Summer gasshuku 夏強化合宿

As the majority of kendo practitioners here in Japan are students (ranging from primary to university age) it follows that summer holidays tend to be pretty busy kendo-wise. This busyness is not just due an increase of keiko-time and sessions, but it also includes shiai (the largest competitions of the year are held during this time), visiting other schools for a spot of renshu-jiai or godogeiko, and summer strengthening gasshuku. Today I will briefly discuss the last one.


Gasshuku

There are many styles of gasshuku, and although not all run during the summer period, practising hard for a few days on end in the intense heat and humidity of the Japanese summer is considered a particularly gruelling challenge, and thus they hold a type of special status. I’ve attended many gasshuku over the years, including ones aimed at adults (where large quantities of alcohol are the mainstay), but what I want to describe briefly here is my experience at running and teaching high school level summer training sessions, which I have done for quite a few years now. In fact, I just came back from this years gasshuku yesterday!

School gasshuku tend to be of two broad types: godo-gasshuku, where a number of schools train together, or tandoku-gasshuku, where a school club practises by itself. I have participated in both, but prefer individual gasshuku over group ones, because the latter tend to spend too much time doing practise competition (something that could easily be done at another time). I’d rather use that time to do extended periods of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, and kakarigeiko.

A gasshuku is not a gasshuku unless you travel somewhere as a group and stay together for at least a couple of nights (the further the better.. although some shonen kendo clubs that have a privately owned dojo may sleep there rather than travel). Although not always possible, I much prefer to hold gasshuku in a proper dojo rather than in some modern sports hall or centre of some sort, preferably sleeping in the dojo. Also, the less people there are around, the more isolated the location is, the better.

The purpose and the content of a George-styled gasshuku (and many other kendo teachers too I suspect) is pretty simple:

Through multiple challenging keiko sessions students will become motivated (even inspired) to work hard not only as individuals (which is important), but as part of a team. By battling through physically and mentally demanding keiko together the students can build stronger bonds of friendship which will, hopefully, last their entire lives. They should also learn that working to overcome difficulty (i.e. not quitting when things are hard) is not only worthwhile, but highly rewarding as well. The gasshuku experience is thus much more than kendo itself.

Needless to say, the students stamina, endurance, and technical kendo ability should also benefit from a hard gasshuku, but these are – at least for me – secondary goals.

Gasshuku

Example gasshuku training menu

As an example of what I am talking about here is a rough sketch of the menu that my students just went though with me:

Day 1.

– Travel to the dojo (approx. 2.5 hrs).

– Short morning session (approx. 1.5 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 20 mins; ashisabaki 15 mins; extended kihon 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Afternoon session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 20 mins; uchikomi 20 mins; break; waza geiko 40 mins; break; uchikomi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Evening: kendo lecture (history/culture).

Day 2.

– Before breakfast: up at 6am for a 2km running session up and down a steep hill.

– Morning session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; bokuto ni yoru kihon keiko-ho 20 mins; suburi 30 mins; ashisabaki 15 mins; kirikaeshi 25 mins; uchikomi 25 mins; break; oikomi 30 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Afternoon session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 30 mins; kata 90 mins; break; kihon 20 mins; uchikomi 20 mins; kirikaeshi 10 mins.

– Evening: kendo discussion (aims).

Day 3.

– Before breakfast: up at 6am for a 2km running session up and down a steep hill.

– Morning session (approx. 3 hrs): clean the dojo; warmup; suburi 20 mins; up and down kirikaeshi 20 mins; up and down oikomi 20 mins; break; circular kirikaeshi 15 mins; diagonal oikomi 15 mins; break; suri-ashi game 15 mins; break; mini kihon 10 mins; 5-person consecutive kakarigeiko 15 mins; aikagarigeiko 15 mins; kirkaeshi 10 mins. Haya-suburi 5 mins.

– Short afternoon session (approx. 2 hrs): kachinuki shiai 60 mins; jigeiko 30 mins; uchikomi and kirikaeshi 20 mins; award giving; clean the dojo.

