Andoru's Kendo Blog

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Koto shinai

Michael Komoto sensei gave me his matake shinai last weekend at the nationals. It's #31-145 on Koei's catalogue (pronounced as Kyoto Shigekane I think). It's a koto (古刀) style shinai, which means that it's quite thick and the weight is quite evenly distributed along the length of the shinai. It's not as maneuverable as dobari style shinai, which is tip-light, but it feels really solid when doing kihon cuts. Komoto sensei enjoys fat tsuka, just like I, so this shinai has a really fat tsuka. When I hold it, the weight somehow reminds me to focus on my kamae. I use it for suburis now.

As to the benefits of a fat tsuka, this is what he wrote to me:

"As for that fat-grip, although I find no research available with regards to kendo, if we look at other activities such as golf, tennis, and industrial arts in which handled-implements are employed, evidence clearly reveals that larger grips require less gripping force, which is related to wrist and elbow joint function and pathological processes (of overuse.)"

Good for kenshi with elbow issues apparently.

Talking about fat tsuka, Nishimoto -san, from my dojo, uses a really fat tsuka too .

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

30th Australian National Kendo Championships

I've been meaning to write about it for the past few days, but I don't know where to start.

The weekend came and gone and life now returns to normal. I came home with precious experience earned while watching (mitori-geiko), doing shiai or jigeiko with kendoka from other states.

I did okay in the individuals, but on hindsight, it could have been better. In my pool, I lost to Anthony Tilbury from Western Australia but won against Michael Davies (Victoria). The match against Anthony was pretty close at 1-1 each. He sneaked in a well-executed debana kote to take the match. Against Michael, I scored hiki-men for the first time in shiai. Scored the second one through debana-kote. One embarassing moment happened during gogi - as I was resting on the side I held my shinai wrongly, with the tip of the shinai touching the ground. Should have been the other way round. I saw the hachidans looking at me - I didn't know then but I know now. :) Anthony went on to win against Michael, and with his 4 ippons versus my 3, he became the winner of my pool.

In regards to my ippons, one thing I noticed is how they have improved since my last shiai at the NSW Championship in December 2004. Zanshin has improved slightly, but notably, the cuts were more natural and instinctive. I can now understand why high-level kenshi expect great ippon from themselves.

I was one of the reserves in the NSW team so I didn't get to play in the team shiai. I did try my best to look good on the sideline though! :D
We didn't do that well in the team shiai and I'm sure everyone, including our team coach Payne sensei, are disappointed.

Anyway, I look forward to next year's championship. I have one year to improve myself.

Congratulations to all the competitors and winners, especially our very own supergirl, Vivian Yung, who came third in the womens individuals and fighting spirit award winner!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Goals for this weekend

The Australian National Kendo Championships will be held this weekend at Canberra. I'm due to depart tomorrow morning at about 4.30am.

It's been almost 4 months since my last shiai (NSW Kendo Championship). I'm very eager to find out how I've improved since then, especially given the intensive trainings I'd been through.

My goals for this shiai are:
  • Adopt the "not afraid to lose" rather than the "must win" attitude.
  • Don't hesitate, just do it.
  • Effortlessly release all that I'd been taught and learned though those trainings.
  • Don't think too much.
  • Enjoy and learn from the process!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Practise, practise and more practice...

...that's the key to perfecting waza.

It's been a fun week when it comes to practising waza. Last Friday (18th March), which happened to be Kitagawa Takeya's final training before returning to Japan, we practised (at Sydney Uni's dojo). amongst others, kote-nuki-men (by raising arms up), nuki doh, men kaeshi doh, morote and katate tsuki.

Last night at Master Kim's dojo, we practised quite a few waza:

(1) 4 types of kote defence: (i) kote-kaeshi-kote; (ii) kote-suriage-kote; (iii) kote-harai-men and (iv) kote-nuki-men (one type is via raising the arms up, the other one one by raising arms in a semi-circle).

(2) Debana kote - Master Kim's favourite waza. I find it much easier to execute debana kote if the opponent raises his shinai, thereby exposing his kote. Master Kim said that if the opponent cuts men using small movement (such as semete-men), to execute debana kote involves lowering the shinai, crossing it below opponent's shinai and then strike kote.

We did shiai-geiko (ippon shobu) afterwards. Master Kim was kind enough to let me score a men cut on him. Lost to both Jimmy and Johnny via debana kote! Ahahahaha.

I received several feedbacks which I'll use as pointers for improvement:

(1) Don't hesitate too much. In Musashi no Ken vol 23, it's pointed out that it's better to have the "not afraid to die" attitude rather than the "must win" attitude. In the latter, one is way too careful.
(2) Try to do 1-step cuts
(3) Improve speed - I've read that speed can be improved if one practises more.
(4) Small men cut. Need to work on that.

