Years ago I would get requests for private lessons. I always said “no, come on out to class” (they never did), we never have more than 5 or 6 people at any one time, and often it ends up with me and one other. Last night it was me and the Pamurai.
On the theory that everyone wants to hear everything I say every day, I’m going to try and go through the lesson. The background is that the Pamurai is 4dan, heading for 5dan soon, so she needs to get things polished up nice and bright. The techniques have to be perfect, she’s got to look good and she’s got to show a little bit of fire in her cuts. It doesn’t hurt to know what the panel is looking for either, and she went to Europe last year with the group challenging their 5-7dans there. I think it’s Belgium this year, hope their money and vacation times work out.
When sitting down make sure you are aware of an opponent in front of you, don’t lean forward too much to sweep your hakama, just enough to do the job. To keep your head upright and your face flat to the front, tuck in the front of your uwagi so that the collar hits the back of your neck. Keep your neck there! If you can’t feel the collar your head has fallen forward. The comment last evening was “I can put it where you want me to, but I can’t tell the difference between the two positions.” True, so check often. I tend to tilt my head back “on the street” so I make sure I can feel the uwagi in class. Also stretch the neck upward, as if you have a string from the top of your head pulling up to the ceiling.
Now relax the shoulders and especially the hands. When standing the fingertips should touch the hakama. Don’t try to touch it, just relax until you can.
The feet are somewhere between hip and shoulder width on the outside edges. Walk and stand on the inside edges.
When in seiza don’t drop your weight onto your heels, if you do you will make a little jump and bounce when starting. Avoid that, you should rise like smoke on a still day and sit like frost settling on the grass. Images help, they really do. Mechanically, if you do end up relaxed in seiza, start your rise by straining your knees toward each other. Don’t actually move them, they are a fist width apart already, instead start to activate the top of your thighs from the knees back to the hip. If you start with the butt or worse, the shoulders or head, you will have a lot of slack that will shake as it starts to engage. Mostly think of driving your hips forward into the technique, your torso will rise unless your leg bones bend.
From nuki tsuke to kiri tsuke move the sword as if it’s a whip. The cut starts from the end of nuki tsuke, not from over your head. There is no pause above your head. If your left hand comes onto the hilt when the blade is overhead you will stop. If you find you are stopping, put the left hand onto the hilt a bit sooner so that you are cutting when you hit the furi kaburi position (which is where you are square to the opponent and ready to cut).
The cut is done with shibori, with te no uchi. Tuesday we were talking about shibori while doing hiki otoshi uchi. Soft arms, hips moving into square and grip from left little finger through to right index finger (base) sequentially. We tried this and the Pamurai blew the bokuto out of my hands. Maybe the first time, she thought I didn’t see her little happy dance. I know she didn’t see mine. So from furi kaburi you need to start the cut with your left little finger, pull it down from overhead and as it moves join more and more fingers until the blade howls. Now stop it without bouncing.
It’s your grip, fix it.
You can’t do these sort of adjustments with your hands and fingers until you’re ready to do them, until you can actually see the difference it makes. There are no secrets, there are only wasted lessons until you are ready to hear them. I remember being told about the sequential fingers 30 years ago. I’m still working on them.
Pay attention to the height of the finishing cut, if it’s up, you may be leaning slightly forward and pulling the sword back to the one fist position. If it’s up your right wrist will look bent. tighten the little fingers rather than push with the base of the index finger and let the hips move up to the sword rather than pull the sword back. Press the base of the left little finger down and forward.
At the end of chiburi, your stance is long and your torso is centered. If you move forward to switch your feet by firing the back leg you will bounce around. Instead, like coming up from seiza, move your hips forward and load your front foot, this makes the foot switch smooth. Same for going back. I tell beginners to shift back from the chest, to drive the heel outward with the foot pulled up so that you stop with a powerful silence. On our skating rink of a floor this isn’t possible, you’ll pull your groin. Instead sneak the foot back ahead of your hips moving and slide, drive the back foot into the floor as your weight comes to the center so you stop smoothly.
I stood in front with my sword in chudan and the foot switch looked a lot more powerful. You need to be ready to fight from starting to sit to arriving at the same place at the end of the kata.
Your test starts when you walk into the testing room.
Hmm. not a mention of angles or inches. That stuff ought to be settled by 3dan.
Ushiro is the same as Mae, you just turn 180 degrees to draw. The thing to check is the back foot, the front foot will take care of itself, you can leave a tiny pause at saya banari if the panel is real keen on seeing the foot and sword move at the same time, but beware of making a fetish of showing this or that thing. Experienced judges can see much more than you think they can, they will see that you have moved through a checkpoint. You don’t need to rub their faces in it.
Ushiro is “wrong footed” do twice as many ushiro in a practice as you do Mae.
You have to see your opponent when you do this kata. If you don’t you will get into all sorts of strange angles and pauses and poses. If you do partner practice of any sort, uke nagashi is probably something you know how to do. So do it.
This kata and the next two are ippyoshi, all at once. Not fast, but there is no nuki tsuke as per the first two. With those you are thinking “don’t do it, back down” and if he does, you do. With Uke Nagashi you are behind, he is attacking, it is nuki uchi not nuki tsuke. So move at the right time. Rise too soon and he changes his attack, too late and you’re done. Pause at the block to pose for the blind judges who couldn’t possibly see the block if you didn’t, and your attacker will simply hit you on the second cut. You gave him the time to do a second cut so he will. He’s not stupid, he’s just the loser.
