Taking care of Kendo gear

 

From my trip to SJMK 팔만무도구 in Korea.

How to wash men:

  1. Soak in hot water for less than 1 hour. Over that, and the leather around mengane gets soft.
  2. Wash and scrub with dishsoap and a scrub until the water runs clean and the bubbles aren’t dirty.
  3. Dry with a fan in a dark area. Sunshine will damage the structure and leather (sunshine on wet leather is the real reason they tell you not to dry bogu in the sun).
  4. Apply dye with toothbrush if needed.

 

Oiling shinai:

  1. Use camellia oil.
  2. Dip cotton into oil, place into shinai in two places:
    1. One right above the nakayui.
    2. One well below it, about midway between the nakayui and tsuba, right above the notch.
  3. Wash shinai with oil using toothbrush.
  4. Wrap and leave for at least 5 days, maybe longer (~3 weeks)
  5. Like so: http://sjmk.co.kr/soojae/rev.php?name=bbs_soojae_rev&mode=read&idx=150&nbpage=1
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NY Kenshinkai 15th Anniversary seminar

 

Taught by Toshiro Komeda sensei of Kyushu-gakuin

Day 1:

Very similar to this video:

Suburi

  • Extend with both left and right arm
    • But you should never straighten left elbow
    • Shinai shouldn’t end up at 90 degrees with wrists
  • Relax
    • Slow on the up-swing
    • Fast down-swing
    • Tense at the very last second – that is tenouchi
    • Relax shoulders!
  • Footwork
    • Trailing foot/leg should SNAP to the leading foot/leg
      • Going forward, back leg snaps forward
      • Going back, front leg snaps back
      • His was so fast, we blinked and it was over.
    • I’m using “snap” because that is the closest word to describe the speed with which his leg moved
  • Don’t drop shinai tip when raising it
    • How far back?
      • Lift right arm up and back like for suburi naturally without shinai – that should be how much
    • How much to swing
      • Arms in front – not held up high at face level

 

Fumikomi

  • Very important, stresses it to his students.
  • Can convince judges in shiai due to sound
  • Front leg/foot is pulling the environment behind
  • Back leg/foot coming in like you are kneeing somebody in front of you
    • This + the snap of the trailing leg trained by suburi

 

After fumikomi

  • Not a gallop
    • No up and down movement
    • Tare should never flap up and down
  • Suri-ashi should be FAST. If not fast, train it to be fast
  • As soon as front foot touches, back foot snaps in, causes front foot to lift again

 

Footwork practice Pt. 1

  • Start with squares
  • Then progress to making circles by taking steps like a hexagon
    • Go forward three steps, back three steps
      • Time-stamped here:
  • He saw us struggling and said his students can do this no problem
    • (Is he telling us to “gid gud scrub”?)
    • (yes, yes he is)
  • Do this for a certain amount of time.
  • Whatever burns or hurts is a weak muscle, which is what limits our progress
    • For me, this was my right calf (I was doing it with reverse footwork for jodan).

 

Footwork practice Pt. 2

  • Line up
  • Suri-ashi across the gym
    • Don’t lift toes off the ground
    • Don’t bounce up and down
    • Go fast
    • Go straight
  • Hopping thing
    • Kind of like non-stop fumikomi across the gym, but kinda hopping?
    • Did this with men and then kote-men
    • (sidenote: one-leg haya-suburi seemt to be helping me)

 

Shiai

  • THINK
    • Think about what your opponent goes for
  • Men-uchi specialist
    • Degote
    • Kaeshi/nuki-dou
  • Kote or degote specialist
    • Ai-kote-men
    • Kote-suriage-men
    • Kote-kaeshi-men
    • Kote-nuki-men
  • Dou specialist
    • They are WAITING – use that to advantage
    • Seme-men, then kote.
    • Personal observation: go in close
  • Blocker
    • Seme to men – see how they block?
    • Blocks the left side to cover men
      • Kote open
      • Dou open
    • Blocks the right side to cover men and kote
      • Sayu-men open to their left side
      • Both dou open

 

Seminar Day 2:

Super short, just 30 mins.

