Last night was a short Kendo night for me. I attended the intermediate class, where they were going over Kihon (basic) Kata very in depth. For people who don't know, Kihon Kata is a relatively new thing for Kendo, and focuses on doing regular, shinai kendo movements and waza. There are nine Kihon Kata in all, and our intermediate class is learning 1-5. They are performed with two people, the Motodachi (receiver), and the Kakarite (attacker).
1 - Kihon Waza. Men (head strike), Kote (wrist strike), Do (abdomen strike), Tsuki (throat strike)
2 - Ni-dan waza. Kote-Men (hit Kote first, and Men)
3 - Harai Waza. Harai Men (knock the opponent's sword out of the way with a very short, sharp swipe to the side while raising the sword to hit Men).
4 - Hiki Waza. Men-Tsubazeriai-Hiki Do. Kakarite hits Men, which Motodachi blocks. Both come to Tsubazeriai (sword-guard lock). Kakarite gives a push down on Motodachi's sword, which causes them to raise up. At the same time Motodachi raises their sword, Kakarite steps back and performs Hiki Do (strike while moving backwards).
5 - Nuki Waza. Men-Nuki Do. Motodachi strikes Men. Kakarite performs Nuki Do be stepping slightly forward and to the right. Nuki is an oji waza (counter-attack) that mean to no be there. When the opponents moves to hit you, you either move forward, to the side, or back, and are no longer at the spot they are trying to hit. This sets you up for an attack of your own.
We worked on this for the entire hour, and I was able to really dig into a few of the kata, including three and four. I had previously done one through three, but four and five were new to me. I especially had trouble with four, as it seems to be the most complex one out of this group. All in all I had a valuable lesson on kata, and one that I hope to be able to apply to my shinai Kendo. I also hope to visit intermediate class here and there to receive more help and advice on Kihon Kata, and on basics in general. I really believe that good basics make a great, solid foundation for everything else.
A few thoughts on the different katas:
1: Kakarite - Always remember to end my strikes either very close (i.e. Kensen is over the Motodachi's head on a Men strike), or far away. Never end it with the Kensen close to the Motodachi. This is for safety reasons. On the Tsuki, arms should come forward and Kensen should slightly raise up to the throat level, don't over-extend. A sharp forward movement with the sword should be done at the same time as the back foot pulls up into place, and sword should move to the throat area and then back to Kamae (read position). it shouldn't linger there at the throat area.
Motodachi - After Kakarite strikes, on their last step, I should bring my sword back to Kamae very strongly, don't make it a relaxed movement. It should be sharp back to Kamae so they know I'm ready. This is true for all of the Kihon Kata. Also on the Tsuki strike, remember to step back. When the Kakarite steps back, Motodachi should take a step forward on the Kakarite's last step, joining them in Kamae simultaneously.
2: Kakarite - Again, remember to make the hit closer to the Motodachi. After striking Men, three steps back to the starting position, instead of the two steps for most other Kata in this set.
Motodachi - Kensen should put up and to the left for the Kote strike, and then come forward and in an arc to the right side for the Men hit. Do not arc the kensen right in front of the Kakarite, have it raised slightly up and back for safety. On the Kakarite's last step (third step), step forward to join them in the starting position again while coming back to Kamae.
3: Kakarite - the Harai movement should be very short and sharp. And when I say short, I mean VERY short. the Harai strike and the movement to hit Men should be one smooth motion, too, not two separate ones.
Motodachi - not much to do here. Let the Kakarite knock your sword away, and be sure to snap back into Kamae on their last step. No movement necessary when Kakarite takes their steps back to position.
4: Kakarite - During Tsubazeriai it's important to have your tsuba/sword on top so that you can make a good push down on the Motodachi's sword. Last night I noticed that a few times my partner was not making a very forceful push, and I couldn't tell when I should raise up. When the Motodachi pushes up and raises their hands, step back and raise the sword, and strike Do as the right foot snaps into place. I had a big issue with striking Do as my right foot came into place, I always seemed to move my right first and then strike Do.
Motodachi - The initial block doesn't have to be much, pretty much just raise the sword straight up in front of you. The Kakarite isn't coming in to hit you, so there should be no danger of getting hit here. When dropping down to Tsubazeriai, take a small step (half-step?) forward and make sure that the swords are crossed at the tsuba (hilt guard), and that you're not smashing fists with the Kakarite. When they push down, raise all the way up so that you are in a position ready to strike Men. On the Kakarite's last step back, take a half-step back to position while lowering the bokken back to Kamae.
5: Kakarite - When striking Nuki Do, the angle should be enough to just barely pass the Motodachi, it doesn't need to be any bigger or else stepping back to the center/starting position is hard and requires too large of a step. Also when stepping in for Do, a small step is all that is need. Since Motodachi is moving in to strike at the same time, both people can take a smaller step and still be at the right distance. After striking Do, body should be facing the angle you stepped, but the head should be turned to keep eye contact with Motodachi. Take a slight angled step backwards and turn to come back to Kamae (don't cross the feet, turn first and then step back), and then take another step to the left to return to the starting position.
Motodachi - Again, a small step is all that is needed for the Men strike. Be sure that the Kakarite is ready, too, since up to this point the Kakarite has been initiating all of the kata. After striking Men, turn head to keep eye contact with Kakarite, and then take a slight angled step backward (again, turn and then step so you don't cross your feet) and turn body to Kamae, and then take another step to the left to return to starting position. Both people should only need one step to their left to return to their original positions.
Throughout the Kihon Kata it should be remembered to keep eye contact between Kakarite and Motodachi, and that the swings are nice and big. Sword should be at 45 degrees above the head, or at most parallel with the ground (no further than this, as it's dead movement). Hands should be above the head, not in front of the head.
I'm looking forward to being able to do some more Kihon Kata later on, but this was a great start for now.