a MMB! Kendo Blog: Be With The Best

MMB! Kendo Blog

Monday, February 18, 2008

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Be With The Best

I wrote the last post when I just started the kangeiko period at the International Budo University in early January. Since then, so many kendo events have happened. I went to another high school week-long kangeiko. Then, kangeiko at Juntendo Dai in Chiba, Asian Zone Referee Seminar in Hong Kong, observing the All Japan Mens Kendo Team 4-day private training sessions. Whoa, the past month was like a whirlwind kendo tour. SO incredible.

IBU Kangeiko, 8-11 Jan
I attended the first four of seven kangeiko sessions at the International Budo University. Unfortunately I could not attend the last three because I had to travel to Tokyo on that weekend. Anyway, on the last two days of kangeiko at Budai, I was able to practice with three of the main Sensei there - Makita Sensei 8 Dan, Ijima Sensei 8 Dan, and Iwakiri Sensei 7 Dan.

I received some feedbacks from Iwakiri Sensei during and after the practice:
  • During men-uchi, left hand's terminal position should be in the centre-line. At the moment, my left hand tended to be off the centre-line, so the strike appeared to be slanting somewhat.
  • Experiment with narrower foot stance. This will allow more powerful and effective leg push-off.
  • In kamae, aims to point the kensen towards the opponent's throat. At the moment, the kensen is off-centre, so my targets are exposed to my opponents.
  • During kote-uchi, fumikomi at the same time as the strike. Then move towards the opponent quickly to close off distance, and prevent opponent's to execute counter attack.
Nittaidai at IBU?
On my final kangeiko day at Budai, I woke up at 4am and dragged my very sleepy body to the dojo. While the students were doing their initial 1 hour of kirikaeshi and kakari-geiko, I noticed some visitors who did not turn up to the other earlier kangeiko sessions that week. And they seemed to be female visitors too, which made me doubly curious. As I walked closer to see, I was totally surprised by what I saw. The face looked so much like my buddy from Nippon Sport Science University when I first came to Japan for kendo training 2 years ago. 'No way. Maybe I am too sleepy. Can this be real?' That person looked at me, and I was kind of staring back at her (while thinking deep to myself). Suddenly, both of us came to a smile. Yes, she was Hosokawa from Nittaidai. And there, Shinzato Chikano Sensei - the Nittaidai female team assistant coach was there too. What were they doing in another university? It was so crazy to meet them again, so unexpectedly, in another university.

Later I found out that they came with Okada Sensei - Nittaidai's women team coach, to meet and have keiko with Ijima Sensei, who was a former student of Nittaidai. Coincidentally, the Nittaidai female team won the All Japan University Female Team Championships last year, so I was so happy to be able to directly congratulate them all. Plus, because of their visit, I was able to witness an incredible keiko.

Okada Sensei's Fight
I was lining up for Ijima Sensei when he was having a jigeiko with Okada Sensei. Ijima Sensei was, without a doubt, a very strong kendo player, and it was extremely hard to break his centre for a cutting opportunity. If one went for a cut without killing his shinai, one would definitely get stab, or worse, received a mukai tsuki back. It was a pretty scary sight and it was fairly easy to imagine that many people might get frightened, changed their style to cheeky, dodging, half-hearted type of attacks, or back out completely. Thus, diminishing the level and power of kendo for many intimidated opponents.

Fighting against such a strong Sensei, Okada Sensei did not change his style at all. You could even feel, from the side, how strong his spirit was. Okada Sensei's kendo was so beautiful. Even when Ijima Sensei did mukai tsuki over and over again to counter Okada Sensei's attempted strikes, Okada Sensei did not change his posture at all. Occasionally, you would see some beautiful cuts landing beautifully on the targets. But in this keiko, there was something more than landing a cut on the target. It was that strong spirit. No matter how many times Okada Sensei got stabbed, he would still continue to move forward with the same spirit, attacking with unwavering determination. Ijima Sensei's shinai might have stabbed Okada Sensei tens of hundreds of times, but they did not kill Okada Sensei's spirit. And that, I think, was so beautiful. It was a beautiful demonstration of kendo from the heart, right in front of my eyes. That keiko was illuminating. I really treasured what I saw on that day, and I hope that spirit I captured will stay with me forever.

