December 06, 2005

Honda-sensei on Ji-geiko (Part 2)

This is VERY good information for everyone! (pay close attention to the highlighted sections of the article...)

I doubt Honda-sensei of the British Kendo Association will ever see this little blog of ours, but if he does, I hope he understands how great his thoughts are on this.

Original link:


1. Ji-geiko with Seniors
What should be mentioned, firstly, is to try to get Sho-dachi (the first cut) no matter who you are having the Ji-geiko with. Irrespective of the difference in grade and experience.
Ji-geiko should start with Ippon Shobu played in earnest in an equal fifty-fifty situation, with the philosophy: that there is no second chance in a fight with real swords.
It is important to understand this philosophy in Kendo as Budo and try to get a successful Sho-dachi by utilising all of your abilities to the full.

After attacking and defending Sho-dachi, in this Ji-geiko with someone senior, you are recommended then to focus mainly on Shikake-waza. However this does not mean merely attacking randomly against seniors. If you are of a low grade such as Ikkyu and Sho-dan, it is important to attempt to break the senior’s Chu-shin [centre] by making the best use of your footwork, Shinai and body movement. It is also important not to be afraid of being avoided and counter attacked, and not to stop attacking in the middle of your action, but to always try to complete your attack. You are supposed to develop various ways of Shikake-waza such as: by being avoided or being struck Debana-waza and Ouzi-waza, repeatedly . However it is not profitable for you to be struck as a result of waiting for the senior to attack. Try to use all the Waza you have and give 100 percent effort. Sumi (2000) points out that juniors should focus only on Shikake-waza and try to do Ji-geiko that makes them use up all of their energy in 5 minutes when they have Ji-geiko with a senior.  

2. Ji-geiko with Juniors
There is no need to stress the importance of Sho-dachi here any more. What you should consider when doing Ji-geiko with a junior, is not to lapse into a Ji-geiko where the only intention is to obtain satisfaction by merely beating them. People tend to feel that they want to impress other people who are watching their Ji-geiko. Such vanity should be severely admonished. From the viewpoint of showing responsibility as a senior, you have a responsibility to develop the juniors’ skills by making them realise their weak points, by striking them in that weak moment, but also by letting their strong points come through and striking you during the Ji-geiko. This type of Keiko is called Hikitate-geiko (All Japan Kendo Federation, 2000) and is one of the most difficult Keiko to do in Kendo. Juniors will lose their enthusiasm and concentration if seniors just keep on striking them for their own satisfaction or if the opportunity to strike is too obvious. To enable the junior to improve, a senior is expected to perform as though their skill level was 0.5 dan higher than the junior and to concentrate 100 percent when facing them. The senior should counterattack when the junior makes an attack without first making an effective Seme and when there was no appropriate opportunity, but let them strike when they come to attack after making a good Seme and when there is a good opportunity. The senior should encourage the junior to grasp and understand the correct opportunity to strike though this Hikitate-geiko.

Seniors are also expected to encourage juniors to understand the importance of maintaining concentration by attacking if the junior is careless after their attack.
There is a saying that explains how a senior should approach Ji-geiko with a junior: “Ware igai mina shi nari (everyone is one’s teacher)”. That is, there is always something to learn through Ji-geiko no matter who one does it with. One quite often hears, “I am the highest grade in my Dojo and I have no one to teach me.” This is not true. It depends on the way you think. Keep in mind that you can learn a great deal from whoever you do Ji-geiko with.

It is often taken for granted that seniors can strike juniors easily in Ji-geiko , so for your further improvement, you should not just focus on striking but tackle Ji-geiko with a clear task(s) or by giving yourself a handicap in this Ji-geiko with juniors. However, you must not stick to a form of Ji-geiko whereby you only focus on cutting Men for instance, as even if you try to focus on cutting Men, you need to have a clear idea such as: from what distance to cut Men and on how to make an opportunity. As to giving yourself a handicap, it is also important to explore how to perform under adverse conditions. For example, dare to fence in Chika-ma during Ji-geiko with someone smaller than yourself and to watch for a chance of doing Debana-waza (instead of waiting you should try to lure your opponent into attacking the target you want them to strike!).
I would like to repeat the point that seniors must not lapse into Ji-geiko where the aim is to obtain satisfaction, just by striking more times than their opponent has.

