The following rule changes will probably not impact your kendo training any time soon nor in the near future. However, implementation of them in competition for young Japanese kenshi ensures that there will be a stylistic change in the kendo leaders of the future and it is also strongly hints at what the kendo leaders of today see as bad style.
The changes have been in discussion and trial over quite a while here in Japan (implementation was decided in May 2009, and I have personally seen the rules been applied in shiai), but it is only from this month (October 2009) where competitors will get a hansoku rather than a warning, i.e. the rules go into full implementation.
Lets look at a simple definition of the new rules:
– from a correct tsubazeriai you have 10 seconds to either attempt a strike, or break off. Not doing so will result in a penalty (hansoku);
– if you chose to break off from tsubazeriai you must do so to a distance where your shinai (kensaki) are not touching
– if you are trying to break off from tsubazeriai yet start attacking, taking jodan, or doing something other than attempting to break to the distance above then you will be penalised (hansoku)
An emphasis on “correct tsubazeriai”
One of the major points in the literature and training seminars concerning this is that tsubazeriai must be “correctly” done. That is, both competitors must work to not allow their hands to float up, ensure their posture is correct, and their shinai must be on the omote (right) side of their opponents. Incorrect tsubazeriai will earn you a hansoku.
Although pushing and the placement of the shinai on your opponents shoulder are not covered in these new rules, both are already considered bad form and could land you with a penalty.
If your shinai goes to the ura (left) side, then you won’t be penalised as long as you make an effort to move it back.Also, breaking off whilst your shinai on the ura side generally won’t result in a penalty unless it is continually done by a particular competitor.
What if an attack is launched at the very moment one of the competitors chooses to break off?
In this instance the decision to award a successful strike is left to the shinpan. However, it must be from the point (or pretty much so) where the competitors kote are touching. If an attack is launched when one competitor has already moved back somewhat, then that would be a penalty.
Why were these changes made?
This is relatively easy question to answer: kendo absolutely prefers a positive, forward attacking style, especially the younger you are. However, many youth competitions in recent times have seen an amazing amount of hikiwaza being scored, sometimes drastically more than a normal men-uchi. There are a few issues tied into this:
– negative kendo: many kenshi simply blocking (sometimes both competitors at the same time) and closing into tsubazeriai is against the preferred positive/attacking style of kendo and is seen as incredibly negative (I would go as far to say its even ugly) and has drawn criticism from many corners;
– blatant time wasting: its obvious that many competitors close into tsubazeria deliberately in order to time waste. With the new 10 second rule combined with the fact that if one person chooses to break off then the other can’t stall, the amount of time they can use up becomes limited;
– increase in hikiwaza specialists: obviously its not a bad thing to have a speciality technique but – as a school kendo coach myself – I’d rather train my students to favour more positive, attacking waza.
What happened to “wakare” ?
If the competitors are in correct tsubazeriai and they both have the will to strike, yet do not do so nor attempt to break off within 10 seconds, then the chushin must chose either to award a hansoku to both kenshi, or call wakare, though they are warned not to use this option “simply.”
My personal feeling is that shinpan will be more likely to call wakare at the beginning of a match but – if the competitors keep going back to tsubazeriai again and again – the chance of getting hansoku will increase drastically.
The impact these changes will have should become clearer in time, but hopefully it will promote a more forward attacking, positive style, rather than the long tsubazeriai and hikiwaza-centric competition we see a lot of nowadays.
I think the rules are somewhat vague (kendo rules are like that anyway!) and it may take sometime before individual shinpan become comfy with them. In the general kendo population itself there are many stylistic variations of tsubazeriai and how to attack/break off from it, and it follows that the shinpan themselves have a lot of opinion (hangups even!) in the matter.
I said in the beginning that these rule changes probably won’t affect you, and this is true. However, I do believe that what is spelled out by these changes are simple hallmarks of good kendo anyway, and although most kenshi tend to disfavour hikiwaza as their kendo matures, or at least use it in a more rational manner, I think its worthwhile keeping these points in mind while we are practising (and teaching), competition orientated or not.
大阪高体連審判講習会資料 (Osaka high school kendo association referee seminar materials)
第１８回全国高等学校剣道選抜大会総評 (18th All Japan high school senbatsu competition report)
剣窓, H21・5月 (All Japan Kendo Federation newsletter “Kenso,” May 2009 )