Footwork

  • Didn’t see much of the back foot snapping forward – said we all need to work on that. (except Kang hyung, but bro was a student at Kokushikan University, doesn’t count LOL)

Kiai

  • For strikes, don’t let the kiai trail off.
    • Kiai should get louder.
    • Draws the shinpan to the point.

Shiai

  • Think about how to set up points
  • What are YOU trying to achieve
  • What is the opponent trying to achieve
  • How do you use that to your advantage?
    • For example, you push the opponent by seme. How will she react?
    • You win by men-uchi. How will the opponent react to seme-to-men now? How will you build your next ippon using that information?
  • THINKKKKKK

For Jodan:

During the Q&A, I asked him about advice for jodan.

Me – Do you have any advice for jodan?

Komeda sensei w/translator – I have many students who are jodan. What is your tokui waza – katate or morote?

Me – Katate.

K-ss – Katate what?

Me – Katate-men.

K-ss – Good.

…[awkward pause]

K-ss – When do/should you hit katate-men?

Me – Two instances. When opponent comes in for kote or when he leans back.

K-ss – I agree.

Me – … kay?  (another awkward pause where Carroll-sensei [translating], Komeda-sensei, and myself just looked at each other confused)

 

From here on, he gave an explanation of how to accomplish this. He said to go with big seme. Keep semeing to make the opponent move back. Back, back, back. Then, when opponent thinks “oh no, I can’t keep moving back, I have to go”, he will go for kote. That is when I should hit men.

After this point, the opponent will be afraid of my men. This is when I should seme to men, then hit morote kote, since because he is afraid, he will move his shinai to block.

 

Lessons from godo-geiko

After the finals, I had the chance to do some godo-geiko with Komeda sensei. He took a triangulated stance, where his hands were on the right side of his body and the shinai tip was along the centerline.

Komeda ss

Now, this is an incredibly defensive position, but for jodan, it’s really difficult to break. Especially if the jodan (me) is much weaker than the person in this kamae (a 7th dan sensei, who fucking coaches national champions year after year and has calves that shouldn’t be called calves but bulls….;;;;;). Anyways, here are some things I noticed about this kamae:

  • Defensive
  • Pros:
    • Hard for the Jodan to score both men and morote kote
    • Jodan has to loop WAY around to score katate kote
    • Easy to close gap without jodan noticing
    • Easy to react to morote waza from Jodan
  • Cons:
    • In order to score, one must move HEAVILY into Jodan
      • Distance is key – if Jodan keeps distance, one cannot score
        • Why? Because in order to score from this kamae, one cannot KEEP this kamae.
        • Unlike for seigan no kamae – where the kote to the jodan’s left kote is simply an extension FROM kamae.
        • Takes away from the explosiveness of the hit.
    • Open to nuki waza
    • Hard to pressure with, since, as explained, is a defensive kamae.

He also went Jodan against me, but kept his right hand above the tsuka. Technically not allowed, but who cares. It was fun!

Afterwards, he told me to try a LOT of different things, that Jodan had a lot of variety to it as well, and that by trying different things, I’d be able to set up the katate men.He also told me to keep big seme.

 

Also, dude is built like a bloody meatball. A FAST meatball. But he’s a good teacher, the kind that makes you want to impress him. I can see why his students do so well.

공반일여(攻返一如)

공반일여(攻返一如).

Attack and counterattack as one.

 

攻返一如 means that there is no difference in attacking and counterattacking and, in fact, are one and the same. This stems from the concept of “indomitable spirit”, where the kendoist, even in physical defeat, does not show defeatism of the mind or spirit. Although kendo is a physical martial arts, it is more accurate to call it the physical manifestation of a spiritual one; thus, during geiko, 심사, and shiai (competitions), it is a battle of spiritual prowess, where one attempts to spiritually and mentally conquer the opponent, which results in the physical result of one senshu obtaining ippon over the other. Therefore, 攻返一如 represents the constant fighting spirit of the kendoist.

 

攻返一如 entails several principles of kendo. One of the most profound implications is that there is no difference between offense and defense. Practically speaking, the sword of a kendoist who is attacking is a sword that is defending, and the sword of a kendoist who is defending is counterattacking. As such, there is no difference in the mindset of a kendoist, no matter her position.

