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 ~

Sunday, March 17, 2024

What is Your Training Style

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kenshi 24/7, on different personal styles of Kendoka. The full post may be read here. 

What's your training style like?

Seito-ha (正統派)

My kendo is, I’d say, 95% bog-standard, super orthodox kendo. Sure, there are things that I do my own way, and some waza I prefer over others, but in general my kendo is basically of the margarita pizza variety: easy to prepare/make, mostly satisfying, and very little can go wrong with it (=not much to complain about). Sure, it’s ok, but not many people will travel to a pizza shop in another town just to have some.

In other words, even if you haven’t done kendo with me before you pretty much know what to expect:

Practice menu
- Lots of kihon
- Lots of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, oikomi
- Emphasis on correct execution of individual waza

Oji-waza choice
- Against men: debana men, degote, kaeshi-dou
- Against kote: kaeshi-men, aigote-men, suriage men

Jigeiko style
- Proactive “makko-shobu” style (see below)
- Fundamentally my central goal is to defeat my partner by debana-men

As you probably realise, my kendo can be kind of predictable, and isn’t flashy in the least. Maybe it’s even boring.

However, this type of “seito-ha” kendo – that is, the “orthodox style” – has an important (and highly attractive, at least to me) feature: a proactive “makko-shobu” style based on debana-men.  “Makko-shobu” (真っ向勝負) refers to a proactive, confrontational style. There is no (or we at least try to minimise it as much as possible) running way, blocking, use of the dreaded “amashi” waza, and overly flashy techniques or hikiwaza are generally de-emphasised. Debana waza (in particular: men) is where it’s at. 

 “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

All the quotes in todays article are said to be from Marcus Aurelius

(I suggest re-reading the popular five-part “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo” series, a translation of an essay by Morishima Tateo sensei)

As you already know, when two “seito-ha” kenshi face each other (assuming they are of equal skill) it can look a little bit (to the inexperienced kenshi) un-energetic or even boring I dare say. Seme is subtle and done with a combination of the spirit, kensen, and right foot, not feints, mysterious twirling of the shinai, and – of course – with shinai-to-shinai contact. The last one is extremely important, as the very conduit of communication is via this. 

Seito-ha kenshi know one another when they meet, and enjoy the battle for debana men. If they are struck, they admit defeat graciously. 

Nanken (難剣)

Like the section above, this part will be generalised… even more so because of the nature of what’s being discussed. 

 “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Literally, nanken means “difficult sword.” This term has been used throughout the history of kendo to refer to those whose kendo was, to put it nicely, awkward. This doesn’t mean that they are weak or don’t have shiai (or grading – at least in the past) success, just that your average  “orthodox” kenshi struggles to cope with them. Perhaps their timing is different, their rhythm feels“off”,  their swing is larger or smaller than normal, they favour non-standard waza, and so on. It is almost as if they are speaking a slightly different language. Some other “features” include:

- their kendo is usually based on hitting and not being struck, so they like to evade or dodge, often bending their head or even body out of the way of attacks;

- sutemi is often lacking, which leads to hitting while standing in place (with no fumikomi);

- hitting out with their arms (zero fumikiri and often no fumikomi) then running away backwards (related to the above);

- overuse of feinting or whirling of the shinai;

- it is very common for them to just stand and wait for something to happen with no forward pressure;

- some (generally older people) fight from a very close distance;

- there is zero “aiki” so it doesn’t feel “friendly.”

(Some of these factors of-course lead to the timing being “off” as mentioned above)

Obviously, anyone who does jigeiko or shiai before acquiring a good grounding in basics will go through a sort of “nanken”phase. Only “sort of” because your average beginner will often honestly attempt to convert kihon into jigeiko use, which is very difficult even for the experienced. Usually, the less experienced will go back to kihon, work on it, then attempt to use what they have worked on in jigeiko, cycling round and round slowly getting out of the beginners phase and into a more “orthodox” style. 

However, some people never seem to get out of their “difficult” phase. Why, I am not sure. This is different from my kendo experience, so it is hard to comment on, but I’ll try anyway!

1. They believe that their kendo is effective.  By doing or acting differently you can often surprise or even deceive people in a manner that opens them up to be struck. Of course, this is perfectly “valid” in a competition and ippon may be awarded, reinforcing their tactic. This is of course absolutely fine (and to an extent is expected) in shiai for lower ages and ranks. Some, however, will persist in doing this during jigeiko (not only shiai) throughout their entire kendo career. 

2. They don’t care. This is of course connected to the above. It might also be the case that kendo is just a hobby, something they do for fun sometimes. They aren’t aiming for hachidan or anything, and have no interest in it above and beyond having fun. That’s cool too, I guess (it’s not me however).

3. They don’t practice enough and/or have no direct model. A “model” of course refers to both an instructor (physical skill) as well as a teacher (guide). Again, this is something that is difficult but not a disaster: it just takes time, travel, and extra effort to improve… assuming the desire is there.

4. Something perceptual inside them is different. This is hard to explain and I am not a scientist or anything, but some individuals seem to have a different perception of time (3D space, interval, distance, etc) than others. Of course, this is wholly in reference to myself (perhaps it is me who is “off”). This is something I’ve become acutely aware of as a teacher of high school students (and younger) for over 20 years. This is not something that can be “cured” or “fixed” rather, it has to be understood for what it is. I believe that this is probably the most influential factor in the “nanken” scenario. People like this can still have successful kendo careers despite being “out of sync” with the majority of others. 

So yeah, some people end up having non-standard “difficult” kendo. Numbers 1 and 2 above can be problematic, but the potential for change (should the person wish it) is there. Number 4, however, is different. 

“Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible.”


No comments: