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Tactics in Kendo

Tactics in Kendo Part 1

Sotaro Honda PHd, University of Gloucestershire, British Squad Coach

Introduction

In this and future articles, I would like to discuss tactics in Kendo. What I would stress, from the start, is that this will never mean describing how to win at competitions by pushing the rules to the limit. The word “tactics” is quite often thought of by many people as a means of winning at any cost for “Shiai Kendo”. Japanese Kendo practitioners especially regard tactics this way and they do not like teaching them. However, tactics are not practised and used purely for striking an opponent and winning a Shiai, we can also learn a great many of the technical aspects of Kendo and develop our understanding of Kendo in the process of thinking, learning, practising and creating tactics. In this article, firstly, some of the negative aspects that people imagine from tactics are described. This is followed by the introduction of my experience of Kendo and tactics at Fukuoka University of Education and a discussion of the effectiveness of learning tactics.

1. Tactics and Kendo

Tactics are an important element in the performance of sports and Budo as are other elements such as physical fitness, techniques and mental strength. In Japanese Kendo society however, tactics are quite often thought of negatively. It seems that peoples reasons are closely related to their ideologies of Kendo as Budo. For example, the results of the interviews with Japanese high school physical education teachers who were in charge of Kendo lessons revealed that fifty three teachers out of fifty five had negative thoughts about teaching tactics. Their negative reasons were strongly related to their ideology of this purpose of Kendo as Budo, the traditional training and teaching of Kendo as Budo, the posture and movement of Kendo as Budo and matches, winning and losing of Kendo as Budo (Honda, 2003). More concretely, in some teachers ideology of the purpose of traditional Kendo as Budo, take it for granted that doing Kendo for the purpose of character building is the “correct Kendo”. For them, tactics are used only for the purpose of winning and they are not compatible with real Kendo. In some teachers ideology of traditional Kendo training and teaching, good posture and reasonable Shinai control that we need in Kendo are acquired as the result of following the traditional way of Shugyo which involves repeated practice of Kihon again and again. They also take it for granted that correct Kendo is acquired as the result of following this process for a long time. The reason why tactics are rejected is because these are not included in the traditional Shugyo which makes for correct Kendo.

Planning and using tactics means aiming for oneself and ones team to win even if the right posture and movement are broken and therefore, the teaching of tactics is rejected by them. Finally, in some of the teachers ideology about matches and winning and losing in Kendo as Budo, they often see Kendo matches as being for the purpose of grasping ones ability and progress, getting opportunities to find out about ones problems and to review the process of ones Shugyo. The contents of Kendo matches place an emphasis on fighting by ones Ki and an opponents Ki. Even if there is little exterior movement, there are active interior movements in two competitors minds. They take it for granted that trying to overwhelm an opponents Ki by ones own Ki and to strike is the real Kendo. For them, planning and using tactics means bringing wasteful external Shinai and body movement into play which is not compatible with the correct Kendo as Budo.

British people, especially those who play Western sports may think that the above opinions of the Japanese Kendo teachers as a bit strange. Needless to say that Kendo is a one-on-one combat activity through attacking and defending by using Shinai. As Kern (1998) identifies, one-on-one combative activities require greater tactical acumen in performance than non-physical contact activities such as volleyball and tennis, activities that a certain number of athletes play in a game or race at the same times such as swimming and rowing, and activities which are not played simultaneously, where performance is compared by time, distance, height and judges scoring such as gymnastics, weight lifting. In fact, we all fight in Ji-geiko and Shinai by making use of tactics, consciously or unconsciously, in attacking and defending with an opponent. The Kendo teachers who participated in the interviews commented that an expected way of fighting in Kendo would be that one did not rely on physical abilities, but one overwhelmed ones opponent by ones Ki and stroke. This is actually quite a high level tactical act in a way. Beyond this level and to attack an opponent with the mental state of “Mushin” would be the ultimate level of fighting in Kendo, but this would also be the ultimate tactical act acquired through enough experience and a high level of technique. To think this way, it seems that the word “tactics” itself does not give a good impression to the Japanese Kendo teachers, but gives an impression that using tactics means allowing their students to aim for winning as the prime purpose at any cost. After all, whatever their reasons for rejecting teaching tactics and their ideologies of Kendo as Budo are, I believe coming from their love for Kendo that they want to pass on “correct Kendo” to the next generation as a pathway for self-cultivation and traditional Japanese culture.

