Sunday, June 28, 2009

溜める To build up your spirit


from Okinawa Soba's Flickr photostream (CC)
Follow the link to see quite a few good kendo pics from more than 100 years ago.



溜める (tameru) means 'to build up' or 'to accumulate'. It is not mentioned in kendo as much as 残心 (zanshin) which as you know refers to the follow through after an attack, but the two are directly connected. You can't follow through without something to start you off in the first place.

So what is it actually?
The best description of tame (pronounced tum-eh) is to imagine you are like a bow. Your attack is the arrow. And your tame is the bow-string. If your tame is weak, it is as if you have not pulled the bow-string back very far and so the arrow will not fly very far. It will probably fail to reach the target. Your tame, your build up, must be like drawing the bow as far as it can go. The power is then almost too strong to hold, the bow vibrates with energy and the arrow strains to be released. As soon as there is an opening, your attack flies and there is no stopping it. When you think of it this way, zanshin is just a by-product of tame. And so it should be. Zanshin should not be artificial (such as forcing yourself to do extra footwork to pass your opponent), it should just be a natural part of the attack.

How do you develop tame?
There are two ways to develop tame. The first way is with kiai. When you kiai at your opponent, even before you have any idea of your first attack, the purpose is to build up your attacking spirit, in other words, tameru. You must always kiai strongly, and notice the effect it has on your opponent: did they kiai back? Did they flinch? What was their kiai like?

The second way is through attacking practice like uchikomigeiko and kakarigeiko. People who have trained regularly and hard, especially in these exercises, find it easier to have powerful tame. It is like they have found the tame switch in their body and in their kendo.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pre-war kendo


I sometimes mention during training how kendo was different before World War II, e.g. being able to trip, wrestle and/or choke your opponent. Always sounds like fun doesn't it? ;)
Of course I only know about it from hearing stories from Nagae sensei. But finally one of the most important pre-war kendo books is being translated chapter-by-chapter into English by Mr Kent Enfield.

So far there are four articles describing men, kote, do and tsuki. They can be found here. Keep checking back from time to time as he may have added new chapters.

These articles are translations of a work called Kendo Kyohon (Kendo Instruction Manual) by Takano Sasaburo (pictured above), one of the legendary 10th dans of kendo.

The thing that will hit you first as you read is how many techniques Takano sensei describes - 50 different techniques in all. Some of them are no longer practiced, no longer called by that name, or are simply too advanced for most of us to grasp without instruction from a very senior sensei. But as you read, I hope you are able to imagine what most of the waza look like and then picture yourself doing them. This is also real training. b


Many of you will have seen this before. It is a video of two famous Japanese-American kendoka performing on US television in the 1950s which is just after the War ended. Watch closely and you will see many attempts at ashi-barai or foot-sweeps, which throw the opponent to the floor. Notice also how the ashi-barai is used, really as an opening to strike with the sword straight away, not as a signal to start grappling on the ground.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kihon waza backswing - how big should it be?

Another thing that I spoke about last class, and which I often remind people of, is their backswing.

Most people who have a problem with their backswing, tend to swing back too far. When most people do a large backswing, they swing back much further than 45 degrees for men, and vertical or 90 degrees for kote. Often they swing back to 0 degrees, meaning totally flat behind them, or even further. There is no real problem with this, other than it means your shinai has to travel further than necessary.

In kendo, 45 degrees and 90 degrees are considered a kihon backswing. Your backswing never needs to be bigger, and in certain situations can be smaller than this.

Again, for visual learners especially, please consider the diagram below.

The test of whether your backswing is big enough, is whether you can see your opponent's target area (datotsubui) beneath your left hand.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Being Dojo Captain

When you have as many members as this, you need to know exactly who is Dojo Captain!

Today at training I spoke about this issue, and also promised to blog it for future reference, so here it is.

The Dojo Captain's role is to be the second-in-command. They are directly below the instructor in importance. At Nanseikan, this means that the Dojo Captain is the oldest member of the club and the one with the most years continuous training.

When that person is not at training, the duty (and honour) of being Dojo Captain falls to the next most senior person present. In case the day comes when that will be you, dear reader (and it will!), I have written below the basic commands and tasks that need to be memorised. All of them are what you will know from training every week. Here is a chance for you to study them a little in preparation.

Taiso
There is no real set plan for warm-ups. So long as all the major parts of the body get covered, there can be a lot of variation. However this can be a hard thing to know when it comes to your first time running warm-ups, so here are a few tips:
  • Start with simply moving the major joints of the body. Start with the ankles and work upwards, finishing with the neck. Always move the neck gently and try to avoid full circular rotations, especially fast ones: these can lead to injury.
  • The sequence of movements counting to eight cover a lot of the major warm-up needs. So use them.
  • Don't forget the wrist, calf, thigh and achilles exercises.
  • If it is cold, try including star jumps, and/or jogging/sprinting/hopping/jumping on the spot.
  • Don't encourage ballistic stretching. This refers to stretching where you bounce in the stretch to try and achieve a greater range of movement. This can lead to injuries.
Suburi
Unless I say otherwise, suburi should not go on too long. The usual pattern of 20/20/20/20 is plenty.

Don't crticise
Please don't use warm-ups or suburi to examine everyone's technique and give them tips. Only if there is something seriously wrong, such as someone obviously not knowing what naname-buri is, should you stop and explain. In this sort of case, it's also best to give a brief demonstration.

Commands
There are slight differences between how different dojos run the zarei (seated rei) at the beginning and end of training, but mostly it is the same. Below are the terms in order and their meaning.

Start of training
  1. Seiretsu! .................... line up!
  2. Chakuza! ..................... kneel down!
  3. Ki o tsuke! ..................... be ready! (literally "switch on!")
    Some dojo use "seiza o tadashite" ("make your sitting correct!")
  4. Mokuso! ........................ meditation!
  5. *clap!* or yame! .......... stop!
  6. joseki ni... rei! ................ bow to calligraphy at front of dojo!
  7. sensei ni... rei! ............... bow to sensei!
  8. "Onegaishimasu!" ......... please help me to train!
End of training
  1. Seiretsu! .................... line up!
  2. Chakuza! ..................... kneel down!
  3. Men o tore! ................... take off men! (and kote)
  4. Ki o tsuke! ..................... be ready!
  5. Mokuso! ........................ meditation!
  6. *clap!* or yame! ........... stop!
  7. sensei ni... rei! ............... bow to sensei!
  8. joseki ni... rei! ................ bow to calligraphy at front of dojo!
  9. "Domo arigato gozaimashita!" ......... thank you for training!
Please take some time to read through all this and think about it.
To help those like me who are visual thinkers/learners, here is a little picture guide for each step:

Seiretsu!



Chakuza!



Ki o tsuke!



Mokuso!



Mokuso hand position (called the Hokkai-jo-in)



Joseki ni...



Rei!



Sensei ni...
(when there is more than one sensei, the command is "Sensei-gata ni...")



Rei!
(close up of correct hand placement for kendo zarei)

Some dojo also like to do "otagai ni... rei" meaning a bow to each other as equals. b