Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #8 – Detroit Kendo tournament, suburi, fumikomi, and Katate Jodan

Detroit kendo tournament

Last weekend, I went to the 2017 Detroit Kendo tournament. Although I wanted to take the shinsa on Saturday, I couldn’t because I changed federations from KKA to AUSKF and haven’t gotten an AUSKF number yet. I’m not too pleased with the direction KKA is going, which is why I changed. AUSKF also has a bigger and more advanced field of practitioners, and the judging is more… legit. I’ll take it in the AEUSKF April one, since the logistics of that are easier to work out.

Anyways, that aside, the biggest disappointment with Saturday was not being able to attend the godo-geiko, mainly because I wanted to geiko with Sugawara sensei and learn from him, him being a big factor in my continued passion for jodan.

Sunday was fun. I got to the finals of the nidan division, which had a LOT of young kids. It’s good to see that the future of midwest kendo is so bright. NYC did well. NYC A got to the finals. In my team, NYC B, I went against Oinishi? Onishi? Something with an O, from Columbus JLS with Katayama sensei as Taisho. Strong player, I think I could have gotten him. As it was, we tied, and NYC B lost to them. AND NYC A lost to them in the finals. I strongly believe Kang sensei could have gotten Katayama sensei, but he was wayyyy off that day.

What’s very interesting is that as I progress in kendo, my ability to observe and notice the small details are becoming exponentially better. I think that’s because I’m starting to have more of a concrete idea of what I want my kendo to look like. Meaning, I actually have an ideal to work towards. So far, it’s only with regards to my own kendo and not anybody else’s.

Things I noticed:

  • Need to stop ham-fisting left hand when I’m nervous or tired
  • More relaxed hit
  • Better footwork needed
  • I “pop” my shinai too much & grip it with my arm & not my wrist
  • Hit through more
  • Right arm to stiff – not flicking the shinai, but muscle throwing
  • Raising shinai UP above head after raising shinai to set and “sink” the shoulders works really well for me
  • More fling with body – hit with the body, not with arms
  • Morote kote SUUCKKSSSSSS
    • But not in geiko. Weird, because in geiko, I get it 8-9/10. I think it’s an issue with my tightness in shiai.

Advice I got and things I noticed from other jodan:

  • Better suri-ashi
    • Keep kamae while moving back instead of breaking it
  • More wrist flexibility
  • Reset to kamae QUICKLY
  • Wisconsin jodan guy:
    • Interesting alternating feet technique & bulldoze through technique
  • Throw my shinai for kote, not hit DOWN.

Homework for me:

  • At home:
    • Suri-ashi
    • Fumikomi
    • Suburi with heavy oar bokken thing
      • Both regular and katate
    • At practice:
      • Attack with no hesitation
      • Seme
      • Be aggressive
      • Kote practice

Kang sensei’s guide to Suburi

  • Don’t dip up & down on forward and backward steps
  • Don’t straighten arms – keep them bent, but they shouldn’t move from this bent position
    • Bend right elbow OUT and not IN to the side – this allows for more flexibility for debana waza and do-uchi.
  • Lift shinai up with your upper back muscles
    • And lift the shinai UP and not back – keep arms in their position (keep elbow position the same)
    • Think of lifting the shinai up with your left wrist
  • Hold breath
    • Flex abs, use your back, keep it tight.
  • Should feel tension in the back and hands.
  • Keep shinai lower (personal issue for me)
    • My shinai was high because I was bending my elbows too much
    • Hold more tightly with 3 end fingers.

When he first explained this, I didn’t get it, but after a while, I started to feel that tension he was talking about. I think a better way to describe it might be “tautness”. I could usually do about 200 suburi no problem. With this method, even 10-15 is difficult. I think it’s because when I’m doing suburi this way, I feel like a bow that’s being drawn and slightly relaxed, then drawn fully again, and then relaxed a little bit again. It’s super tiring. But I can definitely feel an improvement.


Fumikomi

Kang sensei also told me about fumikomi. Typically, people stomp DOWN, in an effort to make more of a sound. That was the case for me for my jodan (and chudan LOL). But he says that during fumikomi, the body should have a “눌르는” feeling. 눌른다 is like pressing down, but the way he used it is like suppression. Almost like compressing what’s in front of you forward and down. Effectively, it’s less of a vertical stomp and more of a horizontal motion. Done correctly, he says it should feel like the skin of your toes are splitting. When I got it done correctly, according to him, I felt the slapping sensation on the front third of my feet, as if the force was pushing the skin of my toes off from the toenails. I have yet to get this feeling with my left foot fumikomi for jodan.


Katate Jodan

I’ve seen katate jodan before on youtube, particularly with Shodai’s geikos against other jodans. Recently, I tried it in practice, against jodan, and it’s really good. With the recent heavy bokken practice, the shinai’s been feeling super light, so it was no problem.

There were several noticeable advantages:

  • It can be very sharp, and sort of forces you to use your body since you can’t throw your shinai with the right arm.
  • Takes away one big target (the right kote)
  • It was very effective for all three strikes: men and both kotes
  • Lower hand position = harder for opponent jodan to hit

The single biggest con that I can see is that it can be tiring, but for somebody like me, it was a good thing to go for. It is, essentially, limited by how physically fit you are. Another con is tsubazeriai, but just being smart about it should be all that’s needed. But yeah… I think I’m going to play around with this for a while.