2. My experience at Fukuoka University of Education

Although I myself had many Shiai practices and actual Shiai when I was a high school and a university student, I almost never learned from my teachers explicitly how to win and how to fight in a particular situation. Is this because there exists negative thoughts related to tactics (or to the word tactics itself) in Japanese Kendo society? This was left to students independent-learning and I acquired them naturally through watching other peoples Shiai and experiencing Shiai.

I started thinking tactics in Kendo when I became a womens coach at Fukuoka University of Education Kendo club. My students were aiming to win the All Japan University womens Taikai and so were practising for two hours five days a week. Two hours-five days a week practice itself is not too much at Japanese university Kendo clubs. After each practice, however, they always gathered together in the coachs room, watched video of their Keiko and Shiai which I had taped and we discussed their Kendo. The person who suggested watching video was me, but the focus on what to watch and what to improve as individual and team tasks was decided by them. After continuing this for seven months, they began to grasp what each member of the team was expected to do in each position, how to fight and how they could fight according to the different situations. Their aim was achieved in November 1995. They did not win by using mean tactics, such as running away from their opponents who seemed to be stronger than they were, running away after scoring the first Ippon, using only surprise and tricky attacks, or fighting with bad posture. They always reflected on the content of their Keiko and Shiai after each Keiko, discussing what to do to develop, the choices they could use against various types of opponents in various situations in Shiai, trying to use something new in the next Keiko and Shiai practice, and developing their scope in Kendo. Three years later, two of them were selected as members of the Japanese team for the 11th World Kendo Championships and one of them won the individual championship.

Through the experience of being a coach at the Fukuoka University of Education, I started thinking seriously about tactics in Kendo. But it also might have related to the negative thoughts of tactics. Little was introduced and known about the application of tactics in Kendo lessons. Although there were only a few books and research which described tactics in Kendo, often the descriptions of the content were too abstract and difficult to understand and apply in practice. Therefore, in 1997 I came to the U.K. to look for a place I could study theories and practice of sports tactics. Here I studied theory, practice and the educational effect of teaching the tactics of games called “Teaching Games for Understanding” as developed in England and I attempted to apply it to Kendo. Through this study of tactics, in England, I realised that learning tactics would be useful not only for winning Shiai but also for understanding various aspects of Kendo. The following describes some of my ideas about tactics in Kendo.

3. Re-consideration of tactics in Kendo

Tactics play a role to connect Kihon-geiko with Ji-geiko and Shiai. We apply techniques that we have acquired in Kihon-geiko into Ji-geiko and Shiai with tactics of, which technique, when, where and how to use it. Considering general Kendo Keiko, it seems that in most clubs a practice normally starts with warm-up and Suburi followed by Kirikaeshi, Kihon Waza-geiko and Ji-geiko and tactical training, in which the aim to learn which technique, when, where and how to use, is left to self-development through experience. Of course, in Ji-geiko and Shiai where there are a lot of changes in attacking and defending and no one can predict what to do in advance, judgement of what to do is left to each practitioner. In order to make an appropriate judgement consciously or unconsciously in each situation and execute an action chosen, however it is important to learn tactics in Keiko. There are some people, especially experienced Kendo-ka who believe that they do not need to learn any tactics, but think that to fight with Mushin is the best approach to Ji-geiko and Shiai. In the state of mental condition “Mushin”, ones body will function the best unconsciously by automatically making the best choice of technique and movement. However, it will be impossible to do this if one does not work on developing choices of techniques and movements in various situations through Keiko. Choosing and executing Waza in the mental state of Mushin is an unconscious tactical act that is developed as the result of the conscious learning of tactics. There are also some people who insist, “I do not need tactics. I just do my Kendo whoever my opponent is.” I am not sure exactly what they mean by “doing my Kendo”. It has to be considered, however, “doing ones Kendo” does not mean doing Kendo in which one attacks with the same timing and same Waza all the time against every opponent. To be able to do ones best Kendo against various types of opponent, one needs to face them, changing the way of Seme sometime boldly and sometime delicately, timing and Waza according to each opponent. To be able to do this, one has to try to develop a choice of Waza and have a broader scope in ones Kendo. This does not only mean acquiring many different Waza, but means that one should try to practise with consideration of how to use the Waza one has acquired. Sumi Sensei told me, “In my brain there are hundreds and thousands of different patterns of Seme, striking, combination and dealing with my opponents attacking. I can use these properly according to each situation and each opponent.” In addition, Sumi Sensei”s Kendo makes us have less choice and we end up attacking where Sensei is making us attack as if we were swallowed up in it. It is extremely hard (almost impossible?) to reach Sumi Sensei”s level, but nothing happens unless we try to develop scope in our Kendo!

