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Move without the shinai Pt1

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  • Move without the shinai Pt1

    I know this is a bit of a cliché, but the shinai is an extension of your body, not the other way around. In the beginning, we’re told to copy the more experienced kenshi to help us understand the physical movements of kendo. The reality is we’re just mimicking the movements of people we admire and no matter how hard we try; we can’t quite do it. We can never find that comfort level.

    Subconsciously (or consciously?) we conform our movements to the shinai and as we get more and more comfortable practicing kendo this way, our kendo becomes more unnatural, we’re forcing our executions. (Bad habits) We’re compensating our posture (bendy) to execute strikes hitting around the aites center. This is the classic hands and feet kendo.

    What I was taught to do to was practice correct natural body movements, practice moving without the shinai. Practice every aspect of keiko without being influenced by the shinai, one of the hardest things to understand in any physical training is training the mind, in my humble opinion; this applies to every sport and martial art, this is the most important basic fundamental that needs to be practiced and the best part of it is you can do this at any time you’re away from the dojo, doing this corrected a lot of bad habits for me.

    Doing this really helped me find my true center of mass/centre of gravity when I kamae and eliminated a lot of useless swings doing suburi…useless seems a little harsh, it’s still good exercise…how about my suburi became more meaningful? With that said, I know I’m rehashing stuff I already said, but I feel that people need to understand why moving without the shinai is so important, to me it’s a game changer, you really start to understand the importance of focusing on the basics in keiko at the dojo, in fact, if you started kendo as an adult, this is really important that you do this just so that you save yourself from injuries at the dojo, you need to get familiar with your body. This needs to be the focus, not how to score points…executing waza correctly in accordance to your own natural body movements teaches you that…plus it’s easier to focus on your core/tanden without the shinai.

    For me…doing this helped me to better understand the physical and mental importance of incorporating my hips and shoulders when I execute unifying my body as a whole when I swing the shinai. If you take the shinai out of your hands, it’s easier to understand this physical motion because it eliminates using the strength of your hands and arms.

    The most common mistake people make in kendo is that they muscle their swings with the hands and arms, they try to swing the shinai as fast as they can using the strength of their hands and arms. When you do this, you tend to bend the wrists and elbows when you swing the shinai up; this is evident when you execute small strikes. Your core strength starts from the tanden and flows outward, power flows through the arms and hands to the kensen. The arms really just act as conduits.

    When you execute strikes in this manner, you’re exposing your kote, you’re vulnerable to de-kote. During waza keiko, pay close attention to the kakarite when you’re in motodachi. It doesn’t matter what waza you’re working on, pay really close attention the way they begin their execution, especially small strikes, what you will normally see is the wrists/hands bending up first, exposing the kote.
    Unless you’re executing a waza such as harai or osae, you should never break your wrists when you swing the shinai up, hence the push/pull method. Even if you’re fairly efficient using the push/pull method, your method of execution can still be a lot better, that is if you’re not executing from the tanden, you’re still executing from the hands and feet. You’re still technically using strength from the hands and arms, that’s why some kenshi have difficulty executing certain waza.

    I cannot say this enough times, waza is executed in accordance to your own unique natural physical body. You execute waza using your whole body as one. (KKTI) If you think you’re too short or tall to execute certain waza, I’m here to say…that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It doesn’t matter if you’re short, average, tall, fat, skinny, young or old, if you’re not executing from the tanden, you’re forcing your executions because your body isn’t moving naturally. The one common problem in kendo that kenshi struggle with is learning how to engage the tanden in kamae. If your tanden is not engaged in kamae, it throws everything out of whack, not just the physical movements but how you mentally interpret kendo as a whole, (waza, seme, maai, tame etc.) IMHO, this is true not only for shiai but for keiko also.
    In my humble opinion, if you started kendo as an adult or even if you’ve been doing kendo for a while, practicing body movements without the shinai will solve a lot of the mystery and confusion that comes with practicing kendo.

    So, with that said…the things I’m about to say might contradict what you were told at the dojo, so always listen to your sensei first as Andy Fisher says in his videos. However, what inspired me to write this was that unfortunate pushing video I saw on WKN. I’ve read all the angry comments but in my opinion the reason why this stuff happens is because the lack of understanding for the basics. You should never push a guy in the face, that’s a hansoku in my opinion, anyway all I want is people to do better kendo, you really don’t need to do that kind of kendo to win, as a matter of fact you can use that to your advantage if you know how to tire the guy out…eventually he’ll figure out that he’s just wasting energy by excessively pushing.

