a MMB! Kendo Blog: Jodan Masters

MMB! Kendo Blog

Monday, November 05, 2007

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Jodan Masters

Apart from the many hours of study in preparation for the final semester exams, I have been able to keep up with regular kendo training and daily gym routine most of the time. Earlier last week, I got the results of my mid-semester anatomy practical exam. I was really nervous as I scrolled down the result page to find my student number. I really did not think I did well after walking out from the laboratory on the exam day. However, upon seeing my score, I was so relieved... I came 4th in the year (out of 150 physio students). It is a much-needed confidence and motivation booster, especially when tomorrow is the first of my seven final exams in the next two weeks. Wish me good luck.

Chiba and Oda Sensei: Sydney Visit
I decide to take a study break now and write about the recent Sydney visit of Chiba Masashi Sensei, Kendo Hanshi 8 Dan and Oda Katsuo Sensei, Iaido Hanshi 8 Dan / Kendo Kyoshi 7 Dan. The Sydney kendo and iaido players were very fortunate to have these two prominent, well-respected sensei leading seminars on two evenings. And I was able to be the demonstration hitting dummy and receive Chiba Sensei's snapping cuts with front-on view throughout the seminar. On top of that, I had the opportunities to accompany the two Sensei outside the dojo - to sightseeing, meals, etc..., thus was able to learn and listen to things that would not normally be possible to hear during the limited time inside the dojo. The "second dojo" as the two Sensei called it - allowed me to ask more questions, for the Sensei to explain the deeper aspects of kendo, to tell their stories of enduring training under harsh conditions, and ultimately climb to where they are at now. It was very inspirational to listen to the mind of the two great Sensei.

Sydney Kendo Club - group photo

Big Kendo & Iaido group photo

Moral of the Stories...
Of the many stories that Chiba Sensei told me during his visit, there was this one story about the native American Indians...

In this parable, the Indian was sitting quietly on the ground. An American passed by and asked the Indian what he was doing. The Indian replied that he was quietly waiting there so that the soul that he had left behind could catch up to where he is .

The moral of the story was that, we often forget our origin as we move on in our life. No matter how much has changed, we must not forget our origin. You may ask how does this apply in kendo? Through our kendo study, we receive help from many different people - our Sensei, Sempai and peers. Kendo cannot be done by one person, but is the contribution of many people. So, no matter how successful we get in our kendo career, we must not forget the many people that have helped us from the beginning and along the way. Our Sensei have, so selflessly, pass on their knowledge and skills to us. For us in return, simple gestures like coming up to the Sensei after keiko and offering to pack their bogu and fold their hakama could be a way to show appreciation and thank them. Although this is small in return to the kindness that our Sensei has showered upon us, it is a way to practice and always remember our origin. The Sensei might kindly decline and say that they would do the packing themselves. But that kind of simple gestures and the humble thought, will be noticed by the Sensei.

A personal story of Chiba Sensei. When Chiba Sensei announced his wedding with his Olympic medallist wife, the whole Japanese media naturally got extremely interested of this high profile wedding couple. The Japanese Prime Minister at the time personally offered to be the match-maker (仲人) of their wedding ceremony. However, Chiba Sensei kindly declined, and instead, asked the governor of the Nara Prefecture, who introduced him to his wife in the first place - to be the match-maker. Although many politicians and the media questioned why Chiba Sensei would decline such offer from the Japanese Prime Minster, Chiba Sensei personally felt that it was because of the governor of Nara Prefecture which has made it possible for him to meet his wife. So he chose to do this because he knew that he should not forget the origin (初心).

A little story about Chiba Sensei
Chiba Sensei was a left-hander, so he gave jodan a try and started practicing this kamae in his third year of junior high school. At the time, his jodan sensei would only show him the movements. There was never actually any teaching through speaking. His jodan Sensei was very tough on him. During practice, he would practice continuous katate striking practice, and his Sensei would knock his shinai out of the place everywhere, and made him continue the striking practice over and over again.