4. Effectiveness of Learning Tactics

Once, you start thinking of tactics such as Waza, when and how you use or you want to use them in Ji-geiko and Shiai, you will start thinking of which Waza you need to acquire, what you can do at the moment and what you cannot. By thinking like this, you will be able to see the technical and psychological structure and mechanism of basic movements, each Waza and their interaction with your opponents. In addition, in the process of acquiring Waza you will feel the need to have a positive attitude and that you do not want to waste any unecessary time in practicing: Waza-geiko, Kata-geiko, Ji-geiko, Kakari-geiko, Uchikomi-geiko and the whole Keiko. Moreover, you will also begin to think whether you are fit enough to achieve your tasks? which part of your body needs to be improved? and whether you are mentally tough enough to execute your tactics?

The traditional way of Keiko in Kendo is through repeated practice and I do not reject this. By considering tactics in Keiko, you will realise the meaning and importance of this repeated practice and you will come independently to tackle Keiko rather than just doing in a parrot fashion or like clockwork, what your teacher tells you in. In the next article, I would like to discuss the process of learning tactics according to practitioners” levels.

References

Kern, J. (1998) Sports no Senjyutsu Nyumon (Tactics in Sports) (translation M. Asaoka, H. Mizukami, and A. Nakagawa). Tokyo: Taisyukan Publishing Co., Ltd.

Honda. S. (2003) Budo or Sport? Competing Conceptions of Kendo within the Japanese Upper Secondary Physical Education Curriculum, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Gloucestershire Park Campus Learning Centre


Tactics in Kendo Part 2

Introduction

In the previous article, the relationship between Kendo and tactics, my personal experience of studying tactics, and the effectiveness of learning tactics were introduced. In this article and the next one, I would like to discuss the learning of tactics appropriate to the level of the individual practitioner. These two articles are to follow my two previous articles entitled “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 1 and 2″. Before getting started, I would like to reiterate that I never want you to think of this as “quick fix”, on how to win competitions by pushing the rules to the limit. My aim is to provide you with some ideas and explore of the opportunities to learn a great many of the technical aspects of Kendo and develop your understanding of Kendo by the process of thinking, learning, practicing and creating tactics. This article describes the learning of tactics for Kyu grade holders and 1st~2nd Dan grade holders.

1. Learning of Tactics for Kyu Grade Holders

It is quite often seen in Kyu grade holders Ji-geiko, Shiai and grading examination that they keep attacking big Men from the same distance and with the same timing. Similarly, their teachers are often seen giving advice to “Keep attacking” or “Give everything”. When one side starts moving and tries to attack big Men, the other side soon reacts and starts doing the same. As the result, they keep hitting each others Shinai before reaching their opponents Men and a successful strike does not happen for a long time. At this level, as described in Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 1, (BKA online news Issue #11 April 2004) it is certainly important for them to try to use techniques they have learnt in Kihon-geiko without hesitating and being shy. This would be their first simple, but important tactic. However, you cannot learn opportunities for attacking by repeating the same techniques from the same distance and in the same timing. Typically in Kendo, there are four opportunities for striking, which are; when the opponent begins to strike; when the opponent blocks a strike; when the opponent finishes a strike; and when the opponent moves back. In these, “striking when the opponent finishes a strike” would be an important tactic for Kyu grade holders to learn and try during Ji-geiko with other Kyu grade holders. Taking a concrete example, many Kyu grade holders tend to go though either side of an opponent after attacking, exposing their back completely to their opponent just like they do in Kihon-geiko. When this happens to your opponent in Ji-geiko, you should immediately follow then and attack as the opponent turns around. An additional merit of learning this tactic is that it will make them realize the importance of trying always to keep an eye on their opponent whilst fighting as well as realizing that there is an opportunity to strike when an opponent takes their eyes off, loosing concentration

When Kyu grade holders have Ji-geiko with their seniors, they tend to feel, in many cases, difficulty in completing their attack and stop their attacking in the middle of an action or keep moving back. Then teachers and seniors shout, “Keep attacking” or “Give everything”. Unlike Kyu grade holders, their seniors do not expose their back during Ji-geiko (or at least they are not supposed to). In this instance, it is not easy for a Kyu grade holder to execute the tactic of “striking when the opponent finishes a strike”.

