a MMB! Kendo Blog: Plummy Plum Power

MMB! Kendo Blog

Sunday, September 28, 2008

忍耐 + 掌握人生
Plummy Plum Power

It's been a month and it's time to give an update on what's been happening in the past month. There are 3 main parts to this update:
  1. Sports Psychology
  2. ACT Kendo Seminar
  3. Dae Han Moo Do Kwan Kumdo Tournament


A few weeks ago, I attended a sports physiotherapy seminar on Sport Psychology on Athlete Injuries. The presenter was the current Sports Psychologist for the Australian Swimming Team, who recently accompanied the team to the Beijing Olympics. The talk was very interesting and I found many points highly relevant to those of us who attend regular competition, but at times find it difficult to perform under pressure.

Focus on the Process - the Controllable
During the talk, the presenter repeatedly emphasized the need for an athlete to focus on the controllable process rather than the uncontrollable final outcome. Good athletes put their focuses and energy to control the controllables. But often, many athletes have the misconception that they can control injury and illness, what the coach thinks, and how the other competitors will perform, and ultimately the overall outcome. For example, an elite athlete may say, 'I really need to finish the season well, I need to prove it to the coach, I need to prove blah blah blah…' All of a sudden, this athlete has greater anxiety and self-doubt, because he or she is attempting to control the uncontrollables. As a result, the automatic response is increased muscle tension. Increased muscle tension increases load to the body, which makes the athlete more susceptible to injuries and lower the performance.

As such, as an athlete, we should focus on the process rather than the outcome. It is the the process that we can control - we can build up our skills, speed, strength, and stamina. But we can't control the outcome - things like what the coach thinks, what our teammates do, or how our competitors perform.

Embrace Pressure
Another point being made in the presentation was how to deal with pressure. Athlete has to learn to make uncomfortable feelings, such as repetitions, stress, pressure & pain, to become more comfortable. For example, standing up behind the starting blocks in the Olympic final is not generally a comfortable feeling. Why? Because the sprinter cannot afford a stuff-up. If the sprinter stuffs it up now, he will have to wait another four years for the next Olympic Games. And the whole world is watching. And there may be the thought of not wanting to be flopped by any of the Jamaican sprinters. Well, yes, it is an uncomfortable situation. None of us like feeling uncomfortable, and we tend to avoid uncomfortableness. But if an athlete wants to perform well, he or she must recognise that this is part of elite sport, and he or she got to accept and get used to feeling uncomfortable and perform under pressure.

Those athletes who thrive and perform under pressure are risk-takers. And they got to get used to performing under pressure. On a good day, we can all perform well. But it is the bad days when the athlete is under the hot water & high intensity of pressure that distinguishes and exposes the true character of the athletes.

Ultmiately, sport is survival of the fittest. Whoever is able to hold it together long enough, both mentally and physically, to do the training required to develop the skills to get out there and perform will do well.

I attended the ACT Kendo Seminar hosted in Canberra on 20-21 September. Two visiting Sensei from Japan conducted a fantastic seminar:
  • Isato Matsuda Sensei, 8 Dan Kyoshi - Nara City Board of Education Physical Education Guidance Director
  • Nobuhiro Ozaki Sensei, 7 Dan Kyoshi - Coach at the Osaka Sangyo University kendo club.
It was one of the most thorough weekend seminars I have attended, covering aspects from kendo keiko, uchikomi and kakarigeiko to kata, shiai & shinpaning. For simplicity and clarity, I have put the more notable points here under the relevant headings.