Your block angle is set as you start to rise, pull the hilt upward so that your saya almost bangs the floor as you rise, yes that fast and that far. If you have been drawing more flat (that’s MJER koryu kiddo) you may find that the new angle leaves you with a time gap at the block. That’s where you were pulling the sword back into position from that flat draw.
Ippyoshi, there is an opponent in front and one behind and they can reach you with their arms. No messing about, get stuck in. Here is where you start getting hell for too much tension in your hands. The wrists have to be flexible to do the thrust to the rear and the cut to the front. If there is stiffness between the strike and the thrust you will pause. If there is stiffness between the thrust and the final cut you will lift the rear guy and hit the guy in front of you with him. Or you will pull out, move back and then cut. Neither is good. Just relax the right wrist, get it over your head and pull down with the left hand. Let the tip take care of lining up the sword. It’s curved, it will adjust itself to the right hasuji if you aren’t choking the life out of it.
Look then cut, turn the head on your neck, you have a neck, use it.
Drive the left hip into the rising cut but counter that movement with your right hip so that they stay square to the front but solid as a rock. Knees drive together on the downward cut, and stay on the inside of your feet. Relax the shoulders. You don’t have to go up and down all in one move, you can stick the tip in the ceiling if you wish, then pull it out to cut. You can go up and down all in one move, this is not defined in the rules. What is important is that you have both hands on the hilt when you cut down.
For anyone who has heard me say that at 5dan sensei comes over and whispers in your ear “put more right hand into it”, this is that place. Your right hand can’t cut down unless you drop the tip way back behind you. Don’t. Your right wrist has already moved to kiri te, the cutting position, so you must have the left hand on to cut. Umm, it’s in kiri te as well so you cut by pushing your arms down? No, pull with your left little finger and as the sword starts to move, drive the right hand into the cut. This is a slightly different way of cutting, different even than Uke Nagashi which is the exact same angle of cut. Uke Nagashi has a “whip” from the block to the cut, this is a rise and drop so you can’t accelerate like usual unless you let the tip drop behind you, between the up and down cut.
You can’t turn the hilt into your hand with the saya, it’s already in the right angle for the cut down. So drop your hand under the hilt, cut down vertically (just don’t cut your ear on the draw). If you think “angled cut” you will have your hand in the wrong grip, and you will be wrenched to the side as you try to stop the sword. A vertical cut with the right grip stops just fine. At 5dan stop worrying about stopping the sword, cut his face.
Drive your knees together and explode forward on the thrust.
On the turn and cut movement you have to relax your wrists or it won’t work. It’s hard to cut and relax the wrists instantly, so don’t try, relax the hands and wrists as you start to turn instead. The tip is inside the first guy so move the same as Tsuka Ate. Lift the hands overhead in a relaxed manner and let the tip do what it does. Use the left hand to move the sword on this turn.
On the last cut keep the tip up, use only as much right hand as necessary to keep the tip up. Lots of judges need to see that tip up. A tiny pinch with the right little finger is plenty.
Great place to practice cutting with sequential fingers.
Threaten the front guy with your hara, not your face. This first cut is even more vertical than the previous kata, step under the sword as you turn.
Look at the front guy and then the left guy before you cut him. You know he’s there, he knows you are there, it’s not Oku Iai, look then cut.
You don’t have to pull the sword over your head for the last cut, but you can step under it. Don’t make a fetish of where the tip is, that’s for beginners so they don’t try to do uke nagashi at someone. It’s an “uke nagashi like movement” not Uke Nagashi to deflect some imaginary fourth opponent somewhere.
Don’t control the sword down in jodan chiburi, let it drop and your grip will stop it just fine. Use gravity.
Hit him with your hips, not your shoulders. I stood in front and caught the thrust until I was thrown backward, that was when the thrust came from the back foot and not the arms.
The rearward thrust is also done with the hips, not one arm. The left hand moves up the centerline on the final turn and furi kaburi means the tip is over the hilt, the left hand is starting to tighten, the hips are square and the rear foot is starting to move forward. Do not put your face into the meat grinder.
By this time I’ve said pretty much everything that needs to be said, I’ve always seen this kata as “put it all together”. Look at each person, if you’re sneaking looks at the mirror you’re likely to cut from one side of your head.
Yes you did.
Look, square up, attack, look, square up to furi kaburi, attack. Repeat as necessary.
Go ho giri…. no, damn, number 11. Sogiri, I had to look that up!
First cut starts from hands on the hilt. Practice cutting rightleft, not right foot then left foot. Now a little faster but not rushed.
Do a good saya biki to clear the tip around back, start the cut, let the left hand overpower the right as you cut. If you move back further you will have the time to return the saya to the middle and lift your left hand up the centerline to meet the right coming down. Let the sword tell you when it’s lined up. Soft wrist.
In the two hours we were practicing I don’t think I made more than two or three “corrections”. This is as it should be, as mentioned, the time for the usual corrections is 3dan. From then on any corrections are usually the result of too many teachers.
Mar 10, 2018
Guelph Spring Seminar registration is open:
Registration for the spring jodo grading is open, all levels to 7dan. Go to the CKF website http://kendo-canada.com/ to sign up.