What is recommended for Kyu grade holders in Ji-geiko with their seniors is to try to kill their opponents Shinai before striking. This means that you do not just attack straight but try to deflect the tip of the seniors Shinai by using Osae-waza (pushing the opponents Shinai down) and Harai-waza before striking (knocking the opponents Shinai from right to left, from the left to right, from the lower right to the upper left, from the lower left to the upper right, from the upper right to the lower left or from the upper left to the lower right) (see also Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, pp. 30-31). Of course, it does not mean that you can definitely score on your seniors if you use these. You will still be blocked by them. At this stage however, starting to learn “how to break the opponents centre” which is the most basic and important tactic in Kendo, is quite important no matter how simple it is. This simple tactic of “breaking the opponents centre” develops into more complicated and effective ones as you develop your footwork, Fumikiri, Fumikomi, speed and Te-no-uchi (I will explain this in detail later). As I described in “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2 (BKA online news Issue #12 June 2004)”, Kyu grade holders should focus mainly on developing Shikake-waza. It is important not to be afraid of being dodged and counter attacked, and not to stop attacking in the middle of your action, but to try to complete your attack. In this article, I would like to suggest the use of “Osae-waza” and “Harai-waza” in your Ji-geiko (and of course you need to practice these in Waza-geiko as well).

Although this may not be directly related to the tactics, here I would like to add something about defence in Kendo, which I briefly mentioned in “Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 1″ . As a term “Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi (no defence just for defence)” basically says that, in Kendo, defence is supposed to be done in order to promote the next attack and one has to make an action of attacking immediately after defending. This is also called “Ko-bo-icchi” in traditional Kendo terminology. As described earlier however, even if Kyu grade holders try to attack immediately after defending their seniors attacking, the seniors should not show their back to them and so Kyu grade holders will not be skilful and fast enough to counterattack with Oji-waza or Kaeshi-waza. I suppose, on the contrary, that they have not learnt and acquired the basic skills of how to defend an opponents attack. Strangely enough, methods of defence are seldom taught but left to a practitioners” self-learning and by experience in many clubs. Because of this, I think that many Kyu grade holders try to defend in their own (uneconomical) ways when they are attacked by their seniors and they have no opportunity to learn the idea of “Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi”. Okajima (1992) points out that beginners” anxiety and fear of opponents” attacking would prevent them from finding opportunities for a strike. I suggest, therefore, that teachers show basic defence techniques to beginners before they are allowed to join Ji-geiko. Here what I mean by basic defence techniques is not to defend by only blocking an opponents Shinai by just using ones own Shinai. What one has to be learnt are “Metsuke (positioning of the eyes)” and “defence with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi”. Beginners tend to stand and gaze only at their opponents Shinai and their hands tend to move as the opponent moves their Shinai. Therefore, they are quite often easily caught by a feint action such as “pretending to attack Men by lifting the arms up and actually attack Do”. According to the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (2000, p. 62), Metsuke is explained as “The act of paying attention to the opponents whole body while looking into their eyes.” In addition, there is also another term to teach us the positioning of the eyes called “Enzan-no-metsuke (looking at a far away mountain)”. The Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (2000, p. 24) explains, “It is important to look at the figure of the opponent as a whole rather than at a particular point, as if looking at a far away mountain.” As for “defence with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi”, when one defends, one needs to try to defend by keeping a positive mind and using the Shinai, footwork and body movement. The term “Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi” is normally used for expressing the striking action, but its concept should also be applied to defence. It is not easy for beginners to do this. However, it is in your best interest, that you develop your Kendo through being struck over and over again, keeping proper posture and effective defence position, which will not necessarily be effective at first. In the future you will develop the skill to make a defence in the most efficient way. Okajima (1992) argues that strong defence is an important element in performance in Kendo. If that is so, then learning defence techniques with an understanding of “Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi” at this stage will be quite useful towards helping execute high-level tactics in the future.