Scratching my head to find my Nittaidai friends at Budai kangeiko

Shinsato Chikano Sensei, me, Hosokawa

IBU students listen to Ijima Sensei's lecture

A photo with the current IBU bekkasei

Yoshiyama Mitsuru Sensei's Grading Seminar, 12 Jan
I visited Yoshiyama Sensei in Tokyo while he was conducting a weekend grading seminar there. So I tagged along and listened to his lecture, plus participated in the practical and keiko sessions afterwards. It was a meaningful session even though the lecture was given in Japanese. Since the seminar, I have been checking how tidy I put my kendogi, hakama and bogu on, whether my men himo lengths are perfectly even, how I look when I take 3-step into sonkyo, how I rise up from sonkyo, etc. Basically, the seminar prompted me to pay more attention to all these finer details now. With everything properly done and appearing nicely, honestly, I can feel the difference in my confidence level. So it is worth taking the time to take care of all the little things all the time.

International Goodwill Kendo Club, 13 Jan
Through friends, I had the opportunity to keiko at the International Goodwill Kendo Club, which holds monthly keiko-kai at different place all around Japan. This time, it was held in Tokyo, so it was close enough to travel and practice with many high grade teachers. There must be something like ten 8 Dan Sensei, plus twenty 7 Dan Sensei, and many many more 6 Dan Sensei. That place was so full of high grade Sensei, it was quite hard to imagine back in Sydney. Anyway, I practiced with 5 Sensei during the final one hour keiko session - Nomasa Sensei, Tenno Sensei, Terai Sensei from Chiba, Ozawa Sensei, plus one more who I couldn't remember the name.

Some of these Sensei were very kind and genuine, and spent quite some time to keiko with me, and patiently gave me feedbacks, and then let me try again, even when the queue was growing behind me. I really thank and appreciate these excellent, genuine Sensei. Anyway, below are the feedbacks I received during this keiko session:
  • Bring the front and rear feet closer together. People with feet far apart tends to bring their rear foot up one extra step before making the strike. Although I did't have the problem of taking one extra step, it reduced the effective cutting distance that I could potentially make. (Terai Sensei)
  • When striking men from kamae, my kensen tended to dip just before launching to strike men. Try keeping the kensen at the same level all the time. (Terai Sensei)
  • Extend arms when striking kote. Don't bend elbows. (Terai Sensei)
  • During an 'up-down up-down' kensen moving pattern with your opponent, it is a good opportunity to break the pattern and attempt a strike when your opponent's kensen is moving up from the lowest point. That is, while your opponent's kensen is moving up from the lowest point, you can grasp this moment to launch an effective attack from the kensen's lowest point. Break the pattern, and break your opponent!

At the International Goodwill Kendo Keiko-kai

Terai Sensei

Kangeiko at Nagasa High School, 15-20 Jan
Nagasa High School is 30mins drive from where I live, so I had to get up even earlier than the IBU kangeiko days.

The 3:30am days... that was tough. It was snowing on some mornings too. So tough training on ice cube feet for a super samu-gari person like me.

Anyway, I made it through, completing every single days of kangeiko of that high school. In the end, I received a certificate for attending all sessions too. YIPEE!

During those days, I tried to pay attention to the things that various Sensei feedback to me in the previous week. I paid most attention to keeping the kensen in the centre line, foot stance, and good posture from 3-step into sonkyo all the way to 3-step out in every single keiko. Also, drawing from the spirit I captured from Okada Sensei's fight the previous Friday, I had been more patience and used more time on applying seme for a real attacking opportunity.

There was this one particular jigeiko with Sasaki Sensei 7 Dan - an enormously fun and funny character, during and outside keiko, which I enjoyed the most for a long time. With Sasaki Sensei, I had a very high intensity, great connected keiko as both of us were trying to find the moment to execute one perfect and fully committed cut. His men cut is straight and beautiful. And when a Sensei of his ability engaged completely and came to attack you instead of just making oji waza, it was tremendously fun. Ah, I felt so good during and after that jigeiko with Sasaki Sensei. Just loved it!

