Preparing for shinsa

In less than two weeks time the NKR will host its semi-annual kendo grading exams, at the November centrally training. A number of our Renshinjuku students will take part in these examinations in order to test their current level. For many of them, this will be their first grading outside our own dojo, so we would like to take this opportunity to provide some information on the subject.

According to the NKR website, the requirements for kendo examinations are as follows:

  • Kirikaeshi
  • Jitsugi
  • Kata
  • Gakka

The kata requirements differ per level. Ikkyu aspirants need to demonstrate kata #1through #3, shodan will show #1 through #5, nidan goes up to #7 and anything above nidan will display all ten kata. Aside from above requirements, there are also some formalities to clear, such as minimum age and a few payments.

For the purpose of this document I will limit myself to the ikkyu grading as I have no experience at all with the higher levels.

Before the grading, or shinsa, even begins there is the matter of proper presentation. If a shiai (tournament) would be compared to a business meeting, then a shinsa would compare to a gala: at the prior you are expected to dress and behave well, at the latter you are to act your very best! Apply proper personal care (nails clipped, hair properly kept, shaven if applicable) and make sure your equipment looks the part (proper maintenance, no loose ends, repairs where needed). Remove all dojo markings from your uniform and also remove your zekken. Make sure you wear your uniform and bogu neatly: no creases in the back, all himo at the same length, all himo lying flat, etc.

In kirikaeshi remember that it’s not a test of speed, but a test of skill. Show your best kirikaeshi by not rushing through it, but by paying attention to all details: footwork, timing, upswing through the center, downswing at an angle. Strike men at the proper angle and height. You are trying to strike ippon every time. As Heeren-sensei has pointed out repeatedly, your kirikaeshi should be performed in one kiai and breath.

Fighting in jitsugi should not be compared go shiai kendo, but instead is more alike to the jigeiko we do in class: it is not a fight for points. Instead, it is a fight to show and test skill. Do not be preoccupied with scoring points and with defending against your opponent. Focus on ensuring that the both of you show your best and high quality kendo. Show a
connection between yourself and your opponent, show proper seme, show zanshin and show an understanding of your opponent’s actions.

The kata examination should show a similar connection with your opponent. Kata are not a simple choreography, kata are a study in forms of a proper sword fight. If possible, take it even more seriously than jitsugi or jigeiko as the bokken represents a real blade. Make sure that you have memorized the forms beforehand, then lock eyes with your kata partner and commence the “dialogue” that each exercise is.

In all of the above examinations kiai is key. I was once told that “in the early stages of kendo, >95% of kendo is kiai“. Whether that is really true is another thing, but the essence of the matter is that kiai is important. It regulates your breathing, it vocalizes your intent and assertiveness, it impresses your opponent and it is part of yuko datotsu. Without kiai there is no spirit, without spirit there is no kendo only stick fighting.

At this level, the gakka (written exam) focuses on basic knowledge of kendo. Terminology, equipment knowledge, basic concepts as well as rules and safety are topics you may expect to find on the test. In preparation ensure that you are familiar with most of the terms in our dojo’s lexicon. The AUSKF also has an excellent gakka study guide, listing some of the common topics that you can be questioned on, including suggestions on what to study.

If you have questions about the upcoming shinsa, please feel free to ask your teachers. If you feel that you need feedback on your kendo in the next few weeks, please indicate this to your teacher.

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