2. Learning of Tactics for 1st-2nd Dan Grade Holders

It is assumed that practitioners at this level can make a sharp strike with small and quick hands and body movement and powerful Fumikiri and Fumikomi. I suggest therefore, that practitioners develop the simple tactics of Osae-waza and Harai-waza and try to attack with feint actions. As the practitioners at this level probably already know, even if you try to strike Men after Osae against someone at the same level or senior, in most instances their Shinai will be blocking the target before your Shinai reaches it, unless your attacking speed is very fast. The same thing will usually happen when you try to strike Kote after Harai from left to right. This suggests that using feint actions before striking are an important tactic. Of course, learning feint actions progress from simple ones to complicated ones. What I would like to introduce here for the practitioners at this level are quite simple feint actions and a slightly complicated one. Some examples of simple ones are, “pretend to attack Men after using Osae -> make the opponent defend Men -> then actually attack Kote or Do” and “pretend to attack Kote after using Harai from left to right -> make the opponent defend Kote -> then actually attack Men”. This develops into slightly complicated ones such as “pretend to attack Kote-Men after using Harai from left to right -> make the opponent defend Men -> then actually attack Do”. What has to be remembered in trying to use these feint actions at this level is act first! Outwit the opponent properly and then strike”. For example, in the case of “pretend to attack Men after using Osae -> make the opponent defend Men -> then actually attack Do”, you need to lift up your Shinai with a big movement after using Osae to make your opponent believe that you are coming to strike Men and it is easy to defend it.

When trying to use “feint action then strike”, many practitioners tend to try to do it too quickly. This will result in not being able to act properly and your opponent will not defend as you wish. The practitioners at this level should remember that what is important for them is not to move fast, but by skilful and slightly exaggerated acts, to make their opponent judge that he / she can defend the target easily by using only their Shinai.

It is also assumed that practitioners at this level have some Tokui-waza (waza that they are good at and use with confidence to score). In addition to tactics with feint actions, what practitioners at this level are recommended to try is to develop their Ji-geiko with thoughts of when or in what situation they should use their Tokui-waza. Here I would like to ask you to stop reading for a while and think:

1 How long after the start of Ji-geiko or Shiai do you attempt your Tokui-waza?

2 What are the conditions of attempting your Tokui-waza? e.g. distance, timing

I would also like you to think about what type of opponent you think that you can / cannot score by your Tokui-waza.

Can you have a picture(s) of a particular situation(s) and type(s) of opponent(s)? How much you know in your Kendo depends on how clearly you can bring picture(s) in your mind. Even if you do not think that you have any Tokui-waza, I would suppose that at least you have your favorite Waza and I suggest that you start thinking of your tactics and how you can use your favorite Waza effectively in Ji-geiko and Shiai. If you cannot bring any picture of a situation and type of opponent, then use your Tokui-waza in your mind; I also suggest that you start reflecting how you fight after each Ji-geiko. As described in the previous article, thinking about the above things will not only help you develop your tactical ability, but also help you develop greater scope in your Kendo and deepen your understanding of the technical and psychological structure, the mechanism of each Waza and its interaction with others.

As well as using feint actions, there are “Sute-waza” or “Mise-waza” that you can use to develop your Ji-geiko and Shiai. Literary “Sute” means to “throw away” and “Mise” means to “show”. The meanings of these words here as tactics in Kendo are “Waza that are used for the purpose not of scoring but planting different Waza in your opponents mind so that you can make your Tokui-waza work more effectively in later attacking”. Taking easy examples, to score your Tokui-waza, Kote-Do, you can attack simple Kote-Men a couple of times, make your opponent think that your Kote-Men is easy to defend and make the opponent defend by using only hands (then attack Kote-Do). You attack a powerful and sharp Kote a couple of times to score by Katsugi-Men later. An important point is that you should not attack by using only your hands but should attack with your whole body even if the Waza that you use is “Sute-waza” or “Mise-waza”. Otherwise you will not be able to plant in your opponents mind the fact that you are attacking and you may get counterattacked easily. Here again, you need to show “realistic acting”. Your Sute-waza or Mise-waza may reach a target even if you didn”t intend it. In that case, of course, you need to make it Ippon, so you need to use your Sute-waza” or “Mise-waza with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi.