    Continue to pt 2

  • #2
    Anyway, if you’re not familiar training this way, I’m going to start from the very beginning:
    1. Placing your feet in kamae. We’re all told in the beginning that our feet should be spaced shoulder width apart. Personally, I place my feet hip width apart for 2 simple reasons:
    -If you stand upright, your feet should be naturally spaced hip width.

    -Try walking with your feet spaced shoulder width apart. It feels a little un-natural to me.

    If your left heel is turned in when you kamae, your feet are spaced too far apart, placing your feet hip width should fix that problem. Placing your right foot forward is a little tricky because I’m not you; we’re not physically alike. Since our centre of gravity/mass continually shifts as we move, use the feeling of your hips to place your right foot forward.

    When you locate your center of mass, you should feel just as comfortable and relaxed as you do standing upright. If your feet are placed correctly, you should be able to roll your hips (*only,* keep the rest of your body perfectly still)) forward/backwards and side to side and in circles without losing your balance. Make sure your knees are not locked; the knees should have a slight natural bend to them. As far as my heels go, my right heel is slightly elevated (paper thin), my left heel is elevated a little more than an inch. (more or less) When you kamae, you should be on the balls of your feet and toes.

    That’s the lower half of the body, now the upper half. There are 3 things you need to remember regarding the top half of the body, keep your chin slightly tucked, your shoulders slightly back and keep your hands soft and light. This is the correct posture you need to have when in kamae. Keeping the shoulders slightly back and relaxed seems to be an issue with some kendoka, the easiest way to learn this is to not focus on the shoulders, just slightly stick out your chest, doing this will keep your shoulders slightly back and relaxed and down.

    Since this is about moving without the shinai, you can still practice your grip without your shinai away from the dojo. Keeping the hands soft and light is an issue for a lot of people especially when they put on the kote, they grip the shinai too tight. Personally, when I suburi, it’s not all about speed or how fast I swing the shinai that’s important, it’s all about feeling my body move as a whole. Correct natural body movement and keeping your hands light and soft are a big part of that. I think what most people don’t realize is that when they put the kote on; they slightly alter their grip because of the added weight and feel of the kote, it’s a different feeling from gripping the shinai with your bare hands.

    So, in the end, when people put on bogu for the first time, they naturally tend to use strength of their hands and arms and feet to compensate for the added weight.I think this is why my sensei told us to *practice our grip*to maintain the feeling of softness as well as focus on practicing body movement (hips and shoulders) without the shinai.

    We’re all told to grip the shinai with the pinky and ring fingers and caress with the index, middle fingers and thumbs. What I do is place my pinky and ring fingers in my palms applying the appropriate pressure for both hands (you apply half the pressure on your right hand) and gently rub the tips of my index, middle fingers and thumbs, that’s it; pretty simple stuff.
    1. Practice using your hips and shoulders to move your body. The natural movement of your feet in kendo should be influenced by your hips/shoulders moving forward (forward strikes) and your shoulders/hips moving backwards. (hiki strikes) When I suburi without the shinai, I imagine my body as a string of a bow and arrow, that’s the feeling I have anyway.
    When I practice my movements, I always do it in a slow and relaxed state and work my way up.I like to do slow and big movements because I can really feel how my whole entire body is moving. It’s harder to feel the faster and smaller body movements, so it’s important to do this in a slow and relaxed state first. This is the process; don’t put the cart before the horse.Be patient. Learning how your body moves for kendo by feel is how the mind and body connects.
    1. This should have been number 2, my bad. Suri-ashi. When you practice suri-ashi, you should have the feeling of driving your right foot into the floor, this is really important because when you fumikomi, your right foot should be angled downward and not upward. If you fumikomi with your right foot in an upwards angle, chances are your landing heel first. As you know, that’s very painful; your right foot should be landing on the ball of the foot first.
    So when I practice suri-ashi, I take long strides and medium strides. A typical long stride for me would be about the same distance of my fumikomi. At the dojo, I like doing long strides when I suri-ashi across the dojo floor as a warm up.

    So to practice suri-ashi at home, you need a smooth surface…if you have sticky feet use a little baby powder on your feet. (side note: be sure to clean up the mess afterwards to save yourself some grief from wife/mom/girlfriend sensei). With that said let’s begin, find your correct placement for your feet/ center of mass, place your hands on your hips, chin slightly tucked with your shoulders slightly back and relaxed. You shouldn’t be struggling at all to stay balanced, remember to use the feeling of your hips to place your right foot.