Form wise, you can rest it on the head or do it like shodai

  • Edo(?) sensei:

 

Shodai:

 

I tried both. I think the resting it on the head gives it almost a nito daito-esque form because of how off to the side it is. Because of this, the left kote is way back in comparison to the regular jodan. If you’ve ever gone jodan vs nito, you know how hard and annoying that low, far back kote on the nito is to hit from jodan. But holding it more in front allows for really sharp strikes, almost like jabs. I think I could work with either.

  • Good video about it:
    • I could NOT hit the do-uchi like the sensei in the video.

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #7 – Training for Jodan, Updated Pt.II

Since coming back home, I’ve been going to both NYC kendo club and HMK, although with recent family life events… I’ve been going just to NYC kendo club for the past month. At NYC, I’ve been learning quite a bit about Jodan from Kataoka sensei. So this is my updated “how to train for Jodan” guide. I still recommend doing haya suburi with feet reversed.

 

[As an aside, I will say this – having a proper jodan teacher and an environment where people are encouraging me to hit harder and faster and continue upon this path is something I’ve come to be immensely grateful of. The kendoists here have been helpful and so kind with both my jodan and chudan, and I’ve progressed more in several months than I have in the past year. Until I’m MUCH more dialed in (Kataoka sensei mentioned “like machine” or “without thinking” about the basics, I’ve been doing most of my geiko with chudan. I’ll write something about chudan… sometime. But NYC has been great for my chudan as well.]

 

Footwork

  1. Moving forward, suri-ashi
  2. Walking steps (like regular walking) “one, two, three, four” and on “five”, fumi-komi
    1. So you would walk normally (or maybe slightly larger steps than normal) then on the “four”, your right foot would be behind if you started with the right foot on the “one”. On “five”, your right foot would come forward if you were walking, but instead of walking, you do fumi-komi as you bring your right foot forward. So for jodan footwork, you would step forward with the left foot first.
    2. Should look like this : – _ – _ –
  3. Count “one, two, three, four” then, on five, fumi-komi, and go through.
  4. Count “one, two, three” then step forward with the front foot for seme on “four”, pause for a split second, then fumi-komi on “five” and go through.

 

Men

  1. Morote men-uchi starting with both hands above and aligned, left foot forward.
    1. Version 1: Left foot goes forward (sort of a semi-lunge), then you swing forward with both hands while your back foot snaps forward behind the front leg.
    2. Version 2: Regular men-uchi with fumikomi, just with the footwork reversed.
    3. For both versions, you do not go back to chudan. Just lift straight back up.
  2. Katate-men: starting with hands aligned and shinai pointing straight back (so same as above, where your right hand is still grasping the tsuba with all fingers), fumikomi forwards while hitting. When hitting, release the right hand (don’t throw, that comes later). Basically the same as above, except you’re letting go of the right hand at the impact zone.
  3. Cock left arm to the side, like you see in all the jodan videos. For now, keep right hand straight over your centerline. Then proceed to hit katate men.
    1. After each hit, don’t let your left arm or shinai down. Go straight back up to jodan.
  4. Do jodan men with footstep patterns “three” and “four”, as seen above.
  5. Keep hitting jodan men.
  6. Keep going.
  7. Keep going.
  8. Throw up a little in the mouth.
  9. Keep hitting.
  10. Stretch out wrists, shoulders, and elbows as inevitably, you’ll have mishit some and overextended or missed and overextended.
  11. Fuck the pain, son, keep going.
  12. Buy your motodachi beer for all the mishits.

 

 

Notes on katate-men

  • Face straight forward and think TALLLLLLL AS FUCKKKKKK (this leads you to align and sort of “pack” your neck as much as is natural)
    • To do this, you should also relax your shoulders. If you have good proprioception, you should feel all parts of your traps, rhomboids, and lats “sinking” in with your scapula. It’s a very nice sensation.)
  • Think of stepping on the opponent’s right foot with your left foot to prevent your body from twisting
  • Left hand should follow the centerline of mengane
  • Imagine choking/punching the throat of the opponent.

 

Kote

  • Seme to the men.
  • Wrist should follow the opponent’s shinai downwards
    • Think of your wrist as sliding down the side of their shinai
  • No muscle – relaxed hit, especially the wrist
  • Left step fumi-komi, then step forward with right foot (like a walking step)
    • This is to maximize speed as the kote leaves you very vulnerable
  • Don’t drop left arm down so much on a vertical level, it should still be an extension of the elbow, just drop the left wrist
  • Raise hands over the opponent’s shinai before hitting
  • … buy a pad (seriously. I think my senpais use a lacrosse pad or something) and a beer for the motodachi’s poor bruised wrist.

 

Notes on katate-kote:

  • There’s quite a few different ways to hit kote. This seems to be the basic one (as it’s taught in NYC anyways LOL).
  • There’s another one against the kote to the right wrist of the jodan. Do a kote that kind of looks like a sayu-men from kirikaeshi. It should hit as the opponent is going for your right wrist or when they block the right side of their men, as both these leave their kotes open.

 

 

Something I’ve found interesting is practicing without kiai. I like it. It helps keep me loose and relaxed throughout the strikes. I’ve been told to start kiai only when fatigue starts settling in.

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #6 – Power Overwhelming Pt.II

Sidenote before I kick things off: So technically, “power overwhelming” is a phrase by the archon, a Protoss unit in the Starcraft games. But in the new Legacy of the Void scene, the Adept is so fucking ridiculously OP against Terran (human) units that I put its picture up instead. I’m not a player, I don’t even have the game, but I am a fairly avid follower of the professional scene, since it’s a game I’ve followed since the Broodwar days. I remember getting my first Broodwar expansion as a gift from my grandfather and not understanding a word of the English spoken (I was living in Korea at the time). Years later, my closest friend bought me Starcraft 2 so he could play with me (unfortunately, that never happened since I suck at videogames and I fucked around in 2v2’s by making a fuckload of siege tanks (and nothing else besides that)). I lost. A lot. I bought Heart of the Swarm just to play the campaign (with cheatcodes). I haven’t bought LotV yet, but I’m sure I’ll buy it someday. Ok, so here’s the actual Archon:

772562-archonconcept.jpg

Anyways, on to the kendo.

