill and material from them as well.

The kote are available to preview and order here. In case you are not interested in the look of these kote, All Japan Budogu also do a type 1 version, which is the same kote without the beige deerskin.


Bonus

btw, here’s an image I have of Nakayama Hakudo’s bogu… mysteriously his left kote is designed like the one introduced here but his right one is different!

nakayama-bogu

And here’s one more. This picture (courtesy of 小林一心堂武道具店) is of kote from sometime in the Edo period, probably mid to late 19th century:

edo-kote


Update! (September 2015)

A Japanese kendo friend saw this article and gave me a set of vintage kote that he owned (after having them cleaned and washed of course). These are a 1978 model, so obviously a different style to the ones introduced above. Note that at some point (maybe in the 60s and 70s?) kendo fashion seems to have changed and these white/navy kote were relegated to use by beginners and children. There are, however, some places in Japan that still make them for adults. I personally think they are cool !

kote-white

Bogu review: All Japan Budogu’s Guardian

Note that this bogu set is now no longer in production. To see more bogu like this please visit the All Japan Budogu website directly.


I very rarely do reviews of equipment on this site… and, in fact, this is actually the first bogu review I’ve ever done. The reason why I’m doing one now is pretty simple: my friend Andy* asked me!! Since Andy has come to Japan I’ve helped support his forays into the kendo equipment business (through posting a link here and there as well as banner placement on this site and an odd advert in my publications), and he has reciprocated by giving me equipment now and then. Last December Andy asked me to write a review for it a new bogu (actually, a re-working of an older model) here on kenshi 24/7, and at the end of February it arrived.

Although Andy is a good friend of mine it’s important to me that information on this site is presented as accurately as possible… and that extends to reviews like this. What you are reading here is my honest opinion.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s move on.

* Andy is the boss of the international sales division of All Japan Budogu


What I look for in a bogu set

I’m a simple guy and not into colourful set’s of armour with flash designs or with diamond encrusting. I’m not interested in sticking out. I believe that bogu is a tool and has a job, and as such my basic needs are these:

1. Does it fit me?
2. Will it deal with the daily wear and tear of hard keiko?
3. Do I look like a serious kendo practitioner?

Other things I pay attention to (but are secondary to the above) are:

4. Is it worth the money?
5. Is it overly heavy?

Thats basically it. As you can see, I am more concerned with the utility of bogu rather than the specifics of the materials used, and I prefer a subdued look rather than a flash design. Bearing these things in mind, let me discuss the bogu.


All Japan Pitch® – GUARDIAN (2014 version)

So the armour I received was the renewed version of the All Japan Pitch® – GUARDIAN bogu set. The link above has the full product description from which the following sections caught my attention:

“as well as featuring all of the same lightweight, quick-drying and comfortable features of our All Japan Pitch series, GUARDIAN has been especially designed to given an extra element of protection… we have increased the padding in the areas that are frequently stricken with the Shinai, which gives the Bogu set an added appeal to those who often act as Motodachi…”

And:

“In addition… GUARDIAN is light, flexible and comfortable, making it perfect not only for daily practice, but well suited to travel… Designed with keeping a traditional, dignified appearance in mind…”

So, lightweight and flexible yet protective with a dignified appearance? Sounds good. I’ve used the set for over a month now in a few different settings – the following is a quick discussion of the individual parts followed by a summary at the end.


men
Men 面

First of all, the men that I received fitted perfectly – having someone take your specifications and hand you a men to those exact standards is 1/2 of the battle.

As the description states, the men is extremely light and dries very quickly (I put outside in direct sunlight). The men is so light, in fact, that before I wore it I worried whether it would stand up to sessions where I was mostly motodachi. After going through a few keiko’s of this type, however, I’m happy to say that it did a good job – better, in fact, than my old expensive men with a thick padded insert in the top.

I have to mention the lightness again: there have been times during keiko I’ve almost forgot I was wearing it. Compared to my other men (I have 4 or 5 others) it’s a different beast – in a good way.

