I spend a lot of my dojo time attempting to acquire good kendo. By “good” I don’t mean I practise in order to win shiai or beat people but, but rather I am trying to develop a “solid” style firmly rooted in the basics, one that anybody could look at then nod and say: “nice kendo.” Of course, there is a certain kendo aesthetic I am implying here, one that serious kendoka eventually learn to see, sometimes even unconsciously at first. I am still a long way away from the sort of kendo I’d like to do, but I am trying my best!
As a kendo teacher, I am acutely aware that it is part of my job to express good kendo (as best I can) in front of and while sparring with my students. This requires a lot of concentration and – at times – soul searching, and is turning out to be far more difficult job than I first imagined it. Also, as I get older and the age gap between my students and myself increases, I am starting to find it more difficult year-by-year.
It is with some frustration, then, that I have started to see some (I consider odd) fashion-based stylistic changes in young peoples kendo nowadays. I say young people, but some of these mannerisms are obvious in people in their 20s and sometimes older as well, even in some of the top shiai in the country. I guess it’s only natural that kendo changes over time, essential even, and I can accept most things… however, try as I might, I can’t help but absolutely hate the current trend in dou cutting in particular.
So, what exactly is this current trend? Well, this:
There is actually a few things going on here that bother me. First of all, how does a dou cut go end up going, well, up? That’s right, it should be going diagonally down. Obviously. Squeezing the hands on impact and the pull through of the cut might see the shinai return slightly in an upward direction (as you return to kamae), but the shinai should certainly should not be waving above your head.
Why does this happen then? The problem lies, in that many people do two things: 1. as soon as the dou is struck (or sometimes even before…) they release their left hand and immediately twist their right hand around from the bottom in order to pass the opponent quickly = there is no cutting action, rather a sweeping motion; 2. they attempt to defend their men being struck by moving their shinai upwards (often with only the right hand).
My problem with this action is not only an aesthetic one (though, I must admit, that’s the main problem I have with it!) but also because it shows bad body, shinai (especially hasuji), and tenouchi control, disdain for basics, and, what looks like, a lack of confidence in their own strike. I also suspect a lack of understanding of what zanshin is also contributes to people doing this as well.
The lack of body control I just mentioned is apparent in another bad habit that usually comes along with the above: the infamous “kaiten-dou” or “spinning dou” manoeuvre. This is where the person striking dou spins round not in towards their opponent, but outside and away from them. Turning in towards your opponent is a rudimentary kendo skill taught to beginners. Not doing so is anathema to the seasoned kendoka.
So what does a “good” dou cut look like? I don’t usually share videos of myself, but here you can see my idea of what a kihon dou cut looks like (executed slowly for demonstration purposes) from this 2017 video, taken at the Edinburgh Kendo Seminar (0:47-0:58 for basic tobikomi-dou, 1:54-2:04 for kaeshi-dou):
Of course, this is only my take, and I am no hachidan. Still, I think anybody would be hard pressed to say this wasn’t a semi-decent demonstration of both kihon tobikomi-dou cuts as well as kaeshi-dou.
It took me a long time to firstly, recognise what a good dou-uchi was and secondly, to be able to approximate one. Luckily I had some great teachers – one in particular – who had awesome dou-uchi.
So, why the sudden moan about dou here on kenshi 24/7? Well, no matter how much I teach, demonstrate, complain, and cut my students dou, they all nowadays – eventually! – fall into the current dou-cutting trend. Most students who come up from junior high school to me are already doing this, so there is no helping them. Those that start from zero with me often do dou-uchi very well… until they start competing. Then they start seeing other students doing the more “cool” cutting style and start to copy it. I have basically given up!
Even more frustrating, however, is watching younger school kendo teachers – they almost all do it. It is this fact that makes me realise there is nothing that can realistically be done. Things change… but I’m not happy!