October 31, 2007

Attitudes toward Shiai (Part 2) - Dr. Satori Honda-sensei

This article was written by British National Kendo Team Coach, Dr. Satori Honda-sensei, and can be found at the original source: http://www.kendo.org.uk/pmwiki.php/Main/Attitudestoshiai


In the previous article, I discussed attitudes to Shiai in terms of competitors, supporters and teachers. Reflecting on these briefly, Kendo can be either a mere competitive sport or Budo according to a Kendo-ka's understanding of Shiai, and his or her attitude to fighting, watching and supporting. Whether you are able to enjoy Shiai, build up a wonderful relationship with others and make Taikai memorable depends on your attitude to Shiai. In this article, I will introduce some ways of practising Shiai in your Dojo and the purpose of each Shiai practice. I will also introduce some Shiai practices that take place at squad training. Moreover, I will also introduce what squad members are expected to learn through Shiai practice and how and with what attitude the GB Kendo team is aiming to fight at various international Taikai.

1. Shiai Practice in the Dojo
Here I would like to introduce three kinds of Shiai practice. The first one is an effective way of Shiai practice based on the official rules and regulations of Shiai. The other two are different from the official one and Shiai practice takes place using modified rules with some particular purposes in mind.

1-1. Several Phases of Shiai Practice (especially for beginners)
It is important for Dojo leaders to organise Shiai practice regularly at their Dojo so that beginners can experience Shiai and learn the rules and etiquettes essential for Shiai. It is also useful for both Dojo leaders to see how the beginners are progressing and analyse what needs to be worked on. It is quite time consuming, however, to do Shiai practice using only one Shiai court in the Dojo and Dojo members will spend much more time waiting than fighting. The following example of several phases of Shiai practice probably depends on the number of Dojo members and the number of Kendo-ka who are able to referee. If it is possible, however, it may be better to start by dividing Dojo members into a couple of groups, having one referee for each mini Shiai court and having Shiai practice in a relaxed atmosphere. By doing this, Dojo members will be able to experience many Shiai by rotation within a limited time.

At the beginners' level, once Shiai starts, they are only able to focus on attacking and defending and not being able to have time to think of rules and manners even if they fully understand them when they are not fighting. It is important for Dojo leaders to create lots of opportunities for beginners to experience Shiai and learn the rules and etiquettes by making mistakes again and again and being corrected during each Shiai practice. Off course, it is also necessary for Dojo leaders to give feedback about technical and tactical points (at an appropriate time) as well.
After beginners come to understand the rules and etiquettes, Shiai practice moves towards a more formal type and beginners should be expected to learn new things such as Jogai Hansoku, Wakare and taking positional advantage in the Shiai court. It is also important for Dojo leaders to create an opportunity for beginners to experience fighting under pressure by having everyone watch them. After getting used to this type of Shiai practice, members of an intermediate level should be encouraged to do refereeing while Dojo leaders observe them and support the smooth running of Shiai and referee practice. This does not just mean encouraging them to learn how to referee, but is a means of encouraging them to learn what is Ippon and where there are opportunities to attack.

1-2. Shiai with a Handicap
There are some ways of doing Shiai practice by modifying the rules and giving more experienced members a handicap if there is a big difference in level between members. This is not only to prevent the Shiai finishing within a few seconds, but also, by modifying the rules, Dojo leaders can intentionally make Dojo members realise certain points that they want their members to learn. For example, experienced members are told that they can only use Tobikomi-men and Debana-men. By doing this, less experienced members can challenge more experienced members in Shiai with confidence. Less experienced members are advised to try to use all the techniques they possess without hesitating. At the same time, they are also given an opportunity to learn how to use Ashi-sabaki, Tai-sabaki and Shinai to control and defend the attack of experienced members (they are not expected to use Oji-waza at this level). As the target to be attacked is only men, they will be able to deal with the attacks of experienced members without confusion and with confidence. On the other hand, experienced members are required to focus on how to create opportunities to strike Tobikomi-men and Debana-men. Beginners tend to be very defensive even if an opponent only shows a small intention to attack and their men striking tends to be quite big. In the case where an experienced member and a less experienced member try to strike men on each other at the same time, the experienced member will end up hitting the less experienced member's Shinai that he /she swings up even if the experienced member's attack is faster. Through this type of Shiai practice, experienced members will also be able to learn a lot of things such as distance and when and how to make less experienced members attack.

1-3. Modified Shiai
In this handicapped Shiai, Dojo members are divided into two groups. One group is the attacking side and the other group is the defending side. Shiai time is set for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. The attacking side has to try to get Ippon by using any means of attacking without worrying about Ouji-waza within this short period. On the other hand, the defending side has to focus only on defending by using Ashi-sabaki, Tai-sabaki and Shinai control. Winning and losing is decided when the attacking side scores Ippon or the defending side keeps defending for the whole Shiai time. This Shiai practice will be useful for Dojo members to develop their skills in Renzoku-waza (continuous attacking), Tai-atari, making feint attacks and surprise attacks, and defence. In the case of the defending side they have much more experience than the attacking side, but the area that the defending side can move within is limited. In the case that the attacking side they have much more experience than the defending side, but the targets which they can attack are limited. The attacking side should not fall into the trap of starting to strike lightly and swing the Shinai randomly as a result of getting too excited and trying too hard. The purpose of this Shiai practice is not just to compete with winning and losing in mind, but to acquire and develop the skills of Renzoku-waza, Tai-atari, making feint attacks and surprise attacks, and defence. It is the Dojo leaders' job to point out and correct any attacking and defending methods that are against the essence of Kendo.