Chiba Sensei recalled one particular training session at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Kendo Section. At the time, he was in his early 20s. His Sensei in the Police dojo asked the group to do shomen suburi without specifying how many repetitions. After 500, Chiba Sensei's shoulders were starting to get tired, but his Sensei did not indicate the group to stop. After 2000, Chiba Sensei's head was starting to get dizzy. However, it was only then that his whole body became relax from exhaustion that he found the right way to cut shomen. In the end, his group finished with 4000 continuous shomen.

Chiba Sensei won his first Championships at age 22 - and since then, he has continuously placed in the top 3. In total, he won 3 All Japan Championships, and came in the top 3 numerous times. The media even coined a term for that period as the 'Chiba Era'.

The pressure from the media and the expectation for him to achieve was very high. So my friend asked Chiba Sensei how he coped with the pressure during that peiord. Chiba Sensei said that instead of thinking to win, which tends to tense up the body, he was thinking that he could not lose.

Due to the overwhelming success of his jodan in the kendo arena, rule was changed and mune-tsuki (chest thrust) was introduced as a valid target. This change of rule led to the demise of the jodan era. As we all know now, however, mune-tsuki is no longer valid due to safety concern.

Tips from the Jodan Master
Chiba Sensei continuously emphasised the importance of mastering the basic chudan-no-kamae before learning jodan. Back in his early jodan days, Chiba Sensei would still assume chudan-no-kamae at the beginning of each match. He would only change to jodan-no-kamae after he got an ippon.

For those who aspire to learn jodan, here are some advises from the Jodan Master:
  • One must excel in chudan, before attempting jodan
  • If you are contemplating to learn jodan, you must have the will to do 500 continuous katate-suburi every day. Yes, continuous. It does not matter whether there is a solid target to strike on or you are practice the strike in the air. If you don't have the will to do this, then forget about doing jodan.
  • Doing katate-men is like drawing the bow open to shoot the arrow - need to open up the chest.


I have received a lot of feedbacks and new training ideas from the Sensei:

My left fist position in chudan-no-kamae was too low. Chiba Sensei adjusted my left fist to a level left to my belly-button, and about one fist distance to the front. I could instantly feel that my shoulder and grip were more relax in this arm position.

The action to execute men-uchi from this kamae is like punching both fists out.

Hand grip:
The gripping strength of the right and left arms should be about 30:70. More with the left and less with the right. Only the last two fingers of both hands should be gripping the shinai. The middle finger should only be gripping with the shinai with smaller force compared to the last two. And the thumb and index finger should be completely relax.

Chiba Sensei suggested us to practice doing tenouchi 50 times a day.

When doing men-suburi, we only need to bring the left fist as high up as just above the forehead. There is no need to lift the fists any higher than above the forehead as that will end up as wasted movements.

A very good analogy for the men-uchi cutting motion: execute men cut as if you are throwing your wrists away.

To teach people how to strike men properly, Chiba Sensei suggested to grip the shinai (both hands) to the very bottom of the tsuka. That will teach the students to extend and straight both arms (no flaring elbows). Once they can execute this motion correctly, normal shinai grip can be resumed.

As far as police-based kendo is concern, there is no such technique as sashi-men. A good men cut must consist of a strong wrist-snapping action to strike the target. Sashi-men is more a high school technique which relies on speed.

To strike a good men cut with strong seme, hold the kensen to the opponent's throat level, and execute the wrist-snapping action at the final moment to cut men.

Cut at 45 degrees, otherwise, the sword will bounce off due to shallow cutting angle.

After cutting kote, the shinai should be in a position such that you are in a good position to cut men immediately if the earlier kote cut failed.

Motodachi governs the speed of action, so motodachi has an important role in controlling the speed and distance of the exercise. Remember, kirikaeshi is a pair exercise.

