Sunday, December 14, 2008

Waza Usage

I had yet another hard practice out at Miami Valley this past Saturday. Beyond the usual keeping my back straight when I strike, there was one thing that he told me, then told the class afterward, that I would like to briefly talk about today.

During Jigeiko, he stopped for a moment to tell me that I needed to try using shikake-waza more when I attack. For the uninitiated, shikake-waza are the offensive techniques used to gain control of the center when it's not so simple to obtain it. These include hiki-waza, debana-waza, harai-waza, nidan/sandan-waza among others.

In order for me to advance to higher-level kendo, I feel I need to start taking advantage of these sorts of waza. When fighting people less experienced than me, it can be pretty simple to take advantage of patterns and inaccuracies. But when fighting someone with more experience, sometimes a little additional technique is necessary to gain the advantage over an adversary.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done (what isn't that way in Kendo by the way?). It's one thing to do all of this during kihon practice, but the mindset changes once you are in Jigeiko and, especially, shiai. In the beginning, a lot of what is taught is to just attack, attack, attack and get there before the other person does. It can be seen as a small application of debana waza, but it tends to just turn into rounds of ai-men until someone is lucky enough to get something through. This stage tends to not last all that long, but it's has a strong enough effect on their Kendo to be hard to break. Those that do try to move on might, from time to time, try out the various waza, but gets discouraged when they don't work. Of course, this isn't a universal progression, but it's something I have gone through and seen happen to a few others.

The only way to combat this? Practice. Jigeiko is the perfect time to really do this. Some might think of Jigeiko as just an informal shiai, but it's also a perfect time to try out various things and see how they work. Your abilities won't be so good at first, but things will eventually come together as you develop your own tokui-waza (your favorite and best techniques) and overall style. The reason why just attacking outright works at first is because a beginner's kamae is generally weaker so you can take advantage of those little gaps. But once you start fighing better people, the stronger kamae makes things a bit difficult and you are either deflected or given a nice tsuki.

I won't leave you guys without a little advice though. When we first start learning the various shikake waza, it's sometimes thought that we need to completely deflect the opponent's shinai far from the center to get to where you need to go. While this is physically true, this can put you at a technical advantage.

Let's take harai-waza, for example. The purpose of this one is to just physically move your opponent's shinai out of the center to gain control of the situation. The common thought is that you need to whack the shinai away to get to it, but it can cause two outcomes. If you do successfully hit the person's shinai out of the way by giving it a hard whack like a golf club, then you'll be out of the center as well and not in a position to get a good hit. If the opponent is fast enough, he or she can take the center again and attack when you aren't ready. The second outcome can be that they see you are moving the shinai much farther than you need to so all they do is just move and score the point while you are literally defenseless.

All you really need to do is move the shinai just enough where you have the center. This could be a physical push or an actual whack where there isn't much movement (like the concept behind that famous six-inch punch), but not enough where you yourself go beyond the center too much or telegraph your planned move.

No matter the level, we need to have a bit more confidence in our abilities and be willing to go outside the norm to better form our particular Kendo style. It's one thing to be very quick and able to get strikes in before your opponent does, but that will only get one so far. Being able to break someone's kamae and hit an open spot is one great way to raise one's level.


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