Yuko-Datotsu

I took the 3-dan shinsa yesterday (9 years overdue LOL) and passed. I had to write this for my essay. Writing it was actually incredibly helpful – I have a lot more I want to say on this subject as it relates to my own kendo.

 


 

Yuko-Datotsu is defined as the making of a valid strike, one that would be considered an ippon. Indeed, an ippon is scored when the elements of Yuko-Datotsu come together with ki-ken-tai-ichi (which itself shares many aspects with the elements of yuko-datotsu). Yuko-Datotsu is achieved when five elements – Kamaeru, Semeru, Toraeru, Utsu, and Zanshin – are brought together into a cohesive whole in a strike.

 

The first of these elements is kamaeru. Kamaeru is to assume the proper posture. Proper here does not mean “correct” – there is no distinctly “correct” posture. Instead, it means to assume a chudan kamae which is prepared to both attack and defend. Physically, it is to be upright, whilst holding the shinai in a way that does not expose any targets, and to be ready to attack. Kamaeru extends beyond simply kamae. It implies that this upright and powerful posture be maintained throughout the execution of a waza. An example of kamaeru being important is during shiai, where ippon is usually not awarded if the attacker bends and attacks from a sidewards angle in order to move around a kamae, instead of breaking it through seme.

 

Semeru is the second element, which means to control the center. By controlling the center, a kendoka applies pressure to the opponent with the objective of breaking their chudan. This is the important “conversation” that good kendokas have before the actual physical completion of waza. This “conversation” is actually a fight to control the center. Through semeru one can gain control of the center, and by dominating the center, one can give the opponent the feeling that they can strike when the opportunity presents itself.

 

Third is toraeru. Toraeru is to recognize and take advantage of an opportunity. With correct kamae and seme, one can determine when the opponent’s chudan is broken and act upon that opportunity with the striking of a waza. I believe that toraeru is just as difficult as semeru. This is because toraeru shows an understanding and application of both the mental/spiritual and physical elements of kendo. Through good kamae and seme, one can break an opponent’s chudan, but without toraeru, one cannot convert this opportunity into an ippon waza.

 

Utsu, the fourth element, can also be understood as datotsu, an effective cut. This can be further divided into two sub-elements. The first is datotsu-bu – the correct part of the shinai. The waza is considered valid when the strike is made with the monouchi of the shinai, the top third of the blade between the kensen and nakayui. The second component is datotsu-bui – the correct part of the opponent’s armor. Utsu is the physical component of yuko-datotsu. It is important because without being able to physically manifest a waza, the other elements cannot be utilized to their full potential.

 

The last component of yuko-datotsu is zanshin. Zanshin literally means “residual/remaining heart”. Physically speaking, it means to return to a fighting kamae after the completion of a waza such that one is able to strike again. But along with this physicality is the mental aspect. After the completion of a waza, one cannot think “ok, breathe in, begin again”. One must be mentally alert and be prepared to attack immediately. There is no distinction between the end of one strike and the beginning of the next – they are one and the same.

 

In yuko-datotsu, one assumes the correct posture throughout the waza, uses seme to control the center and recognizes the opportunity to strike, strikes the correct part of the opponent with the correct part of the shinai, and is ready to strike again after the completion of the waza. In addition to these elements, one must also use the correct hasuji, as the shinai is representative of a katana, and one would not cut with the broad or flat side of the blade. Ki must also be strong. Indeed, although ki-ken-tai-ichi is often discussed separately, I believe that correct ki-ken-tai-ichi and the elements of yuko-datotsu are inseparable and equally important. With these elements, an ippon can be scored by a kendoka.

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.

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

Update: 8/26/2016 – You should ignore this post, mainly because I have made significant changes to how I approach jodan since I wrote this post. Here is the new post LINK

 

Maukka Salminen asked: Do you think you could write a post on adopting jodan to your everyday training? How it has changed the way you do various suburi, kirikaeshi etc, the basic stuff. I know there is a relatively similar article on kenshi247, but I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on the matter.


I had originally planned on writing a post entirely dedicated to the in’s and out’s of kakari-geiko for jodan, but when I got this question, I thought it would be good to cover all of how I am training, in general. I’ll try to refrain as much as possible from doing this in my typical narrative/flow-of-consciousness style and make this as clear as possible.


Suburi

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

  1. You are physically not strong enough
  2. You are swinging incorrectly

Let us address the first issue – physical limitations. The first time you do katate suburi, it feels like a demon’s taken a piss inside the blood vessels of your left forearm and traps – yes, the pump is simply incredible and damn near painful, even for somebody who is a serious gym rat such as me. You will need to strengthen the joints in your left arm, including the fingers, wrist, elbow, and shoulder stabilizers, such as traps, rotators, teres, and lats. Because you are swinging and catching the momentum of the swing (remember to step into the hit) with only your left arm, there’s quite a bit of an adaptation curve. But even when the muscular discomfort largely dissipates, you still have to train for muscular strength, endurance, speed, and correct movement pattern. Ideally, you would do this with a combination of regular kendo practice and weightlifting.

How hard can it be to swing a bamboo stick with one hand? Very, apparently. The main thing to look out for with katate suburi is that you are still holding center. When you are holding the shinai with both hands, you can generally hold the center relatively easily while swinging up and swinging down – simply relax your shoulders, grip the shinai with correct tenouchi, and snap that baby down as you step forward, bring it back to center. Even with correct footwork, katate suburi demands a little more coordination. You MUST keep your center with only your left arm, which is a bit easier said than done because the natural inclination is to swing along the axis of your rotator cuff. What I mean by this is that if we drew vertical lines down your body, the shinai should ideally be roughly corresponding to the vertical line that divides your body in half. But what happens when you swing freely is that the shinai corresponds to the vertical line that hits your left shoulder. This is simply because of biomechanics – forcing center with one arm is less natural than with two hands. What I have found to be a “cure” for this is to slightly tilt the body right, to make sure to use correct footwork (making sure that the force for the suburi starts with the right foot), and to catch the shinai back up at top with my right hand to keep center, instead of just letting my right arm dangle at the sides.

When I started, I did 200 katate men every day, except for the day before bench training. The format I used was the following:

  1. Take jodan
  2. Hit katate men as I stepped forward smartly, just as with morote suburi
  3. Step back while bringing shinai back up to jodan

Eventually, when I was able to do 200 straight through, I added in katate kote. Obviously, due to the greater distance the shinai travels, this was more difficult.

This may just be my opinion, but the continuous suburi style of hitting both when moving forward and backward is useless for jodan. When are you ever going to be doing hiki katate men? Almost never. In addition, in the beginning, it helps to practice hitting while moving forwards using the reverse footwork.

Haya Suburi – Bbareun Dongjak – fast motion/continuous suburi

Ah, the hallmark of Korean dojos/dojangs everywhere – haya-suburi. When I was in 5th grade, my sensei gave us a competition – whoever did the most haya-suburi, nonstop, would get a Gatorade. I ended up with 1200. My buddy got 1210 (bastard… haha). But yes, haya-suburi is the preferred warm-up, suburi, physical, and mental training for Korean kendoists in most places. From what I heard, the Korean national team does something like 2000 to 3000 haya-suburi twice a day. It teaches you to be loose (through fatigue), it teaches you correct fumikomi, it teaches you to maintain center (because you don’t want to waste any precious energy), and it gives you blisters that make you walk like you went through a rectal exam. It’s truly a wonderful thing.
For jodan, I simply add in katate haya suburi in between, making sure to switch my footwork to match what I would do in jodan. So a typical sequence for haya suburi for me would be like so:

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

This ends up being a “set” of 50 haya-suburi. You might repeat this combination without rest for 200 (which I believe everybody should be able to do without much difficulty… if you cannot do 200 haya-suburi, barring any physical limitations or age, you MUST work on your physicality. Even the 60+ year old kendoists do this with us) or perhaps you take a short 1-3 min break in between these sets of 50 to get maybe 300 or 400. But I truly think haya suburi is one of the greatest tools one has at their disposal to improve on their own.

Tire/dummy hitting

With that said, in my opinion, the best self-training and kamae-training tool for jodan is tire or dummy hitting. Tire hitting forces you to learn how to grip the shinai with correct tenouchi and to hit with just the right amount of force. With tire/dummy hitting, if your shinai is too slow, it will simply “die” on the tire without feedback and if it is too hard, not only will the feedback be jarring, the shinai tip will also “jump” back up with too much force, messing with your tenouchi (you will know this when after hitting, your fist ends up pointing at the ceiling instead of forwards, more or less). When you hit “correctly” on the tire, you will know by the perfect snap that the shinai tip bounces back up with and the solid feedback. In addition, tire hitting teaches you NOT to hit down on the opponent, and engrains the pattern of snapping the shinai with your wrist and fingers. Your shinai is not an axe nor a katana and the tire is not one of those rolled up straw mats that I used to sleep on while drooling in my baby years – this is kendo. You want to take the MINDSET of a warrior, but do not fool yourself into thinking that the laws of physics bend for you simply because you are in a warrior mindset. Cutting down hard will be extremely painful for the receiver, even in bogu, and especially more so with katate strikes because you will have less fine control over the shinai. In addition, you’ll go through shinai faster than a teenage boy goes through a box of tissues. It is in your best interest to learn how to snap the shinai at the last moment in order to practice mindful kendo, as well as to take advantage of the incredible acceleration towards the end phase of the cut when you snap your wrist. How my sensei described it was to think of it as snapping a whip – you extend and then snap to make that “crack” sound.

Since I don’t always have access to tires or dummies, I try to situate a broken shinai to roughly the height of a men. Not the best, but you can get creative with this.


Basics – kihon – gibohn/기본

During practice, the typical sequence would be as follows:

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

Kirikaeshi, I do with both hands. I see no reason to do incorporate jodan into such a fundamental sequence. I think of kirikaeshi as one of the bases upon which your kendo grows.

With ni-dan waza and combination, I use chudan. Pretty hard to do a kote-men with one-hand, and I see no payoff. There is ONE exception: I will sometimes substitute chudan men-do with jodan seme-to-men gyaku-do. This is mostly with higher ranking practitioners.

With men, kote, and do-uchi, it really depends on the motodachi.

If they are a beginner or medium ranking (say, 2-3 kyu and below/above, depending on how you think about that), MY role as a higher rank is to demonstrate to them the best proper kendo that I am capable of. I need to show or remind them to keep their distance, to launch their 100% into every strike, how to accelerate the shinai, etc etc… basically, I need them to learn by watching and receiving for me. That comes before my own learning of jodan.

For others, it varies. For big motion, I will do 2-3 strikes from chudan and the rest with jodan. For small motion, I will either do the same or do the whole thing in jodan. The reason being that I don’t want to regress and be neglectful with my chudan training. Do-uchi is done as either gyaku do or regular chudan do-uchi.

When I am with high ranking senseis, I will ask them. If they feel that a strike is lacking, I will work on chudan. If they feel that my jodan needs more work, I will perform from jodan. It all depends. I know with Master Jo, I can work on jodan more often than not, as he can REALLY see the small nuances that I am missing (last training session, it was putting a little more weight on my left/front foot). With Master Lee, it is generally chudan, as he’s practically devoted his life to the “win-first-then-strike” mindset and the men-uchi (how do these old senseis move so quick???? I DON’T GET IT!!!)

Men-uchi

I focus on keeping the shinai center, keeping further distance, and really launching myself into every strike. One of the main things to ask the motodachi to do is for them to take up the “seigan-no-kamae” stance used against jodan. This is what you’ll be face against in geiko and shiai, and it pays off to get used to seeing it and working around it. I also try to make sure that I am far enough away. The thing with jodan is that it is REALLY easy to hit too deep, even in the mono-uchi. It pays off, in terms of distancing, to attempt to hit with the very last third of the mono-uchi of the shinai (and it also saves the staves from mishits on the men-gane). This goes without saying, but for jodan, more than chudan, it is a one hit deal… so you must put 100% into every practice swing. As far as follow through, I have been experimenting with moving both straight forwards or even slightly to the left, instead of the regular follow through to the right. Naturally, the receiver should be stepping out of the way, but sometimes, they do not. Remind them, because they’re going to get a fist to the mengane if they don’t.

Kote-uchi

Again, have the motodachi take seigan. Katate-kote is a PAIN to learn, for both the jodan and the motodachi. For the receiver, mishits, especially at first, are common and so are bruises. Do not slow down your strike just to spare them pain. Likewise, don’t just cut down without wrist snap… it hurts like a motherfucker… (I didn’t practice katate-kote seriously until I could hit a small target I made on my couch with sufficient wrist snap.) In addition, if you miss, your wrist is going to over-extend and you might end up hurting yourself.

Try to have the receiver not open up for the kote strike too much, if at all. The kote from jodan happens while you move diagonally to the left (see below)

I follow through, somewhat, for sake of footwork practice, but zanshin for jodan kote in geiko is technically a kind of salute (see below, which is also one of the BEST jodan videos on youtube, in my opinion)

Do-uchi

Practice gyaku-do when possible. The best advice I got with gyaku-do was to keep the left hand centered and to cut using the rotation of your hips, instead of using the arms to cut down. Try it, because that advice REALLY got me to understand how to do gyaku-do.


Waza practice (skill practice)

For waza practice, use your own discretion to choose amongst the following, depending on the waza you are practicing:

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

Kakari geiko (and variations)
Kakari geiko is going to be the meat and potatoes of your jodan training – it brings every aspect of jodan kendo together. Kakari geiko and uchikomi geiko aren’t really separated in my dojo – we just have big and small motion continuous attack, where the receiver will either open up or just stay in chudan, varying within a single round.

There are several variations on the ways that kakari/uchikomi geiko can be run.

  1. Rounds:
    1. Timed rounds. Usually 15 to 20 seconds per round, although we do occasionally venture into the 45 to 60 second territory.
    2. # Hits per round. Usually 15 to 20 hits per round. Ni-dan and san-dan waza, hiki waza, etc are only counted as one hit. Whether it’s a men-uchi or a kote-men-tsubazeriai-(hiki-men), it is still one “attack”.
    3. # Hits per timed round. Maybe 20 seconds to get 15 hits, or something similar to that. This should be challenging. Oftentimes, if the attacker does not get the requisite number of hits, he or she has to redo it until they do.
  2. Style: (pretty self-explanatory)
    1. Big motion
    2. Small motion
    3. Mixed
  3. Simultaneous (Ai-kakari geiko)
    1. This is, in my opinion, the best form of kakari geiko, for both chudan and jodan. It ingrains into muscle memory the proper response to attack – to attack simulatenously. There should be no blocking, save for the kaeshi-waza. Moving forward is preferred, but if you end up in tsubazeriai (which should also last no longer than a second), you should do hiki waza or another attack. Remember, the focus of kakari geiko is “attack”. Sometimes, when you watch the matches at the All Japan level, you’ll see an especially excellent kendoist get ippon through oji waza that is reflexive. By that, I mean that their body seemingly responds on their own without much thought going on, on the part of the kendoist. You can tell because their body is not tensed up, as is typical in the back-and-forth shinai-distancing seme/mind fighting, but as soon as the opponent attacks, their body reacts instinctively, performing an oji waza that they have practiced time and time again. THAT is the product of ai-kakari geiko. You want that very same instinctive response to be ingrained within your body so that even when you’re not “in the moment,” your body still reacts. (It’s also hilarious in the interviews when they get asked about what was going on, whether they had planned that, had they baited the opponent? Had they been studying the movement patterns of the opponent? But they honestly have no answer, instead opting to look bewildered and shrugging their “uh… idk?” [sorry about the tangent here, this was the funniest thing in a while to me when I saw it happen]).
    2. Most likely, ai-kakari geiko will be performed with a time limit or until one person “taps out” from fatigue.