My only concern was an aesthetic one: the mendare are a little shorter than I prefer. However, a shorter style is common nowadays in Japan – and some other men have even shorter mendare – so it could just me being an old man!

Bonus: the subdued menchichigawa are excellent! I didn’t specify anything particular for the menchigawa, Andy just stuck something in that was my style… and I like them.


kote
Kote 小手

The kote, like the men, are light and dry quickly. They are flexible yet protective. When I first tried them on I immediately thought that they were too big, but after only 10 minutes of keiko they seemed to mould to my hands. No complaints here – I’d easily spend my own money for another pair of these (in fact, I will).

Again, I have a minor – easily solved – aesthetic concern: my name tag on the kote is massive!!! I don’t mind the “All Japan” branding on the kote at all, but a giant “MCCALL” is a little bit distracting. Next time I get some of these kote I will either a) get my name embroidered in more subdued colour, b) simply get my initials embroidered; or c) have no embroidery on the kote at all. Well, at least no one will steal them!!


dou
Dou 胴

The dou is a standard Yamato dou and I don’t think is particular to this set. I almost always get my dou in ISHIME or pebble-dash style because it’s less shiny and doesn’t stick out so much.


tare
Tare 垂れ

Again, like the men and kote, the tare is soft, flexible, fast drying, and protective. Looks good, fits well, and does its job = happy George.


In conclusion

Basically, the set does what it states in the description: its very light, flexible, and it offers good protection; it dries fast, and looks subdued. Thats 1, 2, 3, and 5 of my list right there.

Number 4, is it worth the money? The set retails for $695, which is about 70,000 yen – would I pay that for this set of armour? Yeah, I would. The most expensive bogu set I have bought thus far was 250,000 – over 3 times as much – but I think that this Guardian set does the same job and, in fact, is better in many ways.

This summer I am returning home to the UK to see family and friends. Of course, I’m planning to do kendo as well. I usually borrow armour when I go home because its too much hassle to lug heavy equipment from Japan 1/2 way across the world – this time, however, because the bogu is so light, I am taking it with me. Instead of struggling uncomfortably in another persons bad-fitting armour I’ll at last be able to do my normal kendo at home.

The only dissenting thing I can say about the set are the minor aesthetic points I raised above (these are just my personal preferences). However, neither of these will stop me from using the set nor recommending it for others.

Lastly, I’ve added in a couple of pictures of yours truly in action wearing the set so that you can get a better ‘feel’ for it. The pic at the top of the page and the 2 below are from a large godogeiko session at Osaka university during March. I don’t particularly like posting pictures of myself, but this time it can’t be helped!

For more information check out the information page or visit All Japan Budogu’s facebook page.

2014-03-handai-09

Raw Kendo

Digg is probably the news aggregator app that I use most on my iphone to get news stories/information for reading when I am on the train or in the coffee shop (I don’t always read kendo books!). The other day I randomly picked a story about something I had never heard of before: Raw Denim. This is defined by wikipedia as “a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production” or by rawdenim.com as a “denim that has been unwashed, untreated, and virtually untouched to the extent that it remains in its pure form.” Basically, people into the fad purchase cotton jeans and try to wear them as long as possible before giving them there first wash. When they first wash them the dye comes out in an uneven manner reflecting the wear-and-tear of use, creating individual patterns and shapes. One pair of jeans on the rawrdenim site had been worn for 15 years without a single wash!

As someone who constantly wears jeans I was fascinated by the article and – you know whats coming – I immediately drew parallels to kendo.

Like almost every kendo person, I have never washed any of my bogu… ever. The oldest piece of equipment I have is nearly 20 years old (a tare and dou). Keikogi usually get a wash when I buy them, and then again every few months (though the last few years – because I practise 10-12 sessions/week – I’ve usually wash them once/month). Hakama never see the inside of a washing machine – the most they get is stamped-on in the shower. Like the raw denim jeans discussed above, both the bogu and the dogi’s colour change over time and, depending on how often you do keiko, the shape may change as well.