Oh,on a small note, yesterday was my first anniversary in bogu. I first wore bogu on March 23, 2004. Thanks to an unfortunate twist of fate, I have been offered a spot as a reserve in Team NSW for this weekend's Australian National Kendo Championships. I will do my best not to let everyone down.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Nittaidai's visit to Sydney

Saturday 12th March 2005 (5pm@Sydney University's Sports and Aquatic Centre):

Nippon Sports Science University (Nittaidai) visit Sydney and Melbourne annually for goodwill keiko and Japanese budo demonstration. It's one of the best sports science university in Japan, especially its kendo department. Their kendo students were hand-picked based on their high school kendo performance, sort of like Australia's Institute of Sports.

The keiko format was straightforward: warm-up, team shiai then jigeiko. For team shiai, there will be 2 dan teams, 1 kyu team and 1 womens team. The dan teams competed in 1 shiai-jo while the kyu and womens teams compete in another shiai-jo.

The kyu team is pretty much defunct, as Nittaidai has no kyu members. I knew I was in for a shock when Payne sensei picked me to be in the team. I ended up playing as senpo, which in this case meant that I'd be the first to die. ;)

As expected, we (all 4 teams) got our butts handed to us on a plate. I lasted a while eventhough I lost. The 2 ippons he scored on me were indeed beautiful. The first one was by nidan waza the execution of which was unique, followed by katate tsuki. Heh - first time I've ever been tsuki-ed in a shiai. Superb ippons over all.

The disparity in Kendo Skill(tm) between the Australians and them is so apparent. I spent a few days thinking about what made them such strong players. My observations:

  1. Superior speed
  2. Superior technique
  3. Live kensen
  4. Strong and active seme
  5. Active exploitation of suki
  6. Strikes executed with sutemi
  7. Never say die attitude
I felt even more motivated after the goodwill keiko. Hopefully someday I will be as crazy as them.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


六三四の剣 (Musashi no Ken) is a manga with kendo theme made in the early 80s. The storyline revolves around this boy Musashi and his kendo journey. I first heard about the manga back in the early 90s when I was in high school. In fact, I'd even read a few pages. Not knowing kendo at that time, the manga seemed quite foreign to me.

Lately, I discovered that Vivian has a whole stash of 六三四の剣. She's been kind to lend me her preciious collection and I've read up to volume 16 now.

Eventhough the work is a fiction, there is still a lesson or two that can be learned from Musashi. Sure, the character is not real, but it is the attitude that is portrayed that I find particularly endearing. For starters, Musashi *never* gives up. Losing to a stronger opponent would inspire him to train even harder. I'm sure that we've had our fair share of days when we felt that we were beaten by a better opponent and got discouraged. That is not the correct attitude - we must be inspired even more. Secondly, he is always in search for a strong opponent - someone who is stronger than him - so that he can improve himself, and he does so without fear. I must admit that when I first got into bogu I used to fear being thrashed by a stronger opponent. Now I take it as an opportunity to learn. Last but not least, his unrelenting pursuit to improve himself physically, willpower and otherwise.

These are the qualities that I find most admiring about Musashi.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The healing powers of massage!

For the past few trainings now, I've been feeling rather frustrated during jigeiko for not being able to do certain things, or that those certain things are much harder to accomplish than before. I tried to shrug it off, thinking that perhaps it's all in my mind.

It occured to me last night while doing jigeiko with Taek that the problems maybe related to my body. These days, my glutes (read:buttocks) get tensed easily at training. My left calf muscles has been feeling the strain too. This year, I've only missed one training at the start (due to illness). I average 3 to 4 trainings per week (plus 1 hour of iai each week), including the almost weekly kyu squad training. The trainings have taken a toll on my body. I don't feel physically weak - quite the contrary in fact - but I need to loosen my muscles up more. It is possible that tight muscles have severely limited my range of movements. That would explain why my men cut seems to lack reach lately, or that my movements have slowed considerably.

Accordingly, I made a 1 hour appointment with my trusty massage therapist at Sydney University's sports clinic. The aim is to loosen up the lower body i.e. glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads. Besides noting that my glutes were really tense ("hard as rocks"), he made several observations about my body which are quite insightful on how kendo affects one's muscular physiology:

  1. Left glute was tighter than the right glute. That is expected as the left leg (using compound muscles) is used to push off.
  2. Left calf was tighter than the right calf. Same reason as above.
  3. Left hamstring was tighter than the right. Again, the same reason as above.
  4. Left and right calves are developed differently. Some parts are more developed than others, vice versa. This reflects on the different role the calves play in kendo - the left does the pushing while the right absorbs the impact of fumikomi.
  5. Right quad is more developed than the left. I don't have a solid explanation for that one. Perhaps, when doing fumikomi-ashi, the right quad is used to raise and extend the right leg. It is also possible that the right quad is used to absorb the impact of fumikomi as well as to stabilise the torso
He also offered an explanation as to why my right knee hurts. It's because the right quad and hamstrings are tight, thus restricting and causing some tenderness when moving the knee.