3. Ji-geiko with Someone of the Same Level
Ji-geiko with someone of the same level gives you a good opportunity to reflect upon your progress and the fruits of your efforts. This is even better if you are both about the same age. It is very important for you to know someone of the same level and of a similar age and to do Ji-geiko with them. It’s quite normal not to want to be struck by your rival, but it is quite important to have an attitude whereby you try to show your best Kendo no matter what happens. After they are struck, people also tend to try to return the attack before making enough Seme. It is important to control this feeling and try to start again with the taking and re-taking of the Chu-shin. By doing Ji-geiko with someone of the same level, you should compare how your Seme and Waza, [which worked against juniors], works against someone of the same level and whether there is anything your rival has and you do not have and vice versa. It is expected that all people of the same level will try to train harder in order to improve in a spirit of cooperation and friendly in the way of Shugyo in Kendo.

5. Men Doing Ji-geiko with Women
In the case of men doing Ji-geiko with women, Tai-atari and the use of Waza that rely too much on physical power should also be restrained. Men should not fall into the habit of being afraid of being struck by a women or getting frustrated when you cannot strike as you wish. This causes you to strike, ignoring opportunities, differences in physique and physical strength. This is the worst type of Kendo, because it shows no respect for your opponent and creates nothing between you, even if you are able strike your opponent by doing such Kendo in the Ji-geiko .
Your opponent is not an enemy to destroy, rather that you are partners, who should help each other to improve by working hard together in Shugyo. It can quite often be the case that you are much the taller when doing Ji-geiko with women and juniors. This is a good opportunity to do Ji-geiko in Chika-ma. [if there is a difference of height between two Kendo-ka, the one who is taller normally feels cramped and uncomfortable playing in this close distance]. Men should realise that having Ji-geiko with women is a good opportunity to learn how to play (without relying too much on physical strength) by fencing in Chika-ma. Moreover, through Ji-geiko with women, men can also practise how to acquire the timing of Debana-waza that catches the moment when your opponent comes to move into Chika-ma.

6. Women Doing Ji-geiko with Men
It is often thought that most women find it difficult to do Ji-geiko as they would like to with men who are bulkier and taller. Just the thought of powerful attacks from well-built men may be scary. However, everyone has a weak point, for instance: maybe a distance which they find uncomfortable fighting in or a type of opponent which they find awkward to fight. This applies not only to women but to all Kendo-ka. To keep avoiding practising with people who are hard for you to deal with in Ji-geiko is not a solution. It will remain your problem. If they are hard to deal with in Ji-geiko, it is suggested that you should try to do Ji-geiko with them more than with anyone else and try to overcome this weak point through being struck again and again and by trying to find a solution.

If you find such people who are difficult to handle, then they are the ones who you need to do Ji-geiko more with, in order to overcome your fear and problem. Generally tall people are not good at playing in Chika-ma because it is too close for them to kick the floor hard with their left foot and they feel cramped in this position The important point is therefore how to reach Chika-ma, as that is an advantageous distance for you. If you try to reach Chika-ma by merely stepping forward, your opponent will try to do a Debana-attack. It is important therefore to devise various ways of reaching Chika-ma from different directions. In the case when your opponent comes to attack before you do, you will be knocked over if you just check their attack and Tai-atari. It is important therefore, to acquire Ashi-sabaki and Tai-sabaki that enables you to avoid direct strong physical contact [using body movement]

I would like to add one piece of advice here. One sometimes hears, unfortunately, that there are some men who behave in Ji-geiko as if they are trying to hurt women. As well as this bad attitude in the Ji-geiko, there is nothing to be learnt from such people. It is strongly recommended that you stop Ji-geiko immediately if you discover your opponent is one of these types, or that you refuse to do Ji-geiko with them if you are asked.

7. Last words
What should be expected of all Kendo-ka when doing Ji-geiko, is that you make your opponents feel that they want to have Ji-geiko with you again. It will give me great pleasure if this and the previous article, which re-examined the relationship between Kihon-geiko, Kata-geiko and Ji-geiko and how Ji-geiko should be approached, give you something useful in your Kendo Shugyo now and in the future.

Honda-sensei of British Kendo speaks on Ji-geiko (Part 1)

A FABULOUS article!!

I've supplied the link to give proper credit where it's due, but I think a couple points need to be reproduced here as well.

Ji-geiko is the core part of Keiko in Kendo. In Ji-geiko, we (Kendo-ka) can try to use Waza(techniques) in unrestricted situations. We can also learn and acquire what we need to do before we attack (Seme) or how to react to an opponent’s Seme (intention and attack). Through Ji-geiko, moreover, we can recognise what Waza we are, or are not good at and one Ji-geiko can lead us to the next Kihon-geiko and Ji-geiko and what we need to work on for our technical progression. It also gives us ways to developing our skills and spirit as proper Kendo-ka.
If we approach Ji-geiko in the wrong way such as focusing only on beating an opponent, we cannot expect real development as proper Kendo-ka in the future. It is important, therefore, to engage in Ji-geiko with the correct understanding.

