a MMB! Kendo Blog: April 2010

MMB! Kendo Blog

Friday, April 09, 2010

忍耐 + 掌握人生
35th AKC and Seminar

35th Australian Kendo Championships

Another year. Another national championships. Congratulations to all the winners in the championships, and all the participants, officials, volunteers and supporters for making the championships so successful. The standard and quality of kendo was no doubt improving every year, and this year's championships ended with a thrilling match-up between NSW and Victoria. It was a tooth and nail fight down to the taisho match. In the end, Brett Smith took the deciding point to take Victoria to victory. But regardless of the result, I am sure all who were lucky enough to be there appreciated the display of such high quality of kendo. Well done to all!

This year also saw the introduction of the new Kyu women's individuals event. Thanks largely to Kate Sylvester, who is the latest John Bulter Award recipient for her huge effort in the development of women's kendo over the years. It was really wonderful to see so many people supported and cheered on in the kyu women's individuals even though it was around the lunch hour. Congratulations to our NSW girls who performed so brilliantly in this event. In particular, Songie who took the inaugural kyu women's individual title, and Julie and Kathleen for coming equal third.

As for myself, I participated in the women's dan individuals and team events and came third and second respectively. Reflecting on my match performance, I felt I was too rushed to cut in some of my matches, which I should have settled down and setup my cuts a little bit more. Exploring ways to seme and control my opponents will be things I need to work on before next year's nationals.

The NSW Team

The NSW Girls

The 2-day national championships were followed by a 2-day seminar. This year, Australia was fortunate to receive the support of the AJKF, who sent a delegation of two Kendo 8 Dan Sensei to conduct the national kendo seminar. They were Takeshi Masago Sensei, Kendo Hanshi 8 Dan, and also Toru Tamura Sensei, Kendo Kyoshi 8 Dan.

Below are notes that I have taken at the seminar. I hope these notes will be useful for all who read it.


------Notes from First Day of the Seminar------

Accident During Shiai - Shinpan Decision:

Masago Sensei kicked off the two-day seminar with a 30-minute championships discussion session. During which, Masago Sensei brought up the topic about the incident that happened at the Open Team Championships final and its implication to shinpaning. For those who did not see the senpo match of the team finals, here is what happened:

In the senpo match of the Open Team Championships Finals between Team NSW and Team Victoria, Jayson Chaplin (NSW) and Kevin Chin (Victoria) opened the match with exciting exchange of attacks with full vigour and spirit, and I was actually very looking forward to see this match up, because both players have really positive style of kendo.

Unfortunately, the match was cut short due to an accident, where Kevin landed heavily on the back after coming into contact with Jayson at the completion of his tobikomi-men attack. Kevin's feet were still up in the air at the instant of his body contact with Jayson. And that was enough to flip Kevin straight back and down on his back. There was a loud thud from the fall, followed by the sound of agony.

Having worked with rugby teams and seeing some nasty injuries before, my first reaction was to get onto the shiai-jo quickly. So I immediately ran to the chief referee table to gain permission to get on the court as a senior first-aider. At first, I was really worried if there was spinal injury involvement, so I did a quick neural structure test. Fortunately, Kevin responded well to the test to rule out spinal injury. Kevin then said that his shoulder has come out and has had a history of shoulder dislocation last year. So we quickly called for an ambulance. Fortunately, around the same time, Dr. Humphrey from Queensland walked on to the court. After examining Kevin's shoulder, Dr. Humphrey offered to relocate Kevin's shoulder. So after about 10 minutes on the shiaijo, Kevin finally had his shoulder relocated and got up. As he walked out of the court for more side-line treatment, the crowd gave him an encouraging round of applause.

After Kevin's shoulder was relocated, however, the drama did not end there. This was because the shinpan had the difficult task in interpreting the shinpan regulation with regard to accident and injury. Under Section 2, Article 30, Item 2 of The Regulations of Kendo Shiai and Shinpan, it states that:

"in case Shiai-sha is unable to continue Shiai due to an injury, should the opponent be deemed responsible for the accident, whether intentionally or not, the opponent shall lose Shiai, whereas, if the cause of the accident cannot be ascertained, Shiai-funo-sha shall lose Shiai."

So the point of contention here was whether "the opponent be deemed responsible for the accident". There was a very long discussion amongst the shinpan and court-side referees on this issue. In the end, the shinpan decided that the NSW senpo was not responsible for the cause of the accident and awarded the senpo match to NSW. And this decision was a correct one in the opinion of Masago Sensei.

Masago Sensei then challenged all the seminar participants to think how we would make the judging decision if the same clashing situation happened but none of the players was injured. How would we judge then?