  • The purpose of suburi is to perfect the movement in each cut. We should treat suburi as part of keiko, not as a general warm-up. Always imagine that you are striking an imaginable target in suburi.
Upper Body
  • Shoulder, arm and wrist should be relax to allow energy to transfer from the body to the monouchi (tip of the shinai). This is also affected by the way you grip the shinai. The shinai should be gripped with the ring and little fingers, in the way that Chiba Sensei has taught (see August '08 blog entry). When I grip the shinai without the kote protector on, I have perfect distribution of grip strength. However, once I put my kote on, I reverted back to the bad habits of gripping like making a fist, which I didn't notice until recently when Jonathan Cross Sensei kindly pointed that out to me. Now I am always checking my grip to make sure it is correct. And I was able to notice the huge difference it makes to the way I cut.
  • Extend arms (i.e. straighten the elbow) as much as possible when cutting.
  • When making a strike, cut through the target. e.g. for men-uchi, cut through to the chin.
  • In taitari, keep hands down at waist level. It is dangerous to the opponents to extend arms at or above head level.
Lower Body
  • Keep the left knee straight
  • Foot weight distribution ratio ~ 60(left):40(right)
  • Use short, rapid footwork rather than large long strides. Short rapid footwork maintains the body's centre of mass to move in a smooth horizontal plane, whereas large long strides result in the body bobbing up and down.
  • Bow: 30 deg to kamiza; 15 deg to kata partner
  • When putting the kodachi down, take 4 - 5 steps diagonally backwards. Make sure that you don't show the inside of the legs to the kamiza when you kneel with one leg down to put the bokuto on the ground.
  • The major difference in holding a bokuto and a katana in taito is that: for bokuto, the end of the grip handle should be in the centreline. Whereas for katana, the tsuba (not the end of the handle) should be in the centreline.
  • When taking the five small steps back from the centre, make sure that on the last step, you pull the right foot back just a little bit. So in a sense, you are taking 5.5 steps back from the centre.
  • The kiai duration differs depending on the strength of the cut required, which in turn is then dependent on the target to be cut. For example, louder and longer kiai to cut through men; smaller and shorter kiai to cut through kote.
  • In Kata #2, when both sides come into the centre to meet, the two bokkens cross deeper than the normal yokote position. Shidachi only needs to lift arms just high enough to see the target. Aim to cut through the wrist.
  • In Kata #3, both sides should only raise the bokken from gedan when they meet in the centre. A common mistake is to start raising the bokken while taking the three steps to meet in the centre. The shidachi receives the initial thrust by uchidachi by pulling the body back with one large step. Then, the shidachi straightens out the elbow to make the first of the two thrusts to uchidachi's chest (ire-tsuki). Shidachi then continues the momentum with a second thrust executed with kurai-zume, which is translated as "a way of closing in on the opponent by means of a stronger spirit and posture without actually executing a waza" (Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo). Thus, there is no actual bending and re-extending the elbow in the second thrust. In receiving the two thrusts, the uchidachi points the tip of the bokken to the shidachi's throat. The rhythm changes throughout this kata. In the first thrust by uchidachi and the ire-tsuki by that follows, the speed should be fast. Also, the three forward steps taken by shidachi in closing in to uchidachi should also be fast. The rest should be at slow to moderate speed.
  • In Kata #4, the three steps before making the aiuchi-men should be small and slow. Not running into the forest as seen in movies! If the swords meet too close in aiuchi-men, it is the uchidachi's responsibility to adjust the distance. However, the best scenario is when the distance is correct without having to make distance adjustment.
  • Haso no kamae - (L) & (R) elbows are roughly one fist distance away from the side of body. (R) fist is about one fist distance away (and slightly forward) from the (R) chin. The blade should be facing the opponent.
  • Waki no kamae - (L) fist directly in front of the belly-button. The weight distribution should be 50:50. Common mistake is to put too much weight on (R) foot. The (R) heel should be slightly off the ground.
  • In Kata #5, shidachi's kensen points to uchidachi's left wrist. In the men cut that follows, Uchidachi attempts to cut through to the chin. However, due to shidachi's suriage deflection, uchidachi's bokken drops down.
  • In Kata #6, when shidachi moves from gedan up to chudan, shidachi pressures by taking a step with the kensen pointing to the left wrist. When the uchidachi is defeated, the uchidachi should allow the kensen to drop. Don't keep the sword live.
  • In Kata #7, the first thrust to the chest shoud be executed with ki-atari, which is translated as "to attack the opponent by showing the intention to strike or thrust, and then watch how the opponent's mind reacts and predict his/her moves." (Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo). After shidachi strikes men, only uchidachi loses eye-contact. Shidachi maintains eye contact throughout all the kata.
  • During the changeover to shodachi, the uchidachi should be waiting in sonkyo with the bokken in right hand.
  • In kodachi, shidachi assumes ire-mi where the right shoulder faces to the front and the left shoulder is drawn back. In this way, the tip of the kodachi will be at equal distance as the longer bokken when putting both uchidachi and shidachi side-by-side.
  • In kodachi #2, shidachi applies the kansetsu waza (joint lock) with a downward pressure on uchidachi's elbow.
  • In kodachi #3, shidachi applies the kansetsu waza with the left hand putting a bottom-up pressure just proximal to the uchidachi's elbow joint. And the right hand applying a downward pressure at the tsuba-moto.
Shiai & Shinpan
  • In team competition, the two teams should have a 9-step distance apart for the team bow.
  • The timing of the 'hajime' call by the head judge is very important. The head judge has the role of facilitation - to bring the best out of the players. Hajime should be called at the time when both players are both full of spirit.
  • Sometimes, the foot of the shiaisha may be just a little bit behind the starting line. In that case, the head judge need not signal the player to step up to the line as it interfere with the player's concentration and spirit. Only signals to the player to adjust the starting position if the player steps in front of the starting line or is too far back from the starting line.
  • In jogai (step out of court), the head judge should call 'yame'. Otherwise, the clock will keep ticking.
  • For jogai, the assistant judge should not put the hansoku flag out before the head judge call 'yame'. In the case that the head judge did not see the jogai, the assistant judge can call 'yame'.
  • If the head judge did not see a jogai or any other dangerous situations, the assistant judge can call 'yame'. This will stop the clock. Even though the assistant judge has called 'yame', the head judge should call 'yame' again as the head judge is the head of the shiaijo. Then 'gogi' should be called.
  • When the head judge announces 'hansoku ikkai', both assistant judges put the flags down. A common mistake is that the assistant judges leaves the flag up until hajime is called.
  • In the case where one or more judges did not make a response in relation to another judge's point decision, the head judge should call 'yame. gogi'.
  • For situations, such as fist on blade in tsubazerai or shinai turn to the side, even if the assistant judges see that there is a problem, they cannot call hansoku or yame. The head judge is the only person that can call yame, gogi and award hansoku for these situations.
  • For all hansoku except jogai, gogi should be called before awarding hansoku.
  • When adjusting a twisted shinai (which can only be carried out by the head judge), guide from either the tsuba or tsuka. DO NOT touch the blade area.
  • Watch cut AND zanshin before awarding a point. If the judge raises the flag straight after the cut, even if the zanshin turned out to be bad, point has been awarded and cannot be taken away.
Matsuda Sensei guided us through the practice of a series of oji-waza:
  • Men-taisuru waza with men cut
  • Men-taisuru waza with kote cut
  • Kote-taisuru waza with men cut
  • Kote-taisuru waza with kote cut
  • For opponent who keeps the arms low after men cut, one can usually counter with suriage-men and kaeshi-men. However, these counter-attack measures do not quite work for opponent who raises the arms up high after men cut. For these opponents, nuki-do or kaeshi-do would be more effective.
  • Appy a downward pressure on the opponent's shinai. If the opponent reacts by pushing up, release the downward pressure and cut do immediately as the opponent's arms lift up.
  • For Kote-taisuru waza with kote cut, there are kote-suriage-kote and kote-kaeshi-kote. Matsuda Sensei said that there has been a decline in the use of these waza, because they are considered more difficult to execute, and the shinpan have been unable to recognise these good cuts. A note for the shinpan from Matsuda Sensei is that shinpan should be able to recognise these types of cuts and award points for these more difficult techniques.
Personal feedbacks from Matsuda Sensei:
  • Good matawari and suburi in general.
  • Hands were too stiff when striking men. Need to transfer the energy to the monouchi.
  • In uchikomi-geiko, it is good that I cut point by point, but I need to string all these points together with sharper and shorter turns to go for the next cut, and the next cut after.
  • In the kakari-geiko demonstration with destabilising pushes where I was the kakarite and Ozaki Sensei as motodachi, Matsuda Sensei commented that my cuts were a little weak at the moment, but that I have good light and fluid footwork.
  • Need to move and strike faster and harder.

