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.

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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.

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. 🙂

Review of All Japan Budogu’s Mugen Tanren

Update on bogu after 2.5 years (since I reuploaded this about half a year after I got it)

jodansaekendo.wordpress.com/2017/08/19/bogu-update/ 

 

 

In this review, I am going to try to be as critical as I can be. In fact, after the initial WOO I GOT NEW BOGU YEAH BABAY phase (which lasted all of 2 minutes… LOL), I tried to hate the bogu, in order to do a review. Why? Because it is easy to overlook faults when you love something (aka love goggles… like lady, your baby cute, but it ain’t THAT cute…). I will attempt to give a fully unbiased review. Obviously, I’m going to like it because it’s mine, but I will rate it objectively for others looking to buy a new set.

Background:

I got my now-retired bogu set when I was in high school, sometime between 7-8 years ago. It was from a Korean bogu manufacturer that my sabumnim (sensei, I just feel weird calling him anything other than sabumnim because that’s like… his name. To me, at least. Others call him Master Jo, etc.) works closely with. Over the past 8 years or so, I’ve not only grown taller, I’ve also grown broader and thicker (hehehe… hehe… heh… ‘taller’ and ‘thicker’… heh…). Rough table of difference in statistics:

 

Variables High school Current
Weight* 175-185 195-200 lbs
Height 178 cm 182 cm
BF % ~25% ~15%
Waist Much less. 92 cm
Waist to ankle Less 112 cm
Shoulder Idk… didn’t have no shoulders LOL 50 cm
Hand length L&R: 17.5 cm L:20 cm R: 19 cm

*That’s right… we’re using lbs… cuz MURICA.

Of course, the high school ones are based on memory, but the point remains – I am much bigger than my bogu was meant for. As far as my old bogu set… I’ll post up pictures of it when I’m back home, but it is like… destroyed. The palm material (deerskin) is practically a flap that kind of rests on my palm and has holes all over it. When I put the kote on, by the end of this summer, my fingers were poking out at the ends. The men was dented in from one (or two or a few hundred) too many men strikes. The do barely covered my sternum (should’ve worn a coconut bikini instead, given the amount of tsukis to the chest I took…). The only thing salvageable was my tare, which I had ordered afterwards, maybe last year in high school. A bit short and snug, but it still fits and does its job admirably (also, I refuse to spend $300 on tare… when I do invest in one, maybe in 4 or 5 years or something… I’m going to get a decked out one, like all leather and classy and sexy and whatnot, nah mean bruh? Like the kinda tare that’s a lady in the streets but a freak in the sheets! [on a more serious note, the current tare has a few bare threads, but otherwise looks fine (see title picture). So I decided to save my money.]). And so, my bogu shopping began.

There were way too many options to choose from. I remembered Chiba Budogu from way back when, but apparently they don’t do business anymore. I had some other options – order from the Korean budogu for an EXTREMELY nice hand-stiched set, All Japan Budogu, Shobudo, or Kendoshop. The Korean budogu’s set was REALLY nice, but quite pricey. Also, it would take a long time as the person that does all the work is quite famous amongst older Korean kendoists and many senseis go to him for their bogu needs. In addition, I’m quite partial to machine stitched, instead of hand-stitched. Shobudo was my second choice, but I don’t understand a single word of Japanese so I thought of asking my grandmother since she is fluent in Japanese (she was born and raised in Japan during and after the Japanese occupation of Korea). However, for the price that I was paying, I wanted a little more ‘hands-on’ control of the set that I was paying. Kendoshop was alright, but I decided to go for All Japan Budogu since their Mugen brand had just launched and it was machine stitched. So in the end, it came down to machine vs hand stitching, with me much preferring machine stitching. (Note: Mugen brand is machine stitched, but done by hand, if that makes sense. See video below

Customer process:

I started my inquiry into kotes first (I was thinking about buying things piece-wise) by asking on the AJB facebook page about workhorse kotes. Nathan, a sales rep, pointed me towards the Renma and gave me his email for further questions. Later on, when I had decided on buying a full bogu set, I emailed Nathan. He was extremely responsive, and pointed me towards the Tanren. Throughout our exchange, things were pleasant and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had with regards to a sales rep.

I managed to save a lot of money on the tare, as well as through the WKC sale they were having. I suggest that people wait until sales periods to buy bogu.

