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Move Without the Shinai Pt 3&4

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  • Move Without the Shinai Pt 3&4

    Hello Markus and Gin, I hope you’re both doing well, please let me know how you’re doing with this.

    Suburi and kiri-kaeshi:

    My body movement (tai sabaki) for suburi and kirikaeshi are basically the same; the only difference is how I use my hands/wrists. To me, kirikaeshi is basically just a faster version of suburi, we add elements to kirikaeshi such as fumikomi and tai-atari but the essence of suburi and kirikaeshi are basically the same.

    Your emphasis to stay centered and make straight cuts when you suburi will translate to how well you perform kirikaeshi. Doing suburi and kirikaeshi is how we learn to synchronize our body movements to execute strikes. (Ki Ken Tai Ichi)

    Just think of kirikaeshi as suburi with a twist. Moving on…

    Suburi- There are several ways I like to suburi, the one I’m about to describe is the most common impactful suburi in my opinion, also for the kendokas out there who favor using the right hand when they execute strikes, this should help correct that problem but you need to practice…a lot.

    The first thing you need to be aware of is your posture; you need to breathe into it, whenever I kamae, I imagine my body as a balloon, I imagine inflating my whole body from head to toe with oxygen. You don’t breathe from the chest, you breathe from the gut. As crazy as this sounds, yes, I spent time practicing on my breathing, this is an exercise you can practice every day for the rest of your life.

    I was taught from a very young age to keep things simple, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s always better to keep it simple and breathing is something we all do automatically so how hard can it be? I was told as a young shodan that I needed to control my breathing because there were two instances I hyperventilated and collapsed during kakarikeiko.

    What I’m about to describe is what I was taught as a 15/16 year old, my sensei had to keep it simple because of my age, but what sensei taught me not only help improve my kendo, but my other sporting activities as well. Everyday life can be stressful, but if you take a couple minutes and just breathe to calm your nerves, you regain your focus. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that in order for you to maximize your performance in kendo or any sport and life for that matter, your mind and body must be in a calm relaxed state.

    In kendo, sensei will say your kamae needs to be in the state of jitsu (truth) and not kyo (false). Simply put, you inhale to create natural tension in the body and you exhale when you execute a strike. With that said, let’s begin….

    The first thing I want you to do is stand straight up with your feet hip width apart, it’s important to do this in a calm relaxed state. Make sure your body is free of any tension…when you were a kid, have your parents ever told you to stop slouching and stand up straight? And without any thought you just stood totally erect. That’s not what you want to do for this exercise because you’re using all the wrong muscles, it’s difficult to maintain that posture for any length of time because it’s forced, for this exercise, just imagine the body as a deflated balloon because we’re going to practice inflating the body to engage the core/tanden creating natural tension throughout the body.

    For me, the hardest part when breathing from the tanden is not the inhaling but exhaling because it’s harder to control especially if you’re a lifelong smoker. Anyway, if you stand in front of a clock would be helpful, if not; just mentally count the seconds in your head. In normal fashion, inhale as deep as you can counting the seconds it takes you to reach the maximum capacity of your lungs, and then exhale normally counting the seconds it takes to exhaust the lungs. For me it took about 5 seconds to inhale and just under 5 seconds to exhale.
    There are two very important points to this exercise:
    1. What you want to do is practice extending the time it takes you to inhale and more importantly to exhale. To do this you need to practice breathing slower in a calm and relaxed state, try extending the time to 6 seconds and then 7 seconds and so on. If you’re like me, I tend to exhale a lot faster; it’s just harder to control. You shouldn’t be struggling to do this; you should be doing this in a relaxed natural state.
    2. As you’re breathing in and out, you should feel the natural tension being created in your body as you stand upright. It doesn’t matter if you’re standing or sitting, you breathe into it. This is what you do when you’re in kamae, you breathe into it. Practice your breathing when you’re in mokuso at the dojo.
    Your hips influence the natural way your legs and feet move for kendo, the shoulders influence the arms and hands. In order for you to allow the power created from the tanden to flow freely through the shoulders, arms and hands to the kensen of the shinai, the top half of the body needs to be positioned correctly (natural tension) and the hands must be soft and light when gripping the shinai.