Sensei added that, of course, when a player was down and injured, it was very easy as a human being to get emotional and be sympathetic to the injured player. However, a good shinpan should not make decision based on emotion, and should remain impartial even during a difficult situation.

Pre-tournament Shinpan Seminar:

An issue was raised by one of the seminar participants that the shinpan at the championship over the weekend were not judging at the same level - some shinpan raised their flag too easily, while others hardly ever lifted their flags up. It seemed that the shinpan all held different criteria for a yuko-dadotsu (valid point).

With that, Masago Sensei told us that this was where a pre-tournament shinpan seminar was necessary and important. In Japan and at the World Kendo Championships, pre-tournament shinpan seminars were held to allow all shinpan to discuss and come into agreement with what constitute a yuko-dadotsu. In these pre-tournament shinpan seminar, shiai-sha were selected to match the skill level of the players at the actual tournament. It is at these pre-tournament seminars that set the standard of shinpan level at the championships. Of course, it is important that shinpan know how to hold the flags correctly, move across the shiai-jo, etc. However, the most important thing for a shinpan to understand is how to correctly judge a yuko-dadotsu. By running a pre-tournament shinpan seminar, a more unified decision could be reached amongst shinpan.

Crowd Participation:

Another issue raised during the discussion session was about crowd participation. The question was 'what is an acceptable level of crowd participation and cheering?' Some teams were cheering so loudly that the shinpan were not able to hear the sound of shinai contact, whistle, etc. And it seemed that some cheering were made to influence the shinpan decision.

Masago Sensei replied that as a basic rule, cheer in kendo should be kept to clapping, but that should also not be a coded rhythmic clap. Vocal cheering should be curbed. But even then, in reality, it is difficult to control how the audience cheer. It is not possible to give hansoku or penalty to the crowd. As a shinpan, it is important to stay impartial and not be influenced by the crowds.

Being a Shinpan and a Shiai-sha:

For us, we don't have the luxury of having a team of shinpan purely dedicated to the role of refereeing. Often we have to be both shinpan and a shiai-sha in the same tournament. With that, Masago Sensei saw it as a good thing that we have the opportunities to be on both sides of a match. This allows us to see and understand from both the shinpan and the player's point of view.

As a shinpan, one should strive to make good decision to raise the shinpan level such that players, judges and audience all understand the shinpan decision. Although human are imperfect and we have all made incorrect decisions as a shinpan, what sets kendo apart from other sports which utilise electronic scoring system is that we strive to achieve perfection within ourselves.

Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon Waza Keiko Ho:
  • Holding the bokuto - must hold with ring and little fingers. If these fingers are loose and not holding on, it is easy for others to snap the bokuto off your hand. Not a good thing.
  • Demonstrate zanshin after each cut - Yes, I know we have heard this many times, but how many of us actually demonstrate zanshin after our cuts. We really need to make an effort to strengthen our zanshin display.
  • In sanbonme (#3) harai-kote - Right foot comes forward as you execute harai-men, and not in two separate motions.
  • In yonhonme (#4) tsubazerai-hiki-do - In tsubazerai, the kakarite pushes the motodachi's tsuba down. In response, motodachi counters with an upward push. At this very moment, the kakarite releases the pressure. As a result, motodachi's arms upward momentum exposes his do target, and the kakarite capitalises on this opportunity by striking hiki-do.
  • Nuki-do & kaeshi-do - After executing the do cut, kakarite should turn the head to face uchidachi, while the rest of the body should remain squarely forward.
  • In nanahonme (#7) debana-kote - As the motodachi, make sure to take a subtle small step forward as you open up the kote target.

Relevance of Nihon Kata to Kendo:

The modern form of Kendo derives from fighting techniques using the katana. Nihon Kendo Kata captures and focuses us on the psychological aspect in a real sword battle. The idea of Nihon Kendo Kata is to allow us the opportunity to understand and immerse ourselves in the essence and spirit of the opponent-to-opponent sword battle situation while practicing in a safe environment. This enable us to strengthen ourselves both spiritually and physically.

In a way, Nihon Kendo Kata serves as a link between katana and shiai kendo. It enhances our appreciation of the life and death situation in our shinai-to-shinai kendo keiko. When we practice Nihon Kendo Kata, we should always aim to maintain the mental state of a life and death situation.


There are four points that Masago Sensei associate to the idea of Bushido:
  1. A straight and forward-going spirit;
  2. An honest, unwavering mind;
  3. Be kind and gentle to others; and
  4. Be strict towards yourself.
A straight and forward-going spirit
We appreciate that in kata, we don't sway our body sideways. So in kendo, we should also aim to practice kendo with a straight and forward-going spirit.

