Summary of class 1, 15/12

This summary is for the Almere group, who practice in the morning.

It’s great to see how our group keeps growing with newbies, who also show great attendance. Sadly, we don’t seem to have much luck with the guys in bogu. On the one hand lenience on attendance is part of the friendly atmosphere of our Almere dojo, but on the other hand it does keep ourselves and our juniors from learning as quickly as we could. We will certainly strive to improve attendance in 2013.

When it comes to our members, it’s also interesting to see how many young kids we attract. We don’t yet rival our mother-dojo in Amstelveen (who have flocks of Japanese children attending training on saturday), but with five under-ten year olds and numerous teenagers we’re certainly a young group.

Now, on to class. After warming-up we started with lunges in order to improve footwork and balance. There are two commonly made mistakes: either you keep a too-narrow stance and can’t keep your balance, or you over-compensate for that and take a too-wide stance (as per graphic A above). Kris-fukushou reminds us that we really should keep our feet at the proper width during the whole practice. Move in straight lines.

We practiced kihon in the motodachi system, with the eight guys in bogu acting as partner for the fourteen or so people without bogu. After that the group was split up as usual and my group moved on to waza practice. The two most important lessons for myself were about debana kote and suriage men.

With debana kote I was always confused: do I need to move my shinai over or under my opponent’s blade? Turns out that it’s neither, because both are too slow :) As per graphic B, Kris explained that your shinai stays almost level, while the opponent moves in for amen-strike. That way you automatically duck under his shinai and you also stay close enough for a quick kote strike.

Now, suriage men is apparently a very difficult technique for kyu-grade students, but it doesn’t hurt to get introduced. Kris-fukushou suggested the D/C-shaped movement that is also mentioned by Salmon-sensei in the linked article. And as Salmon-sensei points out, most of us were having lots of issues with both the movements and the timing. In my case I feel way too slow and I have it in my mind suriage men is a two-stage movement, while it should be more of a single arc where you deflect and strike from the deflect position.

Class was closed with all student in bogu acting as motodachi in uchikomi geiko, which the other students had to run twice. That meant a total of fourteen rounds of five strikes for everyone. A great way to close this last class of the year!

New opportunities

Renshinjuku’s students would like to extend their best wishes to Heeren-sensei in his new commercial undertaking: iParking Schiphol.

Starting this month, Heeren-sensei now runs a valet parking company mainly targeting travelers departing from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Their services are however also available for events and other occasions.

Should you require valet parking on the short term, you might be interested in their current introductory offer of 56% discount.

Bogu repairs

Our friend Debby Vigneau informs us that she will soon open her bogu repair shop Ichi Gan. Hers is one of the few shops inside Europe dedicated to repairing parts of your kendo armor, which seems like a good chance to get something repaired quickly.

Debby will be attending the ABKF Winter Seminar in Brussels, on the 15th and 16th of December, where you can hand over kit that you would like to have repaired. She can then take it with her, or even fix it for you on-site.

We would like to wish Debby good fortune with her new undertaking!

Sunday: Central Training


Dear readers,

The 25th of November there will be another central training. This time with exams up to third dan.
Because last training had to be cancelled, there will be some changes:
• There will also be a beginners course. Beginners come and enjoy good kendo!
• The entry rules for the exams are changed. Instead of 3 central trainings in the previous year, this time you need only 2. If you needed the cancelled training to be able to participate, you still can!

Kind regards,
Joris Cornelissen
TC kendo, NKR

Full information can be found here.

Studying kata

The time has come to prepare for the 2012 NKR shinsa (kendo exams). As we already mentioned, the exam consists of four parts:

  • Kirikaeshi
  • Jitsugi
  • Kata
  • Gakka (written test)

Many things have already been said about kirikaeshi and jitsugi, so let’s spend a little more time preparing for the kata exam!

Background

In his 2012 book “Kendo Coaching: tips and drills”, George McCall writes on the subject of kata:

If we look at the word KATA in Japanese, its usually rendered as 形. However, the actual proper usage is 型. Both read the same, but what’s the difference? The former simply means “shape” or “form.” It describes the form that something is in, what it looks like. The second kanji, on the other hand, is the thing that is used to create items of the same shape, in other words, a cookie cutter like device. 

Kendo-no-kata can therefore be thought of as a kendo shaped cookie cutter and the students who practice it cookies (hopefully kendo shaped). Although non-Japanese readers might not be interested in the difference, I think that one of the main purposes of kata study is revealed: i.e. kata training was/is traditionally thought of as one of the main vehicles to teach people correct kendo.

Kendo kata help us study proper posture, maai as well as seme. By practicing sword fighting in a simulated and choreographed fashion we can focus completely on the intricacies of our body, of our movements and of the connection with our opponent. We also learn to judge distance, which helps us in our kendo.

Also, while kendo is an abstraction of true sword fighting, the kendo kata approach “real” fighting closer. Both the techniques used, as well as our bokken help us understand the more serious side of our art which entails life or death situations. They’re no kenjutsu of course, but the kata are absolutely a useful tool in understanding and learning kendo.

Some suggest there is also a spiritual side to kendo kata. In Inoue-sensei’s “Kendo Kata: essence and application” it is said that kata #1 through #3 show the progression of a kenshi in his studies. While at first he will win a fight by outright killing his opponent, he will then move on to win by only dismembering. Finally the kenshi will grow so far that he does not have to strike at all, winning by pure seme (kata #3). The UK kendo foundation has some further reading on this subject.

Preparation

Students first learning about kendo kata are advised to first observe a number of videos. The web is rife with kata videos, so we’ve taken the time to choose a number of good ones.

First up, there is a series of classic AJKF training videos (in Japanese). They are a bit dated, but they go over each kata in exquisite detail by filming from various angles and by zooming in on important parts. They also show examples of what not to do. Below are the first four kata, the other videos can be found under the YouTube account that posted these videos.

Another excellent video was made by Kendo World at the 2012 keiko-kai. While it only shows each kata once or twice, the demonstration is still very impressive.

Advanced reading

Should you be inclined to deeply study each kata in written form, then we heartily recommend Stephen Quinlan’s “Nihon Kendo no Kata & Kihon Bokuto Waza”. In this excellent and thorough document (free PDF) mr Quinlan analyzes each kata, which is accompanied by many photographs.

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.

TV recordings on 10/11

Dear kenshi,

Tomorrow, saturday the 10th of november, Renshinjuku kendo dojo will host TV recordings of VPRO programme Villa Achterwerk. The show takes a playful look at different sports, where anchorman Tim Haars gets to fully experience how tough certain sports are.

We will slightly adjust our training to accomodate these recordings. Of course, to provide a proper impression of kendo, it’s very important that as many kendoka as possible show up!

Don’t forget to bring your boken for kata training.

EDIT: Photos of the recording can be found here.

Dusseldorf Cup results!

Last weekend was an exciting one. First there’s the dutch national championships, but there was also the Dusseldorf Cup junior tournaments! Renshinjuku kendo dojo took part in these competitions and the results are as follows.

Without bogu (no age limits):

  • Misako Goto achieved 3rd place in the individuals
  • Shotarou Goto received the Fighting Spirit award in the individuals
  • The RSJ team of Misako, Yasutoshi, Kawanishi and  Shotarou ranked 1st place!

With bogu:

  • Yuki Yokota received the Fighting Spirit award in the individuals (10-12 years)
  • Ran Miyahara ranked 1st place in the individuals (16-18 years)
  • The RSJ team  of Yuki, Yasuhito Kawanishi, Kouki Tomokiyo, Haruki Yokota and Ran ranked 3rd place

Very impressive results! We can certainly be proud of our young members!