The only negative was the time it took, or rather, the anticipation. I ordered the bogu set on the 19th of May.I got an email ~7 weeks in (July 6th and 7th) that everything would be “ready in a couple of days” and would be sent out “within the next week or two”. An email was later sent to me that the mune was not in stock and would have to be made from scratch. I finally got an email that the bogu was ready on August 10th. Unfortunately, that was the last week I was home and thus had to have it shipped to my Cleveland address, and it arrived on the 17th. So, ~13 weeks, plus an additional few days for shipping. Maybe if I had not gotten word that my bogu was coming ~7-8 weeks in, I would not have been as impatient. (BTW, Nathan was super super nice about this whole thing… and I am afraid I was a lot more impatient than normal due to my desire to practice with sabumnim in the new bogu. Also, my grandaunt, whom I was close with, passed away during the month of August, and I am afraid that because of the sour (and angry) mood, I sent a rather sharply worded email to Nathan… I do apologize for that… But yes, he was the consummate professional in all our exchanges. Very nice young man.)

So… on to the good shit! The bogu itself!


Scoring:

I will post both a personal and objective score. I don’t do the 1-10 in the 10% by 10% steps… I group the scores together in a scaled %.

  • 1-3 is horrendous. This is a small % of bogu, ~15%
  • 4-6 is average. This is the majority of bogu, ~70%
  • 7-8 is excellent. Very few bogu are in this league, ~10%
  • 9 is top of the line. Extremely few bogu can get this score, ~5%
  • 10 is my personal favorite. This doesn’t belong in the %’s. Objectively, the score could be anything from 1-9, but it just tickles your fancy, floats your boat, whatever other cliché you want… To others, it could be just meh, it could be great, nothing special, whatever… but for you, it’s perfect, there’s nothing else in the world that compares to it. It’s YOUR special little star (kind of like how parents view their children. Hey, to me it’s a fucking runt, but to you, it’s your special angel).
    • If something is a 10/10 on the personal score, I will not give it an objective score, as it’s not possible to give an objective score to something you love so much.

Description of the Tanren:

*All emphases (bold) are mine*

From their website:

“Manufactured by Japan’s only workshop capable of producing 100% MADE IN JAPAN Kendogu, we present the MUGEN series’ deluxe Koshikigata (traditional) model – TANREN is reinforced using genuine Japanese ‘Aizome’ dyed Orizashi cotton, #8,800 grade cotton, and premium cuts of genuine ‘Aizome’ dyed deerskin. It features a very flexible and protective 8mm Nagazashi Futon, with 4mm Gunomezashi (finer stitching) on the Mendare. This allows the Bogu to [be] flexible and protective in the strike zone, yet still gives the ability to form an attractive overall shape.

TANREN offers a fully made to order, made in Japan option for those looking for a bespoke ‘work horse’ Bogu set. Soft and flexible, with a thick and protective Futon, TANREN is well perfect for those looking for a Bogu set to mainly use for heavy Keiko. Especially recommended those who often assume the role of Motodachi, and finding themselves on the receiving end of repeated, heavy strikes. The 8mm stitching allows for excellent comfort, owing to the thick and padded Futon, yet the tighter stitching on the Mendare allows for a nice shape to be formed, ensuring that you still look great whilst wearing it. ‘Koshiki’ means ‘Traditional Style’, and the overall design is intentionally simplistic, based on traditional designs.

Basically, the only thing important for me was that it’s a workhorse set and the design is simple, which were the two criteria.

Men

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“The TANREN Men is completely made to order to your exact sizes, using high quality Shoai-zome cotton, and top-grade synthetic deerskin for the reinforcements. The design is simplistic overall, and features straight ‘Gunomezashi’ stitching on the Mendare, allowing for easy shaping. The MUGEN Original Mengane is an originally designed Mengane, featuring an improved balance, giving improved lateral vision, and has reinforced Titanium bars in the strike zone. This gives the optimum balance of being lightweight, and also extremely strong. Further, the Mengane is coated with an original high-gloss coating, which strengthens the surface, preventing chips, cracks and dents. Finally the MUGEN Original Mengane is finished with matte grey on the inside, giving a cool and discreet outlook.”

I opted for a black menbuchi and a jodan/nito cut of 17 cm on the mendare. Looking back, I should’ve gotten the classic cut of 22cm, but that’s quite alright. As you can see in the picture below, when I am in jodan no kamae, there is no mendare in the way – it obviously does what it claims to do. (and I’m rather partial to compact designs… )

 

Personal score: 8/10. Quite lovely. Chin has yet to shape to my mandible, particularly at the angles.

Objective score: 7/10. Maybe a longer, more traditional cut would be better for most.

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The tsuki-dare: thick and stiff, large enough to cover throat without any issue.

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A closer look at the stitching.

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You can clearly see the grey inside of the mengane

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More looks at the stitching, and the deerskin chichikawa I got.