There is also one thing I learnt from Sasaki Sensei, and that is: A good sensei remembers the details of every keiko with every single person. And thus, a good sensei should be able to make sound and constructive advice to students.

Feedbacks from other Sensei:
  • Commit fully to every cut. Follow through with hands in front. (Nishikawa Sensei)
  • Be patient. Don't rush. (Takahashi Sensei)
  • Rather than knocking the shinai, with a good chance for your opponent to figure out your rhythm, try use more seme to make opponent moves the shinai themselves.

Watching the students from Nagasa HS warming up

Me getting some kangeiko action

Group photo on the final day of kangeiko at Nagasa HS

Breakfast after the last day of Kangeiko

YAY! A certificate for completing all my kangeiko sessions.

Hong Kong Asian Zone Referee Seminar, 26-27 Jan
Michael was able to arrange to attend the Asian Zone Referee Seminar for research purposes a week before the seminar, so I happily packed my bogu bag and went along to attend as a shiai-sha. ^_^ It is great to go to Hong Kong - one: I can meet and play kendo with many Sensei from all around Asia; two: I can eat the many yummy food in Hong Kong. Hooray!

Enjoying mango saigo with Michael

The instructors dispatched by the FIK to this two-day seminar were Murakami Hitoshi Sensei 8 dan hanshi, Nakata Yuji Sensei 8 dan hanshi, Fujiwara Takao Sensei 8 dan hanshi.

For a two-day seminar, there were obviously many referee instructions, guidance and feedbacks made during the seminar. So it will be a whole book if I write everything I heard hear. So I will keep it short by including those points that I find particularly interesting.
  • Good tsubazerai position is tsuba to tsuba, not fist to fist.
  • Shinpan should be able to understand the difference between 'ability to do' and 'cutting'.
  • Shinpan should be ready from the time 'hajime' is called, as point can be scored immediately after start. Unprepared shinpan may miss a good point.
  • It is bad if all three shinpans are on one side of the court. If all three shinpans are all on one side of the court, the chief shinpan should say 'yame', and the three shinpan should reset their positions. However, this situation should be prevented.
  • In the situation when a previously awarded point needs to be cancelled, the chief shinpan should raise the flag which was previously awarded a point. Then, lower that flag and wave off while saying 'torikeshi'.
  • Every shinpan should be able to see both shinpan and both players (i.e. all 4 people).
  • For 'no point' decision, wave the flags in front of you for about 3~4 times.
  • If wrong score flag is raised, lower that score flag and raise the correct flag immediately.
There are many more interesting points made during the practical sessions. However, I won't go into them, because there are just so many different situations in real shiai. As the Sensei all said, practice shinpan, and watch how good shinpan judges are the keys to become good shinpan.

Shiai-sha ready for action

With some of my Hong Kong shiai-sha buddies, Ng and Chan

some kind of robocop. Mmmmm...

Referee participants from all over Asia

A shiai-sha groupie photo

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

Now, the ladies photo

During the seminar, I had plenty of opportunities to do shiai practice with members of the Hong Kong Kendo Association. It is great to do shiai practice in this setting, because the people watching the shiai are all Sensei from various Asia countries. So, not only did I had good shiai opportunities, sometimes, I would also receive feedbacks from Sensei about my kendo.
  • For kote-uchi, do not stop after hitting. Move in quickly, or execute kote-men. (Kato Sensei, 7 dan kyoshi)
Kamei Tooru (亀井 ) Sensei, 8 dan kyoshi
While I was taking a break during shiai practice, one of the Japanese delegate, Kamei Tooru Sensei 8 dan kyoshi, came to me and we talked for a little bit in "Japanglish". I told him I am from Australia, and he said my kendo was good. So I was happy to hear. In any case, it was so nice for this 8 Dan Sensei to come and talk with a shiai-sha like myself, so I decided to line up for Kamei Sensei in the free jigeiko session at the end of the first day. I knew next to nothing about Kamei Sensei until Michael told more about him after the first day of the seminar. He has came 2nd in AJKC, won the All Japan 7 dan Championships 3 times in a row before getting his 8 dan recently. He is one of the current All Japan Mens Team coaches too! WOW!