A certain sense of… something

Ok, I’ll confess: I love it when my bogu starts to look well-worn and my keiko-gi gets a wee bit dishevelled around the fringes! My favourite dogi has patches on the shoulders and the colour has faded just enough to still look like I mean business. A men that I have used almost daily for the last 10 years has literally been hammered into shape on my head receiving uchikomi and it’s uniform colour lost (pictured at the top of the article).

I’m not sure why exactly I like this type of look, but I do. I guess it’s a kind of like saying “I’ve been working hard!!”

keikogi1

keikogi2

kote1

men2

men3

men4

men5

jeans1


BONUS: You look cool, but you stink… !

The minute you say “kendo” to a non-kendo person here in Japan they immediately say “臭い” (stinky) such is the notoriety of the kendo smell!! Because it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the smell, we all tend to get used to it somewhat (our smell and others). However, there are things you can do to help.

Here are 2 things I actively do nowadays:

Juban – an undergarment (usually white) for wearing underneath your keikogi. I wear one constantly and wash it every couple of keiko’s. As my keikogi doesn’t get as sweaty as it normally would I can increase the time between washes. In winter, the juban also makes you feel warmer!

Gloves – for wearing underneath kote. These are now a must for me. They absorb sweat and definitely increase the life of your kote. Although wearing gloves won’t eradicate kote smell, being able to wash them helps tremendously.

Other possible strategies (I don’t do these):

Men pad/lining – there are a few different options for this: using a cloth chin-piece, a men-pad at the top, or even a completely removable/washable inner-ring. Of-course, tenugui help a lot.

Washable bogu – never tried it so can’t really comment. Doesn’t seem to be very popular here in Japan however.

Go white – another option is to constantly use white dogi. I sometimes go white in summer, but the major problem is that your gi can easily be turned blue by your own bogu, himo, or the bogu of others. I sometimes go white in summer but, it’s just not as cool.

James-Dean1

Leather Tsuba 皮鍔

A few months ago I was roaming around the internet looking for some interesting stuff and by accident I landed on the facebook page of a gentleman that hand makes tsuba – mainly for bokuto, but also for shinai. I love this sort of handmade product and posted a link on the kenshi 24/7 page. Immediately people began to like the link so I knew that I was not alone in enjoying such craftsmanship.

Fast forward a couple of months and I found myself looking at the page a few more times and getting more intrigued by the tsuba. I wanted one for myself! I got directly in touch with the craftsman – Tom Bengston – and inquired more into his work. After some chat, Tom kindly sent me a couple of his kendo leather tsuba for review – one in antique tan, and another in dark brown.

Review (kendo tsuba)

When I placed my order I asked for just a plain shinai tsuba – if you have a look on the website you can see that you can customise tsuba with either kamon or writing. The only other information I supplied was the diameter of the hole. Less than 10 days later the tsuba arrived safely here in Osaka.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the package was the thickness of the tsuba and the gorgeous colour of both… especially of the antique tan one. I realised that in 20 years of kendo practise I’d never set my eyes on a “beautiful” tsuba before!! These leather tsuba really are quite unique.

Despite the thickness mentioned above (required for durability), the tsuba are quite light. I’ve only been using them for a few days now, but I suspect that the tsuba will easily last a long time… in fact, I can’t imagine them breaking, ripping, tearing, or otherwise being damaged during kendo practise.

One concern that immediately came to mind was if it was illegal to use this type of tsuba in shiai. I’m not sure of the answer, but I can’t imagine they would be disallowed. Even if that were the case, there would be absolutely nothing to stop you from using them in your daily keiko.

Recommendation

For me this is a no-brainer: if you want a durable and unique tsuba for your shinai, these are great. I think they make awesome gifts as well, perhaps as a thank you to a sensei or a grading congratulations for friends. Everyone I’ve shown them to here in Japan love them.

More than anything, however, there is something personally satisfying in having and using a unique handcrafted product.

(I haven’t seen the bokuto tsuba but I assume that they are finished the same high standard.)

Check out and order Leather Tsuba’s work at the following places:

leathertsuba.com

Facebook page

Note that the shop closes Dec 18th and re-opens January the 2nd.