    What stops the power from flowing freely from the tanden to the kensen is not just gripping the tsuka too tight in kamae but also the incorrect use of the hands when we swing the shinai. (tenouchi) You see…we subconsciously tighten our grip continuously when we swing the shinai up to the top and when we swing down. When you do this, you’re creating unwanted tension in the hands, arms and shoulders, this unwanted tension stops the flow of power created from the tanden making the top half of the body from not moving as freely as it should. It becomes forced. With the lower half of the body you create natural tension from the hips, you execute from the hips and not the feet in order for your legs and feet to move naturally for kendo. With the top half of the body, you create natural tension by keeping your chin slightly tucked, shoulders slightly back and down, hands soft and light. With that said, when you swing the shinai up…you squeeze the hands just as you push the shinai up and immediately ease the tension of the hands allowing the shoulders to carry the shinai up and squeeze and ease the hands when you pull the shinai down. The tenouchi that we all understand at the end of the strike just naturally happens without thought.

    So for me, tenouchi is not just what happens naturally at end of the strike, but before and during the strike as well. You really need to study this if you want your body to move freely and naturally for kendo. The top half of the body needs to be in sync with the lower half,* it’s not just the hands and feet*….once you understand this, then you will start to execute waza more efficiently and effectively.

    Shall we practice some body movements? I want you to stand straight up with your feet hip width apart. Take a minute to breathe into your posture as you’re standing. Keep your hands and arms relaxed at the sides of your body:
    1. Breathe in normally and hold your breath.
    2. Using your thumbs as guides and using the shoulders only, raise your arms forward straight up,(normal speed) *be sure NOT to breathe in as you do this.*
    3. Exhale as you lower the arms from the shoulders. Do this in a calm relaxed manner. Rinse and repeat.
    4. Occasionally turn your hands/wrists to the left and right just as you do (or should do) for executing migi/nuki-doh and for kiri-kaeshi. You should notice how the arms and hands move in sync as well as feeling you’re back arching naturally increasing tension as you raise the arms from the shoulders and then spring back into normal position when the arms are lowered.
    Incorporating the shoulders to raise and lower the arms is very important because
    1. It synchronizes the movement of the hands and arms. This is important because in kamae the position of the shoulders is cocked slightly to the right (hanmi position) and
    2. It stabilizes the top half of the body and perfectly centered as we execute strikes. Don’t believe me? Try to bend your body as you raise your arms from the shoulders. The only way to bend the body is by destabilizing the top half of the body by striking from the hands and arms and not from the shoulders. When you execute from the hands and arms, you over-swing the shinai, you’re stick swinging and not cutting.
    Continue to pt3

  • #2
    Next stand in kamae, keep your hands open and relaxed and lay your right wrist on top of your left wrist, take a minute and breathe into it. Remember to keep your chin slightly tucked, very slightly stick out your chest to keep the shoulders back and relaxed and down. Stay relaxed; roll your hips forwards and backwards and in circles to ensure good balance.
    1. Do this in a relaxed state first. Breathe in and hold.
    2. Your arms should have a natural bend to them just as if you’re holding a shinai, raise your arms from the shoulders straight up while MAINTAINING the natural bend of the elbows and make sure you’re not breathing in as you do this. As your hands reach the top, you should feel the natural tension in your back intensify.
    3. This needs to happen at the same time, A) slide your right foot forward, B) using your shoulders only, lower the arms to regular suburi level, C) exhale as you’re doing this and bring up left foot to finish the cut.
    4. Do the exact same thing moving backwards, the only difference is you’re leading with the back foot.
    5. Mix in turning your hands/ wrists left and right just as you would for kiri kaeshi and executing migi/nuki doh.
    This is it for now, Marcus and Gin, good luck to you both, I hope this helps. I’d like to say in closing that if you really want to improve your kendo, or anything for that matter, two words…consistency and perseverance.

    In order for you to learn how to execute waza smoothly and efficiently, your body mechanics (tai sabaki) must be consistent. Your hips and shoulders must be incorporated in your body mechanics when striking from the tanden. I’ve just scratched the surface with what I’ve tried to describe so far, however, this is the basics of all basics for how your body should be moving for kendo, if you really study this, this might start opening other doors for you.
    Good luck to you both…please post how things are going for you.


    • #3
      Thanks G-CHAN! I tried the earlier tip about rolling the hips forward before moving. Feels different, and also helps a bit with continuing movement after fumikomi. At the same time I think there's been marked changes in my kendo this summer due to three different seminars. It's hard to pinpoint what effects what but all together I think I might move forward with my kendo