– Pack and go home!

Yours truly at this years gasshuku
Yours truly at this years gasshuku

Gasshuku are demanding for the students but at the same time they can be tough to organise and teach as well. One of the most difficult things is to ensure that you balance the hard sessions with enough breaks for rehydration, and to ensure that nobody gets injured or collapses due to heat stroke. On top of this, every year I also take on the job of making sure that the students eat enough (especially the girls), get to bed early, and get up in time to go running…. none of which falls within the usual realm of “kendo teacher.” This year I had the added bonus of dealing with the fallout of a bet gone wrong: one of my students ate a whole tube of wasabi and got sick !

Although this years gasshuku is finished, I’m already looking forward to the next one… though I may ban wasabi.


Gallery

Lastly, here are a handful of snaps from summer gasshuku I’ve taught over the years. Enjoy!

Hasuji, shinogi, harai, and suriage 刃筋・鎬・払い・擦り上げ

The following are two slightly revised and renewed essays from kenshi 24/7’s now unavailable mini-publication “Kenkyu and Kufu” originally published in 2014.

Mini essay 1: hasuji and shinogi

Ever since shinai kendo appeared in the mid-18th century there have been complaints from the more traditional swordsmen, those who practised armour-less and with only bokuto or perhaps habiki (blunt swords). Their concerns increased in urgency as the popularity of shinai kendo began to effect how shinai kendo was performed and why people took it up (not to mention it’s democratisation = the who). For those interested in the serious study of Japanese swordsmanship, many of the points raised back then still apply now. Two of these (interrelated) points in particular are of import to the modern kenshi, one commonly discussed, the other not.

Katana are traditionally only sharpened on a single side, and it’s with this side that we must “cut” in kendo. Shinai, being round, have no natural ha, but we make the differentiation between front and back by the addition of a tsuru. All cuts in kendo must be done with the “cutting edge” portion of the shinai, the bamboo slat on the opposite site of the tsuru. Hasuji describes the path travelled by the blade and, obviously for a sword cut to be a good one, the blade must travel directly at the target and land with the ha down and the mine/mune (i.e. tsuru) directly behind it.

One of the toughest areas of the katana is the ridge-line on either side of the blade – the shinogi. Due to its resilience it’s this part (both omote and ura) that you are meant to use when executing waza such as kaeshi, suriage, uchiotoshi, osae, makiosae, surikomi, harai, etc. Koryu kenjutsu is replete with teachings about using the shinogi and concomitant wrist actions thus employed.

Due of the cylindrical nature of the shinai, many modern practitioners don’t particularly pay a lot of attention to correct hasuji nor shinogi usage. Well, I take that back – I’m guessing that many are aware of and attempt to execute strikes with the cutting edge but, usage of the shinogi is, I’m sure, only a vague notion to most. I wonder if this is because competition rules mention one but not the other?

One way to do some personal research into these two areas is to experiment with different tsuka shapes. The usual alternative to round tsuka are koban (oval- shaped handles); but you can also get hexagonal, heptagonal, and triangular shaped handles.

At any rate, the upshot of all this is most people have developed shinai-centric hand and wrist usage when executing waza. You personally may not care, but if you are interested in the more traditional aspects of technique execution, then perhaps it’s worth exploring the issue.

kata2


Mini essay 2: harai and suriage

In an earlier essay (Hasuji and Shinogi) I discussed a couple of areas where the modern kenshi really ought to research more. This essay, in particular, will dis- cuss investigating deeper understanding of shinogi use through the practise and execution of harai and suriage waza.

First of all – and this is an important point to make – as far as shinogi and wrist use goes, both of these techniques are basically identical. The difference in terminology lies solely on whether you are performing the action on a waiting blade (harai) or on one that is moving towards you (suriage).

