While (most of) the rest of the world has been in various stages of lockdown and societies across the world have been facing existential difficulties, things have been going on more-or-less as normal here in Japan. Kendo has faced difficulties of course, for example, with many shiai (todays topic) being postponed or cancelled indefinitely. The larger metropolitan areas of Kanto and Kansai in particular have faced a far more challenging situation that other areas of the country.
Here in Osaka, shiai restarted around about last autumn. But immediately there were problems – due to the pandemic some ad-hoc rules were put together which meant that you had to immediately come out of tsubazeriai if entered. This, ended up causing shiai to continually be stopped and restarted as competitors would enter in to tsubazeria a lot then not back out. Part of the problem has been habit: younger students, especially, are used to doing lots of hikiwaza or are overly defensive, and time-wasting is a common tactic. Commenting on this change, one kendo teacher said to me:
“Doing shinpan is just boring.”
Actually, I’ve always thought that, which is partly why I stopped shinpanning years ago (that’s an article for a different day). Anyway, it has taken a few months of research and trial-and-error, but the ZNKR have finally issued some guidelines about how to do shiai in the current situation. But before we delve in to that, let’s see some data.
The postponed All Japan Kendo Championships held in March were part of this research process. Apart from the absence of police kendoka, did you notice anything else?
Of course you did: a large portion of shiai went from being long and mostly won by a single point in encho, to being far shorter with more points scored. Or at least it felt that way. More 2-1 wins within the match time is what the ZNKR (and me…) wants to see, not 1-0 after a long encho.
If we had the shiai data, would it back up my feeling? Well, let’s see…
All Japan Kendo Championships (mens/womans) March 14th 2021
Both the mens and females competition had 64 matches.
First, here is a look a general overall look at the winning scores of all the matches over both competitions:
|2-0||a little less than the year before|
|1-0||less than the year before|
|2-1||about three times more than the year before|
Next, let’s look at three sections (total shiai time, time spent in tsubazeriai, and ippon – shikake, hiki, and ojiwaza) and the changes in both the men’s and women’s competition:
|Shiai time (per shiai)||about 1 and 1/2 minutes shorter on average than the year before||about 2 minutes shorter on average than the year before|
|Tsubazeria time (per shiai)||decreased from 3mins 25sec to 28sec||decreased from 3mins 47sec to 87sec|
|Yuko-datotsu: Shikake-waza||increased from 64 to 81||increased from 49 to 75|
|Yuko-datotsu: Hikiwaza||decreased from 12 to 7||decreased from 19 to 9|
|Yuko-datotsu: Oji-waza||increased from 7 to 8||increased from 10 to 14|
Up until this year (well, at least recently years), tsubazeriai time counted for a whopping 66% of shiai time… read that again: sixty-six-percent.
To briefly summarise, the result of the rule changes were:
1. Far more positive/attacking (shikake) ippon 2. Substantially more 2-1 results 3. Shorter shiai lengths 4. Substantially less time in tsubazeriai 5. A reduction in hikiwaza
Just typing out these figures makes me happy!
BTW, although this is a single set of data for two competitions, I am confident that other top-level shiai will see the same, or similar, results (shiai lower the the top-tier I am not so sure about though …).
Ok, so we have seen some results, and you’ve read up on past changes and my own opinion on the matter. But what are these new rules anyway?
Recently, while listening to a description of the new stipulations, I was left with a feeling of vagueness. What are they envisioning exactly? Luckily, the ZNKR released a video (in Japanese) showing what it wants. It is a well put together video and easily understood even if you don’t understand Japanese, which saves me a translation job. Watch it here:
What do you think?
The most immediate problem is that none of this will work unless both the competitors and shinpan know what they are doing. Another problem is that this shows a very clean flow of the process but, as you know, the cut-and-thrust of kendo action is not always so clear. Officially “tsubazeriai” only happens when both fists are touching, so this adds to the difficulty.
Oh, and suddenly between the 8:30-8:57 mark they fling in a random new rule change regarding defensive closing of distance. I totally hate this type of kendo, so I’d happily award a hansoku to someone for doing it, but I think it’s not directly related to the current reasons for rule changes.
At any rate, watch the video a couple of times.
I am personally not so interested in competition to tell you the truth. But shiai serve as important – even indispensable – part of every young kenshi’s development (this young refers usually to age, but can also be in experience). I am more concerned about how how it fits within a persons kendo shugyo, how their experience in shiai shapes their idea (or ideal) of kendo, and how they develop (as individuals) over time. In that way, I personally far prefer a less-defensive, more positive (even aggressive) type of kendo shiai.
These changes then, if managed correctly (and if they are not temporary…), will only help develop not only better kenshi, but a better kendo style in the future. Don’t you agree?
Addendum: wait, isn’t this all a bit too convoluted?
Yup, absolutely. Kendo is pretty simple* really, why all the complication? Increased complexity only serves to confuse. If the ZNKR had just said “no tsubazeriai or hikiwaza for the time being” then, boom, problem solved. At least, if the primary goal was simply to hold competition during the pandemic that is.
Once the pandemic subsides and things start to go back to normal will – after seeing the (almost certainly) positive impact on shiai – these rules stay in effect or be repealed? And what about the rest of the world?
*The first set of rules that came out for kendo only had ten short passages by the way.