Monday, March 30, 2009

What Is the Sword Tip Doing?

Iaido practice yesterday centered around refining our swinging technique. Jim was telling us that the best way to see if your swing is correct is to be able to hear the howl as you swing from your iaito, which shouldn't take much effort if the technique is good.

He came up to me and made note that I needed to pay more attention to what the tip is doing. When thinking about swinging, I tend to think a lot about what my hands are doing: are my wrists turned correctly, are my hands in the right position before and after the swing, am I using my arms too much? But there's one thing that I tend to forget about and that is the tip.

What I needed to do was put my concentration away from my hands and more at the tip, as that is what is doing the actual cutting. I need to focus more on the tip speed as that's the part that should be moving the fastest if you follow simple circular geometry. Once I was able to do that, I noticed that my swinging overall got better with the sound effect coming out of it. Now I just need to be able to do that consistently with various swings.

On another note, I noticed that this is one of the first concepts that can definitely relate to kendo. While the process for swinging is slightly different due to application, the fundamental thought process should be the same. We're always taught that our hands need to be in X position while doing Y to get an efficient cut. But what is doing the cutting? What is the part of the shinai that makes the point? It's the tip of course. I need to take better care with thinking about where the tip is headed and move my hands accordingly instead of the opposite case.

Hmm, they say that Kendo and Iaido are related but it seems like I'm finally starting to see that--in the technical sense, at least.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Should I Really Be Trying to Fight?

I was reading over the newsletter that is on Kendo Guide and there was an interesting article from Kendo Nippon from Sumi Masatake sensei about the attitudes we should have in fighting. He seemed to talk about quite a bit, but there are four things in the article that I'd like to talk about and reflect on how it compares to what I do now and how it could affect my Kendo later.

Komei Seidai (公明正大) - fairness
This concept is more the thought process that we all must have when we go against people. There are various techniques that are available to us to find, create, disable and attack that are within the rules of shiai. But like everything in life, it mainly remains a judgement call for how to adjust to the given situation. Some rules may end up not being applied as strictly as others depending on who's judging or loopholes might be found and exploited.

But is it necessarily the right thing to do? One thing we should ask ourselves is whether or not we are following the principles of Kendo that the AJKF made in 1975. Not only that, if we were to become victorious, would it feel like a clean win? While there are specific guidelines to follow, there are many interpretations to follow with this. So we also must be able to adapt to the situation in case someone is not doing what we call "fair." Besides, if you lose due to someone being underhanded or not doing things right, then what does that have to say about your abilities?

Tameru (溜める) - To charge, store
I have been hearing a lot about this one lately. I have already used the whole spring analogy when talking to other people my interpretation of it. In short, one should act like a spring when preparing to attack and making that move. Pushing the spring down stores the energy and releasing it releases all that pent-up energy in one, forceful blow.

This is a pretty hard one to think about. It's one thing to try to find that opening, but what must be done to put yourself in that constant state of readiness? Even if I were to get that, what about making sure I don't tense myself too much and jeopordize my overall form? A question and possible solutions were discussed on the Kendo World forums a little bit ago, but a clear-cut answer seems to be impossible to find when stated that way.

Kuzusu (崩す) - To destroy
The Kendo definition to Kuzusu can be determined as destroying your opponent's kamae by using various Kendo concepts like seme and kiai. One thing that I have had issues with is just blindly attacking people without really trying to create that opening. Most of the time, it just results in either nothing happening, getting tsukiid in the throat and maybe, maybe, just get that lucky hit that scores the point.

I have been trying my best to change that, mostly through suggestion by Ariga sensei. I need to think about what I am doing before I attack, but then I also need to make sure that I have something to attack instead of going into auto-pilot. I've been trying to project myself to make the other person react and get myself to act accordingly.

Suteru (捨てる) - To throw away
The definition given on Kendo Guide is to committ yourself to the strike. There is enough going through one's head when they are trying to set up a strike, but once you have flung yourself out there, then you must keep going. This is one that I have a hard time with though because I seem to always have some sort of outcome already planned for me. And when things don't go my way, I can pull back.

At the same time though, I don't want to literally throw myself away and put myself on auto-pilot. This sort of thing isn't fair to myself, nor is it really fair to my opponent because I know I can do better than that. I'll most likely have to change my thought processes during practice to probably get that though. There are times where I tend to go, "If I do X, then I will hit Y." But maybe I should try to see what is going on and basically go with the flow. How I should go about doing that is another question that might take a lifetime to answer.

Of course, these aren't the only things involved in making that successful strike. But from what I see here, these three things seem to go over some of the many things that I have issues with that tend to hold me back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rediscovering My Balance

From the beginning of learning Kendo, we are always told to distribute our weight so that the left leg is holding the most weight. This should allow the easiest movement and explosion capabilities, to put it shortly. While the overall footwork is generally worked on in terms of fumikomi, the overall balance tended to get put on the wayside in lieu of everything else. Now I am paying the price for that...

While I have known about the correct weight distribution ever since I started, it has only been within the past couple of months where it has been specifically noticed from various parties. Now this has become one of those things where I need to correct the mistakes of the last few years.

This is definitely becoming one of those things that is easier said than done. I can stand in one spot and really think about keeping my left leg straight, shifting my weight back and exploding when I want to attack. But it becomes another matter when coupled with intense practices and jigeiko when there are a trillion other things going on in my mind. It's kinda discouraging when I think about it knowing that this is one of the hardest things I probably have had to fix since I started, but then knowing that fixing my balance will help in a wide variety Kendo aspects only makes me want to achieve that goal more.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coolest Japanese Vocabulary Program

The Japanese language can be a pretty difficult thing to get a grasp on. First, we have to get over the fact there are a lot of squiggly lines with the writing system. Once we do that, there's the 1,945 more complicated squiggly lines (kanji) that are necessary to learn to make reading much less frustrating.