Secondly, although there are wide varieties of possible harai/suriage techniques, only a subset of the waza are generally used. Waza preference of course is dictated by the individual, and certain people like to do particular techniques, but here are what I would say are the base techniques of this type to learn. Once shinogi/wrist usage proficiency in these are somewhat acquired it makes moving on to the other varieties easier:

TYPE — TECHNIQUE — SIDE — DIRECTION

A — harai-otoshi men — Omote — top-bottom, right-left
B — harai-age kote / kote suriage kote / kote suriage men — Ura — bottom-top, left-right
C — men suriage / men kote suriage men — Omote — bottom-top

Points to be aware of:

1. Practise with a bokuto

Since our goal is to research shinogi use, it’s probably better to start practising these techniques with a bokuto first before moving on to shinai. It’s also worth going back to practising with bokuto now-and-then for revision purposes.

2. Where to strike or catch the opponents blade

For harai techniques try aiming for a little bit beyond 1/2 way down the blade. Striking the tip of the sword – no matter how strong you do so – is risky as it may come right back to the centre line and stop you from following the harai with a successful strike.

For suriage techniques you have a little bit of leeway in regards to the where as your opponent is coming towards you. However, time-wise, it’s better to “catch” the opponents blade as late as possible (i.e. once their cut is fully committed).

3. Slide

What differentiates a good harai or suriage from a simple bash out of the way is the slide. There should be a shinogi to shinogi connection, and it’s the push from your shinogi on theirs that knocks it away (up or down). With harai, the push is generally shorter and sharper than with suriage.

4. Right hand and wrist usage

The slide and push that occurs in 3 above is generated from the right hand and wrist. The middle finger, index finger, and thumb all play a part in the generation of this power (just like in kodachi use).

Let’s have a closer look at the 3 types of waza in more detail. Note that I will explain only the harai/suriage portion, not the body mechanics or any connecting strike.

Type A: harai-otoshi

From chudan, strike at your opponent’s blade diagonally from above-right to bottom-left. As your blade moves in this diagonal motion your right wrist should be twisting in a small semi-circle from right to left. Meeting the opponents shinogi with yours, you finish the semi-circle motion with a twist knocking (sliding) their blade down. Your blade will remain on the centre line with the back of your right hand facing up, and the ha facing diagonally down to the right. The instant the harai-otoshi is executed you should let your grip shift back to normal.

Type B: harai-age (ura-suriage)

Both harai-age and ura suriage have identical shinogi/wrist mechanics, the difference is only where you catch their blade and your body movement.
From chudan allow your blade tip to dip down slightly before moving your blade diagonally from the bottom-left to top-right. As the blade moves in this diagonal motion your right wrist should be twisting in a semi-circle from left to right. Meeting the opponents shinogi with yours, you finish the semi-circle motion with a twist knocking (sliding) their blade up. Your blade will remain on the centre line with the back of your right hand facing up, and the ha facing diagonally down to the right. The instant the technique is executed you should let your grip shift back to normal.

As you may have noticed, type B is the same as type A, just moving in a different diagonal direction.

Type C: omote suriage

This is by far one of the easiest and most economical kendo techniques there is. It helps a lot if the extension of your kamae is aimed at your opponents left eye, but even if not, all that requires is a slight change in your kamae before execution.

With the extension of your blade aimed at your opponents left eye your kamae will naturally be slightly diagonal. When your opponent attacks simply lift your hands up from this kamae. Catching the opponents shinogi with yours, slide up the blade knocking it off centre. The instant the technique is executed you should let your grip shift back to normal.

kenshi247.net

Conclusion

I personally don’t care for overly descriptive textual analysis of techniques but I thought I would include one chapter like this anyway – partly as an example of how important one-on-one contact with a teacher is (i.e. physical kendo development is something you copy from a teacher not read in a book or watch on a video), but also to hopefully stimulate people to think more about the mechanics of kendo, its techniques, and where it all came from.