Chiba Sensei suggested to leave taitari out of the kirikaeshi routine until one has mastered the basics and become competent in doing taitari.

Obviously, putting on the bogu correctly is very important. However, we must also practice putting them on quickly.

Chiba Sensei suggested us to do wrist warm-up exercise by striking targets in an angle. For example, sayu-men and do on both sides. This will loosen up our wrist and will allow us to make more dynamic striking movements.

Remember that the shinai represents the sword. If we practice by aimlessly hitting and whacking the shinai in the hope of landing the target, this would have make a real sword chipped or bent, and one would not be able to use the sword for long and the sword would probably be too bent to put it back into the saya. So always remember to cut as you would cut with a real sword.

In Kendo, one can only improve through continuous repetitive training. To become better than the rest, one must train harder than the rest. Both Chiba Sensei and Oda Sensei have practiced to the stage where they can execute a cut without plan - mushin. A subconscious reflex that only after they made the strike did they realise what they have done.

One can strive to reach the mushin stage once the basic concepts and movements have been mastered. Kyu grade kendo does not count as mushin as their kendo repertoire is still relatively empty and cannot be called mushin. So mushin, as Chiba Sensei said, starts from 'Square one', and not from 'Square zero'.

KEIKO MIND - how to keiko with lower grades
When doing a 5-minute keiko session against players of lower grades, Chiba Sensei suggested to us the following practicing pattern:
  • First 2 minutes: continuous attack.
  • Next 2 minutes: lure your opponent and trap your opponent into attacking a specific target, 'come on, come on'. Once your opponent take the bait and go for your intended cut, you can practice execute the counter cut.
  • Final minute: allow the your opponent to strike continuously.

The Secret Side of 8 Dan Sensei
Who would have thought that Chiba Sensei is so good at massage. Me and some of my lucky friends were able to experience the magic hands of Chiba Sensei.

Due to some mis-interpretation, Chiba Sensei and Oda Sensei thought that I am studying massage instead of physiotherapy. And so, they have been asking me to give them a massage. So I had to find my friend to teach me the correct Japanese phrase, so that I could explain to the Sensei what I was actually studying. Anyhow, I did actually do a community massage course a few years ago, and so I shamelessly offered Chiba Sensei a massage. After about 10-15 minutes, when I finished giving the back, neck and head massage. Chiba Sensei indicated to me to turn around and seiza. And he started pressing on the pressure points on my back and neck!

Suddenly, he held my head in place with his hands. And 'clack-clack-clack'. He twisted my head to the left in a quick, swift, snappy motion - the kind of motion you see in action movies where people finished off their enemy in hand-to-hand combat by twisting their neck... O_0. Then Chiba Sensei tried to twist my head to the right too. Naturally, my neck tensed up because I was still shocked from the first twist. 'Relax', he knocked on my head. 'clack-clack-clack'. He twisted my head to the right.

Chiba Sensei then asked me to try turning my head. Oh, it felt so smooth. And incredibly, my head's range of motion have increased substantially, restored back to normal. I have had some kind of neck motion blockage for quite some time, and sometimes, it has contributed to neck pain. But Chiba Sensei has fixed all that in one go. Okay, two twists. It was like magic.

So, after fixing me up. He proceeded to fix 3 of my friends. We all felt strangely good after the click-clackings.

Chiba Sensei said he learnt these techniques from his judo-seikei friend - who specialises in fixing judo-related injuries. He said he always goes to his friend to get his body fixed before major competitions. I asked him if it was scary to try to do the head twist on another person at the first time. haha, he said 'of course'! But now, I think Chiba Sensei is really enjoying twisting other's head.

The next day when I once again thanked Chiba Sensei about the massage he gave the previous day during yum cha. He was so happy and went up to the yum cha trolley lady, and cracked her neck too. It was purely hilarious. The yum cha trolley lady was so grateful she kept thanking the doctor. Chiba Sensei said he might come to Sydney again next year, so if that's the case, he will come and crack her neck again. haha. What a joker!