Therefore the purpose of this article (part 1) is to re-examine what Ji-geiko should be and to present some useful material for Kendo-ka in future Keiko. It starts with an examination of the relationship between Kihon-geiko, Kata-geiko and Ji-geiko followed by an examination of how Ji-geiko should be practised.

1.The Relationship between Kihon-geiko, Kata-geiko and Ji-geiko
As well as Ji-geiko, Kihon-geiko and Kata-geiko are important main elements of Keiko.
In Kihon-geiko, the same practice is repeated again and again under pre-determined situations so that we become proficient in striking and thrusting correctly, with full Ki-ai and good posture (Ki-Ken-Tai no Itchi).

Kata-geiko places more emphasis on being aware of the use of the sword than Kihon-geiko, [as kata-geiko is also usually practiced with boken]. Kata-geiko is also where we learn how to breathe (abdominal breathing) properly.

These Kihon-geiko, Kata-geiko and Ji-geiko do not exist separately. They are supposed to be connected fundamentally. However there are some people who can perform beautifully in Kihon-geiko and Kata-geiko, but lose posture and co-ordination between their arms and legs in Ji-geiko. There is no real problem, if these people are setting themselves task(s) in order to overcome their inabilities in the Ji-geiko. There are other people, however, who focus only on beating opponents and striking more times than their opponent has. This sort of attitude in Ji-geiko reflects an attitude that is concerned only with winning at that precise moment in time. In contrast, there are other people who focus only on their posture and form and pay less attention to the exchanging of taking Chu-shin and Seme-ai. (control of the centre) This is also ok, if these people are doing intentionally in order to overcome their problems (i.e. trying to keep their back straight when they attack). If they are not trying to overcome their various problems however, then all such attitudes degrade Ji-geiko into just a performance and therefore we cannot experience the real pleasure of Ji-geiko through this failing.

2. What Ji-geiko Should Be
There should not be an imbalance of preference between Kihon-geiko, Kata-geiko and Ji-geiko. It is important to tackle Ji-geiko while we are considering how to use Waza acquired in Kihon-geiko and Kata-geiko. By doing so, we can grasp the meaning and purpose of each Keiko and become more interested each time we practice any Keiko. As mentioned earlier, Ji-geiko is aimed at giving us opportunities to grasp our abilities under unrestricted situations. In addition to this, Tomiki (1991) points out that the purpose of Ji-geiko in modern Kendo is allow us to grasp the strict spiritual aspects of Kendo as Budo. In the past, Bujutsu-ka could grasp their abilities only by beating their opponents and surviving life or death situations. The place of battle for life or death in the past has been converted to a competitive place where everyone is protected with Bogu and one can attack and defend safely. In modern Kendo, the Kendo-ka is expected to try to control emotional conflict in competitive situations. Thus, developing our skills and spirit as proper Kendo-ka, it is essential then to understand how to undertake Ji-geiko and do it properly. The way of approaching Ji-geiko is not the same for everyone. At the beginners’ stage, there is a way for them to engage in Ji-geiko according to their level. Likewise there is also a way for seniors to approach Ji-geiko according to their level. Moreover, the application of Ji-geiko changes according to what a person tries to acquire and improve through Ji-geiko and also who we have Ji-geiko with (i.e. with Kohai, Sempai, someone older, women and so on).

The remainder of this article explains how to tackle Ji-geiko according to one’s stage of development.

3. How to Tackle Ji-geiko in Each development Stage.
3-1. Kyu Grade
Firstly, the most important point for Kendo-ka of this level to keep in mind is: to try to use Waza (Shikake-waza) on your own initiative. It should not be just Men and Kote, but you should use all Waza you have learnt in Kihon-geiko and Kata-geiko. You should not be afraid of failing and being defeated. It is expected that you will gradually grasp the timing of using each Waza whilst you try to attack using your own initiative. Another important point is that you should not stop your movement after striking and thrusting, but try to complete your attack and quickly prepare yourself for the next action. It is quite often seen in beginners’ Ji-geiko that they loose their attention and guard as soon as they finish their first attack and that they walk back to where they were before attacking. It is important to always maintain concentration wherever you are and to prepare for the next action as soon as you have finished your first attack.
Secondly, it is usual that most beginners have not learnt, at this stage, how to defend. It is also quite often the case that beginners do not properly know what to do and they are just absent-mindedly standing without doing anything, closing their eyes and tensing their shoulders, moving back or running away in case their opponent attacks before them. It is also be reasonable to assume, that they may feel fear at someone’s attack. What is important here is to have a proper understanding of Ko-bo-itchi and Ken-tai-itchi. These terms illustrate the importance of always being mentally and physically ready to defend against the opponent’s counterattack whilst attacking, and ready to counterattack while defending (All Japan Kendo Federation, 2000, p. 47). There is no defence just for the sake of defence, in Kendo. Defence is done for the next attack or counterattack. Using a proper defence enables you to immediately attack after defending, but you should not just be standing and defending by using only your Shinai, you should keep your knees relaxed and defend by using both your Shinai and your footwork. As you gain more experience, you come to acquire a wider variety of Waza and better timing. What you are encouraged to do for your progression at this stage is to use big techniques involving all of your body and not relying on small techniques or trying to strike more times than your opponent has.