With Kamei Tooru Sensei, 8 Dan Kyoshi

At the last free jigeiko session, Eda Chen Sensei, the super woman Secretary of Hong Kong Kendo Association, managed to bow to Kamei Sensei first, so she got the first spot in the queue. I was second after Eda. Kishikawa Sensei - the current Hong Kong Team Coach, who famously won has Taisho match against the Japanese team captain when he was the Brazilian team captain, also decided to have his first jigeiko with Kamei Sensei. So I was in the queue behind Kishikawa Sensei and Eda. For me and many others, it was a rare and exciting opportunity to watch an awesome keiko between Kamei Sensei and Kishikawa Sensei. And it didn't disappoint. both Sensei's kendo was so beautiful to watch. You could feel the high intensity from the side. However, watching Kamei Sensei knocking Kishikawa Sensei's shinai off his hands was significant. You could hear my other fellow shiai-sha lining up behind me were quietly saying 'oh no...' (in Cantonese) for what they were lining up for. And then, after watching Kamei Sensei knocking Eda's shinai off her hands and flicking her shinai away prepared my mind not to relax during kamae situation. Kamei Sensei's otoshi waza was just so sudden and strong.

Finally it was my turn to jigeiko with Kamae Sensei. Of course, he also otoshi'ed me but I was lucky to have watched the two shiai before me, I managed to grab my shinai back with one hand, preventing it from dropping on the floor. But it was a very powerful otoshi waza. Had my mind not prepared for this, my shinai would have knocked down on the floor like the previous two keiko. It was a great keiko, and the excitement brought the best kendo out of me.

With Murakami Sensei, 8 Dan Hanshi

During the farewell dinner on Sunday night, Kamei Sensei mentioned that there would be a 4-day All Japan Mens Team training near where I am staying in Japan. So I asked Kamei Sensei if I could come along and observe, and he agreed! Woohooo!!! So I went to observe two days. It was incredible to be let in to watch the Japanese Team training. There are definitely not many foreigners been able to see their training, let alone letting another country national team member in. I think I might be one of the first few, if not the first.
Photo at Lee Yue Mun - famous for seafood

Photo outside the restaurant for the Farewell Dinner

The Japanese delegation singing in the party

Murakami Sensei using a spoon as a prop for mic

The Japanese delegation singing in the party

The animated Motoyashiki Sensei 8 dan dancing at the party

With J Chan from Hong Kong

With Kato Sensei from AJKF

With Yosuke Hamasaki, who has the farthest tobikomi-men jumping distance I have ever experienced.

All Japan Mens Team Training, Katsuura Kenshuu Centre, 31 Jan & 1 Feb
And so, I was allowed in to watch the Japan Squad private training sessions later that week.

Every morning and afternoon sessions started off with stretching, warm-up and suburi with heavy bokuto. The suburi comprised of :
  • 100x shomen-uchi (forward cut and back cut)
  • 100x sayumen
  • 100x shomen-uchi (forward cut only. After each cut completes, one continuous motion to step back to the next cut)
  • 100x 5-step forward men-uchi + 5-step backward men-uchi
  • 100x matawari
Key points about all these suburi include:
  • When lifting the bokuto over-head, kenzen should never point down, but always skyward.
  • Be sharp at terminal position for each strike, and hold for a moment. This requires good tenouchi.
  • Imagination of opponent.
Other main points I remembered include:
  • The Sensei are always emphasising the importance to bring the left foot up fast with each move.
  • Execute men-uchi with the feeling of tsuki. The body should move forward in the same way you go for a tsuki. Keep body's centre of gravity at the same horizontal level throughout the attack. (Furukawa Sensei)
To my surprise, the contents of the training were actually quite similar to how some of the local clubs back in my hometown, and many Japanese universities train. There were absolutely no secret techniques, feinting technique sessions in this All Japan squad training. All the techniques practiced during those two days I observed were orthodox textbook techniques. Beautiful, elegant, strong and proper. And the Sensei demanded that from the players too. I was actually very surprise that, at such a high level national Japanese training, the Sensei would still constantly remind these champion players to bring their left foot up quick, tenouchi, etc. Even the champions were being reminded of these basics of kendo. It was, in a way, very inspirational for me to see this with my own eyes. All of us, as kendo men and women, all trying to perfect the same basics. The only difference was that the group of people I was observing were super-charged, famous All Japan Champion, World Champion, etc... with many many renowned legendary Sensei scrutinizing these champions every single cut and move. The Sensei demanded each delivery of cut to be the highest possible quality too, and the squad members would throw in all they have got into every cut. The atmosphere of the training was very intense.

