Hasegawa hanshi’s tai-atari and kakarigeiko 長谷川壽範士の体当たり・掛かり稽古

Recently I was handed a condensed paper booklet of the kendo teachings of Hasegawa sensei, hanshi kyudan. The contents seemed to be a republishing of some earlier material (originally from perhaps the 50s or 60s?) on the 13th anniversary of his death. Leafing through the material I decided to translate a couple of small portions of the text, mainly as a pretext to introduce, via short bio, this forgotten kenshi to everyone.

Sadly, there are many many many sensei with similar backgrounds that have already faded from memory.

Hasegawa hanshi

A short bio of Hasegawa Hisashi sensei

Born in Niigata prefecture in 1906, Hasegawa sensei’s first introduction to kendo was as part of P.E. class in school (he was a member of the track and field club, not the kendo one). Upon graduating from school in 1925, under the influence of his big brother (and against his fathers wishes), he planned to study kendo seriously at the Butokukai’s teacher training facility in Kyoto, Busen. However, before going there it was decided that he should spend a year training under Nakayama Hakudo at Yushinkan. After the year was up Nakayama tried to dissuade him from going to Busen (i.e. for him to stay at Yushinkan), but he went anyway, again at the insistence of his brother.

Hasegawa sensei spent the next six years at Busen, four years as part of the normal course, and the last two years on the research course. Here he studied kendo under such people as Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Yano Katsujiro, Miyazaki Mosaburo, Tsuzaki Kanejiro, and Sato Chuzo, amongst others. The highlight of his six years in Kyoto was representing the prefecture at the 1929 Tenran-jiai, which took place in Saineikan, the budojo in the imperial palace.

Upon finishing at Busen he was invited to go to Noma dojo by Noma Hisashi and Masuda Shunsuke, but he declined and became a school teacher instead. He taught kendo in Hikone city, right next to the famed castle, between 1932-9. To further his personal study in kendo he took up an offer to join Osaka police dept. where he remained (surviving the turmoil of the war and post-war years) until retiring in 1967.

He was awarded hanshi in 1963, and became kyudan in 1977. Hasegawa sensei passed away on the 10th February 1986.

The following is the liberal translation of two short passages of Hasegawa sensei’s own words.

hikoneHikone castle by Aki Sasaki on flickr


Tai-atari

Although kendo is an activity whereby you discipline the mind and the body and achieve victory through the use of the sword, there are many times when this victory can be achieved with the aid of tai-atari. For example, you can use tai-atari to break your opponents stability when they are slight off-balance, when they have just finished a technique, or in the very instant they have lost concentration, etc. By doing this you can place them in a disadvantageous position, both posture wise and through loss of nerve.

But tai-atari is not just useful in those situations. If you practise it in your daily keiko it will help train the spirit and body. It is especially important to tai-atari during kirikaeshi.

When executing tai-atari ensure that you pull both your arms back to your body, push out your abdomen, and make sure that your shinai’s tsuka is at a diagonal. During kirikaeshi don’t strike men and go straight into left and right cutting, do tai-atari first. Remember to launch the sho-men strike from a far distance with full vigour and from there tai-atari strongly.

Point 1: smash into your opponents chest not only powerfully, but “flexibly.” At the same time, ensure that your hands push up into the opponents face so that you can scoop them up and force them back (Editor’s note: this is not recommended nowadays…).

Point 2: if the opponent is strong and cannot be forced back easily, try pushing them back a little bit diagonally.

Kakarigeiko

Note that the term “kakarigeiko” and “uchikomi” are sometimes used to mean the same thing. What is being described here is what we would refer to as “uchikomi” today.

The job of the motodachi during kakarigeiko is to make random openings for the kakarite to strike. The motodachi should be able to differentiate between well executed and poorly executed attacks, receiving the former and blocking or executing oji-waza against the latter. The motodachi must also pay careful attention at all times, and work hard to teach (show) the kakari-te the difference between the correct and in-correct way of striking so that the kakari-te can improve.

The kakari-te should throw away any personal ideas they may have and aim to execute attacks exactly as they have been taught them during basic training. Attacks should be executed largely, from a far distance, and with a loud voice. Kakarigeiko should be done this way repeatedly with a full spirit.

Point 1: Kakarigeiko is practise of basic strikes in a free manner.

Point 2: You cannot become victorious without have a correct posture and deliberate striking (as we learn in basics). Practising kakari-geiko with these points in mind at full power and intention is essential to becoming victorious.

Note that I used “kakari-te” in this translation but the term used in the text is actually “shugi-sha” (習技者).


Bonus: Hasegawa sensei’s last quote

“After 60 years of age you should keiko more with your spirit than with technique. If your opponent steps forward and pressures you allow yourself to move freely. Pressure them physically from your waist and spiritually with your presence (kurai). When you pressure them never wait. If you wait your presence will disappear. If you pressure with your spirit in this way the opponent will be unable to stand it and attempt to strike you. Strike them at that instant (debana). We are only human so of-course sometimes our strikes are unsuccessful, but if you are patient and stop yourself from striking randomly, and you practise like this again and again, eventually you will develop a strong presence. I tried keiko-ing like this for two or three years but couldn’t master it. Please, try it yourself.”

54 days after he said this, Hasegawa sensei passed away.

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Yours truly doing keiko with one of Hasegawa sensei’s kendo students in 2006, himself also kyudan.

Sources

私の剣道修行第1巻。体育とスポーツ出版社。1985発行。剣道時代編集部編。
剣道手引き。非売品。発行不明。長谷川壽

(Special thanks to Jean-Christophe Helary for some extra research help!)

Eikenkai June 2016 英剣会

It’s been raining relentlessly over the last while here in Osaka, and there is more forecast this coming week, but today – and only for today – the weather was absolutely beautiful!!! Obviously the kendo gods smile on Eikenkai!!

Today’s session was held at my (George’s) work dojo and as such was deliberately a bit smaller than usual. Still, the makeup of the kenshi was between 2nd and 7dan representing five countries and a variety of professions. Before and after our usual 40-30-40 session (kihon/waza/jigeiko) some people practised kendo-no-kata as well as some koryu (the benefit of using my own dojo is we have no time limit).

Before keiko there was some discussion about the result of the historic U.K. referendum and what it means in general. Since the “EI” of “Eikenkai” represents the fact that I am British, and the real possibility of Scotland becoming independent of the union, we had a lively chat as to what we should name our keikokai in the future! Watch this space….

Our next session will be held at the beautiful budojo at Ishikiri-jinja on September the 11th. If you are interested, please get in touch. Cheers!

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: