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Reading the opponent

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  • Reading the opponent

    I’ve been listening to Hiro Imafuji sensei’s podcast this past month and if you haven’t had the chance to listen, I highly recommend it. The past few weeks he’s been discussing Akira Kaida sensei’s book…Kaida sensei philosophy and theories on kendo is very similar to my sensei.

    It’s basically the way I was taught kendo.

    With that said I would like to share my thoughts on developing the ability to read the opponent. I’ve touched on this a little my last two posts, anyway, the ability to read the opponent is not something that can be implemented straight away in jigeiko, it needs to be developed through keiko. Your mental perception of the aite is only as strong as your kendo (basics), you just can’t rely on instincts. This is hard for me to explain…

    The best way to explain this is to do a test during waza keiko:

    -Do you truly know where your issoku maai is? Not everyone is built physically the same, so it’s very important for you to find this out. Everything in kendo is physical generalized information in the beginning, for example, we’re told that issoku maai is when the mono-uchi crosses with the aite. This is really just a reference because the aite’s issoku maai could be different. You want to impose your will on the aite which is difficult to do against a strong kenshi but you really need to know how to adapt to the aites issoku maai to execute the appropriate strike. Higher level kendo, maai is really a shared space with the aite that can be manipulated by you or the aite for control of sen.

    -Practice striking from a far distance. We’ve all heard this from sensei’s all over the world, how far can you strike the aite? There’s a caveat to doing this…how far can you strike without breaking your posture? As a teen during waza keiko, we practice doing this for what seemed like eternity for me and just like most people I had a difficult time executing strikes without breaking my posture. I would lean forward too much as I executed. My sensei said we would be jumping or leaping too much to hit the target, don’t reach the target with the hands and arms, but push from the hips and use the shoulders to reach the target sensei would say.

    Doing this is not easy, but what it did do was give us a realistic idea for distance. What made this even harder is that we had to do this in one step, without pulling the left foot up. The most important thing it taught us was how much our kamae needed work.

    So for us, my sensei always talked to us about the importance of kamae during waza keiko, keeping the shoulders slightly back and relaxed, rolling the hips slightly forward etc. it was all physical information at first. This is all really important to know when it comes to your mechanics when executing strikes.
    The point is, your mental perception of the aite coincides with your physical ability. So, if you practice striking from a far distance in waza keiko, in one step, what is your perception? This is the beginnings for developing your ability to read the aite and understanding for sen.

    I’ve mentioned that the first sign you should look for to execute a strike is intent, (sen sen no waza) Imafuji sensei mentioned that he doesn’t like to use the word counter attack, I totally agree with his sentiment. Executing waza is all about timing a strike, (seizing opportunities) not physical speed. So my understanding for sen sen no waza is basically the aite takes the initiative to attack, I in turn take the initiative back from the aite to strike.

    Go no sen is based on the waza I use in certain situations and it’s not all that different from sen sen no waza. For example, the waza I like to use would be nuki doh or diagonally backward kaeshi doh or diagonally backward de-kote. These waza to me carry the least risk in this situation, the most risky waza to execute would be kote-nuki men or kiri-otoshi men. Your perception for maai is really important when executing specific strikes.

    Anyway, when it comes to ones perception… whenever you hear sensei say things like *invite, entice or set up* situations, it’s really a metaphor because there’s no easy way to describe it in English or any language for that matter; it’s the same for counter strikes. The only real way to understand what they mean is to understand the physical techniques of executing waza.

    Apologies for another long ass post…I’m having trouble sleeping.