About 2 and 1/2 years ago I posted an article entitled “How to pass hachidan.” In it was the advice a sensei of mine received, plus his own advice about attempting what has been called the hardest test in Japan. Flipping through some old kendo magazines a few weekends ago I found a similar piece featuring a different, then-newly-minted, hachidan sensei of mine. Although I don’t think I will ever attempt the grading (!) there is definitely value in reading the contents. I have translated a part of the article below.
1. Age upon passing: 55;
2. Started kendo: while in 4th year primary school (9yrs old);
3. Profession: went straight from high school into the Osaka police department. Is now a professional police kendo teacher.
4. What was different about the 8dan grading you passed and those before it?
I managed to pass the first round of the shinai-kendo portion twice before (for 8dan, the shinai portion is in 2 rounds. Each round you fight 2 other people. Almost everyone fails the first round) but somehow couldn’t make the extra step. If I look back, its probably because the concentration I had in the first round could not be kept through to the second round (there is a break of a few hours in-between rounds). In the second round I couldn’t predict my opponents actions well, and couldn’t manage to attack at the right time. I found myself being unable to concentrate on my opponent, and it was almost as if I were fighting alone.Thinking about this fault, I decided to do the following in my everyday keiko:
– always have the mindset of “ippon shobu;”
– try to attack first, and with full commitment;
– attack with my whole body and whole strength strike by strike;
– keep my spirit full and lively through to the end of the session.
For this last grading, I decided to abandon any plan and simply concentrated fully on my opponent. I put believe in the fact that the keiko I had done up until now was correct and, with a full kiai, and attempting not to over think or over analyse things, just left it up to my body to react naturally to what was happening. Looking back over the shiai I fought after the grading, I have almost no recollection of the content.
5. What keiko method(s) did you use to aim for 8dan?
When I worked at the police academy with Furuichi sensei (Osaka police), my kendo sense changed. Before then, I was relying on speed to attack, and was basically doing kendo for myself by myself. When I was fencing Furuichi sensei everything I attempted would fail. This happened daily and I would be left wondering about what my kendo was and why I was doing it. After 2 years of this, and attending classes where I would learn about how to do and to teach kendo and the principles of kendo etc, I somehow gained the feeling that my basics had finally come together.
The content of my keiko leading to my pass was:
1 – kihon keiko. I made 80% of my keiko time, kihon.
2 – Jigeiko – in a 3 minute session I attempted to make three good strikes, each one with a crisp and fresh feeling. I tried not to simply flow between strikes (i.e. be carried along by inertia), and treat each strike as if I were doing keiko with a new partner for the first time.
3 – kakarigeiko. Taiatari practise was the central to this, and I would aim to do kakarigeiko three – five times.
I didn’t start this regime until after I passed 50 years old, so for me this was a really difficult keiko method. I really want to thank my sensei for helping me, and creating/working with me, for I believe it was due to them and this keiko method that I managed to pass my hachidan.