 

Last year, I participated in the Johnson Cup, which is a small tournament held in Columbus. I was in the 1st-3rd Dan division. I ended up going to the semifinals and getting third place. I used jodan-sae the whole time. It was a hectic experience. I woke up at 3:30 AM, left Cleveland at 4 AM, and drove for 2.5 hours in the snow to Columbus. I hate having the heater on in the car because it feels suffocating, so my hands were freezing and cracking, there was no moon or starlight, and I was very much sleep deprived. I won my first match with two quick small men after tsubazeriai. The second or third (??? Can’t remember) was an ai-jodan match that lasted for 10-11 minutes. I won that one with a hiki gyaku-dou (do, doh, dou?? LOL). That match took a lot out of me and I ended up with bruises all over my forearms and fists from the kote strikes. The next match was with Yumi, who’s a member of the kendo club. We often joke around during practice and during this match, neither of us could really keep a straight face. I think that puzzled our shinpan, but I didn’t really care. It’s always fun to go against Yumi. After that was a match against a Miami Valley Kendo Club member who was really really good. I got tsukied quite a bit (and a few were quite good) but it never counted because as morote tsuki’s, they needed to force me back a step, and none of them really did that (I did get a nice little bruise on my neck, but that’s quite alright). I won that match with a morote-men from jodan (see below, credit to kendocards)

p168

The semi-final match was over in about… 30 seconds. I got kote’d in quick succession (according to Yumi, the most anti-climactic semi everrrrrrrr haha).

Afterwards, I settled into really enjoying the kendo going on. This was the first time I had ever seen Sugawara sensei and he was an absolute beast. Fucking amazing. I recorded almost all of his matches. Definitely a man-crush. He told me to work on my katate-kote and to continue practicing jodan. But yes, man-crush. SUCH a man-crush. (That moment when you have kendo idols…. LOL)

Anyways, I later went back and analyzed what I had been doing with how Sugawara sensei performed his jodan. I realized that I was holding my shinai far too low and far too forward, an unfavorable position for power generation.

During winter break, I was back in Hong Moo Kwan in NJ. Jo Sabumnim was pretty disappointed at how shitty my jodan had gotten. We worked a LOT on the basic jodan posture, holding the shinai a little more upright and having my right hand a little closer to the center line of my body. While my arms are on the slightly longer side, my humerus (upper arm) is laughably shorter than my radius and ulna (the forearm). This was why my previous jodan posture, with the shinai way forward, took away a lot of my power. Moving the shinai a little bit higher (above the left eye) and closer (about a fist distance away) suited my body proportions much better, as this meant that my humerus was still below parallel to the floor (so sloping down from the shoulder joint), but the forearm was cocked closer to perpendicular to the floor (so more straight up), allowing for more of the whipping motion that Jo-sabumnim prefers. Over time, we changed the right hand position, from directly center to slightly more right and finally settled on towards the outer edge of my eyes, so that my fist would still be directly over my head and not outside and to the right, but still comfortable enough to snap the shinai forward. During geiko, we practiced a lot of tsuki-ai-men and kote-ai-men, where Jo sabumnim would go for either tsuki (usually katate, he is REALLY good with this) or gyaku kote and as soon as I anticipated it, I would snap a katate men. First day back, this meant I missed about 2/3rd of all my men, but by the end, I started to get pretty good at it. I also worked a lot on my katate-kote-men, but it didn’t really work out then. (When I came back to Cleveland, Beaty sensei would show me a better way to do the katate kote men, where the kote is a regular katate kote, but the men is a circular motion utilizing the snap of the kote strike. So after the kote, the shinai would come up to be horizontal as if to block the men, then circle around the head to hit katate men in almost a sayu-men fashion. It sounds a lot more clunky than it performs, mainly because the circular motion eliminates any need to go against momentum, instead utilizing it to whip the shinai around and forward. I’m not yet good at it, but I can get it ~1/2 the time. It works so much better with a thinner shinai).

The weekend before Christmas, HMK hosted a bi-annual (I think?) HMK Kumdo night where several dojangs/dojos from around the area (and beyond) came over for a long kata and geiko practice. Sungmoo-kwan, Daekum-kwan, and Yongkum-kwan came, the last of which came all the way from Philadelphia. There was Lee sensei, who’s a kyosa (kyoshi) 7th dan, and several Yeonsa (renshi) 6th dans, including Jo-sabumnim. It was so good to geiko in such a environment. I didn’t know many of them too well, but it was a real treat. There’s a real up close aggression that Korean dojangs have and it felt like such a relief to be able to go “all out” without hurting feelings. Sometimes, I notice that the American dojos have this real…. Uh… uptight? Attitude, like it’s always got to be so proper and whatnot and you must do shinsa style kendo and stuff… but that’s just not fun for me. And that’s never really the big issue for me, the bigger issue is the real sensitive atmosphere, like people just get super sensitive about this shit. Like bro, you’re going to get hit. That’s part of the fun. And yes, I know kendo isn’t supposed to be “just” fun, but as soon as it stops becoming fun, I’m going to stop doing it. If it’s not fun, I’ll simply not learn or benefit from kendo properly. And I don’t want that. So it’s nice to really let off steam once in a while. So anyways… that was about 2 or 3 hours of straight up geiko. Which was great! I got a lot of input about my jodan with regards to timing. To summarize:

  • Too quick to pull the trigger on the kote.
  • Too much kote instead of men.
  • Too quick to pull the trigger on the morote kote, oftentimes hitting fist as the opponent was about the raise his shinai to block the seme to men.
  • But too slow on the seme to men, which meant some people simply did not react to it.
  • Too slow in the morote men from jodan.
  • Back foot lagging on the katate kote (so it stayed in the lunge instead of the back foot coming up sharply behind).
  • Moving back instead of body slamming (they thought I didn’t have enough scratches on the front of my do, a sign of slamming into the opponent after a hit if they didn’t move).
  • Too slow of a recovery after men.
  • Need to switch up seme from time to time
  • Need to mix in seme from the tsuka instead of just the body.

Anyways, I went to Korea after that.

Once I was back in Cleveland, I thought about things and decided that I wanted to try for 3rd dan. So I’ve been preparing for that. Pretty challenging to switch back to chudan for the while. I miss going balls out with Jodan.

Puppy_dog_eyes.png

(CARBOT ZERGLING!)

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #5 – Power Overwhelming Pt.I

Wow. Long time no blog. I guess that’s what happens when you’re busy as all hell.

I’ll be splitting this over two posts – each taking place about 2 months apart. The first will be about the CWRU Case Student Cup. The second will be about the Johnson Cup and the HMK Kumdo night.

Earlier in October, Case Western Reserve University hosted the Case Student Cup, where several college-aged and younger kendoists came over to Cleveland and participated in a tournament. Unfortunately, due to a myriad of other important obligations, I had to skip the tournament. However, I did manage to get some practice in with several of the senseis that came over on Friday night (the tournament was on Sunday). That day, after some basics, I had the opportunity to practice with senseis I don’t usually get to, such as Inoshita sensei, Kato sensei, and Tanaka sensei, as well as the “homeground” senseis. I took up jodan-sae with all of them.

 

In addition to the notes I kept from the practice with the visiting senseis, I’ll be including notes from practices against Niedziela sensei who visited Cleveland Kendo.


 

Inoshita sensei. I should have done chudan with him. I think I would have learned so much more if I had done that. As it stands, I didn’t get to learn as much from him as he wasn’t going to really geiko with any real intent (not that I blame him. It was, as I stated, my fault that I did not take chudan).

 

Kato sensei. This was the first time I had faced Kiri-otoshi waza. And. It. Was. Dev-a-sta-ting. It’s funny how small things can make you feel as if you’re completely vulnerable. While I had experienced kiriotoshi waza from the two sabumnims back home, it was only when I was doing chudan. I never took jodan with Lee sabumnim and Jo sabumnim would usually take the initiative away from me by closing the distance and doing continuous attacks or, his personal favorite against me, morote tsuki followed by katate tsuki followed by a tap to my armpit if I hadn’t reacted (seriously, I needed a scarf while teaching classes during summer because of the burn marks. -_-;;;…. Kendo people show love in the strangest of ways…). But with Kato sensei… it was against my katate men.

Here’s a video of men-kiriotoshi-men:

 

What you’ll see is that it’s not quite as large as a big men-uchi, but not a small men-uchi. With Kato sensei, it was actually even larger, but incredibly fluid and sharp. The only way to describe it was like a cobra, rising up and sharply striking down. And the successive cracks of his shinai hitting mine and then my men were clearly audible, though only milliseconds apart.

Another interesting thing is that when my katate-men is knocked away, it is almost always knocked away to my right. Because of the natural angle of the strike, it is much easier to knock the shinai and the left arm towards my center and to the right, rather than get within the body and knock it to the left.

As you can see from these pictures, the way that you hold the shinai and the way that the men-uchi comes in from jodan almost guarantees that the shinai, if knocked away, will go the jodan-senshu’s right side and to the opponent’s left (think of a kaeshi-do motion – you knock it to the left – opponent’s right – because we raise the shinai almost straight up, right?). Because we hold the shinai with right hand above the left, blocking the other way with the shinai tip pointing to your left forces you to cross your arms, a much less natural motion than simply raising both arms straight up, which points the shinai tip to the right.

So it caught me by utter surprise when my shinai was actually knocked away to the left when he did kiriotoshi men, almost making me lose my grip in the process (because the wrist can only rotate so much, at some point, your fingers will naturally open up). I didn’t catch his footwork, but perhaps he stepped in a half-step to his left/my right to give him that angle. Regardless, it was absolutely beautiful to be hit by (utterly confusing at first though. You can almost imagine this kid just going like “what the bloody fuck just happened?” and then hearing Kato sensei’s kiai telling you to ready the fuck up).

 

Anyways, I mixed in some morote strikes until he took up jodan as well. It was one of those really old, kata-esque straight up jodans. But man, it was impossible to land that katate-kote to his left kote, even though that’s one of my better strikes.

 

Overall, I came away feeling pretty overwhelmed. I don’t really approach geiko with very high ranking senseis with any desire to win per-say, but with Kato-sensei, I started getting a bit of that overwhelming my desire to show good kendo. I think he kinda enjoyed that though.

 

Tanaka sensei. This was the second and last practice I got to have with him, since he left Cleveland. Anyways, one of the fastest kendoists I have ever practiced with.