An honest, unwavering mind
What is seme? A true seme demonstrates to our opponent the unwavering spirit and intention that we are going to attack to the point where our opponent is completely overwhelmed and frozen by our strong determined spirit. The battle is won before the actual cut. Whereas pretending to hide and doing sneaky attacks are not seme.

Be kind and gentle to others
We should not perform techniques with excessive force than necessary that can hurt our opponents. A cut that creates a nice pop sound on the dadotsu-bui and not painful to receive is said to have sae.

Be strict towards yourself
In the Olympics, sports such as gymnastic and figure-skating are very beautiful to watch. However, those at the highest level are all very young. When you think about it, often these athletes reach the pinnacles of these sports after 10 years of training. One would think that the more years of training you do, the better one would become. However, this is not the case in those sports. This is because those sports rely heavily on strength, speed and youthfulness.

The same can be said about kendo if one only practice kendo that relies purely on strength, speed and youthfulness. Younger kendo players can rely on speed to win. However, if that is the only thing you practice, once you get older you will not be able to do the same thing as you did when you were young. Often you see people dropping off kendo because they cannot play the kind of kendo that they once did, and their kendo cannot grow anymore due to their entire focus on the physical aspect. Kendo that depends on speed, strength and youthfulness is not true kendo. Therefore, it is important to develop your own repertoire of techniques that allow you to perform kendo in a smooth manner without relying so much on speed and strength. This type of kendo is something that people from all ages can do, but it takes perseverance to grasp and perform such type of kendo.

Masago Sensei then gave us two analogies:

The first one was with learning how to ride the bicycle. As a beginner, we paddled frantically as we were scared to fall off the bicycle. However, as you get better, you learn how to paddle the bicycle in a slow and smooth fashion while getting from point A to point B in an efficient manner.

The second analogy was with learning how to swim. A beginner swimmer paddled and flapped around excessive to try to stay afloat and swim. However, a skilled swimmer used less strokes yet able to swim the same distance in less time than a beginner.

So the same can be said for kendo. The more skillful you are, the smoother your body moves. The more efficient you move, the less stress it is to your body. This allows one to enjoy practicing an ever-lasting type of kendo.

The Importance of Kiai and Breathing

During expiration, our body's centre of gravity becomes lower, which makes our body more stable, stronger and more difficult for our opponent to make a success attack.

The opposite can be said to inspiration. Usually, a point is scored against you during inspiration. For example, when you are startled, you take a gasp of air in.

This is why we need to practice kiai to learn how to expire or breath out as this makes our body more stable.

It is only when we reach the senior level such as 8 Dan that we don't have to kiai out to achieve the same result, because their normal breathing has already incorporated the mechanics to achieve a stable body.

Mock 6-Dan Grading Exam:

Four current Kendo 5-Dan Sensei from Australia and New Zealand who were due for their Kendo 6 Dan grading were called upon to participate in a mock 6-Dan grading examination during the seminar. After each of the 4 participants completed their 2x 90 seconds grading matches, the grading panel provided feedbacks on their performance. Below are the points that I found interesting that I would like to share:
  • Need to understand the difference between waiting and actual setup to seme and attack. All the mock grading participants were waiting too much, and not enough setup and seme. In grading, the actual match duration is very short, so it is very important to grasp the opportunity to seme from the beginning. Don't just wait. Seme. Seme. Seme.
  • Zanshin needs to flow all the way to completion of the cut to complement the waza that was executed.
  • Need to place more importance in the use of kiai. In Japan, a lot of emphasis is placed in kiai in grading, where people kiai to the point that those who hear it falls over.
  • After executing a men cut, make sure to go through with whole body to completion without lifting the hands up.
  • Watch the left foot. There should have a feeling of going forward instead of leaning back.
With regard to kiai, Tamura Sensei demonstrated to us how a kiai should be like. And, it was SOOOO awesome. It was certainly the most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, eye-bulging, spine-tingling kiai I have ever heard in real life. That kiai ascended in power, intensity and spirit, so awesome that it froze the body of whoever was listening to it, including mine. I was literally stunned by such powerful kiai. Lord, I was so fortunate to hear such rare demonstration of this kind of superior kiai. So lucky.

So, after getting so revved up and inspired by the feedback of the mock grading exam, I made sure I put 300% effort into setting up the seme and replicating Tamura Sensei's awesome kiai. That made the whole experience of mawari-geiko with 3-Dan and above, and sensei-geiko with Tamura Sensei and Yano Sensei so much more enjoyable. I was able to feel the connection and tension so much more. From now on, I have to make sure I do this in every training session.