Summary

As you gain experience, you are expected not only to develop your Tokui-waza and favorite techniques, but also to improve the Waza that you are not good at and to become able to deal with people whose type of Kendo is hard for you to fence. For this, as described in “Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 2″, continuing to avoid practicing with people who are hard for you to deal with is not a solution. It will remain your weak point. You should try to do Ji-geiko with them more often than with anyone else. Your attempt will fail and you will be struck again and again, but you cannot overcome this unless you keep trying. Learning through being struck is the way of developing Kendo. Of course, it is also important to try new techniques. However, do not try to do too many things in one Ji-geiko, but have appropriate task(s), considering your current ability and referring to your teachers teaching and advice.

The next article will discuss learning of tactics for 3~5th Dan grade holders, and 6th Dan grade holders and above.

References

The All Japan Kendo Federation (Zennihon Kendo Renmei). (2000) Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, Tokyo: Sato-Inshokan Inc.

Okajima, H. (1992) “Kosei-teki na Waza-zukuri no Sido-ho (Teaching that aims to develop pupils” favorite techniques)”, in Zenkoku Kyoiku-Kei Digaku Kendo Renmei (the National Kendo Federation of Universities with Education Faculties). Zemina-ru Gendai Kendo (The Seminar on Modern Kendo), pp. 140-148. Tokyo: Madosya Ltd.

Honda, S. (2004) “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 1″

Honda, S. (2004) “Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2″


Tactics in Kendo Part 3

Introduction In the previous article, the tactics for Kyu grade practitioners and 1st~2nd Dan practitioners were looked at. In this article, tactics for 3rd~5th Dan practitioners are discussed. Firstly, I will describe methods of Keiko that 3rd~5th Dan practitioners are recommended to try out, to discover and develop their tactics against various types of opponents. This is followed by the continuation of ‘four opportunities for striking in Kendo’. In the previous article, two opportunities, ‘strike when the opponent finishes a strike’ and ‘strike when the opponent blocks a strike’ were covered in the relation to tactics. In this article, two other opportunities, ‘strike when the opponent begins to strike’ and ‘strike when the opponent moves back’ are discussed through ways of making an opponent attack or move back through the use of Seme and the practical use of the right foot.

1. 3rd~5th Practitioners: Methods of Keiko for Discovering and Developing Tactics

At this level, it is important to think how to develop Ji-geiko tactically when considering your ‘type of opponent’ and ‘your opponent’s type of Kendo’ whilst trying to extend the scope of your own Kendo.

Thinking about your ‘type of opponent’, for example, can be categorized into those; who are tall; short; those whose Ken-sen is high; or Ken-sen low; is slightly to the right; where the stance is big; or the stance is small; is wide; where the back foot is diagonally facing left; where the weight is rather on the right foot; or on the left foot, with posture straight; posture is leaning forward; or leaning backward and so on. Considering your ‘opponent’s type of Kendo’, can be also be categorized into types of Kendo in which your opponent; holds a shinai tightly, softly, does not use Te-no-uchi but relies on power, moves fast, is good at or tends to try Debana-waza, Kaeshi-waza, Hiki-waza, Renzoku-waza or feint techniques and so on.

As the above examples imply, when you think about ‘your opponent’, it should include both elements. To be able to do ‘your own Kendo’, it is quite important for you to consider, try, develop and acquire tactics for fighting against both ‘types’

Here, as I asked you to do in the previous article, I would like to ask you to stop reading for a while and instead think, refer to the above examples and the Kendo or your Dojo members:

  • How are you fighting against various types of opponent and their Kendo?
  • What footwork, shinai and body movements, Waza and combinations of Waza are you using?

As I described in the previous article, also try thinking of the process of using Tokui-waza [your favorite Waza] and how much your Kendo depends on how clearly and quickly you can picture all of the possibilities in your mind. Thinking about the above things will also help develop the tactics you will need to create and try against various types of opponent and their Kendo in order to develop the scope within your own Kendo. As described in Tactics in Kendo Part 1, ‘doing your own Kendo’ does not mean doing Kendo in which you attack with the same timing and same Waza all the time against all types of opponent. How you fight changes and you must change your tactical methods of fighting accordingly to your opponent, their type of Kendo and the situation. This does not mean, however, you should try to do something you do not normally do. You must choose the best option or the best option may be unconsciously made from a variety of choices. Of course, a person who does not have any choices can only do one sort of Kendo. Such a person can easily beat some particular type(s) of opponent and their Kendo, but is no match for some others. Speaking from a position of coach, such a player is difficult to select and use. What tactics can we use and how can we fight? Here it is not my intention to describe what to do against every type of opponent and their Kendo, but I would like to describe some methods of Keiko that 3rd~5th Dan practitioners are recommended to attempt, reflect, revise, develop and refine their tactics.