    When I push off, I don’t focus on my feet, I focus on my hips. So for starters, slowly roll your hips forward and back. When you do this, you should notice how your knees naturally bend to compensate for weight of your centre of mass shifting forward. What I want you to do first is roll your hips forward first and slide your right foot forward followed quickly with your left foot. Keep doing this until it starts to feel natural. Once it begins to feel natural to you, take a little longer stride; keep doing this until you reach your maximum stride (fumikomi distance). The longer the stride you take, the feeling becomes more intense.

    Once this starts to feel natural to you, the next thing is you need to learn how to *push off* from the hips. This is the tricky part; your hips influence how your legs and feet naturally move for kendo. So next time you’re at the dojo… when you suri-ashi across the dojo, focus on rolling the hips forward when you push off with your left leg, you should have the feeling of driving your right foot into the floor when you suri-ashi. The longer the stride, the feeling becomes more intense.

    Until you get use to pushing off from the hips, start off by rolling your hips forward just before moving your feet. I know it’s going to feel awkward at first, but your legs and feet will naturally move like they were designed to do for kendo.

    That’s it for now…I think I covered everything for now…


    • #3
      Very interesting post - I want to spend more time on it than I have during this work break.

      "We’re all told in the beginning that our feet should be spaced shoulder width apart. " - well I've always been told - inside of the shoulder width apart (think of them as being armpit to armpit -- turns out that's about the same as hip width apart.

      One other common reason the L heel is turned in is that your left hip is not square enough. Experiment, pull your left hip back and you'll see the left heel naturally rotate in. Square up and it's easier to keep the heel straight.


      • #4

        Thank you for the response Ron and yes I’ve been told that also…my assumption of people that read this forum are for the most part, beginners since hardly anybody ever post anything on this forum anymore, I could be wrong…also, rolling your hips forward should also fix the left heel problem.

        Because of the fact I don’t get any feedback, I’m very reluctant to post anything further on this because there is a lot to cover…however, I do know there are a few people out there who appreciate what I post, that’s why I try to make the time when I can.

        Anyway, I’d like to expand my thoughts on my recent post…my sensei told me once that a kendoka’s true kendo comes out in shiai i.e. all of your deficiencies in kendo comes out…even if you win and the first thing you notice is how and what they do in kamae. It’s easy to break a kendokas’ kamae (physically and mentally) if it’s already broken at the start. What I was told to do is find my true natural kamae. What do I mean by true natural kamae? As I said before in various posts, everything we’re taught about kendo in the beginning is generalized physical information, even our kamae. When we were first taught how to kamae, our hands and feet were being positioned like we’re action-figures. It just felt totally un-natural, but that’s how we all start kendo and from there we mimic senseis movements the best we can.
        The process I was taught kendo is cyclic, i.e. every time my kendo reached a certain peak, sensei would tear everything down and start all over from the beginning, starting with my kamae. Every cycle he would add something new, whenever I had trouble executing waza in keiko, he said it’s because of my mechanics and more importantly, my kamae wasn’t right. I had to find my true kamae, aka, state of readiness.

        Here are couple examples of kamae that are not in the state of readiness:

        -Kenshi who hop around like the energizer bunny. Let’s face it, everyone that started kendo as a kid has done this at some point and as you develop as a kendoka, sensei will tell you need to relax your kamae more and focus more at seizing chances rather than trying to use your speed to steal points. People who try to steal points with speed tend to rely a lot on hiki waza.

        -This example is a little more subtle, kenshi who don’t confront the aite head on, they tend to move sideways first. If you do this against a strong kenshi, not only does the kamae lack seme, it’s a very telling sign to the aite, it shows you’re not ready, it shows a lack of confidence. What you’re doing is telegraphing when you’re going to attack, it’s when you try to press forward. You should always try to hold your ground in kamae.

        Whoever tried to put into practice what I described, you should notice something really significant regarding the lower half of the body, creating natural tension with your left leg. You should be able to control the intensity of your left leg and balance through using your hips when you kamae.

        There are a myriad of common mistakes people tend to make in kendo regarding kamae, the top half needs to be relaxed and you need naturally created tension with the lower half. The mistake people make is that they’re too tense with the top half i.e. gripping the shinai too tight creating tension in the shoulders and not enough or incorrectly created tension (forced) with the lower half of the body. Kamae like this tend to use the hands and feet when they execute strikes instead of executing with the whole entire body as one synchronized unit.


        • #5
          Good stuff! Please keep posting as it's always nice to find new posts & threads here!


          • #6
            Thanks. Great read.


            • #7
              Thanks. Great read. Will work on it.