I have been going over Kanji for quite some time now and can read just enough of it to get a handle on some things. But I have had some issues with vocabulary. So, essentially, I have been reading the language, but not really understanding it due to the lack of vocabulary to back it up. It's sort of like how we all can ready Spanish or German with little introduction (at least those that read English), but won't understand what any of the words mean.

As a result of this, I have been trying to go around and find ways to get some more vocabulary stuff drilled into my head through flash cards, rote memorization and through context of video games, manga, TV and other forms of media and just look up words I heard very often. This, to me is a pretty long and hard process, especially when you are learning words, but little context outside of the reading material.

Well, in my search for some vocabulary lists, I found this program called iknow ( This nifty little program lets you create your own lists, or choose from sets of pre-made ones and go through several activities to learn each vocabulary word. I could probably go on about this in text about the features, but I think the following video can explain it much better than I ever could by text:

He also has a lot of other Japanese language videos on his website that I encourage you all to check out!

What I like most about this is that you don't just learn the words and move on. You go through the set and the ones you already did are repeated from time to time in order to help get it in your mind better. Oh yeah, and the best part about this is that the whole thing is free. Just make a username and you're on your way to learning Japanese (or any other language for that matter).

On an unrelated note, I am going to try to make better use of my youtube page and try posting some good Kendo/Iaido related videos on there. I'll essentially make playlists of some of the better Kendo videos I have seen, grouped into things like kata, strange videos and maybe group some good tournament videos in there. Definately take a look and feel free to let me know if there are any other groovy videos I should add. If you guys are too lazy to go to the sidebar that links to my youtube dashboard, then you can also click this link to get to it. I also posted my latest Shodan testing video on there for everyone's viewing pleasure.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Now the REAL Beginning Of Kendo Begins...

It's been almost a week since I actually gained my Shodan rank, but the celebration was short lived by way of transitioning to one of the most hellish weeks of work I have ever been through. If you've ever worked a normal work week in half the time, you'd know what I mean.

Getting a Shodan in Kendo is similar to getting a black belt in Karate or some other martial art. But just because I have that rank doesn't mean that I'm a master at anything. In fact, I have such a long way to go before I really master anything at all. All getting the rank means is that I was able to show the judges that I had a good enough handle on applying the basics to build upon.

Now that I have achieved the rank of Shodan, I need to pay attention to a lot more about myself before I commit to an attack. Is my weight distribution okay? Do I REALLY have the center? Am I really ready to attack or am I just robotically dealing with the situation? Once I can answer yes to all these questions, then I'm ready to attack, but then that's not enough as I need to further analyze the situation of my opponent to find or create an opening using seme and having a handle on the various waza to break my opponent's kamae and their spirit.

Thanks to the tips I have been getting just before the exam, the information from Fujita Sensei and the video that a friend took, I do have a place to start. When I think about this, everything does seem very overwhelming. There are a lot of things I need to do in order to feel that I'm ready for Nidan. Of course, the only thing I can really do is take these issues one at a time and not focus so much on the big picture.

Monday, March 02, 2009

T-5 Days Till Testing

This coming Saturday will mark the third time that I will attempt the Shodan exam. Ever since I didn't make it in Detroit a few weeks ago, I have been doing all that I could to prepare myself for the testing to make sure that, truely, the third time's the charm. I would also like to thank everyone I have practiced with thus far with helping me out as the encouragement and practice is really uplifting.

From what I have been told, there are some physical things that I need to work on, such as keeping my balance on the back foot, relaxing my shoulders and strengthening my hits but the mental aspects are the things I might need to work on the most. Due to the advice from Takano Sensei, I have heard some new terms that are probably not discussed that much or just described mostly in other terms.

Tame (溜め) - According to the Japanese/English Kendo dictionary on Kendo USA, tame is a moment of mental and physical preparation, accumulating strength and spirit, before starting a technique. In other words, it's like constantly holding back a spring and letting it go whenever you're ready to attack. So whenever I'm fighting, I constantly need to be in that state of preparedness by looking at and sensing the opponent. Then, when I'm ready I literally go from 0 to 60 in a mere fraction of a second. This involves a lot of me keeping my left heel down more than usual, but I also seem to need to work my muscles down there to get the response I want out of it. But the whole thought process of the concept seems to help quite a bit for the time being.

Yoyuu(余裕) - According to an essay named "Space in Time in Taido" by Robert Norris and Rob Delicata, yoyuu can be interpreted as the space that a taidoka creates by means of
movement in order to gain a strategic advantage. While the article is for the martial art of Taido, just substitute taidoka with kendoka and the definition still applies. What I seem to need to do on this one is utilize the various kinds of footwork in order to achieve the proper ma-ai so I can attack most effectively to get that point. I have noticed a tendancy to have some hesitation about moving in to what I percieve as too close and/or extending properly in my strikes. The hesitation makes me lose opportunities to attack and the lack of extention makes me miss otherwise great opportunities. I guess it might have to do with the fear of going too soon and possibly getting tsuki'd or something, but I have been trying to work on that by forcing myself to move and working on getting the opponent to move when I want him/her to do so.

As always, there are many things that I need to work on, but I also need to be careful to not overload myself. From what everyone has been telling me, I seem to be okay with my skill set, I just need to make some yuko-datotsu next time and I should be set for the first part. If I make it past that, then there's the kata, which I would like to discuss at a later date. Kata is something that's rarely discussed and I was given some interesting tips on kata that I honestly never heard of before so I'd like to get that recorded on the web somewhere. There's also the whole biiru-geiko that I need to work on, but maybe my tolerance needs to go up before I attempt that one too hard.
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