Group photo at the end of the first day seminar

-----Notes from Second Day of the Seminar------

Kata and Seme:

On the second day of the seminar, Masago Sensei started off the day once again with a discussion session. Sensei quickly touched on the main points discussed in the previous day and then focused further on the basic grip of the bokuto, and also on the topic of seme and its application in kata.

Masago Sensei brought a bokuto forward and showed us how he gripped the bokuto, while explaining to us that the hands should grip with the minimal amount of force to support the bokuto. There was no need to grip any harder than that. And then Sensei came over to me and gave me the bokuto. So lucky to be Sensei's test subject. I was told to hold the bokuto and Sensei was to check my grip. Although I thought I was holding it lightly and having known that Sensei was going to pull the bokuto out of my hands to test how hard or light my grip force was, I was surprised that I was still gripping it hard enough that Masago Sensei was not able to pull the shinai out of my hands. It was really surprising how little force was needed to support the shinai in kamae. And I felt so relax in my kamae.

And thinking about this more, this light grip makes the person's upper body tension to go away, which allows a person to have more control with its breathing. If optimal breathing rhythm and pattern as mentioned by the Sensei in the earlier part of the seminar could be achieved, the longer duration of expiration allows for a stabler as a result of the body's lower center of gravity.

Masago Sensei then moved on to discuss the concept of seme. Sensei particularly pointed out my match performance at the championships, that I was relying too much on speed. What I need to focus on now is to develop strong seme. To be able to gaman (我慢) or be patient, and setup strong seme so that the point is won from the beginning even before the cut is executed. I was once again fortunate enough to be Sensei's demo subject, where Sensei discussed seme using Kata Ipponme. Masago Sensei and I performed ipponme once through first, where Sensei was uchidachi and I was shidachi. After we completed the first run through and just before we performed ipponme for the second time, Sensei told the seminar group that he was about to demonstrate to us what seme is.

At that time, I thought to myself, 'how is Sensei going to demonstrate even more seme in the second go? I could feel plenty of seme in the first go already'.

In any case, we started our second go of ipponme by going into our respective jodan-no-kamae. We took the three-step in, and I could remember that I was thinking to myself to make sure to coordinate with Sensei's timing of cut and to take a good big step back to step out of Sensei's cut. The moment came, and I could sense Sensei was about to cut. So when Sensei was just about to cut down, I took a huge step back....

....but Masago Sensei was still holding his jodan-no-kamae. He simply seme in, but didn't actually strike. On the other hand, I was overwhelmed by his seme and felt the urge to step back to avoid his cut even though Sensei didn't commit to the cut. What a beautiful example of seme! So brilliantly demonstrated in this kata performance.

Spirit in Unison
Masago Sensei later explained to us that it is very important that shidachi (aka. the student) strives to hold seme and spirit that matches the uchidachi.

Left Foot
Masago Sensei also demonstrated the importance of shidachi's left foot in kata when executing the counter-attacks. Sensei urged us to put special focus on our left foot when we practice kata.

Slow, Fast, Strong, Weak (緩急強弱)
In kata, sometimes it is necessary to slow down, while other times it is necessary to speed up. There is a phrase in Japanese called 'kan-kyuu-kyou-jyaku' 緩急強弱 or slow, fast, strong, and weak. We need to be able to demonstrate the clear distinction between these four modes in kata.

A similar article on these four modes in one of my previous entries can be found here: http://nintai.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html

Shinogi and Nagasu
Need to understand how to use the shinogi when performing the technique of nagasu.

Drawing the sword
Masago Sensei observed that many senior grades performed poorly in this aspect at the championships in that they drew the shinai out and met with opponent's shinai first, and then went into sonkyo afterwards. That was incorrect. The correct motion should be that the drawing of the shinai and coming down into sonkyo are performed at the same time.

Grading in Nito:

In preparation for the national grade to be conducted on the following day. Masago Sensei discussed about aspects of grading. Although none of the participants in this year's national grading would use nito, Masago Sensei mentioned about the nito grading procedure in Japan. Apparently, if there is a nito player grading, the two other players who graded against the nito player will grade against each other in a third match. I thought that was interesting and a good thing. I guess that makes it fairer for the two other players who might not be so accustomed to fighting against nito a proper chance to demonstrate their skills.

Group photo at the end of the second day seminar

All the ladies at the seminar with the two AJKF Sensei and Ron Bennett Sensei


Congratulations to the girls who successfully graded at the national grading on Wednesday, 7th April, 2010. Well done to my dear obaaaa-chan, Chiaki who is now 4 Dan. I believe Shoko is my state (NSW)'s first female 5 Dan Sensei. Woohoo!!!

Assisting the 2 Dan kata grading as an uchidachi

Assisting the 1 Dan kata grading as an uchidachi