2. Shiai Practice at Squad Training
Shiai practice for squad members during squad training involves modified matches, team matches and squad league matches on a regular basis. Shiai practice is important for selecting team members to take part in various international Taikai. More importantly, however, it takes place for the purpose of improving technical and tactical abilities, forming teamwork and making fighting spirit stronger, and also for bringing about the proper attitude of Kendo-ka through Shiai practice. I would now like to briefly introduce three types of Shiai practice that take place at squad training and the purpose of each Shiai practice.

2-1. 3~5 Minutes Shiai
In this Shiai practice, no matter how many times you score or are scored against, competitors continue fighting until the Shiai time runs out. Shiai time is usually 3~5 minutes, but this changes according to the number of squad members and guests, their levels, their physical condition at the time, and what international Taikai the team will take part in next. The purpose of this Shiai practice is to give squad members a chance to fight to their heart's content, make their bodies remember what a 3~5 minute Shiai feels like, make them develop their concentration so that they never get distracted whatever might happen and make them develop their spiritual strength so that they never give up the fight right up until the end.

In Shiai, it is sometimes the case that referees do not raise their flags even if a competitor thinks that he or she has made a perfect strike. It is also the case that an opponent does strange, violent or annoying Kendo. So anything can happen in Shiai. But whatever happens, being upset and annoyed by the referees' judgment and by an opponent's Kendo and attitude will always result in one not being able to do one's own Kendo. It is impossible to control an opponent without being able to control yourself.

2-2. Conditional Shiai
This Shiai practice begins with one competitor already having Ippon and only 60~90 seconds left of Shiai time. The purpose of this Shiai practice is to develop squad members' tactical ability of how to fight in such a situation and to make them realise what techniques they need to acquire to deal with such a situation, also to make them able to fight without losing their heads and make them develop their never-give-up spirit. As I described in the previous article, I believe that all decisions should be left to competitors once a Shiai starts. Therefore, I do not tell squad members what to do during this type of Shiai practice. Of course I will warn them if they become too keen on winning and fight in a way which is against the spirit of Kendo, which will make them give up their Shiai before the Shiai time is up, and display bad attitude to anyone because of their unsatisfactory result. I also give advice such as "You could do or could have done this and that in the situation." "You can take (could have taken) advantage if had done this." and "You need to acquire this technique if you want to do that."

It is not my intention to keep actual advice secret, but I have to omit it here due to limitations of space. Shiai time in this type of Shiai practice is quite short. Squad members are required, therefore, to fight again and again at short intervals. They are also advised to keep thinking positively and to take part in the next Shiai whatever happened in their previous Shiai. In fact the interval between Shiai becomes shorter as one or one's team keeps winning. This type of Shiai practice is quite important for training so as to be able to keep one's feeling positive before a Shiai.

2-2. Team Shiai
This Shiai practice is the closest to real Shiai as it adopts the official rules, has the same size of Shiai court as the official one and has three referees. The purpose of this Shiai practice is to make squad members experience Shiai in an atmosphere that closely resembles the real international Taikai, and to make them learn how they are required to fight as a team, how they are required to fight in the various situations in each position within the team and how to support their team members. In fact, how to fight as a team is emphasised the most in this type of Shiai practice. In a team match, just winning one's Shiai does not mean that one has done the job perfectly. How one passes a baton of fighting spirit onto the next competitor in one¡¯s team is equally important. Generally speaking, one has passed the baton on successfully if one can make the next competitor feel that you have done your best. Doing your best ideally means that you have fought so that you do not feel that after a Shiai you should or should not have done that or one could have done that. In reality, however, this is quite difficult or may be almost impossible to achieve. In the case of team members, they have been doing Keiko and having Shiai practice together for a long time and they know each other's best Kendo. They can also see, therefore, whether or not other members are trying to do their best Kendo in the Shiai.
In the team, therefore, successfully passing the baton of fighting spirit is not based on whether they could do their best Kendo in Shiai, but succeeds only when one of the team members makes the next member feel that they tried his or her best to do their best Kendo.

As for supporting other team members, squad members are required to change their way of thinking and "do their best" to support their team members whatever the result of each member's result (see BKA news August for how to support members in team matches).
What I have placed the most emphasis on and spent the most time in training on before the 12th World Kendo Championships was how each member should try to do his or her best in each situation in each position within the team and how to pass the baton of fighting spirit, support each other and fight as a team. In fact, I believe that the men's and women's teams both fought wonderfully and that all the team members got to know each other's strengths and weaknesses, encouraged and helped each other, and developed together through the team Shiai practices.

3. Conclusion
Shiai has been discussed from many angles in both articles. What I would now like to emphasise again is, as described in the summary of the previous article, that Shiai is not everything in Kendo, but only a part of it. But I do not wish to belittle "Shiai", by saying that it is just a part of Kendo, since it is such a very important part of it. It would however give me great satisfaction, if Kendo-ka came not to think negatively about Shiai and not to harbour the wrong ideas about the purpose and nature of Shiai, also that they come to a deeper understanding of the effects of Shiai and Shiai practice through these two articles.

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