a MMB! Kendo Blog: Founders Cup & Chiba Sensei's Seminar

MMB! Kendo Blog

Saturday, August 16, 2008

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Founders Cup & Chiba Sensei's Seminar

Founders Cup - 2nd August 2008
The past few weekends have been filled with kendo events one after the other since coming back from New Zealand. I attended the national kendo squad training down in Canberra at the end of July. Then, there was the Founders Cup, which comprises the state team championships, grading and seminar, in the following weekend. I represented the Sydney Kendo Club in the Women's Team event, where Mrs. Cross was senpo, Jessie as chuken, and myself as taisho.

I love this photo! It's so cute.
(photo taken by Dave Banbury @ Founders Cup)

In the group draws, Sydney Kendo Club played ACT Kendo Club and Wollongong Kendo Club, and we won both team matches, with myself winning both my Taisho matches 2-0.

With that, we moved straight into the women's team event final, where we played the defending champion team from the Korean club Dae Han Moo Do Kwan. My teammates fought very well, and were leading 1-0 coming into my Taisho match. As a team match, I know that if I could hold on to that one point advantage and played safe, my team could win the women's team title. So, just hold on, play safe, and don't make risky cuts. That was what I was telling myself.

So off I went into my Taisho match. As soon as I stood up and yelled my kiai, I tried to apply pressure and initiate my cuts - like the way I normally play. Then, suddenly after two to three attacks, I came to realise that why was I making all the initiation to attack. If someone needed to step up and attack now, it should be my opponent, whose team was down one point. But I could tell you, it was so difficult to hold on to that point safely. My head was telling me to 'hold on, hold on'. But my whole body just wanted to leap out and launch an attack. It might sound a little strange, but I have to admit that I like playing in team situation where I have to fight from a point down. I perform better when there are more pressure for me to get that one point (or two). So, fighting in this situation actually made me a little uncomfortable. I was thinking too much in my head to 'hold on'.

My opponent was fighting very well. She was applying a lot of seme into me throughout the whole game. And eventually, she scored a men-uchi.

Suddenly, the whole situation changed. Now my team was 1-1. 'I must get at least one point back to win the team', I told myself. Maybe a little bit of panic and indecision.... As soon as the second point restarted, I was trying to attempt a gyaku-do. However, as soon as I lifted my arms up to fake that men cut, my opponent seemed to have sense it and decisively landed a beautifully timed de-kote on me. 'Kote-ari'.

Ooouhh. Just that one moment, the whole result changed and everything ended. I lost my match, and because of that, my team lost the state title.

I was very disappointed. I wish I could bring home the title where my teammates have fought so valiantly in the previous matches. But I guess I have learnt and discovered a whole lot more about my emotions in team shiai. Each position in the team has very specific role, and to be a good Taisho, one must be able to act decisively and confidently whether the team is leading or trailing by a point. When different situation arises, one must be able to adjust their game and style of play quickly while still holding that composure. Calm emotions - I think, is the biggest challenge to deal with to become a good taisho.

There were also a couple of things that I picked up from the last match and from the feedbacks that were kindly given to me by my friends.
  • Apply more seme on my opponent
  • I seemed to have loosening up my centre and allowing my opponent to come into her attacking zone too easily. Be more aware of the position of my kensen position during training. Keep it strong in the centre.

Sydney Kendo Club women's team
(photo taken by Dave Banbury)

Chiba Sensei & Oda Sensei's Sydney Visit - 3rd - 6th August 2008
It has been nine months, and it is great to have Chiba Masashi Sensei and Oda Katsuo Sensei in Sydney again to conduct a series of kendo and iaido seminar.