 

XYZ sensei. I feel really bad, but I don’t remember his name. This sensei took up this SUPER straight chudan against me. Nothing close to the usual seigan-no-kamae, where the shinai points against the jodan’s left elbow/arm (something I noticed recently is how drastic seigan has gotten, with the shinai almost completely to the right, and the left hand out of the center. Super easy to hit katate men and then set up a seme-men-morote kote or seme men-gyaku doh on. I still haven’t had a person hit me from that position, and I honestly don’t see any jodans getting ganked with that stance). Nope. He was super straight chudan, not even raising the tip of the shinai a bit higher. This was… interesting. Contrary to popular belief, I LOVE it when people take a mild or regular seigan. It really lets me push off hard on my right foot and get a sharp looping katate kote, which is actually quicker than my katate-men and much more natural for me to pull off. But when it’s super straight like in chudan… there’s no shinai to loop my shinai around to. Not only is the angle not open for me, but when I go for a regular kote and the shinai tip isn’t raised up like in seigan, I just did a suicide mission – as in, I just buried my fucking neck into his shinai (as I found out… not the best feeling in the world, I can tell you that). In addition, his response time to katate men was superb, thanks to the shorter distance and ability to simply push forward and tsuki me to the chest (which means, no ippon). I was able to break it a bit towards the end (or perhaps he broke it down for me, methinks this latter is more likely, but who knows, I just might have a large enough ego to believe the former) and get some good morote kote and morote men strikes, but MAN these were ugly. Thankfully though, the sensei went for my men more than my kote. I would’ve been beat the fuck up if he had gone for a crapton of kote.

 

Niedziela sensei. He’s from University of Buffalo I think, and does sei-nito, where the longer shinai is held on the right hand. He was very cool to geiko with. He had an absolutely unique style of nito, with a dynamic kamae, changing the height and distance of both shinais quite often. I got to practice with him on two consecutive days. I took some pointers from this video where “Menma guy” faces a jodan:

 

This video proved to be a crucial experience. Especially at 1:23, where the jodan goes for the quick tuski-morote-men combo. This has become a go to technique against nito for me, to decent effect.

Anyways, this is it for part I. I plan on writing a much longer piece for part II, mainly because those events are fresher in my mind and also because the past few weeks have seen a huge change in my jodan.

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #4 – Training for Jodan.

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

Suburi is hard with jodan. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You are physically not strong enough
  2. 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:

  1. Take jodan
  2. Hit katate men as I stepped forward smartly, just as with morote suburi
  3. 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:

  1. Men x10
  2. Side men (sayumen) x10
  3. Kote x10
  4. Both doh (sayu doh???) x10
  5. Katate men/kote x10
  6. Repeat

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.

Tire/dummy hitting

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:

  1. Kirikaeshi – yeon-gyuk/연격
  2. Big men, kote, and do-uchi
  3. Big men-men, kote-men, men-kote, men-do
  4. Big combination (don’t know what this is in Japanese)
    1. Kiai-men-tsubazeriai-(hiki-men)-(kote-men)-tsubazeriai-(hiki-do)-men (follow through) – men (follow through), all in one breath.
  5. 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!!!)

Men-uchi

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.

Kote-uchi

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)

Do-uchi

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:

  1. If possible, do from jodan
    1. Ai-men, debana-waza
  2. If possible, substitute a men or kote-uchi from jodan
  3. Do the waza from chudan
    1. 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.

  1. Rounds:
    1. Timed rounds. Usually 15 to 20 seconds per round, although we do occasionally venture into the 45 to 60 second territory.
    2. # 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”.
    3. # 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.
  2. Style: (pretty self-explanatory)
    1. Big motion
    2. Small motion
    3. Mixed
  3. Simultaneous (Ai-kakari geiko)
    1. 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]).
    2. 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:

  1. Katate-kote to zanshin
  2. Immediately do katate kote-men (without using the right hand. Just bring the shinai straight up with your left arm and do this)
  3. Tsubazeriai
  4. Hiki men and step back a maximum of 2 or 3 steps
  5. 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.


Geiko

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!

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #3

Well, it’s been roughly 3 months since I’ve started doing Jodan, and I have to say, I’ve surprised both myself and my sensei with how fast I’ve been progressing with the kamae. He was initially… skeptical, seeing as I was always more of a defensive and reactive, right hand dominant chudan kendoist (which is a bad thing. This is a habit that came from doing too much competitions in high school…), and naturally, he felt that these qualities would be reflected in this stance as well (not the right hand part, but the defensive and reactive part). But as I initially hypothesized, taking up jodan has had a trickle-down effect on my chudan, imbuing it with a little more aggression and, more importantly, more seme (I will go more into what exactly was wrong and what is changing with my chudan later on). Recently, as I’ve been praticing ~3-4 times a week, progress has been at a pretty solid pace, but I’m calling it what it is – noobie gains. Anyways… first, I want to take note of some of the most important things I have noticed in my (very) short time with the jodan stance.