The Plum Team
(Photo taken after a couple of destabilizing beetroot + champagne)

Sydney Plum Team

Seminar Group Photo
(Photo supplied by Twins and Kassandra)

My sprint success at the closing rei

Last Saturday, I participated in a local kendo tournament hosted by the Dae Han Moo Do Kwan Kumdo Club. The Sydney Kendo Club was very well represented in every category. For me personally, I participated in the Women's Individuals, Women's Team & Dan Open Team events.

The day started well for my club with Luke Lee snatching the Kyu Individuals Title.

Next up was the Women's Individuals. I won all my pool and knockout matches by 2-0 to eventually advance to the finals where I met Daseul. We had a long battle in the final, which lasted for about 10 minutes. In the match, both Daseul and myself were fighting rather cautiously, with both sides attacking with their more comfortable waza. Personally, I think I lacked seme and was too repetitive in that match. Ultimately, I could not build up to a strong distinctive powerful ippon cut. The last point was conceded when I attempted a gyaku-do which got stuck under Daseul's tare, and she grabbed the opportunity nicely and delivered an ippon hiki-men. So Daseul won the Women Individuals' title, and I came second.

Following after that was the Dan Individuals competition. Our club performed strongly in this event, taking out 3 of the top 4 places. Aussie Ray Kato won a thrilling final against fellow clubmate Daisuke, with Jayson taking out equal third.

With the conclusion of all individual competitions, the team competitions began. After eating a yummy beef and bamboo shoot rice lunch box after my women's individuals competition, I felt much more energised and ready to rock with the Plum Girls. (Just don't ask about how this name came about.) Anh was our senpo, Jessie was jiho and I was taisho.

