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Driving the Shinai

"Who is driving your shinai?"  This question was posed to us at the end of class last night by our sensei.  The answer, of course, is obvious; you are.  Simple as it is, though, it has many implications in our training.  I thought I would expand on my thoughts and feelings on this subject, since most of our drills last night involved controlling and "driving" the shinai in one way or another.

To me, the simplest manifestation of this idea is that you are in control of where your shinai lands, and you are responsible for the accuracy of your strikes.  It may seem simple, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to strike the same spot consistently at higher speeds.  In a nutshell, it's harder than it looks!  Digging down a little deeper, we come to how hard, or soft, we hit.  This is also a demonstration of shinai control, and one that many of our partners will appreciate.  Sensei went over a few drills that we can do on our own time to help develop better control of the strength and power in our hits, which involved taking a towel or some other object and wrapping a tree branch or bar or something that you can hit that is about the height of a Men strike.  He gave us four examples of suburi to try:

  • Stop the shinai above the target, about 1/2 to 1/4 inch
  • Lightly tap the target.  
  • Hit with the amount of force that you believe is correct
  • Hit with more force than is necessary
For people who currently have or have had issues with hitting too hard (most of us, we took a poll last night), these exercises can help us develop proper control and tenouchi (grip) when swinging the shinai and when striking a target.

Digging even deeper, we see that controlling the shinai comes into play in a lot more areas.  Sometimes very obvious, and sometimes very subtly.  We went over a few drills last night that involved moving the shinai and kensen to get our partners to open up for us, and then striking a variety of targets.  Each of the movements to get our partners to move out of center were very subtle (the slight "J" movement used before striking men, or the lifting the kensen up at the opponent's face before striking Hiki Kote), but the strikes afterwards were quick, explosive, and a stark contract to the slight movements from a moment before.

Big, explosive movements are obvious, and can show our true intentions.  If we suddenly jerk our shinai to the side to try and get our partner/opponent to open up they might expect that you're trying to bait them (which you are).  But if the movement is subtle, gentle, almost seemingly accidental they are more likely to go for the bait and spring the trap.  I believe this to be a very effective and very powerful technique, and one that I will continue to work on.  I honestly felt a little bit of inspiration when going through some of the drills last night, as I had never thought of doing some of the movements like we did last night.  I hope to be able to someday use these techniques and thinking effectively in my own Kendo.

A few thoughts:

Men:  We practice striking from To maai a few times last night and I tended to step a bit too close and hit a little too deep on a few of them.  I'll either have to practice starting further out, or making a shorter fumikomi.  I'm still playing with distancing and learning to use that effectively.

Kote:  During Hiki Kote we were given the chance to try hitting from different angles with the shinai, but he said to make sure to keep proper, upright posture while striking.  Many people get into a bad habit of leaning their bodies while trying to strike, and this is something that we are going to try and avoid.

Jigeiko:  Sensei told me last night that I'm staying in the "middle distance" too long.  I am within my striking distance, but I tend to hang out there a bit too much.  He said that I should either attack, set them up for a counter (oji waza), or I should back off and set myself up again.

Wrists:  I'm still working on my wrists, trying to get them more flexible during my strikes.  I can do it when I think about it, but now I have to transfer that into a habit that I can do without thinking.

On a side note, I had my first foray into teaching solo, with the Valley dojo members last Friday.  I felt a bit awkward and out of place having to be on the Sensei's side of the room, but everyone showed up and everyone gave just as much effort to me as they do to our Senseis in the Valley.  They are a great group of people and it was a pleasure to teach them!

On another side note, it is my birthday today, and I am going to get beat up with Kakarigeiko tomorrow at training.  Wish me luck, and if I die from exhaustion I will miss writing these posts =)


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