Kote

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“Utilizing our original ‘Infinity Grip’ technology, TANREN presents the culmination of generations of expertise in crafting premium Kendo equipment. The TANREN Kote are made, not only to your EXACT sizes and specifications, but they are made to – what we believe – to be the optimum design, allowing an unparalleled level of comfort, and ease of use. The full Orizashi design makes the TANREN Kote lightweight, and quick drying. Genuine smoked deerskin palms are used, allowing for extra durability, and also an accurate feel of the Shinai. Finally the 8mm Nagazashi stitching makes for a thick, cushioned Futon, giving a fantastic level of protection.”

Things I don’t like:

  • Full orizashi design – I prefer the kote-gashira to be leather
  • Lack of reinforcement on tips of fingers (particularly thumb)
  • Tsutsu – long. I prefer short
  • More padded namako
  • Short kote buton (the “body”)

While that sounds like I really hate the pair of kote, it hasn’t really been the case. In fact, I would have to say that the only real things that bother me are the orizashi gashira and the namako section.

What I generally like in the namako/tsutsu sections are more… classic? Traditional? Take, for example, the Takumi bogu kote by AJB (see below). The long stitches on the tsutsu are much shorter than that of the Tanren, which makes it less flexible, but offers more room for the thicker padding on the namako. This is REALLY important for me, and is, in my opinion, the single biggest flaw in the newer kote designs (not just AJB…). In the desire to create lighter and more jissengata-styled kote, the trend towards a longer tsutsu with less padded namako has taken a lot of protection away. When I get hit on that section, it feels no different than getting hit on the wrist without kote on. Unfortunately, except for lower-end or really high-end hand-stitched kote, this is the current design trend in kote and I don’t really see it changing.

3

Same thing with the orizashi design, it’s just the trend nowadays. I just prefer leather on the kote-gashira because of all the fist hits I take. But it is really well stuffed, so there’s quite a bit of dampening there, unlike the tsutsu.

[Am I nit-picking? Kind of. In all honesty, it’s just personal preference. I had a big fracture on my wrist from a snowboarding accident in my teens, and I’m always wary about my wrist since then.]

The short(er) kote buton is actually not bad. A bit tight, given how thick my forearms are, but that’s ALWAYS the case. The thick stitching makes it comfy.

The palm leather is a bit short and the thumb is a bit long. I prefer not to have the ergonomic shape, since my left wrist is slightly misshapen; it would have been better if there was a less extreme tilt on the wrist joint.

Disclaimer: I have paws for hands. Thick palm, short fingers, and a garden gnome of a thumb. In addition, I have mismatched hands, with my left hand a full cm or so longer.

Personal score: Undecided. For now, 6/10. It’s average. But as the kote shapes to my paws, I’ll revisit the score in a few weeks.

Objective score: 8/10. Based on current design trends, this is a great kote (has that ergonomic shape).

4  5

9  7

8 The palm is a bit short for my tastes and you can clearly tell that the thumb is a bit too long for my hands.

6  A closer look at the thumb of the kote

Do

 

I purchased the yellow kiji do.

Keyword: lovely

[Interesting story. My grandmother’s older brother was in the Japanese military as an officer (this is WAYYYY back when). He learned kendo during his time there and apparently he had one that looked similar to this, as far as she remembered (though in all likelihood, it probably didn’t have the leather and was probably just all bamboo). I was originally going to get a regular synthetic do, but this story made me want to get a bamboo do, mainly because… well… I wanted it to remember my grandparents by, so grandma chose the do-dai and grandpa chose the mune.]

As usual, I put the HMK dojo design on the do-dai (actually too high… should’ve put it a couple cm’s lower). It just doesn’t feel like my bogu unless I have that sticker on there.

Personal score: 10/10. Love it. Love it. Love it. It’s mine. MINE. MYYYY PRECIOUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

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Lovely texture.

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The thick and high raised flanges of the mune REALLY help protect the area right under the armpits from getting bruises.

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20150818_161605 Lovely mune, really.

Himo

I got the deluxe aizome himo. Slightly too ‘slick’ for now, but that will change as sweat soaks in and use (or misuse) breaks in the fibres to have more grab. Thick as hell too, but they don’t feel as dense as the ones I have (mine are more rectangular in profile)


Quick notes after first practice

Men:

  • Fit on the men is a bit tight in the jaw. I have a square-ish jaw, so I had a two huge blue dots at the angles of my mandible. The men seems to be made for a slightly narrower jaw-line. Over time, it will definitely mold to my face.
  • The grey of the men grill is pretty good.
  • The thick padding really helps absorb a lot of the impact of men strikes.
  • Shorter mengane seem to not be an issue.