 

Philosophically, one can read攻返一如 as the mindset that a kendoist is always creating or actively looking for the opening to strike. This creates a poignant dichotomy between the concepts of “counterattacking” and “defense”.

The defensive sword is one that waits for the opportunity to arise. Thus, the defensive sword is a passive sword. This runs counter to the indomitable fighting spirit of the kendoist, as it represents an already defeated spirit – the passive sword is one that embodies Shikai (四 戒), the four sicknesses of kendo. It shows fear, doubt, and hesitation and is thus likely to be surprised. Here, I have shown that the defensive sword is a passive one and that the attacking sword is an active one. Then, we can state the following:

  1. According to攻返一如, counterattacking is equal to attacking.
  2. Attacking represents activity and defending represents passivity.
  3. Counterattacking represents an active sword, mind, and spirit.

Thus, combining (1), (2), and (3), one could reason that counterattacking is not defense, and is therefore displays the correct spirit of the kendoist.

 

Taking a closer look at this reasoning, one can reason that counterattacking is not defense because it is not borne of a defensive and defeated spirit. In counterattacking, one can see the same qualities of attacking, where with seme (攻め), the kendoist attempts to make an opening via a combination of San-sappo (三殺法), killing the sword, the technique, and/or the spirit.

 

攻返一如 is a difficult concept for me to display in my own kendo, especially in 중단. My sword is often not a counterattacking one, but a defending one. This is because my “counter attacks” are not borne of an indomitable spirit and the desire to attack, but the desire to not lose. My sword is often a waiting one, drooping and weak, not lively and pressuring – therefore, as the sword is representative of my mind and spirit, they must also be defensive, weak and passive. Physically, this results in my body leaning backwards with my weight on my back leg, which further lends itself to passivity and defensiveness.

 

For me to be able to embody the concept of攻返一如, I must put my focus on attacking more than counterattacking. This is because it is easy to become passive while counterattacking, but it is harder to be passive while actively attacking.  Once I can begin to understand “attack”, only then can I truly commit to “counterattacking” without falling into passivity and defensiveness.

Really short update

Hey there, anybody who’s listening.

I’ve been extremely busy lately with my academic pursuits and have not had any time to write (and by no time to write, I literally mean, no time to write). I am currently in a stage in my life where I can prioritize, and right now, blogging is simply not that high on the list. I am still training hard, still practicing kendo diligently, and most importantly, feeling, for the first time in my life, that I am actively working my way towards… goals… that are not only worthwhile in and of themselves, but also worthwhile in their pursuit.  (ew lame… but that is how it is…)

I have two posts that I am working on…

One is a recount of a practice with Kato sensei when he came over for the Cleveland student cup. Let’s just say… it was fun.

The other is another reflection post on Jodan-sae. I’ll be listing all the conflicting information I’ve gotten from senseis and how I’ve consolidated them by placing the bits and pieces where I feel they belong.

One more thing that I might be working on is on my chudan. I’ve noticed a noticeable benefit in certain areas by switching VERY small things, and thought that might be interesting, if people want to hear about that kind of stuff.

Hoping y’all are doing great as well. 🙂

Don’t forget the fun in kendo

Yesterday, after a brief warm-up, my sensei told the highest rank, Cha, to stand on one side by himself and the rest of us (4 people of a variety of ranks) to stand on the other. This was to be a 1 vs 4. 2 mins total, using the honour system – if somebody got hit, it was on them to excuse themselves and leave the fighting area (sensei also had a whistle to call out a good hit).

It was over in 8 seconds flat. The first match, I got in a small men strike (from chudan) while he was blocking another’s doh-strike. We rotated. As I was the next highest, I was to be alone now. I took up jodan. While I was hitting a men, I got hit on both kotes and the men at the same time (which was weird. Talk about a total defeat… ). That took 12 seconds. The 3rd person was another ni-dan. He took up an extremely defensive position, which didn’t do him much good as he got stuck in tsubazeriai, at which point, Cha took ippon with a small men.