The importance of pursuing Ji-geiko with people who are hard for you to deal with was described in Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2. To keep avoiding practicing with them is not a solution. Your problem will remain. It is suggested that you should try to do Ji-geiko with them more than with anyone else and try to overcome the fear and problems, by being struck again and again, reflecting on your Ji-geiko with them, planning and creating your tactics. In addition to this, here, I would also like to recommend actually trying to copy their Kendo. I think that we all have had this experience of trying to copy someone’s Kendo that we admire. We try to copy that person’s way of Kamae, footwork, posture and attacking, trying to be that person and trying to gain something from doing it. Trying to copy someone’s Kendo that is hard for you to deal with in Ji-geiko is the same. By trying to copy that person’s Kendo and trying to be that person you are trying to grasp the feeling of that person’s attacks and strikes and also try to grasp what type of Seme that person may not like and where that person may not like being attacked against i.e. Men Kote, do etc, where there may be a weaknesses and so on. By adopting a style of Kendo that you find difficult, you may also get insights into the strengths of that style whilst practicing with a junior and be made aware of those weaknesses when you practice with a senior.

2. Learning Seme to Make Your Opponent Strike or Move Back

Previously, I referred to ‘four opportunities for striking’ and said that ‘striking when the opponent finishes a strike’ would be an important tactic for Kyu grade practitioners to learn and try during Ji-geiko with other Kyu grade holders. I also talked about attacking with feint actions and attacking with Sute-waza and Mise-waza that makes use of one’s Tokui-waza for 1st~2nd Dan practitioners.

These are related to ‘striking when the opponent block a strike’ within the four opportunities for striking. In addition to these, 3rd Dan and the above practitioners should learn two other opportunities for striking, ‘striking when the opponent begins to strike’ and ‘striking as the opponent moves back’.

What is expected of practitioners at this level is to have acquired the proper technique of Te-no-uchi in both Shikake-waza and Oji-waza. I don’t not mean that you should be able to execute both Shikake-waza and Oji-waza with the proper technique of Te-no-uchi in Ji-geiko, but that you should at least be able to do them in Waza-geiko when there is normally no resistance from your partner and you know where they are going to attack. In my experience, however, less than half of practitioners at this level in the U.K. can show the proper technique of Te-no-uchi in Waza-geiko. By acquiring proper Te-no-uchi, we can attack and defend without relying too much on our physical power, practice with anyone irrespective of the difference in sex, age and physique, and practice throughout our lifetime. It is no exaggeration to say that acquiring Te-no-uchi is vital for lifelong Kendo. However the purpose of this article is to describe tactics and not to describe methods of acquiring the technique of Te-no-uchi. The following focuses on two opportunities for striking, ‘striking when the opponent begins to strike’ and ‘striking as the opponent moves back’ and proceeds on the premise that practitioners have a proper understanding of the technique of Te-no-uchi.

2-1. Seme in Kendo

It should be fairly obvious that striking when the opponent begins to strike or moves back does not just mean waiting for the opponent’s action. 3rd Dan ~ 5th Dan practitioners are required to learn methods of Seme that will make the opponent strike or move back. Let’s examine what Seme is before discussing methods of Seme. According to the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (A.J.K.E., 2000, p. 83), Seme in Kendo is explained as “To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent with full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents them from moving freely.” This definition gives the impression that Seme occurs in only one situation. However, it is my opinion that the pressure generated by Seme can be felt at all distances and in all situations. That is, even if you are at very close distance such as Tsuba-zeriai, where you cannot get any closer or alternatively at a far distance, it is quite important to give Seme with full spirit and with the action that aims to take an advantage and overwhelm the opponent. Due to page limits, some methods of Seme in situations where you and your opponent are facing each other in Kamae are not covered here. However these methods of Seme are quite importantly related to how you make your opponent strike or move back.