Grading Observation
On Sunday, 3rd August, I picked the Sensei up from their hotel to the training venue. When we arrived, the State kendo grading was in progress, and we all observed from the spectator stand. It was good to be sitting next to Chiba Sensei as I received a lot of feedbacks based on what he was observing in the Dan level grading. And here they are:
  • Tenouchi - many cuts are stopping just above the target. We need to apply more tenouchi, ulnar-flex our wrist to aim at cutting through the target. For men-uchi, cut through to the chin level. In kote, cut below the wrist.

  • Finger grip strength distribution - people are gripping their shinai too rigidly with too much strength, which affects their cuts, especially the do cut. We need to practice having a flexible soft grip. Special attention must be paid to the grip strength of each individual finger on both our right and left hands. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no strength, and 10 is the maximum strength:

    • Left hand
      • Little finger: 10
      • Ring finger: 10
      • Middle finger: 7
      • Index finger: 0
      • Thumb: 0

    • Right hand
      • Little finger: 5
      • Ring finger: 5
      • Middle finger: 3
      • Index finger: 0
      • Thumb: 0

  • Timing of foot lift - Many people are lifting their right foot up as soon as they lift their arms up for attack. This is incorrect as the early foot upward movement sends an early signal to your opponent about your attack. The right foot should slide forward and lift up just when you are about to strike.

  • Connection with your opponent -In 4 Dan grading, one must check their opponent's breathing rate, movements, amongst many other things. The tips of the shinai should be 'talking' to each other - moving back & forth. At the 4 Dan level, purely moving in and cutting without engaging and forging a relationship with your opponent will not result in a good outcome.

Seminar: "Seme --> Opportunity --> Attack --> Move in"
Over the 3-day seminar, Chiba Sensei introduced us to various ways of practicing seme with a partner and how to attack based on your opponent's reaction on your initial seme.

  • Objective of kendo - to use seme or spirit to control your opponent.

  • Effective fumikomi - left knee must be fully extended to generate strong push-off for strong fumikomi.

  • Creating Opportunities - In kendo, we must try to create opening and opportunities to make an attack. All successful attacks all follow the pattern of "Seme --> Opportunity --> Attack --> Move in". During the seminar, Chiba Sensei progressively build up on this idea by having the class attack an open target. In the next level, the kakarite destabilises the motodachi's shinai to control the centre and attack. In the highest level, the kakarite creates the opening by seme'ing into the motodachi to get a reaction from the motodachi. When the motodachi reacts, attack whatever is opened. For example, to create a men attack opportunity, one can seme into the kote by moving forward using the right foot (but do not bend down as this becomes too obvious to your opponent). When the opponent reacts and covers their kote, their men becomes exposed. Immediately seize this opportunity and cut men.

  • Seme - When you seme, seme into the stomach as this is more threatening than lifting the shinai tip up. However, one must have a flexible wrist control to follow up the seme from stomach level to strike a snappy men cut. Attacking with a stiff and rigid wrist will not work as the movement will be too slow.

Questions & Answers
At the end of each seminar, there were time for Questions & Answers from the class to Chiba Sensei. Here are some interesting points I picked up from these sessions:
  • Sayumen - A question was asked with regard to sayumen. "After cutting a sayumen, should we bring the shinai straight up or bring the shinai back up at the same path we cut sayumen?" The answer from Chiba Sensei was that both ways are correct depending on the stage of the person's kendo development. For beginners, we tell them to bring the shinai straight back up. However, as we progress to higher level and cutting with increasing speed, it is impossible to cut and bring the shinai straight up. To continuously cut sayumen at high speed, one must cut and bring the shinai back up the same path as one just cut down.

  • Zanshin for kote - Maintain correct posture after cutting kote. So that your body does not collapse after the kote cut. A good analogy is to "cut kote as if you are going for kote-men".

  • Hand grip in do-uchi - To allow the greater range of movement in executing a do cut, the left hand can slide up the tsuka immediately before the do strike. However, many people do this by releasing their left hand completely off the tsuka, and this is incorrect. A valid do strike must be executed with both hands. There may be situations where the left hand lose contact with the tsuka momentarily, but the left hand should grip the tsuka back again immediately.

