(Note this is a guest post from Stuart Gibson)
Recently I’ve had a few people telling me the same thing: I take it easy in ippon shoubu, and need to attack more. For most people who know me and how much I thoroughly hate losing, this might raise a chuckle. After all, how can I have produced the results I have to date by being lazy in ippon shoubu of all things? And one thing I love doing is the old barrage attack that overwhelms people into making mistakes.
So this got me thinking, what am I supposed to think about or do with advice like this? Inevitably, it’s when I am practicing with older people. Since coming to Japan I’ve heard it or it’s equivalent four times, and all from people who are either considerably older than me (ie a good twenty years) or from people watching my keiko with higher grades. Upon thinking about it I remember one consistent point between each keiko. I knew that if I moved, I was going to get hit, so instead of simply using my reach and speed (I’m always being encouraged to think past reach and speed), I tried to think around it and create a better or proper opportunity to allow me to attack freely. Weather I managed it or not is a different question, but the comments that came afterwards, from either the person I was practicing with or the busy body watching was that I should attack more against older people, or much higher grades.
I’ve heard this thought before, and to an extant, and dependant on the situation I agree with it. How can I learn anything by not attacking? Kendo after all is an aggressive martial art that relies heavily on forward movement and pressure. This I know and (to some extent) understand. However, my point is:
If I know that I have already lost will I gain or learn anything by attacking anyway?
For me this is a massively important question and one which I feel defines my own approach to kendo. If you know you will get hit, absolutely know (we’ve all been there!) would you rather:
try and figure out a way out of it?
Perhaps it’s my personality, but I will pick b) every single time as I feel that as a learning experience you get more by trying to figure out a way to break the pattern that you have gotten in to as opposed to obediently seeing it out and losing the ippon shoubu you are supposed to be winning. If it were simply about learning by getting hit and not figuring it out for yourself using your own perception of what is happening then practice with people significantly older or higher graded would be very different, akin almost to uchikomigeiko or kakarigeiko. At which point I am sure that the same people would then tell me that I attack too much and that I’m not being patient enough…
This also raises another issue for me that is also key to weather or not I actively choose to go to the same sensei to line up over and again or if I only go there once in a blue moon if I really have to. Does the advice teach you YOUR kendo, does teach you to improve YOUR kendo, or are they teaching you what has worked for them, or simply repeating something they’ve been told themselves? For me the best teachers have always been the ones who have given advice that relates to me, my kendo type, my body shape and my mentality. Strangely they have never been the ones to tell me they feel I’ve been taking it easy. As an example, the first time I got this kind of “advice”, I had just finished practicing with an 8th dan sensei, at which point a guy I kind of vaguely knew from competitions came literally running over to lecture me about attacking more with hachidan sensei, and that I should be trying to challenge them. Fair enough, except that the guy I practiced with said that he really enjoyed the keiko with me, and gave me some pretty good advice on my seme. Not a thing about needing to attack more. Maybe the advice on the seme was a form of it, therefore enabling me to attack more? Maybe he thought that this advice would be more useful than attack more? Maybe he didn’t think I need to attack more at all? But the fact remains that he didn’t say attack more, in any form, and moreover the advice on seme genuinely helped me.
Finally, the one point that really makes me wonder why I get this kind of advice is that I am constantly told to be more patient, and to create more definite opportunities through the middle. I still get told this, maybe once a week. “Be more patient” they say “Watch the opponent” they say, “If it’s not there don’t try and hit it” they say. That last one is perhaps the most striking one, as it sits next to my own thoughts as well, of not hitting if I know I will lose. These kind of comments which are by far the most frequent I receive are also in direct contradiction to the “Attack more against xyz” advice I get. If my own objective is to try and get a better opportunity and not lose a silly kaeshi dou or debana kote, how am I go to be served by doing kendo by numbers that tells me that I must attack more against particular people so that they can hit me? Why would I do something that I absolutely know will get me a slap? If I am not doing my own kendo, or attempting to improve my own kendo, then for what reason exactly should I do what these people tell me to?
Perhaps it boils down to a different way of thinking, and one I struggle to understand, or maybe I’m just being selfish in my approach, but when it differs so greatly from the advice I get elsewhere, what am I supposed to do with it?