Update: 8/26/2016 – You should ignore this post, mainly because I have made significant changes to how I approach jodan since I wrote this post. Here is the new post LINK
Maukka Salminen asked: Do you think you could write a post on adopting jodan to your everyday training? How it has changed the way you do various suburi, kirikaeshi etc, the basic stuff. I know there is a relatively similar article on kenshi247, but I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on the matter.
I had originally planned on writing a post entirely dedicated to the in’s and out’s of kakari-geiko for jodan, but when I got this question, I thought it would be good to cover all of how I am training, in general. I’ll try to refrain as much as possible from doing this in my typical narrative/flow-of-consciousness style and make this as clear as possible.
Suburi is hard with jodan. There are two reasons for this:
- You are physically not strong enough
- You are swinging incorrectly
Let us address the first issue – physical limitations. The first time you do katate suburi, it feels like a demon’s taken a piss inside the blood vessels of your left forearm and traps – yes, the pump is simply incredible and damn near painful, even for somebody who is a serious gym rat such as me. You will need to strengthen the joints in your left arm, including the fingers, wrist, elbow, and shoulder stabilizers, such as traps, rotators, teres, and lats. Because you are swinging and catching the momentum of the swing (remember to step into the hit) with only your left arm, there’s quite a bit of an adaptation curve. But even when the muscular discomfort largely dissipates, you still have to train for muscular strength, endurance, speed, and correct movement pattern. Ideally, you would do this with a combination of regular kendo practice and weightlifting.
How hard can it be to swing a bamboo stick with one hand? Very, apparently. The main thing to look out for with katate suburi is that you are still holding center. When you are holding the shinai with both hands, you can generally hold the center relatively easily while swinging up and swinging down – simply relax your shoulders, grip the shinai with correct tenouchi, and snap that baby down as you step forward, bring it back to center. Even with correct footwork, katate suburi demands a little more coordination. You MUST keep your center with only your left arm, which is a bit easier said than done because the natural inclination is to swing along the axis of your rotator cuff. What I mean by this is that if we drew vertical lines down your body, the shinai should ideally be roughly corresponding to the vertical line that divides your body in half. But what happens when you swing freely is that the shinai corresponds to the vertical line that hits your left shoulder. This is simply because of biomechanics – forcing center with one arm is less natural than with two hands. What I have found to be a “cure” for this is to slightly tilt the body right, to make sure to use correct footwork (making sure that the force for the suburi starts with the right foot), and to catch the shinai back up at top with my right hand to keep center, instead of just letting my right arm dangle at the sides.
When I started, I did 200 katate men every day, except for the day before bench training. The format I used was the following:
- Take jodan
- Hit katate men as I stepped forward smartly, just as with morote suburi
- Step back while bringing shinai back up to jodan
Eventually, when I was able to do 200 straight through, I added in katate kote. Obviously, due to the greater distance the shinai travels, this was more difficult.
This may just be my opinion, but the continuous suburi style of hitting both when moving forward and backward is useless for jodan. When are you ever going to be doing hiki katate men? Almost never. In addition, in the beginning, it helps to practice hitting while moving forwards using the reverse footwork.
Haya Suburi – Bbareun Dongjak – fast motion/continuous suburi
Ah, the hallmark of Korean dojos/dojangs everywhere – haya-suburi. When I was in 5th grade, my sensei gave us a competition – whoever did the most haya-suburi, nonstop, would get a Gatorade. I ended up with 1200. My buddy got 1210 (bastard… haha). But yes, haya-suburi is the preferred warm-up, suburi, physical, and mental training for Korean kendoists in most places. From what I heard, the Korean national team does something like 2000 to 3000 haya-suburi twice a day. It teaches you to be loose (through fatigue), it teaches you correct fumikomi, it teaches you to maintain center (because you don’t want to waste any precious energy), and it gives you blisters that make you walk like you went through a rectal exam. It’s truly a wonderful thing.