First off, the easiest way to improve technique for me is when I don’t have to worry about physicality. [Skip this part if you’re not interested in nutrition and physical training] What has this meant in terms of my nutrition and training? Well, as far as diet goes, there’s the common saying of “eat big to lift big,” tailoring the nutrients to one’s particular goals, of course. Because I went through a long 8 month diet phase (with a month of maintenance/bulk in the middle during December) where I cut from 235 to 215, back up to 225, then from 225 to 195, initially using a keto approach then an easier and slower calories in vs out approach, the dietary regimen that I had was not suitable for a 4x a week weights, 3-4x a week kendo, and a 0.5-2x a week tennis schedule, on top of teaching classes where I would be standing up the entire time. Nowadays, I’ve gone from a purely bodybuilding and powerlifting oriented goal to more of a general fitness goal for a variety of reasons, and in order to accommodate that, I’ve gone from a very high protein-based diet to one that focuses more on carbohydrates, in order to maximize performance. I eat ~0.6-1 g/lb of bodyweight, roughly 200-500g of carbs, depending on how much I am doing that day, and try to get enough healthy fats in the form of fats found within my foods (ex would be nuts and avocados, but I am also including animal fats – beef, pork, poultry, and fish – as I’ve found that my energy levels are best with these sources of fats included in reasonable amounts), as well as the oils used in the cooking process, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil. For training, I’m still sticking to what I know works best for me – high intensity, high frequency, and relatively low volume per session. Naturally, the optimal way for me to do this was through Fortitude Training by Dr. Scott Stevenson. I did remove benching… it doesn’t seem to be agreeing too much with my body at all and I see no need to be flat barbell benching. Instead, I’ve added in close grip incline presses. Now, this is something that every sports and conditioning coach knows – sports are played CLOSE, and by that I mean that the position of the hands are closer together than they are further apart. This means that you need to move your hands from a wide grip bench to something roughly shoulder width. Think about the shinai – the hands are close together. Of course, lats, upper back work, rear delts, traps (middle and lower especially), quads, hammies, and calves are getting a LOT of attention from me. Doing quite a bit of curls for elbow health as well. Results have been really good. With all the cardio I’m doing, my work capacity is ridiculously high right now, despite all the cigarettes. So now, a training session that lasted 2 hours is over in less than an hour, with minimal rest periods and no drop in performance (perhaps even an increase)

[Section about training and diet over] So yes, when your level of physical strength, stamina, speed, etc are at an optimal level, you can focus entirely upon technique.


One of the areas in which I have changed completely is the concept of swinging in an arc. Of course, in reality, the shinai travels in an arc, but if you think about the concept of “cutting from above” with jodan, you will end up with a VERY slow swing. In chudan, perhaps you can indeed score ippon with a slow swing – there are renzoku, harai, suriage, and kaeshi waza, there is the ability to physically influence the opponent’s shinai, and, bad kendo coming here, you can block the bloody thing coming at you. So naturally, a slower swing is less detrimental (and I do think that if I were to pursue pure kendo, where the shinai is indeed a sword, then I would be doing primarily large strikes and swinging in an arc, as that is how you cut). But in jodan, you’re very limited in targets – katate men, katate kote, use of seme, and morote strikes (seme to men-morote kote, seme to men – morote men, seme to men-gyaku do). And in the case of katate strikes, it is most likely a one hit thing. I have found that katate renzoku waza is great for throwing off the rhythm of lower dans, but when my sensei saw it, he literally caught the blade in a roll and flung it out of my hands (maki-waza? That just reminds me of sushi…). In Jodan, the ultimate defense is a reactive waza – debana or ai men. And this is the case no matter WHAT they throw at you.

  • Tuski coming? Ai men means you knock the shinai tip out of the way and get ippon at the same time. (This is also why kendoists of the highest caliber will generally not do tsuki until the flow of the match is completely under their control against a jodan player because of the ease with which a semi-decent jodan will score against a tsuki, particularly a katate tsuki).
  • Men coming (probably not… but still.)? Ai or debana men.
  • Either kote coming? Men gets both your kotes out of their target ranges.
  • Gyaku do? Men gets you close and they won’t get ippon (while you probably will get ippon if it’s a good hit. Even if not, the closing in of the distance makes it a great target)

So it makes sense – you want your men strike to be up to par. And I’ve found that instead of thinking about the concept of “cutting”, it helps to think about “launching”. What do I mean by this? There are several components of hitting a good jodan men.

Let’s start with the concept of the kinetic chain. The kinetic chain is basically the transfer of power through a sequence of interconnected movements – in short, it is a series of moving parts. The easiest way to understand this concept is to visualize a tennis serve, a baseball pitch, or a kendo morote tsuki. The power starts at the toes as you launch yourself off, travels through the ankles, up the legs, through the hips, extending the shoulders, the elbows, and the wrists, ending up at the point of the shinai, at which point the right foot will land at the same time as the shinai point tsuki’s the target. The forward momentum of this chain is delivered into the point of the shinai and through to the opponent. One must think “transfer of force” when thinking about the kinetic chain. Smoothness of the moving components allows for maximum transfer of force – this means that one must not only be powerful, one must also be limber and unencumbered by stiffness (thus, the loose shoulders/arms/hands part of a good chudan stance). Here is a good discussion of the kinetic chain on the tennis serve (http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/kinetic-chain-what-do-we-know-on-the-serve.491718/). Having established the kinetic chain, we can now go on to the components of the chain.

The basic of all basics is footwork, more particularly is fumikomi – the attacking step. This lunging/stomping/jumping-in (all poor word associations, in my opinion…), is both the genesis and termination of our kinetic chain, much like in a baseball pitch, where the back foot is the start of the production of torque that results in a blazing fast ball, along with which our front foot plants into the ground. The issue that I knew I would run into with jodan was the offset footwork – where the left foot is the leading foot and the right foot is the launch foot. Thus, I practiced a particular drill that I had done when I was just starting kendo – 24 steps, 12 steps, and continuous fumikomi sprints. Merely becoming comfortable with the footwork became noticeable with a much quicker response, as well as faster strikes. One aspect of having done kendo since I was 9 was the difference in hip stiffness. I squat on a more than regular basis, so it did not present as large of a problem as I had thought. With weights on my back, such as in squats, and in a less dynamic fashion, such as with static stretching, I had no problems, but when it came to elastic power generation, such as in kendo, there was a bit of an issue. Over time, this problem went away, as I started to incorporate bodyweight lunges in order to dynamically stretch the lower body hip, quad, hams, and calf muscles.