Our first pool match was against MDK Team 1, I had a re-match with Daseul in my match. In this match, I was able to build up the seme and felt much more in control in this match. I took the first point with a men cut, but Daseul equalised to 1-1 with a hiki-gyaku-do. With that, our team won by one point difference in the overall team score.

Our second pool match was against Wollongong, who was only able to field two players. I fought Shoko in the taisho match, and took the match 2-0 with a hiki-men and a tobikomi-men.

With the wins in the pool matches, the Plum Girls advanced into the final facing MDK Team 2. Leading up to my match, my team had 1 win 1 loss, so it came down to my match as the decider. I felt I was in control throughout the match, and eventually took out two points with a kote-nuki-men and a debana-kote to take the Plum Girls to the Women's Team title.

Go, the Plum Power!

The Dan Open Team Competition followed straight after that. My team - SKC Team 1 consists of Daisuke (senpo), Jayson (jiho), myself (chuken), Toshio (fukusho), Ray (taisho) fought UNSW and MDK Team 2 in the pool matches. We had a very good start, winning all 10 games against the two teams in our pool to advance to the final. For me, I won my chuken match against Jackson of UNSW with two debana-kote, and a debana-kote and a men-kaeshi-do against Bennett of MDK.

The Dan Team final against MDK Team 1 was a thriller. It came down to the final match between the two Taisho. Daisuke and Jayson made a strong start by winning their senpo and jiho matches respectively. In my chuken match, I faced Dwight but lost to a debana-kote and a men. From the feedbacks I received later on, I need to vary my game and tactics a little bit more to keep my opponent guessing. In the fukusho match, Robin of MDK fought extremely well to equalise the overall team score to 2-2 with a one point advantage to MDK.

For SKC to win, Ray, the newly crowned Dan Individual champion, must win the taisho match. And he did it in spectacular fashion, taking the first point with a nicely-timed men cut. But the last point was definitely the most exhilarating. It could not finish off more beautifully, with both sides going for aiuchi-men and Ray coming out on top, snatching that deciding moment to bring SKC to the team championships. Hooray!

So that's my report for the past month. Until the next entry, I will leave you with this amazing drum solo performance from a 12-year-old.


  • Hi Vivian, thanks for the interesting update!
    "Control the uncontrollable" it's a nice thing to remember.

    I'm also very impressed by your touch down in the video!

    By Blogger Ivan, at Tuesday, September 30, 2008 11:48:00 PM  

  • My friend kindly captured that touch-down on the video. I liked it because it reminds me of how penguins do the belly-slide on ice in Antarctica.

    Hey, please focus on the controllable, and DO NOT attempt to control the uncontrollable. That's the message from the Sports Psychology section... I hope I didn't confuse you there.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Tuesday, September 30, 2008 11:54:00 PM  

  • Oh yes of course, sorry. I was thinking one thing and writing the other !!! Oh, my head!

    By Blogger Ivan, at Wednesday, October 01, 2008 11:13:00 PM  

  • Oh, goodie! ^_^ I understand.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Wednesday, October 01, 2008 11:35:00 PM  

  • Hey hey!! Finally! I was wondering when you were gonna update! It's been a long time now, I was missing this kendo-story!!!

    As usual your article is very interesting. The psychology section was really, really interesting. Regarding something "like that" I once read that there's a difference between "stress peak" on soldiers; new ones feel the pressure as they are fighting for the first time and veteran ones have their peak stress point just some moments before fight starts.

    So, in sports i believe it's almost the same; experimented players will feel less pressure "on the moment of truth" that new-comers. Meaning that I believe that one can get "used" to pressure. Just a thought :D

    The technique review was also a very pleasant reading. Righ now I'm in a moment where...I don't know what to do ^_^. I'm just trying to experimient with different oji-waza and see what happens, if I can get the "feeling" of it. And also experimenting with seme, different kinds :)

    I thought you were gonna slip and fall on that sprint! Haha! Nice run :D

    Well, I'll be waiting for your next post, and I thank you for this one. Do your best!

    Kind regards,

    By Blogger Leon, at Friday, October 03, 2008 11:34:00 PM  

  • Hey Leon,

    Thank you for the comments and feedback on the latest entry. I enjoy reading your comments too.

    It is good to go through the waza section, isn't it? It works really well, as I was also kind of in the same situation where I felt I am limited to the use of one or two waza. That review session reminded me that there are many options in countering a specific attack. Will have to look at that list over and over again to refresh that memory.

    With the current schedule, it looks like I will update roughly once a month, and more if I have more free time or at university breaks. I just added a 'Subscribe to my Site Feed' button on the right side bar. I wonder if it will work... if it works, then maybe whenever I post a new entry, you get an auto notification. How's that? Maybe give that a try.

    By Blogger Vivian Yung, at Saturday, October 04, 2008 12:17:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home