The shidou geiko sessions between the players and Sensei were always interesting. Amongst the 10+ Sensei there, Funasu Sensei - last year's All Japan 8 Dan champion; and Furakawa Sensei - former AJKC Champion, were two that left me unforgettable keiko.

Funasu Sensei was strong and terrifying. He would beat the legs of the players - even players who were just queuing up waiting to keiko with him. And when a player went down on the floor from exhaustion, he would come and just keep beating the legs, and you would see the players just yanking their legs in mid-air desperately trying to avoid being beaten and to get up as quickly as possible.

Furukawa Sensei's kendo was also strong too, but to me, he had a different kind of attraction. His kendo was so elegant, so refined, so effortless - the suriage-men, the footwork, oh - it was like he was dancing, kid's play for him. But don't get the wrong idea from me, he liked challenging the players, taitari the player to the wall. Then, foot-sweep, and BAMMMMM, the player would be on the floor, and Furukawa would sit on them, smiling. And the player would be tapping his hand frantically like in judo to signal 'release'. It was a very funny sight.

Anyway, the training at the end of the second day was especially tough. The squad members were just utterly exhausted with in the last 30mins of training. And there were many calf and achilles tendon injuries too. This session was carried out in 5-min chunk. Each 5-min chunk consisted of continuous jigeiko, kirikaeshi, men-uchikomi keiko, kakari-geiko. After one side finished the 5 min-chunk, the other side will execute the same routine. However, if you got paired up with a Sensei, you get double-shot - which means that you do two 5-min chunks in a row. And pairing with a Sensei was gruesome for certain. I watched how last year's All Japan champion - Teramoto did his 10-min chunk with Furukawa Sensei. Furukawa Sensei ran him down so much, Teramoto was barely able to lift his shinai to swing for the next one when Furukawa Sensei would knock his shinai off, or taitari into him. But even when these squad members were so tired from these tough training, that didn't kill their spirit. I just had to admire their never-say-die fighting spirit. They just kept coming back. In a way, it was so beautiful to witness all these... the All Japan champ and world champ are human afterall, that they do get tired, but to see the incredible spirit of just keep coming back is just beautiful.

The 4-day training schedule of the All Japan Men Squad

The All Japan Men Squad photo




Gathering for instructions

R. Uchimura having jigeiko with Kamei Sensei

The first aid corner

Juntendo Daigaku Kangeiko, 2-Feb
Through a kendo acquaintance, I attended one Saturday morning 5:30am - 7am kangeiko session at Juntendo University in Chiba. It was a 1.5 hours session, consisted of stretching, warm-up, 20mins kirikaeshi, 20 mins kakari-geiko session, and free jigeiko session. It was great to see many former students of the university supporting the kangeiko session. There were probably some 30 OBs who went. I was the only female and overseas players not from the university. Anyway, it was great to have a chance to jigeiko with many Sensei on the day.

Feedback from Nakamura Sensei - head of Juntendo Dai:
  • I am a bit stiff during the jigeiko with Nakumura Sensei. Try to relax shoulder and grip.
Later that day, I caught the shinkasen with some Kendo World members to Nagoya for the Chubu Taikai, which was held on the following day.