Things to keep in mind as you perform kakari geiko as a jodan

Do not get sloppy with your kamae and footwork. This is the number one thing that I felt happening to me the first few times I did kakari-geiko as a jodan. The shinai comes down lower and lower, the footwork ends up becoming “running/walking” footsteps, and the posture becomes slouched. Remember that above all, kakari geiko is a mental exercise – push through the pain. Would a powerlifter round their back on a squat just because it’s a twenty rep set? Would a basketball player practice free throws with a different form than the one they use in games? Would a soldier walk when they’re tired because “they’ll get it right when it matters?” No. Remember the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands) – practice how you play. You slouch and become sloppy in practice, and you’ll be slouching and be sloppy during geiko, nevermind shiai and shinsa.

In terms of distance, remember to move a bit further, as you want to be realistic with the distance from where you’ll be attempting ippon (for me, this happens to be a step or two further than chudan, but for others it might be a bit further or closer, depending on your stature and specific body proportions – I’m looking at you, the guys with t-rex arms that end with your hands by your armpits and the ones with monkey arms where you’re knuckles are practically dragging against the floor). If necessary, go back to chudan after every hit or combination of hits and then quickly go to jodan. This is actually good practice for shiai and geiko, since many like to follow up behind a jodan’s follow through and get a nice men strike as they’re turning around. Or they’ll even attack you straight out the gate as you’re standing up from seiza. So get used to a quick jodan setup (by that, I don’t mean a general setup, but one that you can immediately do ai-men from).

Motodachi should count out loud for everything except for ai-kakari geiko. It is particularly important that the receiver only count strikes that would be ippon. Don’t be afraid to call out somebody for bullshit strikes. It’s not helping them and it’s ENTIRELY ON YOU to let them know. Yes, it’s absolutely the motodachi’s fault if they’re letting people get away with shit hits, and it’s a pet-peeve of mine when lower ranks don’t call me out on it (I FUCKING MISSED that men, and you’re saying that’s ok???).

As far as the selection of hits, mix it up. I do like to keep ~30-50% of my hits as men strikes. When I try for katate kote, I do either of two things: follow through instead of the usual salute-esque zanshin or immediately follow it up with a katate men or any variation of morote strikes. One thing that I’ve found to be quite effective for building up katate strikes is the following:

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

Despite being a jodan, I am of the opinion that kakari geiko is when you’ll be able to most effectively practice your do-uchi. Incorporate at least 2 or 3 of these per 1-2 rounds.

While this goes for every occasion, I feel it necessary to mention this: in ai-kakari geiko from jodan, be rapid and small with your footwork. Don’t move back, but when you follow through, give yourself enough room to immediately perform the next strike. It also conditions you to the pain of missed kote strikes to the left arm. Remember that this isn’t the time to practice what you saw from the 8th dan tournament – be aggressive, be physical, and be borderline violent. There were times when I cried when I was a kid because it was so SO tough and painful. But it always resulted in much improved kendo.

After recovering from a kakari-geiko session, you should feel much improved “fluidity” in your kendo (I don’t know how else to put this) and a more relaxed kamae. I do not mean to say relaxed as in slouched and completely limp – it manifests itself in more of a less forced and stressful positioning of the shinai and footwork. I think this happens because it teaches your body that the speed of the shinai and body come, not from muscling the thing through the air, but from force generation, which necessitates a more relaxed (yet still tense, etc…) posture.


Geiko

The keywords here are busy, anticipation, and decisiveness.

