April 09, 2007

Lot of food for thought...for beginners/low Kyu-ranks

Some of the things we at Memphis Kendo teach our beginners is the importance of footwork, moving forward, basic seme, big swing techniques, big voice, and ki-ken-tai-ichi. On top of all that, there is the old addage: THERE IS NO DEFENSE.. THERE IS ONLY ATTACK.

When beginners start to transition into a more active participation in class (read: wearing bogu and taking part fully in jigeiko) they sometimes tend to forget everything they've learned the first 3-6 months. Many times, people get into bogu and fall back to a basic human instinct of defense only. Some people are able to effectively carry over the concept of "ONLY ATTACK!", and they do so without regard to the consequences of their attack. In essence, they attack without fear (which is good at that level), but one of the drawbacks of this --- especially when they face someone of equal experience and rank --- is that one side attacks using a big men strike from always the same distance and with always the same timing. When this happens, the other side typically falls into the same pattern and the end result, usually, is that both sides continue to hit each other's shinai before reaching the men and a successful strike eludes both players for, seemingly, an eternity.

It is important that beginners use what they learn in regular practice, attacking without hesitation or fear, however, they cannot learn opportunities for attacking by repetitively using the same technique from always the same distance and with always the same timing.

Keep in mind that jigeiko is not "regular/kihon practice". Jigeiko is a real opportunity to work on what you've learned in class in a very practical way. It's not enough to simply kiai, push seme, and attack.... you will soon learn that that doesn't always work when the opponent is not acting simply as a target for your practice, and some real frustration can result from this.

Once you know how to do a very basic men strike in regular practice, try to use jigeiko to experiment with how to actually pull off a very basic men strike. Pulling off a very basic men strike is not as easy as some think!

So, you know how to do big men... you have great voice... you have decent timing and ki-ken-tai-ichi. Works great in practice, but now you're having trouble in jigeiko.

What to do?

Gain the center and create an opening to attack!

Whoa. What does this mean? What is center?

In case you don't know, "center" is perhaps most simply described as "keeping your shinai pointed at the opponent" (i.e., your shinai is "in the center").

Great. Now that I know what center is, Why do I need to break it?

Basically, if your opponent controls the center, then you will not be able to attack.


Because --- without going into greater detail --- if you move to attack without getting your opponent off center, the opponent can do a number of things to nullify your attack, one of which being if he doesn't move at all and just holds his kamae, you could just kill yourself on the tip of his sword.

Ok, so how do I break the opponent's center?

Well, now you're starting to think like a kenshi. HOW to break the opponent's center is the basic, most important tactic in kendo and, regardless of how simple the concept is, pondering the "how" is what develops into more complicated and effective waza (technique) as you advance in kendo.

There are several ways to break the opponent's center, but the simplest way is to physically move the opponent's shinai off the centerline by using your own shinai.  For example, you can attempt to push the opponent's shinai down/to the side (called OSAE-WAZA) or you can attempt to push/knock it left, right, up (called HARAI-WAZA).

This particular concept of manipulating the opponent's shinai is known as "Killing the Sword" or "Killing the Kensen"...

If you regularly kiai, push forward, then attack.... You can attempt to ALTER YOUR TIMING.  Try: kiai, kiai, push forward, kiai, push forward, then attack. Or you might push forward, kiai and stomp your front foot to see what kind of reaction you get from the opponent. This is what is meant by "changing your timing".

If you experience some frustration with your attacks in jigeiko (Can't Seem to Land ANYTHING!), try experimenting with timing variations.... alter your footwork, play with your kiai (when you attack, is your kiai significantly different from when you're NOT attacking?), attack the opponent's shinai (Kill the Sword!), try to avoid the same patterns (1-2-3-GO!) of attack and change it up a little (1-GO!... 1-2-3-GO!... 1-2-GO!... etc.)


As you progress in kendo, you will start to develop a better of sense of reading the opponent, recognizing his patterns, recognizing opportunities for attack, and so forth. You'll also learn different types of waza and over time, you'll get better at knowing what to use and when to use it. You'll discover that you can use some waza better than other waza. The kendo learning process is neverending, so, don't get too ahead of yourself.... there's plenty of time.

High-level kendo players use the same kendo basics that beginners use. The difference comes in their understanding and application of those basics which are ONLY able to develop through experience over time. There is no "quick path" to strong kendo. If such existed, 1.kyu-level players would defeat 5.dan players on a regular basis. So in the early stages of your kendo journey, continue to work ONLY on what you know and try to perfect it. THAT is the natural progression to "advanced kendo."

Some of the items in this post were taken from Dr. Sotaro Honda's article "Learning of Tactics for Kyu-grade Holders". Honda-sensei is the head coach of the British National Kendo Team.

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