Travelling can some time be a bit tiring.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! Alex Bennett and me

Chubu Taikai's front entrance

Anyway, it has been a rather long post, so I think I will let the photos do the talking from now. Enjoy!

I love this photo taken at Hokoku-ji Temple - the bamboo temple in Kamakura, Yokohama

Another photo from this Bamboo Temple

Let's pray for all the best in 2008 and beyond!


  • Very enjoyable Kendo Kikou (剣道紀行).

    About your photo in the bamboo forest:
    題竹林寺 朱 放
    歲月人間促 煙霞此地多 殷勤竹林寺 更得幾回過

    By Blogger Bishojo美少女, at Tuesday, February 19, 2008 10:34:00 AM  

  • Hi Vivian,

    My name is Will, and I'm currently practicing kendo in San Francisco. I just want to say thank you for your post... very inspiring. I am jealous that you have so many opportunities to practice with the bests...:). Hopefully one day we'll have a chance to do keiko. Gambatte kudasai...

    By Anonymous will, at Tuesday, February 19, 2008 8:41:00 PM  

  • Hey Bishojo,

    Nice poem you have got there. Btw, the name of that bamboo temple is Hokoku-ji in Kamakura. That whole area is very beautiful.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Tuesday, February 19, 2008 8:56:00 PM  

  • Hello Will,

    Thank you for your kind comments. I am happy to read your feedbacks too. Yes, I hope that one day, I can visit the States with my bogu, keiko and make new friends.


    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Tuesday, February 19, 2008 8:58:00 PM  

  • Hi Vivian,

    Nice post! Long indeed, but every bit was enjoyable.

    It's good to read you get so nice opportunities to practice. After that long period of absence, it's always good to come back strong.

    I was nos as surprised as you with the Japanese Team training. When looking at WKC one can always see the beautiful kendo they make. Straight, nice, lots of ippon like coming out of a textbook. It sounded very hard, though. Training to that point of exahustion... I never reached that limit...yet =D

    Thank you very much for the rant. It was very nice to read =D


    By Blogger Leon, at Thursday, February 21, 2008 1:11:00 AM  

  • Hello Leon,

    Thank you for your comments. I guess, like you said, if we look at their kendo at the WKC, then surely it is no surprise the proper textbook kind of kendo the Japan Team has been practicing. In some case, however, it exceeded my expectation of how much basic they do their practice - spending almost 1 hour doing bokuto suburi, and the Sensei walking around giving advice, paying attention to the tiniest bit of details... it is nice to see that... that they put so much emphasis in the basics that we all learn from the first day of our kendo life. ^_^

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Thursday, February 21, 2008 2:22:00 PM  

  • Hi Vivian,

    Long time not visiting your blog and a lot missing on my side. I have seen that picture for the All Japan Men's keiko and quite a few familiar faces. I've been in Detroit (USA) attending a seminar and tourneament where Teramoto Sensei was the lead. Amazing skills he has.

    Anyway, I will be in touch.
    Eduardo Cigliutti

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, March 07, 2008 9:26:00 AM  

  • Hello Viv,

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post. You have exceeded every expectation I might had about a kendo blog.

    I would like to humbly request something of you. Would you please allow me to translate to spanish the part regarding the japanese team training, so people at my dojo´s forum are able to read it? Unfortunately many of them can´t read english properly and I think it would be hugely beneficial for them to see how the basics still make the base training for the best kenshi in the world.

    Thanks again.

    PS: Dino´s kendo is in good shape from what a I can see at local taikais...the guy´s fun too ;D

    By Anonymous HandsomeW, at Thursday, March 13, 2008 11:49:00 AM  

  • Hey Ed,

    Thanks for your message. Wow, you participated in a seminar led by Teramoto. That is so great! He is a very approachable and nice person in and out of the dojo. Very good and inspirational captain for the All Japan squad.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Friday, March 14, 2008 6:29:00 PM  

  • Hey HandsomeW,

    Thanks for asking about the translation. You are welcome to translate the Japanese squad training, if you like, to your fellow club members. ^_^ I don't mind at all.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Friday, March 14, 2008 6:31:00 PM  

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