It might be surprising to some people, I don’t know, but my personal research into the execution of harai and suriage, and my conclusion that they are in fact basically the same technique, stems from my kenjutsu training and not my kendo training. Many of my teachers here in Japan are generally not that interested in the workings of the shinogi and use the shinai as a round implement. They don’t study koryu, have little interest in swords or even in kendo’s history. Most have never even done iaido. In that respect, I’m sure there will be a few senior teachers who disagree with the content of this particular essay (and that’s fine by me).

I think if we are to attempt to retain some of the “sword” elements of kendo then personal research like this can be very rewarding.

Hasegawa hanshi’s tai-atari and kakarigeiko 長谷川壽範士の体当たり・掛かり稽古

Recently I was handed a condensed paper booklet of the kendo teachings of Hasegawa sensei, hanshi kyudan. The contents seemed to be a republishing of some earlier material (originally from perhaps the 50s or 60s?) on the 13th anniversary of his death. Leafing through the material I decided to translate a couple of small portions of the text, mainly as a pretext to introduce, via short bio, this forgotten kenshi to everyone.

Sadly, there are many many many sensei with similar backgrounds that have already faded from memory.

Hasegawa hanshi

A short bio of Hasegawa Hisashi sensei

Born in Niigata prefecture in 1906, Hasegawa sensei’s first introduction to kendo was as part of P.E. class in school (he was a member of the track and field club, not the kendo one). Upon graduating from school in 1925, under the influence of his big brother (and against his fathers wishes), he planned to study kendo seriously at the Butokukai’s teacher training facility in Kyoto, Busen. However, before going there it was decided that he should spend a year training under Nakayama Hakudo at Yushinkan. After the year was up Nakayama tried to dissuade him from going to Busen (i.e. for him to stay at Yushinkan), but he went anyway, again at the insistence of his brother.

Hasegawa sensei spent the next six years at Busen, four years as part of the normal course, and the last two years on the research course. Here he studied kendo under such people as Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Ogawa Kinnosuke, Yano Katsujiro, Miyazaki Mosaburo, Tsuzaki Kanejiro, and Sato Chuzo, amongst others. The highlight of his six years in Kyoto was representing the prefecture at the 1929 Tenran-jiai, which took place in Saineikan, the budojo in the imperial palace.

Upon finishing at Busen he was invited to go to Noma dojo by Noma Hisashi and Masuda Shunsuke, but he declined and became a school teacher instead. He taught kendo in Hikone city, right next to the famed castle, between 1932-9. To further his personal study in kendo he took up an offer to join Osaka police dept. where he remained (surviving the turmoil of the war and post-war years) until retiring in 1967.

He was awarded hanshi in 1963, and became kyudan in 1977. Hasegawa sensei passed away on the 10th February 1986.

The following is the liberal translation of two short passages of Hasegawa sensei’s own words.

hikoneHikone castle by Aki Sasaki on flickr


Tai-atari

Although kendo is an activity whereby you discipline the mind and the body and achieve victory through the use of the sword, there are many times when this victory can be achieved with the aid of tai-atari. For example, you can use tai-atari to break your opponents stability when they are slight off-balance, when they have just finished a technique, or in the very instant they have lost concentration, etc. By doing this you can place them in a disadvantageous position, both posture wise and through loss of nerve.

But tai-atari is not just useful in those situations. If you practise it in your daily keiko it will help train the spirit and body. It is especially important to tai-atari during kirikaeshi.

When executing tai-atari ensure that you pull both your arms back to your body, push out your abdomen, and make sure that your shinai’s tsuka is at a diagonal. During kirikaeshi don’t strike men and go straight into left and right cutting, do tai-atari first. Remember to launch the sho-men strike from a far distance with full vigour and from there tai-atari strongly.

Point 1: smash into your opponents chest not only powerfully, but “flexibly.” At the same time, ensure that your hands push up into the opponents face so that you can scoop them up and force them back (Editor’s note: this is not recommended nowadays…).

Point 2: if the opponent is strong and cannot be forced back easily, try pushing them back a little bit diagonally.