If you form bad habits on the way you attack and defend at this stage, it will take a long time to get rid of them in the future. It is important to reflect how you have been tackling Ji-geiko by listening to your Sempai and Sensei’s advice and by self-examination.

December 05, 2005

What's the deal with rank in kendo? (updated July 2010)

If you've ever wondered about rank in kendo, the general bottom line is that (achieving) rank is not the ultimate goal of kendo. The ultimate goal is just to get better at kendo. Perhaps you've noticed that no one in kendo wears any outward sign to denote their rank. Why?

When you go to practice, things like rank, age, sex, weight have no true meaning because in kendo, technique will determine the winner in a match. By way of illustration, at the U.S. National Tournament in Las Vegas (1999), I saw a 5'2, 100 lb girl defeat a 6'+, 200 lb man in the team competition by scoring a beautiful men. Technique is the variable which makes all kendoka "equal".

That said, rank (and achieving rank) can be a positive thing in kendo. It can give us a sense of where we are (in terms of kendo ability/knowledge) and where we're headed or what we can look forward to. In our goal-driven society, rank can be a source of encouragement as well.

In the past, the Memphis dojo has not held any in-house promotionals. The primary reason for this is that we haven't had enough people in class with enough rank to sit on a panel of judgment. The International Kendo Federation has recently laid out new laws governing the guidelines for kyu-rank promotionals. In former years, all that was required for a grading panel up to 1.kyu (the level immediately below 1.dan) was three 3.dan+. The FIK changed their own rules to require a minimum of five 4.dan. The AUSKF changed their own policy to be in line with FIK regulations and this has now filtered down to the individual regions which make up the AUSKF.
As of 2008, Memphis Kendo Club now has four active 4.dan in class which gets us closer to the AUSKF requirement. The SEUSKF has also created "sub-regionals," placing Memphis in the SEUSKF Western Region along with Nashville and Knoxville. We will continue to plan joint shinsa with those two groups, which will typically mean at least one 7.dan (Yazaki-sensei of Nashville) and one 6.dan (Hyun-sensei of Knoxville) to sit on a grading panel.

Having said that, it is also perhaps noteworthy to mention that it is neither necessary nor required that adult kenshi "start" at the lowest kyu rank and progress one step at a time as they approach 1.dan. All kenshi start with NO rank and then are generally placed at a certain kyu level after their first shinsa (testing). After that, a person can easily skip kyu-levels based on the award of a testing's grading panel, with the following exception: By SEUSKF regulations, NO person may test for 1.kyu as his first rank, which is to say, everyone MUST pass some kyu-level shinsa prior to being eligible to test for 1.kyu. Obviously, this means, too, that no one may test for 1.dan before first passing 1.kyu, even if it means you've been doing kendo for 20 years. Also, if you hold, for example, the rank of 3.kyu, you may -- with your instructor's permission -- challenge for the rank of 1.kyu, however, if you fail the exam, you will remain at your current rank (i.e., there is no longer the idea of "auto-promoting" above your current level, just short of 1.kyu).

The following link provides more information about general expectations at a promotional examination:

So... should you worry about testing? The first testing can be a bit stressful because you want to do well. You know what the judges expect you to be able to do, but you may not know how well the judges expect you to do it! In the end, it's nothing to get worked up over. Some of you who may have experience in other martial arts may have heard, witnessed, or even participated in rank testings which have lasted several hours. This is simply not the case with kendo. At best, you may be on the floor in front of the panel for 5 or 10 minutes total. The jigeiko portion of your exam is supposed to last a total of 180 seconds (90 seconds per match). This obviously may add to your stress as you feel you don't have enough time to fully demonstrate what you can do. Promotional panels have a lot of experience, though, and have the ability to see your potential even when you're not "picture perfect". So, when you go in for testing, simply do what you know how to do and let the judges do their thing. No sense in worrying about it! Whether you hold a rank of 4.kyu or shodan, you'll always find yourself practicing and sparring people with more experience and higher rank. Anyone, of any rank, can score a point or win a match against anyone else on any given day.

Regardless of rank, kendo is an ongoing learning experience. You might consider using promotionals as an encouragement to better your kendo, but ultimately, rank is not the end-all/be-all of kendo.

Something to keep in mind....

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