The upper body of the jodan men strike took me a long time to understand, relative to the lower body. Until I started thinking about the kinetic chain, I thought of the strike as a “cut down in an arc”. But that could not be further from the truth. As previously stated, I began thinking of the strike as a “launch”. Before I go more in-depth on the topic, the general process of the men strike, for me, is the following – squeeze the tsuka to the center and down, spring forward from a loaded right leg while simultaneously launching the shinai by snapping with BOTH my hands, after which I will power through as if punching the opponent’s face with my left fist while sharply pulling back my right elbow, as if I am performing a dumbbell row.

Why down and center? The katate men is more of a forward motion than an up and down motion. Look at the following video:

He starts off with a typical jodan stance that is slanted to the right at a 10-60º angle off from perfectly vertical. Then he lowers it, squeezing down and forward at an angle roughly approximate to that of his shinai, as if he means to plant the butt end of his shinai into the ground. From here, he is in PRIME position to take advantage of the kinetic chain, as the forward momentum from his lower body can now travel through to his shoulders FORWARD (instead of down) and through both of his wrists, which he snaps forward. This is a perfect utilization of body mechanics to maximize the speed of the shinai tip. And this all starts with him lowering and centering the tsuka. From here, we can compound this speed with the addition of slightly more torque, via the forceful rowing of the right elbow back and down in an arc. This rotation of the upper body not only aids in the force development of the shinai, it allows for slightly more reach, smooth avoidance of oji waza, and most importantly, it allows for the alignment of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, which translates to, again, more speed. As is commonly said in barbell sports… speed kills.

In addition, holding the shinai primarily with the ring and pinky fingers of the left hand have added a lot more snap and whip to the men strike. Not that I let go of the other fingers… it is merely that these two fingers take the role of “dragging” the shinai down and then through to the strike.

With the katate kote, I’ve been finding that it is a bit more of a natural strike for me in that I can see opportunities for it really well, but my execution lacks in both confidence and speed. I get tense and feel really bad about hitting wrong and potentially hurting the opponent. As with the men strike, it’s going to be a squeeze down and forward, and launching the shinai through to the kote. According to Chiba sensei’s writings, it should be like shoving the thumb into the kote of the opponent.


On taking tsuki and general thoughts about jodan

Learning how to receive tsuki has been a tough and painful road. My initial response was to lean back and up, but this lead to my men lifting, allowing for the shinai tip to slide up the chest and through to either side of the throat and, on painful occasion, to the base of the neck, right between the collar bones, or the Adam’s apple. The title picture above shows how to correctly receive tsuki – chin tucked and neck packed back. Ideally the throat guard and the chest guard should be overlapping or at least touching, which should minimize the sliding of the shinai tip (hopefully, with new bogu coming, this will no longer be a problem… goddamn bruises all over my chest from missed tsukis to the chest). There’s also the fact that a morote tsuki, ideally, would only be given ippon if the receiver stumbles back a step or two because of the force (which constitutes a “killing” blow), while a katate tuski would only be given ippon if the reciever’s body is forced back (not necessarily taking steps back). A tucked chin and a packed neck allows for much of the force to be dissipated evenly and one might be able to be unmoved by the tsuki (of course, a tsuki to the chest/mune used to be considered ippon against jodan, but nowadays, is not. It’s still a good move if done correctly because it could knock the breath out, and from there a hiki men or gyaku do would theoretically be good. You would need to be fast though… very very fast).

Mixing up morote strikes has been a great strategic addition to my jodan. Particularly, the seme to men, then moving forward with the right foot to morote kote has been highly rewarding. Because I am technically “walking” forward by switching to the right foot to fumikomi, I can cover a large distance, allowing for me to seme with my body and taking the opponent by surprise. I do need to work on moving forward from this, however, instead of stepping backwards.

Another great addition has been the morote men from tsuba-zeriai (tz). Tz is where two opponents are close together, with either their kotes or the tsubas crossed. It’s a bit controversial, as the WKC has lead to a lot of team matches where as soon as a team gets a lead, they will spend hours and hours in tz in the hopes of holding onto their lead. Bad kendo? Yes. Strategic? Uhm… hell yeah. [Note: This is a topic for another post, but listen, if you think people are doing WKC for the sake of their kendo, you’re in the minority. At the WKC, particularly for the Koreans, Japanese, and Americans, you’re fighting for your country. Best believe there’s unbelievable pressure to take that fucking gold.] Anyways, from this position, kendoists typically lay the blade of the shinai on the neck or shoulder of the other, indicating an agreement to go back to center, which has recently been changed to merely a step back (it doesn’t seem to be against the rules to not agree to this. However, if you do this to a sensei/sabumnim, you WILL get a smack on the side of the head for bad manners… this is ONLY for shiai/tournament purposes). Immediately after this step back, the best possible attack is a VERY fast small men FORWARDS, not a hiki men. Why? First, hiki men allows for the opponent to close in on the distance quickly, and if your hiki men was not ippon, you’re fucked. A competent kendoist will do a kote men, kaeshi do, kote on your left kote (since it’ll be raised up from the hiki men), tsuki, or any other strike. Second, bad kendo. Go forwards. Going forwards offers the best risk-to-reward ratio. By going forwards, you maximize forward momentum, resulting in a faster strike. By going forwards, you ALSO close in the distance, removing most of the threat from the opponent. By going forwards, you take advantage of an opponent’s open stance. This is great for both jodan and chudan players. Because they expect for me to move back into jodan, the opponents tend to be more lax after tz… which allows for me to take this strike. Here’s J.Jo from Team Korea in the 16th WKC showing how efficient this is:

One of the best possible rewards of jodan has been the learning of seme without the shinai. Using the body to seme, using positioning to seme… this has been an eye-opener. Without having to worry about taking my center with the chudan stance, I can seme entirely with the body, including my elbows, and it really makes for some funny spasm defenses from the opponent. I think that I will devote an entire post to seme in jodan later on, but for now, this seems enough.

