Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Are You Working On?

This is a question that Sensei has been asking me a lot lately.  Usually after practice when I step up to bow to him.  The more I think about it, the more answers I can come up with, and the more I think about it, the higher my bar of standard for myself raises.  I've been told I have beautiful Kendo, and when I really think about it, I guess I do considering my level of experience and training (which isn't much).  But I always want to strive for more.  I never want to lose that hunger to keep progressing, keep learning and improving myself.  It's one of the things that drives me in Kendo.  I have a definite passion for it, that much I can say without hesitation, and even though I know nothing I continually push myself to take more steps along this path.

The first things that pop into my head, and the things I'm concentrating on most right now, are keeping a straight posture, and making my wrists more loose and flexible.  Now, straight posture, to me, doesn't mean rigidly straight back.  It means having a "natural" straightness to my stance.  We talk about this a lot, mainly when it comes to holding the shinai in kamae and with the legs in kamae.  It does apply to many other areas, though.  Naturally straight isn't locked in place; it's a relaxed position, with the slight curve (from the kneee, or the loewr back, or the elbows).  Things are neither locked in place or bent out of place, they are natural, and, well, straight!

My wrists are an issue that pop up here and there, but I've been concentrating on them for a few weeks now, ever since I was first told that they were too tense.  Wrist movement is a key component in a good, fast shinai swing.  As it was explained the wrists should bend back as the swing starts, so that the upswing and the wrist motion are all one, not two separate movements.  The way I understand it is that on the downswing the wrists should snap out last, kind of like a wave.  The energy running from your shoulders, which are driving the sword down, through your arms, to your wrists (which snap forward) and then out through your shinai to connect with the target (Men, Kote, Do).  I might be wrong on this, though, so don't take my word for it, but this is how I understand the movement, and it makes sense to me.  Up and back, down and forward, power through the left hand, guidance through the right.

Will my thinking change on these areas?  I would say most definitely.  As I grow in experience, things that made sense before become more refined, until they are entirely different ideas, but for now this is what I know and it has helped me a lot. 


  1. Interesting that you should say that about the wrists. I have super flexible wrists that have very little actual strength to support them, so they bend a lot whenever I swing. They bend back when I raise the shinai and then they bend forward when I swing down, and I have been needing to learn to keep them more rigid.

    Kinda neat, how the same thing in Kendo (ostensibly an art that is about sameness between kendoka) can require very different approaches between different people in order to improve. I think that is part of what I like about it so much, how the public expression is about sameness and yet the personal experience seems to be very unique and individual.

  2. I imagine a tree when I think of this. The branches being points that we can define in Kendo, but the off-shoots are each person's approach and experience. They're all different, yet all connected to the same base thought or idea or technique. I, too, love that about this art!

    And my wrists are a continuing issue with me. When I think about it and concentrate on it I can keep it under control, but when I start to move without thinking or I'm focusing on another issue I tend to have stiff wrists. But that's what practice is for, right?

  3. There are a few things that I can add to this.

    When I explain to people on how to swing, I like to tell them to imagine they are throwing the shinai out without letting go. If the wrists are stiff, as is your case, then it would just fall to the floor. But if you try to get some distance out of throwing it, then the shinai tends to follow the path that it should, which even loosens up the wrists. Of course, issues with overextending could arise so be very careful when taking this approach.

    Also, you could try putting more concentration on the tip of the shinai. It's the monouchi that's doing the cutting. The arms and wrists are there to give it speed and direction. As you advance, then you'll learn how to incorporate the rest of the body into the strike, which will give everything more power without adding much "strength" to it.

  4. That's a very interesting piece of advice, and I'll try to visualize that next time. I'm still working on making it a habit. I can flex the wrists nicely when I think about it, and I can feel it's at the cusp of turning into a habit, but I need to give it a few more small pushes. Maybe this visualization will be the final push that I need.

    Putting my whole body into the hit is something that escapes me right now, I'll admit that. I have pretty good timing, or so I've been told, with my footwork and body movement and strikes, but getting my whole body behind a strike isn't something I've even tried to tackle yet. I have noticed, though, that with more speed inadvertently comes more power, so I've had to ease up on the power I put into the hits because of my improvement in speed.

  5. Sorry for the delay in my reply, I've been kind of busy as of late.

    When you do a swing, a good command of posture and body movement is also necessary to make it effective. Keeping the back straight and moving with your hips puts more weight and stability behind your strikes which can increase the likelyhood of making a successful strike in the case of ai-uchi. In terms of speed, if the shinai moves at 5 MPH and you move at 5 MPH, then the total speed will be 10 MPH and you'll be hitting with such a force. To be honest, it's kinda hard to describe for me to explain in plain text, so I hope it makes sense enough.

    One thing you can do that might bring the point home is to do katate suburi (suburi with just your left hand). First, do a set while standing in place. Then do a second set so you swing down while moving forward and back. You'll see how it's much easier to swing, but you're not putting any additional strength in your strike.

    Bleh, I hope all this makes sense.