2-2. Seme from Kamae: Use of the Right Foot

There are an infinite number of methods of Seme in Kendo. Here attention is paid to the practical use of the right foot and some of the methods of Seme that include making your opponent strike or move back.

Traditionally in Kendo, the right foot is called ‘Seme-ashi (foot used for Seme)’ and the left foot is called ‘Jiku-ashi (foot used for supporting the body)’. You need to use the right foot softly, smoothly and freely to give pressure and invite the opponent to initiate an attack. You need to feel as if your left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of the body is connected by one line and you also need to make your left foot ready for following the right foot and Fumikiri anytime. If however the distance between your right foot and left foot is too wide from front to rear, or the centre of gravity moves forward and backward or from backward to forward, or your upper body leans forward and backward in the Kamae, whilst you are trying to give pressure to each other, inviting to initiate an attack, you will not be able to use both feet as described above. You will not then be able to see your opponent in a fixed position and the timing of your striking will be easily sensed, when the stance of the feet is too wide and movement of the centre of the gravity is also big.

It is important, therefore for practitioners at this level to understand how to use ‘Seme-ashi’ and ‘Jiku-ashi’ and develop their Kendo so that they give Seme with smaller and more effective movements. What follows is a description of some methods of Seme-ashi.

Firstly, it is important for you to be physically and mentally prepared to attack your opponent and to react to your opponent’s attack from the moment you take Kamae after standing up from Sonkyo. It is said that Kendo starts with Rei and finishes with Rei. I don’t think that this only refers to the matter of etiquette. From the moment you face your opponent and bow, your fight begins and it is important to remain focused until the final Rei with your opponent. If you attempt to do your Keiko with this attitude, you will discover the most suitable methods of putting your weight on the feet, taking the stance between the feet, keeping your Ken-sen, stretching your left leg, bending the right knee and so on. If your attitude to how you take Kamae changes, your footwork will change, your posture will change, your Seme will change and your Kendo will change.

Earlier I described the use of the right foot as Seme-ashi. The right foot is also used as a kind of radar that can detect the opponent’s intention. Ji-geiko, Shiai and grading examinations normally start with the two practitioners trying to ‘search out’ and discover each other’s type of Kendo and intention, as well as trying to give pressure with their own tactics. For this ‘searching’ and ‘pressurizing’, bring your right foot slightly (only slightly) forward, without leaning forward and losing the feeling that your left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of the body are connected. At the same time, try to give pressure together with invitations to your opponent to attack by using the Shinai in the following ways; Osae, Harai, straight in, raising the Ken-sen up or lowering it. In the situation when your opponent does not react to your Seme or you feel uncomfortable with the timing, distance and body balance, bring your left foot up and slide the right foot forward again, searching and pressuring or bring back your right foot and start over again. In addition to this, there are other ways of practical use of the right foot. For example, you stamp on the floor quickly and strongly with the right foot or bend your right knee quickly and slightly in order to get the opponent agitated or make the opponent initiate an attack.

If you would like to get closer to your opponent (especially when you fight against someone tall) without them knowing, bring your left foot up firstly to the right foot before sliding the right foot forward (Tsugi-ashi technique). As the result of or in the process of the above ‘searching’ and ‘pressurizing’, you find an opportunity, you must immediately go and strike. If your opponent feels strong pressure from you and moves back, you immediately follow and give your opponent bigger pressure or follow and strike. If your opponent begins to strike or strikes, use (Debana-waza) or counterattack (Oji-waza).

What you should be very careful of is the timing as you bring your left foot up. It is quite difficult to react if your opponent attacks at this point. In fact, top level kendo-ka are looking for this point and can score a wonderful Tobikomi-men. All of the top level Sensei that I know check that they are standing firmly by keeping a line between the left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of body and are in the position that they can attack and react to their opponent’s attacking at anytime. Moreover, their skilful use of the right foot and Shinai handling make their opponent’s initiate an attack (for example Men) enabling them to counterattack beautifully (for example Kaeshi-Do). Their skilful use of the right foot and Shinai handling also gives their opponent strong pressure and makes them move back. Then they are immediately followed and struck by a wonderful Men or Kote-Men.

In conclusion there are an infinite numbers of methods in the use of Seme in Kendo and the above methods are just some examples. I think, however, that these patterns of Seme are well worth while practicing in order to acquire a higher quality of Kendo and Kendo that you can continue throughout your life.