  • "Myth: tenouchi is like wringing a wet towel". WRONG! - This analogy is often used in Japan to teach young children, who tend to have weak hand grip strength and hold their shinai in such a way that the two V's between the thumb and index finger of their hands do not aligned and their elbows flaring out. And so, the wringing-the-towel visual analogy may be useful in teaching children how to grip the shinai properly. However, adults do not have the same grip strength deficiency that young children have. Most adults can turn their palms in so that the two V's of their hands aligned properly. With an already correct hand grip position, if we also use this analogy, it often contributes to excessive pronation of the forearms and tensing of the shoulder and forearm muscles. So, this analogy should not be used in the adult population. A point to add to the "wringing-towel" analogy is that it is not possible to turn your wrist in when holding a real katana.

  • "In Tsubazerai - how bent should the elbow be?" The elbow should not be bent at all. When your opponent pushes you back, keep the elbow extended to keep the distance and control.

  • "Gyaku-do - what is the correct zanshin?" Some people say that one should move diagonally backwards to the left, and some people say that you should move diagonally forward to the left. In reply to this question, Chiba Sensei demonstrated the zanshin for gyaku-do by closing in the distance between him and the opponent. So close that Chiba Sensei is literally staring his opponent right in the face. This is the safest and most convincing zanshin as it gives his opponent no space to execute any cuts.
Chiba Sensei, me, Oda Sensei @ Sydney Tower


  • A nice update from you Vivian!

    It's interesting you mentioned the "gripping towel" description of tenouchi. I think also it's a description for beginners, because they tend to have their fingers facing upwards after the strike. When I use the analogy of gripping a towel to Ozawa sensei, he said "No" and told me to grip "naturally". So I stopped taking it for granted that tenouchi should be like gripping a towel.

    In fact, in his mind everything in kendo is natural...

    By Blogger Ivan, at Wednesday, August 20, 2008 8:38:00 AM  

  • Natural is the best. When in doubt, think of the shinai as a real katana, and all things will become clearer.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Wednesday, August 20, 2008 10:48:00 AM  

  • Hi Vivian
    I really enjoyed your blog
    entries. Thank you so much
    for sharing your experiences
    I learned alot


    By Blogger Issac, at Thursday, September 18, 2008 3:40:00 AM  

  • Dear Issac,

    Thank you for your post and the kind comments. Good luck with your kendo training and hope you will accomplish your goals too.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Thursday, September 18, 2008 10:27:00 PM  

  • As usual, I get hints and ideas from your posts. I hope I can apply them to my kendo! Thanks a lot.

    We had a visit from Chiba Sensei with Arai and Okada Senseis to Madrid last June, which was both short (only a couple of hours) and intense. Chiba Sensei strikes so smoothly and yet so powerful...

    You can see a video of the "master class" by Gabriel and Flavio (Almost 30 minutes, Thanks!) here:


    Greetings from the other side of the world.


    By Anonymous Carlos Sanz Ramírez, at Saturday, September 27, 2008 3:12:00 AM  

  • Hi Carlos,

    Thank you for your comments. Chiba Sensei also mentioned that he had a nice visit to Spain last year. And thank you for the link too! That's very kind of you to share.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Sunday, September 28, 2008 4:13:00 PM  

  • Hello there!!!

    I‘m José from Kendo Ecuador (Jodan Article Translation) It is nice to see that you had the opportunity to chat with Chiba and Oda sensei about many Kendo aspects.

    I‘m really thankful at you, for sahring all the info.


    Kind regards,


    By Blogger Ken Shin Kan, at Friday, December 19, 2008 8:37:00 AM  

  • Hello José! Thanks for your message and nice to hear from you again.

    You are most welcome about the article, and thank you for visiting here too.

    Wishing you all the best for 2009!

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Friday, December 19, 2008 5:36:00 PM  

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