In January a couple of years ago I translated and an abridged article from the book “Kendo: the route to promotion” (part one). The article I chose for translation was one by Yano Nobuhiro sensei, a professional police kendo instructor here in Osaka. Later that same year I took Yano sensei with me to Scotland, where he led a well received seminar. This year (2020) Yano sensei and I will return to teach another – feel free to join us!
I recently picked up the book again and decided to share another portion of it, this time the section by Ishida Toshiya sensei. Ishida sensei is someone who’s career I have followed since the early/mid-90s. At that time, the only name that pretty anyone knew outside of Japan (at least, in the kendo circles I was in) was Miyazaki Masahiro (this situation continued mostly like this until well in to the 00’s, and it was only with the advent of a couple of good websites that more knowledge about other kenshi finally spread outside of Japan).
The reason I picked up on Ishida sensei early in my own kendo career was, as a young and naive kendoka without real guidance, I used to “read” (= look at the pictures) of every kendo magazine/book I could get my hands on, and replay time and time again any VHS videos that came my way. As the dominant competitive kenshi of that time, a lot of the media content focused on Miyazaki. Although not covered as much, there was another kendoka whose image appeared a lot: Miyazaki’s rival Ishida Toshiya.
Ishida sensei has a pretty much perfect kendo career, both as a competitor (wins in high school, university, police, All Japan champs, WKC, nanadan, and hachidan competitions) and an instructor. I haven’t seen a better modern kendo related career.
---Career--- Born: 1961 Kendo route: PL Gakuen -> Osaka Sports University -> Osaka Police Dept. (tokuren member then coach) -> Tokyo Metropolitan Police Academy head instructor Passed Hachidan: 2007 ---Competition wins--- All Japan Hachidan championships: once All Japan Nanadan championships (old version): twice All Japan police champs: individuals once, team three times All Japan Championships: twice World Kendo Championships: team four times All Japan university championships: individual and teams once each All Japan high school championships: individual once
Reading the above you probably wonder “why wouldn’t he become hachidan?” Yeah, it was almost certainly a sure thing that he’d pass, nevertheless, there is still much to be learned by normal folks such as you and I from someone with a kendo life as his.
The following is an abridged and loose translation of Ishida sensei’s article in the book, in which he discusses his preparations for taking the hachidan test.
1. Focus on the first strike / place emphasis on the process of striking
For the Hachidan grading it is important to stay calm and focused, and devote oneself to showing the (good) content of your daily keiko.
When it comes to the idea of “shodachi ippon” (the first strike) I think people should attach more importance to natural reactions (reflex). For me, I build up a situation where my “shin-gi-tai” (the idea that the mind-technique-body are unified) is “ready” then focus on that. To do this you need to prepare both physically and mentally.
To prepare mentally for my hachidan grading I would, when watching senior sensei or shiai etc, imagine replacing myself with one of the people I was watching, which made me kind of feel pressured or nervous. By doing this I created an image of the grading.
Physically, to bring myself to a condition where I could actually recreate the image in my head on the day of the grading, I made sure that I warmed-up and took care of myself, as well as doing lots of keiko of course.
As you can see, both my mental and physical preparation was pretty straight forward. When I was a young competitor or when I took part in the Kyoto Taikai, I always did my best to bring myself to peak condition before the event.
2. Emphasise your good points while attempting to stop doing the bad things / construct techniques with debana as the central motor
I made an effort to maximise my good points while minimising my bad ones.
The first good point I have is, because I am tall I have a long reach, and I wanted to utilise that. If I thought that my opponent was fast (though smaller in stature) I would focus on executing debana techniques when they tried to break into their preferred (closer) distance. If someone thought they were safe at a far distance I would suddenly threaten them. During my daily keiko I would pay attention to both points, and continually try to take – and keep – the advantage.
My second good point is that I practised filling my entire being with a vigorous spirit and shouted with a big voice, such that, my plan was, when the time came it would ring out around the court and impress the judges. Like the saying “technique is born from vigour” implies, I worked on using my voice as a weapon both before and after the strike, as well as the strike itself.
On the other hand, over 10 years ago I injured the posterior cruciate ligament of my left knee. Due to this, my seme style changed mostly from one where I would invite an opponents attack and strike back, to an emphasis on debana techniques. When I couldn’t get my opponent to strike first or when they were someone that preferred to wait for an attack and strike back, it became challenging to apply further pressure to them as I couldn’t put too much weight on my left knee.
Because of the injury, my fumikomi distance because half of what it had been. This meant I had to pay much more attention to my footwork and distance control/strategy.
Also, because there are many hachidan at my place of work, when I had the time to, I would ask them for keiko. One thing that I learned from senior sensei was to to place an importance not only on striking itself, but on finishing the strikes. As I wanted to learn as much as I could from these teachers I made it a point to ask questions about the content of our keiko, and also took notes in a kendo memo book I prepared (so that I wouldn’t forget it). During my next keiko I would then try and improve my kendo based on their advice.
Like this, by making an effort to ask people about their honest opinions and then actually making an effort to do what was said, I was able to feel that I was progressing, even if only in small steps.
3. Daily life / the value of self-practise
A. Collecting information from media (TV, newspapers, and magazines)
I took an interest in the experiences of other sports people outside of kendo. I think pretty much everyone does this anyway. Even though the competitive type might be different, there are lots that are similarities between sports, and plenty of good things that can be learned.
B. Self practise
There are many types of things that can be done alone: sparring image training, suburi, checking your kamae, footwork, breathing, etc. Especially when you can’t do much keiko because of work, you could work on any or all of these anywhere by yourself.
C. Taking memos
Early in my competitive career I made it a point to place a memo pad next to my bed. There are plenty of things I never realised until they suddenly came to me when I was lying in bed at night, so I would write them down. I think doing something like this is extremely beneficial.
4. Watching the grading over 10 years before I took it / being meticulous in my equipment choice
Although I started to really concentrate on my hachidan about five years before I took it, I actually visited the Kyoto hachidan grading (held every year before the Kyoto Taikai) for more than 10 years before that. There is a certain nervous tension in the air at the grading, and things you can learn only by being there (for example, how people keep their concentration between the first and second part of the test). Over time I started to build an image of how the day goes and get a sense of what was needed.
Also, in order to ensure that I was completely prepared, on the outside as well as inside (i.e. mentally) I payed meticulous attention to what equipment I’d use. For example, I made sure that the kote felt good when holding a shinai, it was easy to see clearly through the men, the dou and tare fitted well, etc. On the day of the grading I painstakingly put my shinai together whilst wishing for success.
I spent a lot of time polishing the technical and psychological kendo skills taught to me, which also included correct etiquette, proper conduct, equipment choice, shinai maintenance, correct way to wear the dogi, etc, etc, basically I payed extra attention to everything to do with kendo. It was my belief that it would be only when I made the inside (mental) and outside (technique, equipment, manner) unified that I would finally be qualified to take and pass the hachidan exam. With this goal in mind I endeavoured to work hard.
The book “Kendo: the route to promotion” has a wealth of useful advice for not only those that are aiming to take the hachidan test, but for basically anybody who wants to improve their kendo. I can’t obviously translate every sensei’s section but I hope to pull out some of the best bits of advice and present them here on kenshi 24/7 in the future. If you can read Japanese, or are currently learning to, it might be a good book to sit down and drink a coffee with on a non-kendo day. Enjoy!