Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Dojo Notebook

Below is a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7. The topic is a "Dojo Notebook," which strikes me as a really good idea. Towards the end of the post, the author gets into some actual entries in the notebook.

The full post may be read here.

"Be Brave."

 Very recently I started a “club note” system here at my kendo club here in Osaka. For the benefit of readers who live in countries where schools don’t have active after-school clubs like Japan (my school in Scotland certainly had no such thing) let me explain briefly: I prepared a note book for the club which gets passed around all the members in a certain order. After each days keiko the designated student takes the notebook home and writes some stuff in it. The next day he or she hands the notebook to me (or places it on my desk if I am not around). During that day I read it, write some comments, and at the end of the school day the student comes and picks it up of my desk and reads what I wrote. They then pass it on to the next person and it all starts again.

To some it may seem like a strange thing to do, but what it does is it gets the club members to think back on the days session and, putting pencil on paper, have them write their thoughts in a more concrete manner than they might done have otherwise.

The students are encouraged to write freely, and they usually use the space talking about what they did, what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what they are working on. Of course, there is a quite a bit of graffiti and some random chat as well, which is fine (I enjoy their creativity).

But the benefit gained goes beyond the students. Obviously, if the students go to the trouble and spend time putting their thoughts down on paper, I am obliged to read those comments seriously and write my own responses. Not being a native Japanese speaker and never studying the language at a school, this has proved to be a good language exercise for me. Plus, it has given me a real chance to use my knowledge about kendo, that is, it’s theory and history, to educate the students about the culture of kendo itself.

In one particular case a student was told to “step in more” by a visiting sensei whose advice they, of course, wrote down in the notebook. This immediately reminded me of the teachings of Saimura Goro sensei, one of the only five 10th dans that ever existed, a member ofthe first crop of Busen graduates (when it was still known as the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo), a student of Naito Takaharu sensei, and one of my favourite historical kenshi. He said:

“During keiko you should attack energetically from a far distance with large strikes. This style of kendo is not only elegant and manly, but it will lead to improvement in your kendo over time. Attack from a far distance – be energetic and lively – attack with abandon.”

With my students I attempt to emphasise the following points in order to engender a more positive kendo style which would, of course, help with the stepping in problem:

  1. For large strikes: start from a quite far distance, step in, raise the shinai high above your head (the angle doesn’t matter), step in deeply and strike;
  2. For small strikes: start from a far distance and either move in slowly and carefully to your attack distance and strike, or move in to distance in a quick action and strike, either way a large step is emphasised;
  3. I treat hiki-waza as a minor set of techniques and don’t like to spend much time on them;
  4. Whenever I teach waza, I always teach a forward movement, e.g. kote-gaeshi-(forward!)men;
  5. Emphasis and praise is always for waza that are executed in a forward motion: during ippon-shobu I completely ignore students hiki-waza and only acknowledge attacks that are executed in a forward motion;
  6. I obsessively point out if a students fumikiri is too weak or their fumikomi too shallow or light – push off strongly and step in deeply.
Stepping in is, at least to me (and probably to Saimura too), a sign of confidence. A large step at a close distance will result in overly-deep strike, so it is best to attack from a relatively far distance. 

The further the distance is that an attack is launched from the more chance of it being countered and, usually at least, the buildup easier to perceive.

Someone with little confidence* will often prefer not to attack from a far distance because they fear 
counter-attack. Where Saimura sensei and I almost certainly agree on is that this fear is a mental weakness.

To the student who received the advice and wrote in the club notebook I gave simple advice:

Be brave.

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