The session was quite painful. I'm quite muscular and there are quite a lot to work on. I've been to him for massage since last year so I'm used to it, but today's was very different. It was the first time (ever) that my glutes, quads and hamstrings were worked on and they were tight as heck. After 10+ years of competitive volleyball plus 1+year of kendo, I'm not surprised that they were this tight. I tolerated and took the pain in, thinking that they were all for my own good.

After the session was over, he said that I should expect an improvement in the range of motions in my legs, and that the legs should feel lighter after a day or so. He's worked with rugby players before and he noted that many of them feel leg-heavy due to tight muscles in their major leg muscles such as glutes and quads.

For $50 it was worth it. Hopefully my physical condition will improve. It's interesting to note that in 2 months I've already been to the chiro/osteo twice and massage once.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Push, push and push!

Monday 7th March 2005 (Pyrmont dojo):

1 hour of jigeiko. Before I forget, here are some comments from sempai and sensei:

Isaac Bober:

- Don't establish a rhythm. Too predictable otherwise.
- Try not to show body signs that you're about to attack.
- Use more hips to push into the cut

Strenger sensei:

- keep hands down after a men cut

Yesterday's training wasn't aerobically hard. It was challenging that's for sure, but I managed okay. Keiko with Payne sensei was the hardest, but it was also most fun. I found that certain body parts tend to get tensed after a while. For example, the sides of my gluteus were quite tensed - I wasn't able to push as hard or as well. I must learn to relax more.

Needless to say, I slept very well last night. :)

Friday, March 04, 2005

Just not my day...

Saturday is a major training day - morning keiko at SKC doju in Willoughby, followed by the NSW kyu squad training in the afternoon.

I woke up with the motivation to want to try suriage waza during jigeiko. I often do men-kaeshi-doh and it does get predictable - my seniors instinctively retract their arms to protect their doh once they noticed that I've blocked their men cut and was about to execute kaeshi doh. I was also inspired by the kote-suriage-men that I saw at the nanadan championship (DVD). I want to expand my repertoire of waza.

I can't remember whether I tried suriage or not at the morning keiko. I had my first sign that things weren't going well then - I played Sano sensei so badly that I lined up to jigeiko him again. He was probably very disappointed at me. Not a good start.

Anyway, at the squad training, Payne sensei talked about the qualities that are needed for senpo, jiho, chuken, fukusho, and taisho. After warm-up, straight into jigeiko but it's 2 motodachi against us. We took turns being motodachi. I played like absolute crap. I tried suriage many times. The problem is that, after executing suriage, I kept on trying to hit men when my aite's kote or doh were more accessible. That happened 3 times in a row. T_T Eventually, I managed to score men-suriage-kote, while going backwards, I stepped on my hakama and fell over. Great. I wasn't 100% mentally and in ki that's for sure. People must be wondering how the heck I managed to get selected to represent NSW in the nationals.

Team-shiai after that. In my team, Kai was senpo, I was jiho and I couldn't remember the others' positions that clearly. I had to play Chris Barbe. Silly me - I went for kote only. Again and again and again. Although Chris is tall, I should try to cut his men anyway. So I lost 2 to 1. I don't mind losing, but the way I lost was deplorable. I remembered Payne sensei saying that jiho is a person who utilises various techniques and carry on and further reinforce the groundwork that has been laid by senpo. I was a very bad jiho indeed. In fact, I think I was the only person who lost in my team. Great +2.

I was substituted out in second round team-shiai and Dino became jiho - a confirmation of how shit I must have played. Great +3.

We had jigeiko afterwards and I didn't really have the heart for it. But I tried anyway. Finally I managed to do both men-suriage-kote and men-suriage-men against Chris. Maybe he took pity on me and let me hit him.

I know that not everyday is Sunday. It just sucks real bad when it happened on a major training day like today - I feel so useless. It seems like the more I train, the worse I get. How depressing.

Anyway, I'm going to Monday's training at Pyrmont. Sensei wants me there.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

So much to do, so much to learn!

Kendo is infinite, like my sensei says all the time. I watched the 7th dan championship DVD (held in Kumamoto-ken) last November 28th and was motivated to try some of the waza I've seen performed with such magnificent fluidity and grace, such as kote-suriage-men, kote-kaeshi-kote etc.

I need to expand on my waza repertoire that's for sure. And I need to try different things at each jigeiko.