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #2

Once again, this is a continuation of previous journal entries… I think I will be posting a new reflection within the day.


Week 2 – 4/18/2015

Had practice on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday this week and managed to go to all three, even though I was a bit busy with a lot of school and Dr. Ahn related stuff. Here was the week’s schedule:

Monday – katate suburi in chair, a bit of squats and bench at gym

Tuesday – Kendo

Wednesday – Kendo

Thursday – No suburi, great back session, started Power look program with my mods

Friday – Kendo

Saturday – will be doing arms/traps and katate suburi

It’s so frustrating being in jodan no kamae during keiko… It’s hard to pressure with seme as I usually do with chudan. In addition, my torso is still twisted with my left side being too far forward and I’m still too “jumpy” with my footwork… I need to remember to keep calm and pressure with my presence, to literally feel as if I have 백두산 at my back… as if I am a mountain, a fire striking down from the heavens above. That imagery is nice and all, but DAMN… it’s fucking impossible to do it in keiko. I get fidgety, I start bunny hopping, I start tensing up… and it’s frustrating because I SEE the opportunity, I just can’t move fast enough to get there. There’s like… a second delay in me recognizing an opening and me actually moving… whereas in chudan I could just SNAP it. Ah well… more suburi it is then… LOL

4/20/15

Lessons from Youtube:

Fujiwara Takao hanshi sensei’s jodan instructions

  • When tsuki’ed, knock the incoming shinai out of the way with the bottom of the tsuka and fist while hitting men.
  • Keep thumb and forefinger of right hand on shinai, not the whole hand

Week 3 – 4/25/2015

Last week of practice for the semester. Went on Tuesday and Friday, did not do much suburi (only some hitting in the room). I would have LOVED to go on Wednesday, but I fell asleep after stuffing my face at Pinata’s. Tuesday was fun, as Matsuyama sensei came and I got to practice Jodan against him. He told me that in order to get good at this, I would have to lose a LOT. It did feel like my men strike was a lot more natural this week… it had the right sound and feel, as well as the right “snap”. I still need to work A LOT on my kote strike. It just feels so… off. I need to remember that kote must feel like jamming my thumb into the kote.

Anyways, Friday was the inner club tournament. I went against Vai, Henry, and Yumi, in that order. Against Vai, it was a kote. Against Henry, the first was a kote, and the second was either a kote or men, not sure. It was over pretty quickly with Henry, unfortunately. The final match with Yumi was fun. I think both of the points were men, which was surprising. Again, the process of loose upper body and tight footwork proved to be very helpful. Also, the jodan mindset… the slightly more aggressive mindset was helpful.

List of waza that can be used:

  • Shikake waza (proactive)
    • Katate men
    • Katate kote
    • Seme to men, morote men
    • Seme to kote, morote men
    • Seme to men, morote kote
    • Seme to men, gyaku do
    • Shinai wo haratte morote men – knock shinai out of the way, hit men
  • Kaeshi waza (reactive)
    • Debana men
    • Kote nuki men
    • Kote uchi otoshi men – knock down incoming kote and hit men
    • Tsuki uchi otoshi men – knock down incoming tsuki and hit men

I feel like I should have a more… calm stance when doing jodan. But at least it’s letting me see some more openings for the men.

5/2/15

Fujiwara sensei came on Wednesday, 4/29, to practice. He taught me both chudan and jodan. More center with my left (this left a squeeze in the inner fibres of my left pec), much less right arm/shoulder, and hitting through the men. Instead of snapping, like I was used to, I had to hit THROUGH – instead of stopping at the forehead, it was to cut through to the neck. Extension was another key thing… fluid extension. He fixed my jodan stance to a more traditional one, with the shinai raised high (more than 45 degrees) and more centered. Stretching the hamstring of the behind leg was also important, as was better “small steps”. I FINALLY learned how to hit katate kote… less whip, more cut.  An extension, but a cut, nonetheless.

6/6/15

Back at Hong Moo Kwan with Jo Sabumnim. Definitely a different experience, but one that I am thoroughly enjoying. My men striking has become so much better. I am still curling to my right with my chudan, due to the slightly outward left foot position and the right hand dominance, but it has been getting much better. My jodan feels better… I am able to hit kote at least during geiko. But the weakness in my left arm is so evident. The gyaku do is a more natural movement now and the seme to men – morote kote feels great. I am able to tsuki a bit more. I can also hit the kote without having to do the more traditional stance. In fact, I’ve adopted more of a wider stance with both jodan and chudan. With the jodan, I am able to be less “jumpy” and be stiller. One hit, one kill, as they say.

6/11/15

Finally seem to have gotten my left hand grip correct. During the geiko with an older kenshi, I was able to get off a good kote and a decent men. I need to get more comfortable with it. More non-stop attack from the jodan stance will help, I think.