For jodan, I simply add in katate haya suburi in between, making sure to switch my footwork to match what I would do in jodan. So a typical sequence for haya suburi for me would be like so:
- Men x10
- Side men (sayumen) x10
- Kote x10
- Both doh (sayu doh???) x10
- Katate men/kote x10
This ends up being a “set” of 50 haya-suburi. You might repeat this combination without rest for 200 (which I believe everybody should be able to do without much difficulty… if you cannot do 200 haya-suburi, barring any physical limitations or age, you MUST work on your physicality. Even the 60+ year old kendoists do this with us) or perhaps you take a short 1-3 min break in between these sets of 50 to get maybe 300 or 400. But I truly think haya suburi is one of the greatest tools one has at their disposal to improve on their own.
With that said, in my opinion, the best self-training and kamae-training tool for jodan is tire or dummy hitting. Tire hitting forces you to learn how to grip the shinai with correct tenouchi and to hit with just the right amount of force. With tire/dummy hitting, if your shinai is too slow, it will simply “die” on the tire without feedback and if it is too hard, not only will the feedback be jarring, the shinai tip will also “jump” back up with too much force, messing with your tenouchi (you will know this when after hitting, your fist ends up pointing at the ceiling instead of forwards, more or less). When you hit “correctly” on the tire, you will know by the perfect snap that the shinai tip bounces back up with and the solid feedback. In addition, tire hitting teaches you NOT to hit down on the opponent, and engrains the pattern of snapping the shinai with your wrist and fingers. Your shinai is not an axe nor a katana and the tire is not one of those rolled up straw mats that I used to sleep on while drooling in my baby years – this is kendo. You want to take the MINDSET of a warrior, but do not fool yourself into thinking that the laws of physics bend for you simply because you are in a warrior mindset. Cutting down hard will be extremely painful for the receiver, even in bogu, and especially more so with katate strikes because you will have less fine control over the shinai. In addition, you’ll go through shinai faster than a teenage boy goes through a box of tissues. It is in your best interest to learn how to snap the shinai at the last moment in order to practice mindful kendo, as well as to take advantage of the incredible acceleration towards the end phase of the cut when you snap your wrist. How my sensei described it was to think of it as snapping a whip – you extend and then snap to make that “crack” sound.
Since I don’t always have access to tires or dummies, I try to situate a broken shinai to roughly the height of a men. Not the best, but you can get creative with this.
Basics – kihon – gibohn/기본
During practice, the typical sequence would be as follows:
- Kirikaeshi – yeon-gyuk/연격
- Big men, kote, and do-uchi
- Big men-men, kote-men, men-kote, men-do
- Big combination (don’t know what this is in Japanese)
- Kiai-men-tsubazeriai-(hiki-men)-(kote-men)-tsubazeriai-(hiki-do)-men (follow through) – men (follow through), all in one breath.
- Repeat with small motion (minus the kirikaeshi)
Kirikaeshi, I do with both hands. I see no reason to do incorporate jodan into such a fundamental sequence. I think of kirikaeshi as one of the bases upon which your kendo grows.
With ni-dan waza and combination, I use chudan. Pretty hard to do a kote-men with one-hand, and I see no payoff. There is ONE exception: I will sometimes substitute chudan men-do with jodan seme-to-men gyaku-do. This is mostly with higher ranking practitioners.
With men, kote, and do-uchi, it really depends on the motodachi.
If they are a beginner or medium ranking (say, 2-3 kyu and below/above, depending on how you think about that), MY role as a higher rank is to demonstrate to them the best proper kendo that I am capable of. I need to show or remind them to keep their distance, to launch their 100% into every strike, how to accelerate the shinai, etc etc… basically, I need them to learn by watching and receiving for me. That comes before my own learning of jodan.
For others, it varies. For big motion, I will do 2-3 strikes from chudan and the rest with jodan. For small motion, I will either do the same or do the whole thing in jodan. The reason being that I don’t want to regress and be neglectful with my chudan training. Do-uchi is done as either gyaku do or regular chudan do-uchi.
When I am with high ranking senseis, I will ask them. If they feel that a strike is lacking, I will work on chudan. If they feel that my jodan needs more work, I will perform from jodan. It all depends. I know with Master Jo, I can work on jodan more often than not, as he can REALLY see the small nuances that I am missing (last training session, it was putting a little more weight on my left/front foot). With Master Lee, it is generally chudan, as he’s practically devoted his life to the “win-first-then-strike” mindset and the men-uchi (how do these old senseis move so quick???? I DON’T GET IT!!!)
I focus on keeping the shinai center, keeping further distance, and really launching myself into every strike. One of the main things to ask the motodachi to do is for them to take up the “seigan-no-kamae” stance used against jodan. This is what you’ll be face against in geiko and shiai, and it pays off to get used to seeing it and working around it. I also try to make sure that I am far enough away. The thing with jodan is that it is REALLY easy to hit too deep, even in the mono-uchi. It pays off, in terms of distancing, to attempt to hit with the very last third of the mono-uchi of the shinai (and it also saves the staves from mishits on the men-gane). This goes without saying, but for jodan, more than chudan, it is a one hit deal… so you must put 100% into every practice swing. As far as follow through, I have been experimenting with moving both straight forwards or even slightly to the left, instead of the regular follow through to the right. Naturally, the receiver should be stepping out of the way, but sometimes, they do not. Remind them, because they’re going to get a fist to the mengane if they don’t.
Again, have the motodachi take seigan. Katate-kote is a PAIN to learn, for both the jodan and the motodachi. For the receiver, mishits, especially at first, are common and so are bruises. Do not slow down your strike just to spare them pain. Likewise, don’t just cut down without wrist snap… it hurts like a motherfucker… (I didn’t practice katate-kote seriously until I could hit a small target I made on my couch with sufficient wrist snap.) In addition, if you miss, your wrist is going to over-extend and you might end up hurting yourself.
Try to have the receiver not open up for the kote strike too much, if at all. The kote from jodan happens while you move diagonally to the left (see below)
I follow through, somewhat, for sake of footwork practice, but zanshin for jodan kote in geiko is technically a kind of salute (see below, which is also one of the BEST jodan videos on youtube, in my opinion)
Practice gyaku-do when possible. The best advice I got with gyaku-do was to keep the left hand centered and to cut using the rotation of your hips, instead of using the arms to cut down. Try it, because that advice REALLY got me to understand how to do gyaku-do.
Waza practice (skill practice)
For waza practice, use your own discretion to choose amongst the following, depending on the waza you are practicing:
- If possible, do from jodan
- Ai-men, debana-waza
- If possible, substitute a men or kote-uchi from jodan
- Do the waza from chudan
- Hiki-waza, harai-waza, etc
Kakari geiko (and variations)
Kakari geiko is going to be the meat and potatoes of your jodan training – it brings every aspect of jodan kendo together. Kakari geiko and uchikomi geiko aren’t really separated in my dojo – we just have big and small motion continuous attack, where the receiver will either open up or just stay in chudan, varying within a single round.
There are several variations on the ways that kakari/uchikomi geiko can be run.
- Timed rounds. Usually 15 to 20 seconds per round, although we do occasionally venture into the 45 to 60 second territory.
- # Hits per round. Usually 15 to 20 hits per round. Ni-dan and san-dan waza, hiki waza, etc are only counted as one hit. Whether it’s a men-uchi or a kote-men-tsubazeriai-(hiki-men), it is still one “attack”.
- # Hits per timed round. Maybe 20 seconds to get 15 hits, or something similar to that. This should be challenging. Oftentimes, if the attacker does not get the requisite number of hits, he or she has to redo it until they do.
- Style: (pretty self-explanatory)
- Big motion
- Small motion
- Simultaneous (Ai-kakari geiko)
- This is, in my opinion, the best form of kakari geiko, for both chudan and jodan. It ingrains into muscle memory the proper response to attack – to attack simulatenously. There should be no blocking, save for the kaeshi-waza. Moving forward is preferred, but if you end up in tsubazeriai (which should also last no longer than a second), you should do hiki waza or another attack. Remember, the focus of kakari geiko is “attack”. Sometimes, when you watch the matches at the All Japan level, you’ll see an especially excellent kendoist get ippon through oji waza that is reflexive. By that, I mean that their body seemingly responds on their own without much thought going on, on the part of the kendoist. You can tell because their body is not tensed up, as is typical in the back-and-forth shinai-distancing seme/mind fighting, but as soon as the opponent attacks, their body reacts instinctively, performing an oji waza that they have practiced time and time again. THAT is the product of ai-kakari geiko. You want that very same instinctive response to be ingrained within your body so that even when you’re not “in the moment,” your body still reacts. (It’s also hilarious in the interviews when they get asked about what was going on, whether they had planned that, had they baited the opponent? Had they been studying the movement patterns of the opponent? But they honestly have no answer, instead opting to look bewildered and shrugging their “uh… idk?” [sorry about the tangent here, this was the funniest thing in a while to me when I saw it happen]).
- Most likely, ai-kakari geiko will be performed with a time limit or until one person “taps out” from fatigue.
Things to keep in mind as you perform kakari geiko as a jodan
Do not get sloppy with your kamae and footwork. This is the number one thing that I felt happening to me the first few times I did kakari-geiko as a jodan. The shinai comes down lower and lower, the footwork ends up becoming “running/walking” footsteps, and the posture becomes slouched. Remember that above all, kakari geiko is a mental exercise – push through the pain. Would a powerlifter round their back on a squat just because it’s a twenty rep set? Would a basketball player practice free throws with a different form than the one they use in games? Would a soldier walk when they’re tired because “they’ll get it right when it matters?” No. Remember the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands) – practice how you play. You slouch and become sloppy in practice, and you’ll be slouching and be sloppy during geiko, nevermind shiai and shinsa.
In terms of distance, remember to move a bit further, as you want to be realistic with the distance from where you’ll be attempting ippon (for me, this happens to be a step or two further than chudan, but for others it might be a bit further or closer, depending on your stature and specific body proportions – I’m looking at you, the guys with t-rex arms that end with your hands by your armpits and the ones with monkey arms where you’re knuckles are practically dragging against the floor). If necessary, go back to chudan after every hit or combination of hits and then quickly go to jodan. This is actually good practice for shiai and geiko, since many like to follow up behind a jodan’s follow through and get a nice men strike as they’re turning around. Or they’ll even attack you straight out the gate as you’re standing up from seiza. So get used to a quick jodan setup (by that, I don’t mean a general setup, but one that you can immediately do ai-men from).
Motodachi should count out loud for everything except for ai-kakari geiko. It is particularly important that the receiver only count strikes that would be ippon. Don’t be afraid to call out somebody for bullshit strikes. It’s not helping them and it’s ENTIRELY ON YOU to let them know. Yes, it’s absolutely the motodachi’s fault if they’re letting people get away with shit hits, and it’s a pet-peeve of mine when lower ranks don’t call me out on it (I FUCKING MISSED that men, and you’re saying that’s ok???).
As far as the selection of hits, mix it up. I do like to keep ~30-50% of my hits as men strikes. When I try for katate kote, I do either of two things: follow through instead of the usual salute-esque zanshin or immediately follow it up with a katate men or any variation of morote strikes. One thing that I’ve found to be quite effective for building up katate strikes is the following:
- Katate-kote to zanshin
- Immediately do katate kote-men (without using the right hand. Just bring the shinai straight up with your left arm and do this)
- Hiki men and step back a maximum of 2 or 3 steps
- Morote small men or katate men – hit and follow through on this one
Despite being a jodan, I am of the opinion that kakari geiko is when you’ll be able to most effectively practice your do-uchi. Incorporate at least 2 or 3 of these per 1-2 rounds.
While this goes for every occasion, I feel it necessary to mention this: in ai-kakari geiko from jodan, be rapid and small with your footwork. Don’t move back, but when you follow through, give yourself enough room to immediately perform the next strike. It also conditions you to the pain of missed kote strikes to the left arm. Remember that this isn’t the time to practice what you saw from the 8th dan tournament – be aggressive, be physical, and be borderline violent. There were times when I cried when I was a kid because it was so SO tough and painful. But it always resulted in much improved kendo.
After recovering from a kakari-geiko session, you should feel much improved “fluidity” in your kendo (I don’t know how else to put this) and a more relaxed kamae. I do not mean to say relaxed as in slouched and completely limp – it manifests itself in more of a less forced and stressful positioning of the shinai and footwork. I think this happens because it teaches your body that the speed of the shinai and body come, not from muscling the thing through the air, but from force generation, which necessitates a more relaxed (yet still tense, etc…) posture.
The keywords here are busy, anticipation, and decisiveness.
One of the things that my sensei constantly reminds me to do during geiko is to be busy with the whole body, regardless of chudan or jodan (it’s just that it requires a lot less active thinking in chudan because of the crossed shinai). With regards to the upper body, it means that I have to be busy with my elbows, feet, wrists, and the shinai. When you look at good jodan players, you’ll see that they each have a rhythm with regards to their jodan stance. Shodai used to flap his elbows a bit (his jodan reminds me of a giant flapping bird for some reason…), Chiba sensei has that oddly rhythmical shrugging thing, etc etc… I haven’t yet found something that works well for me yet (I suspect it will take several years until I do), but I try to just be busy with the shinai, snapping my elbows together like I am going to be doing a men, shifting my right hand down to the tsuka, shoving the shinai forwards or upwards, shrugging my shoulders, etc etc…
Being busy with footwork and the body is also important. Try different types of footworks – the more traditional slides or the Shodai leap frogging, as long as it’s not walking. I try to shift my weight around, more towards the front foot, as if I will be moving forward or attacking, more towards the back, as if I’ll be moving back a step or two, bending my knees down to give an impression of attack, etc. Quick and small footsteps also lends itself to quicker response (things in motion tend to stay in motion and vice versa). I personally love how busy the kendoist in this video is:
Just try a lot of different things and variations, and see which elicits a response from your opponent. Chances are, they’ll open up somewhere. If they think you’re going to hit a men, they’ll move to block it – leaves you open to hit a kote (katate or morote) or gyaku-do. If they think you’re going for kote, they’ll lower the shinai a little more or move the tip further to the right, which gives you an opportunity to do a men. Better guys will do ni-dan waza or something of that ilk. Do ai-men, hiki men, or something else, idk, be creative.
Point being, busy = seme, particularly in jodan no kamae.
Anticipation is harder to describe for me. When somebody starts pressuring you, you get the feeling of “wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… NOW”. After some time, it becomes easier to tell when their “now” is. Besides the anticipation that you earn through experience, you’ll be able to glean it from the opponent’s seme. I like to look at their eyes and see where they’re looking at, whenever possible.
I don’t know if I’m doing a good job with this particular section (and I do apologize), but I simply have to chalk it up to “lose enough and you’ll slowly learn to anticipate attacks and movements.”
Finally, be decisive. As soon as you see an opening, it should be like a mousetrap snapping down on a cockroach. When I say it like this, it makes it seem like a much slower process than it really is, where you see an opening, think “now’s the time to attack!”, and you carry out the attack. In reality, it’s a much faster process, where you see an opening (or anticipate one) and take it. If you’re indecisive, should I attack or not, what if they do an oji waza, omg helpppp meeeeeee – you will lose. And this is why I am so big on kakari geiko… it ALMOST makes the decisiveness second-nature. It’s like aiming a loaded gun with the safety off – all you need to do is squeeze the trigger. When you’re busy with your entire kamae (aka seme) and anticipate well, that’s when you can be really decisive with your jodan. Again, remember the ebb and flow of the matches. Maybe you purposefully set up a katate men strike by constantly going for kotes and morote strikes. Decisiveness allows you to recognize the time when you can actually go for that ippon men strike.
Ultimately, decisiveness is the culmination of good seme and anticipation; it is what happens when you are the one dictating every variable of the match (or round, in the case of geiko).
Do utilize geiko as a time to figure out what you are good and what you are not, and use it to try certain waza or seme. Try a different style of footwork, try a different combination of seme and strikes, try turning your wrist by 1 degrees, what have you. It’s a time to both fine tune your kendo, as well as the time to try major overhauls (though the scientist in me tells me to isolate one variable at a time when you are attempting big changes).
Hopefully, this small write up helps those trying to learn jodan as well as those who are looking to help, beat, or receive for jodans. Happy kendo-ing!