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!

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!

Tough kendo man

I can’t remember the first time I saw any pictures of kendo or any kendo on the TV (James Bond maybe?), but I do remember the first article I read that mentioned kendo… at least I remembered the content and which magazine it was in, but not the writer. This summer I returned to the U.K. for a holiday to see my family and friends, and was surprised to find the magazine hidden at the bottom of the box in a cupboard in my grandmothers bedroom. I was also surprised to see that the writer was none other than Dave Lowry*. Before discussing whats presented in the column, please check out an excerpt here.


Kendo-ka, the toughest individuals?

During an after-training ‘bull’ sessions years ago, my judo teammates were discussing the toughest individuals they had even encountered. One told of a Japanese judo champion who had thrown opponents so hard that, even using proper break-falls, they were knocked unconscious by the force of hitting the mat. Another recounted the abilities of a Chinese martial artist he’d met who could employ vicious foot sweeps that literally somersaulted his opponents. One guy said the toughest people he’d ever met were Special Forces personnel in Vietnam, while another insisted it was the British SAS teams.

Later, I asked my two karate teachers (editor: Japanese I assume?) about this, and unhesitatingly, they both gave the same answer. The toughest individuals they had ever encountered, they said, were elderly kendoka (sword practitioners). “A kendo man who’s in his mid-60’s and has been training for about 50 years,” one teacher told me, “can take an incredible amount of abuse.”

I have often reflected on my teachers’ words. Interesting, isn’t it, that their concept of toughness was not in how much one can dish out, but how much one can take.

[ the rest of the column goes on to talk specifically about karate ]


Although I probably disagree that kendo practitioners are tougher than SAS and Special Forces bit (see *), I do believe that some of my sensei have gone through a lot of ‘abuse’ – both physical and mental – in their (for some of them) 50+ years of training, and that they are very tough individuals.

Over beers or sitting in the dojo post-keiko I’ve heard stories of being sick in men’s, collapsing during keiko, broken arms (!), refusal of water, being forced to do kirikaeshi for hours a day everyday for a year, etc. etc. and written or video-d accounts of older sensei now passed away often tell tale of even more severe training regimes… some of which would not be tolerated by society nowadays. Theres also the fact that as you get older and gradually begin coaching/teaching, you are expected to allow yourself to be cut and tsuki-ed a lot. Compound this with the long active life-span of a serious kendo practitioner (I commonly see people in their 70s practising kendo, and the oldest person I’ve actually sparred was over 90. Theres even a ‘old-peoples kendo competition’ held every year in the Nippon Budokan, with an ‘over 100 years old’ section! I don’t think that this happens in other budo, at least to the degree that it does in kendo) and you can see what the people in the article above were perhaps getting at.

When I am teaching my students or go and visit another dojo and hear people complain that its too hot/cold and that the keiko is too hard/long, or when people moan when struck in an unarmoured place or that someone hit them too hard etc. etc., I often wonder how they would have managed practising kendo back in the day.

Serious long-term kendo practise should cultivate tough people with strong minds and bodies. If after a few years of practise you still complain when someone accidentally hits you in the wrong place, or you don’t want to go to the dojo because you are tired or its hot or whatever, then perhaps its time to reassess whether kendo is in-fact for you. Personally I believe that although I can’t go through the sometimes severe experiences that my sensei went through, I can at least position myself to do the hardest practises that I possibly can. I want to be a ‘tough kendo man’ at the end of the day!!


Sources

Traditions: The Art of Taking It, Dave Lowry. Fighting Arts International No.72, 1992

* Lowry is a popular martial arts writer whose work I gulped up as an immature martial artists. Even at that time, however, I realised that his writing was heavily over-romanticised… as it is a bit here. (That said, I hope that Mr Lowry doesn’t mind me using this excerpt… I probably have all his books he published until the mid-90s, so he’s already made his money on me!!)

2012 – UK trip

As followers of kenshi247 know, I just spent the last 3 weeks on holiday in the U.K. Mainly it was to see family and friends, and to do a bit of relaxing. The whole trip went something like this:

Osaka->London->Inverness->Orkney->Inverness->Edinburgh->London->Osaka…

In amongst all this I managed to fit some keiko in, as well as run a small kendo seminar:

1. Visited my old stomping ground of Edinburgh Kendo Club, run by Steve Bishop sensei;
2. Ran an Eikenkai-style kendo seminar in Edinburgh Scotland;
3. Visited Hizen dojo for the first time in maybe 10-12 years;
4. Popped in for a bash plus a few post-keiko beers at Tora dojo.

It was great to see old friends and to make new ones. Once the jet-lag clears and I get back to work again, I’ll start work on finishing my lastest publication before getting back to writing articles for kenshi247… your patience is appreciated!!

Cheers!