Kakarigeiko

Note that the term “kakarigeiko” and “uchikomi” are sometimes used to mean the same thing. What is being described here is what we would refer to as “uchikomi” today.

The job of the motodachi during kakarigeiko is to make random openings for the kakarite to strike. The motodachi should be able to differentiate between well executed and poorly executed attacks, receiving the former and blocking or executing oji-waza against the latter. The motodachi must also pay careful attention at all times, and work hard to teach (show) the kakari-te the difference between the correct and in-correct way of striking so that the kakari-te can improve.

The kakari-te should throw away any personal ideas they may have and aim to execute attacks exactly as they have been taught them during basic training. Attacks should be executed largely, from a far distance, and with a loud voice. Kakarigeiko should be done this way repeatedly with a full spirit.

Point 1: Kakarigeiko is practise of basic strikes in a free manner.

Point 2: You cannot become victorious without have a correct posture and deliberate striking (as we learn in basics). Practising kakari-geiko with these points in mind at full power and intention is essential to becoming victorious.

Note that I used “kakari-te” in this translation but the term used in the text is actually “shugi-sha” (習技者).


Bonus: Hasegawa sensei’s last quote

“After 60 years of age you should keiko more with your spirit than with technique. If your opponent steps forward and pressures you allow yourself to move freely. Pressure them physically from your waist and spiritually with your presence (kurai). When you pressure them never wait. If you wait your presence will disappear. If you pressure with your spirit in this way the opponent will be unable to stand it and attempt to strike you. Strike them at that instant (debana). We are only human so of-course sometimes our strikes are unsuccessful, but if you are patient and stop yourself from striking randomly, and you practise like this again and again, eventually you will develop a strong presence. I tried keiko-ing like this for two or three years but couldn’t master it. Please, try it yourself.”

54 days after he said this, Hasegawa sensei passed away.

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Yours truly doing keiko with one of Hasegawa sensei’s kendo students in 2006, himself also kyudan.

Sources

私の剣道修行第1巻。体育とスポーツ出版社。1985発行。剣道時代編集部編。
剣道手引き。非売品。発行不明。長谷川壽

(Special thanks to Jean-Christophe Helary for some extra research help!)

Eikenkai June 2016 英剣会

It’s been raining relentlessly over the last while here in Osaka, and there is more forecast this coming week, but today – and only for today – the weather was absolutely beautiful!!! Obviously the kendo gods smile on Eikenkai!!

Today’s session was held at my (George’s) work dojo and as such was deliberately a bit smaller than usual. Still, the makeup of the kenshi was between 2nd and 7dan representing five countries and a variety of professions. Before and after our usual 40-30-40 session (kihon/waza/jigeiko) some people practised kendo-no-kata as well as some koryu (the benefit of using my own dojo is we have no time limit).

Before keiko there was some discussion about the result of the historic U.K. referendum and what it means in general. Since the “EI” of “Eikenkai” represents the fact that I am British, and the real possibility of Scotland becoming independent of the union, we had a lively chat as to what we should name our keikokai in the future! Watch this space….

Our next session will be held at the beautiful budojo at Ishikiri-jinja on September the 11th. If you are interested, please get in touch. Cheers!

All Japan High School Championships (preliminaries) インターハイ予選会

A couple of posts ago I talked about renshu-jiai, or practise competition, what they are and what sort of benefits can be had from doing them. Since making that post I’ve spent three whole days (two Saturdays and one Sunday) at shiai with my students while they competed in the Osaka preliminaries of the All Japan high school kendo championships. This shiai takes three days because of the sheer amount of competitors: the first Saturday was the individual competition (boys and girls), then the following weekend was the boys and girls team competitions, each taking an entire day. Even though I didn’t compete, I’m knackered !!!!

iPhone-video footage I uploaded to the kenshi 24/7 facebook page proved popular, so I put together another short vid with some better quality footage to share. Most of it is of the warmup sessions, with a little bit of shiai action at the end. Turn your speakers to 11 before clicking play:

Lastly, here is a small gallery of pictures: