Lessons from the Hokkaido Police

The various police forces around Japan have a special connection to Kendo*. When the Tokyo Metro Police (Keishicho) was established, it's first Superintendent, Kawaji Toshiyoshi, stipulated that police officers should learn bujutsu in order to keep in shape and apprehend criminals. He was no doubt inspired by the success of the Battotai, an early police unit of the Meiji Government who helped to defeat Saigo Takamori's rebels at the battle of Taburazaka (1877) using only swords. To this day, each prefectural police force maintains a Tokuren (Special Training Squad) and a Kidotai (Riot Squad) that recruits the strongest university kenshi. Places on these Tokuren are coveted, as the members have special dispensation from regular police duties to train in Kendo. Over the years the vast majority of All Japan Champions have come from the police force.

This video is of the current members of the Hokkaido Police Tokuren. They have great skill, speed and strength. But their basics are also really solid. Each technique is demonstrated and explained, then a slow-motion repeat is shown. I will go through the video and translate some of their main points.

The video is produced by Let's Kendo, whose Youtube channel is an extensive collection of videos from all the major Japanese tournaments.

1:01 Suburi
Matsui sensei emphasises making a big, sliding step when you do your suburi. This is something Yano sensei at Kenshikan also says. Matsui-s. also says to bring up your trailing foot quickly.

Notice also that his arms at the end of each cut are both straight.

1:49 Kiri kaeshi
Hayashi sensei has a very powerful, fast and correct kirikaeshi but what can we learn from it? His first kiai is huge, this is important. Even though his cuts are fast his left hand comes up above his face every. single. time. and his footwork is in sync with his cuts. When he finishes, and important detail is that he turns and holds a stable kamae before relaxing.

His points: aim for the opponent's head, not finishing your cuts above it; also he says to cut sayu-men on each side from above your head (literally "from furikaburi" which is the name for the high point of a men cut), not by bringing the shinai around your shoulders, so to speak. Cutting down at 45 degrees.

His partner Kuraoka sensei's point is to receive your partner's cuts in kirikaeshi by pulling back your shinai towards you on either side, which helps with timing and also allowing your partner to cut close to the target area (as opposed to blocking a long way from your own head).

3:29 Men
Iida sensei says for small men cuts not to raise your kensen too high, it opens your kote to attack. Instead you must choose the shortest path to your opponent's men. Apply seme to opponent's throat by driving forward with your kensen towards tsuki, and at the last moment cut men. Remember not to raise your sword first.

4:27 Kote
In this you can see what I was explaining last week about how in Japan it's usual to practice kote by finishing with tai-atari rather than following through past your opponent. This makes for a different kind of zanshin. Watch closely how Yoshida sensei demonstrates zanshin, and also how Eto sensei receives.

Yoshida sensei says to cut, again with the shortest, most direct movement, then come in to meet your opponent with tai-atari making sure to keep your posture straight, and then return to a good, solid kamae, maintaining your strong spirit. She makes a point of saying not to dodge or fade away to the right after cutting. This is a common trait in high school Kendo, who are probably the main audience for this video in Japan.

5:16 Hiki waza
As we have only just started looking at hiki-waza (techniques moving backwards from tsubazeriai) I will just summarise the main points that Jishiro sensei makes here. Other than that, please watch his movement closely.

His main points that apply to all forms of hiki waza are to keep a straight posture and have enough of a space between yourself and you opponent when in tsubazeriai. He says if you lean your upper body back when you make the technique then your cut will be too shallow. For hiki do he says to push down slightly on your opponent's fists to create a counter-movement where they raise and reveal an opportunity for you to strike.

8:41 Tsuki
Lastly, Ando sensei demonstrates morotezuki or two-handed tsuki. His points are simple: make sure you seme strongly so that opponent flinches and then follow up immediately with tsuki. This is important. Tsuki can be very dangerous when executed against someone who is moving towards you. Your opponent must be static or flinching away from you in order to perform tsuki safely in keiko and shiai. He also says not to withdraw or step back after delivering the tsuki, but to step up. This makes it possible to perform a follow-up technique if necessary.

Ironically enough, here is a video of Ando himself performing a tsuki in shiai where he withdraws afterwards in just the way he says not to! To be fair, this is a stylistic thing in high school and university, and this video was taken when Ando was on the Kokushikan University team in 2014. Or at least I'm assuming it's the same Ando. It is a fairly common name! I'm guessing each of these Hokkaido Tokuren guys have been chosen because the waza they demonstrate is their favourite, or at least one they're known for.

Regardless, Ando sensei's tsuki waza here is pretty formidable! The main thing to do is to admire and watch closely to see what else you can glean about his technique.

Thanks to Let's Kendo (and Zen Sankei) for these great videos. Support original and worthwhile content on Youtube by subscribing.

*From an excellent short history of Kendo


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