Kote:

  • Slightly uncomfortable in my left hand due to the angle.
  • Good protection on good hits, but MAN that long joint causes mishits to hurt tremendously. I would readily give up some wrist flexibility for some extra protection on the wrist joint.
  • Fist portion seems pretty protective, despite the orizashi design.

Do

  • The large flanges of the mune under the armpits perfectly deflect most mishit do strikes.
  • Much wow. Much love.

Tare – what can I say? It’s still the same old trusty tare.


Update after second practice: [a little more in-depth since I had some time to really push it]

I went to practice at Cleveland Kendo Association (which, luckily, is held at the same gym that I train at). It was held from 3 to 6, I got to put some decent time in with the bogu (and came out looking like I had spent three hours at a Smurf brothel).

Before I go on, I have to say, breaking in the left kote for about 30 minutes the night before really made a huge difference. As soon as I put it on at practice, there was a marked difference in the fit, mainly due to the angle (less extreme). I plan on doing the same thing with my men in the coming days.

Men:

The fit is… strange. In terms of fit, if the old men felt like a cloth ski mask, this one feels like a motorcycle helmet. I suspect that will change with time, but I am hoping that it happens sooner rather than later. Again, the padding where the face sits (uchiwa is the term, I believe) is made for a more oval face, whereas my face is more square-ish. This meant that I had to be extra careful with the men himo in order to not give myself a pressure headache. The chichikawa is super long, so I might have to either shorten the himo (which I don’t want to do since that’ll lead to early fraying) or switch to the style where you tie at the top of the men. Or I can just live with it, whatever. Anyways, by the end of the practice, I had a bit of pain/soreness on the angles of my jaw and my temples. I might move the chichikawa up to the 5th rung of the mengane. I had to tie the men a little bit higher than I’d like to for a better fit.

The first time I wore it, the mengane was right in my vision so I took it off and redid the himo. The second time fared a little better I’m going to have to experiment with the men, not only breaking it in, but also figuring out how much pressure to apply during the tying process.

The short mendare doesn’t seem to particularly improve my kendo, but it doesn’t impede it either.

How do I rate it? Pretty good. It remains an 8/10. It’s a good men in that it does everything a men should do competently.

Kote:

What a difference spending some time breaking in the kote makes. It’s becoming clear to me why the trend has been this style of kote design with the long tsutsu, orizashi kote-gashira, and less/shallower namako – it’s not only incredibly light, but also incredibly comfortable. That said, the cons are still the same. When I get hit anywhere near the wrist joint, it hurts like hell (particularly when being motodachi for beginners) and mishits onto the kote-gashira (quite common when I take up jodan) are also pretty… uh… “feel-able”. I might invest in a wrist pad for the wrist area.

Something I noticed during the practice was how much thicker the deerskin palm was, and I really enjoyed how luxurious the leather felt, in addition to how much more comfortable it was.

Would I buy another all orizashi, modern design pair of kote again? Probably not. Not that I don’t enjoy this pair, but the tradeoffs just are not worth it at all. Just my personal opinion.

Revised personal score: 7-8/10

Revised objective score: 9/10. I doubt things get much better than this for kotes of this design.

Do:

I LURVE DIS.  :3

Uh… yeah. Really good. The bamboo is not heavy at all. I might have to wear it a bit lower (I got used to cranking the do up because my old one was so small).


Conclusion:

Did AJB/Mugen achieve what they were looking to do? Let’s go back to their selling points about the Tanren set and critique each of them:

Part of bogu Claim Result (letter grading)
General
Very flexible A
Very protective B
Workhorse set N/A due to lack of time
Mainly for heavy geiko A
For those who are often motodachi Men: A

Kote: C

Do: A (+++++++++ LOL)

Simplistic/traditional design A
Men
Easy shaping B
Kote
Lightweight A
Quick drying A
Fantastic level of protection C

Final grade: A/B+

It falls squarely in the 7-8/10 range of bogu and is well worth the price paid. I only see it getting better with age.
I will do another review of the bogu set in about 3 months, after it has fully broken in. Nonetheless, I’m very pleased with the set. I might have to invest in another pair of kote that is more along the lines of what I am looking for in terms of everyday practice, but will utilize these for tournaments and geiko times, as they are REALLY just perfect for matches. If you are in the market for a new bogu set, I can’t think of another company besides All Japan Budogu/Mugen to get it from. From their customer service to their great products, I think most will be able to find what they need/want from them.

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!