After another rotation of the 1 vs 4, it was changed to 2 vs 3. Me and Cha vs the rest. A quick doh-strike, followed through by covering the men with a raised shinai took care of 1, while the other two were ganging up on Cha, who, curiously enough, was managing to tsubazeriai TWO of them at once. As soon as they broke off, I managed to distract one long enough for Cha to get two quick mens for our win.

The people were rotated, but we kept the 2 vs 3 format for a good 30 mins. By the end, we were completely and totally exhausted… we ended up with bruises everywhere and a dizzying amount of white noise from the missed strikes onto the men-gane. But we were all laughing our asses off (in between panting for breath), and even our sensei had to fight his laughter while he was putting his bogu on for regular geiko. At one point, I had yelled out to Cha, “HYUNG!!!!” in a peeved, complaining voice because he got out in the first 3 seconds of a 2 v 3, and I got a gentle laughing knock on the head for that, as hyung is informal in Korean for big bro (basically for an older male in a friendly male to male interaction), and I had never spoken informally to him before. We ended the training session with just regular geiko after that.

When the training was over, we sat in seiza in front of our sensei as he gave us our usual rundown of each individual’s points to work on, what he or she did right or wrong that day, things for motodachi of that person to look for, etc… at which point he talked about the 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 matches. It was to sharpen our awareness, develop quick footwork, recognize that in order to win, attacking was the only way, to remember that kendo was in representation of a real sword fight, to develop teamwork, and to develop the warrior spirit. But what he said at the end was the most profound – he wanted us to remember that while in kendo, it is very very important to mind its traditions, rules, and etiquette, it was even more important that we enjoy our time together and to remember the fun in kendo.

And I thought that was too important not to share.


The past month-and-a-half to two months at my dojo, it has been a lot of serious work: kihon, kakari-keiko, simultaneous kakari-keiko, serious “good” geiko, kata, and bon guk kum bup (traditional Korean kata-ish thing that’s required to know in Korean shinsa. See below for a demonstration. Look, I’m not claiming kendo’s Korean, I never will, and I really have not met any other Koreans who argued that it was… It’s like the internet taking the words of the Westboro Baptist Church and saying that represents ALL of Christianity in America… it’s just not realistic. You won’t be required to learn this unless you go to a Korean dojo…. it is fun though.)

LOOK IT’S MY SENSEI’S DAUGHTER hahaha.

It was basically come in early, warm up on your own, suburi and haya suburi, then either kihon, skill/waza, or kakari-geiko, then geiko. This was because of the large number of students taking shinsa in these two months, the number of “visiting” senseis and kendoists from other regions and countries, and one member taking a higher dan exam.

For myself, these past months have been a huge amount of katate suburi, kihon from jodan, and much agonizing and analyzing of jodan. I practiced suburi at home and at the dojo until I had even more calluses than before and I practiced footwork until the skin on the bottom of my feet decided that blisters weren’t going to stop the friction and decided to just get inflamed.

Overall, the MO for the dojo the past weeks has been work, work, and work. And there was certainly fun in that. I truly believe that self development, in any form, is a fun process because of its rewarding nature, especially in something we do not do as a job, but as a passion, like kendo. And of course, there’s an intimate satisfaction in finally pulling off that seme-to-men-then-hit-gyaku-do from jodan (which I DID. WOOHOOO!!!).

But there is another type of fun – a childish fun, the kind of fun that we have when we abandon the everyday constraints and let loose for a bit… and this training session felt like that.

When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, we used to have balloon chases, where we tied balloons to the back of our hakama and ran around using proper kendo footwork, trying to pop each other’s balloons (HAH you thought I’d say pop the cherry…), as well as taking turns hitting the dummy with the shinai because sensei told us that if we hit it JUST right, it would spin like a top (of course, this was a lie… but I hadn’t taken physics class yet…). This was fun! This was fun in the going to the arcade and playing tekken sort of fun, not the self motivated work on getting better tenouchi kind of fun, yet it was still beneficial.


In my hurry to improve my jodan and my kendo in general, I’ve been forgetting to infuse my journey with the childish fun until yesterday… and it’s something that I think I will keep in mind in the future as well. And if anybody wants to give it a try with the approval of their sensei, of course, they should! I wouldn’t mind doing that again soon!