Kendo elbows

Note that both 8 Dan Sensei have big bump in their elbow due to repetitive trauma (ossification) to that region throughout their kendo career. But I think the 8 Dan Sensei are pretty proud of that.

Also, apart from being a sword master, Oda Sensei also holds 8 Dan in a different kind of jodan (Jokes in Jpn = 冗談 or 'joudan'). He has been constantly throwing out Japanese word jokes throughout his visit in Sydney. And btw, he is also a curry master too, according to Chiba Sensei.

Anyway, that was my exciting time with the two great 8-Dan Sensei. As my friend puts it, it was like receiving private tennis lessons from Roger Federer.


  • Hey! What a looong and great update!

    You were indeed lucky to get that close to 2 great sensei. That kind of people have like an "aura of good kendo". Everybody around them makes better kendo just because they're there. ^_^

    So many things to learn! They gave good feedback I can see. That's great, really great.

    Well, good luck with those exams. You'll probablly disappear from here, but we'll be waiting!

    Read ya!

    By Blogger Leon, at Tuesday, November 06, 2007 6:08:00 AM  

  • It was so enjoyable when I went through my notes, to think, organise, and write about them in this update. I really learnt a lot from the 2 Sensei. And I already have some good feedbacks from the Sensei back in my own dojo about the change of my kamae, and my cuts.

    The first exam will be on in just a few hours time. I will go through my notes for one final time now.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Tuesday, November 06, 2007 8:58:00 AM  

  • thank you for posting your experience with Chiba sensei online. It was written very well and very helpful. I am also a kenshi, I lived across the ocean in the States.

    Best of wishes to you in kendo and life. I have a kendo blog also but it's not something that i am proud to share.

    I hope you have more stories to share in the future.


    By Blogger ngocaovien, at Saturday, November 10, 2007 6:03:00 AM  

  • ooooh, wow. I´m impressed. How lucky you are for such a wonderful visit... of course, given my kendo level, almost any high dan kendo sensei has so much to teach me that I´m amazed by everyone of them.
    But anyway, I´m sure 100% of current jodan kneshi are green of envy right now :) Any jodan players at your dojo? I bet they are still in awe!

    Best luck with exams!

    By Anonymous HandsomeW, at Sunday, November 11, 2007 12:52:00 PM  

  • Hey Vien,

    Thank you for your comments and very happy that you enjoy this entry.

    Best wishes to your kendo training too.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Sunday, November 11, 2007 11:08:00 PM  

  • Hello HandsomeW

    Yeah, I am so lucky to have two great sensei sharing their stories with me. They are not only great in kendo, but also great as a human being. There are just so many things to learn from them - kendo and beyond.

    I am half way through my exam period now - 4 completed, 3 to go. YAY!!!

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Sunday, November 11, 2007 11:10:00 PM  

  • Wow Vivian, your recent entries are so long and full of interesting informations that I don't where to begin commenting! I still suck big time when I fight with jodan players.

    By Blogger Ivan, at Friday, November 30, 2007 9:15:00 AM  

  • Very nice blog. i am new in kendo and i wrote everything u said about practice.i am from Greece and i am practising kendo from last April...so everything i collect from kendo is also good for me as a person...hope to read more from u...keep on shering ur experience with us.

    By Blogger Stelios, at Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:16:00 PM  

  • Hi Stelios, thank you for your comments. I too, hope to keep posting and sharing what I have learnt with everyone interested.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Wednesday, January 30, 2008 6:24:00 PM  

  • i feel so lucky to find this blog, and read your articles on it.

    i have been practicing kendo for two years, and what you wrote in this blog really inspiring me, to do better kendo.

    thank you

    By Anonymous shun, at Friday, November 19, 2010 10:25:00 PM  

  • Thank you for your comment, Shun. Good luck with your kendo training!!!

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Thursday, November 25, 2010 10:18:00 PM  

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