One of the things that my sensei constantly reminds me to do during geiko is to be busy with the whole body, regardless of chudan or jodan (it’s just that it requires a lot less active thinking in chudan because of the crossed shinai). With regards to the upper body, it means that I have to be busy with my elbows, feet, wrists, and the shinai. When you look at good jodan players, you’ll see that they each have a rhythm with regards to their jodan stance. Shodai used to flap his elbows a bit (his jodan reminds me of a giant flapping bird for some reason…), Chiba sensei has that oddly rhythmical shrugging thing, etc etc… I haven’t yet found something that works well for me yet (I suspect it will take several years until I do), but I try to just be busy with the shinai, snapping my elbows together like I am going to be doing a men, shifting my right hand down to the tsuka, shoving the shinai forwards or upwards, shrugging my shoulders, etc etc…

Being busy with footwork and the body is also important. Try different types of footworks – the more traditional slides or the Shodai leap frogging, as long as it’s not walking. I try to shift my weight around, more towards the front foot, as if I will be moving forward or attacking, more towards the back, as if I’ll be moving back a step or two, bending my knees down to give an impression of attack, etc. Quick and small footsteps also lends itself to quicker response (things in motion tend to stay in motion and vice versa). I personally love how busy the kendoist in this video is:

Just try a lot of different things and variations, and see which elicits a response from your opponent. Chances are, they’ll open up somewhere. If they think you’re going to hit a men, they’ll move to block it – leaves you open to hit a kote (katate or morote) or gyaku-do. If they think you’re going for kote, they’ll lower the shinai a little more or move the tip further to the right, which gives you an opportunity to do a men. Better guys will do ni-dan waza or something of that ilk. Do ai-men, hiki men, or something else, idk, be creative.

Point being, busy = seme, particularly in jodan no kamae.

Anticipation is harder to describe for me. When somebody starts pressuring you, you get the feeling of “wait for it, wait for it, wait for it… NOW”. After some time, it becomes easier to tell when their “now” is. Besides the anticipation that you earn through experience, you’ll be able to glean it from the opponent’s seme. I like to look at their eyes and see where they’re looking at, whenever possible.

I don’t know if I’m doing a good job with this particular section (and I do apologize), but I simply have to chalk it up to “lose enough and you’ll slowly learn to anticipate attacks and movements.”

Finally, be decisive. As soon as you see an opening, it should be like a mousetrap snapping down on a cockroach. When I say it like this, it makes it seem like a much slower process than it really is, where you see an opening, think “now’s the time to attack!”, and you carry out the attack. In reality, it’s a much faster process, where you see an opening (or anticipate one) and take it. If you’re indecisive, should I attack or not, what if they do an oji waza, omg helpppp meeeeeee – you will lose. And this is why I am so big on kakari geiko… it ALMOST makes the decisiveness second-nature. It’s like aiming a loaded gun with the safety off – all you need to do is squeeze the trigger. When you’re busy with your entire kamae (aka seme) and anticipate well, that’s when you can be really decisive with your jodan. Again, remember the ebb and flow of the matches. Maybe you purposefully set up a katate men strike by constantly going for kotes and morote strikes. Decisiveness allows you to recognize the time when you can actually go for that ippon men strike.

Ultimately, decisiveness is the culmination of good seme and anticipation; it is what happens when you are the one dictating every variable of the match (or round, in the case of geiko).

Do utilize geiko as a time to figure out what you are good and what you are not, and use it to try certain waza or seme. Try a different style of footwork, try a different combination of seme and strikes, try turning your wrist by 1 degrees, what have you. It’s a time to both fine tune your kendo, as well as the time to try major overhauls (though the scientist in me tells me to isolate one variable at a time when you are attempting big changes).


Hopefully, this small write up helps those trying to learn jodan as well as those who are looking to help, beat, or receive for jodans. Happy kendo-ing!

Adventures in Jodan-sae. Post #3

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


On taking tsuki and general thoughts about jodan

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

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

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

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