Preparation for Shiai
Ichikawa Hajime – Kendo Kyoshi 8-dan
Translation and Introduction by Andy Fisher
This is a basic translation of a document I found pinned to the wall in the changing rooms of one of Kyushu’s top high school kendo clubs. It is a direct, and (relatively) easy to understand list of considerations or actions that one must take if success is to be hoped for in shiai, written by the school’s resident Shihan. Ichikawa-sensei is a well known kendo teacher, and many of his students have gone on to become some of Japan’s top competitors. As an active competitor myself, it was with great interest that I stumbled upon this document. Advice from 8-dan teachers that directly relates to success in shiai is somewhat scarce to say the least; it really was a lucky find. The advice takes the shape of 11 main points, some very direct, and others rather in depth, so without further ado, let us begin:
1. Get plenty of sleep.
2. Before a shiai, do not quarrel with others or do anything else that may cause you to worry.
3. Do not be late.
4. Without fail, carefully examine your equipment and shinai.
5. Do not chit-chat around the shiai-jo. Your willpower will escape from via your mouth.
6. You must awake in the morning with the spirit of ‘I can do this!’ burning inside you.
7. It is wrong to plan in advance which waza you will use. Instead, without specific plans, you must simply face the opponent in front of you, with all one’s might.
8. Come cloud or shine, Mt. Fuji stands strong.
– You do not (instantly) become stronger or weaker. Only the opponent who stands before you changes. Your own true qualities do not change.
– After a loss, endeavour not to fall into depressive feelings that you have become weak.
– Even when you lose, you alone must cultivate a burning fighting spirit to try harder to do better next time.
9. Do not make light of your opponent. Approach them as if they are a strong, fearsome adversary.
10. Part of modern kendo is also sport. In the contest to determine a winner and a loser – you must win.
11. Victory has the following prerequisites:
– Without fail, apply constant pressure (seme) to your opponent, with all of your spirit.
– ‘Sen no waza’ is important. ‘Sen no waza’ is not applying pressure (seme) and then performing attacks. Rather, when you apply pressure, there is a chance. Where is that chance? When your opponent is put under pressure, there is often a moment when they decide to strike in desperation. Techniques executed (by you) at this exact moment are ‘sen no waza’.
– Forget about ‘go no sen’ or defensive techniques (oji-waza). Go no sen occurs in thoughts such as; ‘When the opponent attacks, I’ll do X technique, or Y technique’, however, in shiai, there is no margin for error. Go no sen will not bring success.
– When you sense danger, you must first break distance. Blocking with the shinai is the same as go no sen, so removing yourself from the dangerous distance is the safest bet.
– The instant directly both before and after a strike is extremely dangerous, so when you strike, or are struck, do not lose concentration.
– Quickly remember your best techniques (tokui waza), and commit them to muscle-memory. Techniques that have been taught by your teacher, or others that you have learnt any other way, are not your own until you are able to completely use them in practice. This process takes three years. If you practise at home, then you can do it in one year.
– It is better to be able to do a few techniques really well, than know many techniques, without really mastering any.
– It is very important to take the techniques your teacher has shown you and make them your own.
– Everything must be repeated many times in practice (keiko), and you must get to grips with kendo with all of your enthusiasm. Motivation is crucial. ‘I was taught like “this” or “that”’ is not the same as forming your own kendo through practice.
– Your own kendo is what you make it. You must keep in mind that kendo is not a collection of ideas and techniques that can simply be copied from other people.
– Kendo is as simple or as hard as you make it yourself. When they come for men, you can strike nuki-do, or if they come for kote, you can do suriage-men, or another oji-waza. This is easy. One could say that anyone can do these techniques, and the only reason that you cannot is because your heart waivers, and not because your opponent is strong.
– Fight each and every match, with all of your might.