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2012 PNKF Shinpan Seminar

This past week our dojo has been focused on shiai-geiko.  Not for the sake of getting practice in the matches, which was fun, but so that our yudansha could learn about and get some experience being shinpan.  For anyone that doesn't know, a shinpan is a court judge in a kendo match.  There are three of them on the court.  Two judges (fukushin) and one head judge (shushin).  Together they call points and penalties and generally ensure that everything goes well and smoothly during each match.  We focused on this aspect of kendo this whole week, leading up to the PNKF shinpan seminar that took place in Seattle, WA this past weekend.

Last week Sinclair Sensei took some time at the end of a couple classes to go over the basics of being a shinpan.  We learned the commands, how to use the flags to signal each one, and some other information about how to stand, how to move with the flags, etc.  Monday and Wednesday we were able to put these ideas into practice by judging matches between our fellow dojo members.  I have to admit, it's a whole different world being a shinpan!  The first thing I noticed is that I couldn't just relax and watch the match.  I had to focus, a lot, on not only one person but on two people that were fighting.  Plus I had to focus on my fellow shinpan to see where they were moving and what they were doing.  It was all so mentally draining!  I can see now why it's so important to keep the shinpan fresh by rotating them out regularly, and I also have a much better appreciation for what they do.  Not that I didn't appreciate them before, but after having been in their shoes, even for our practice matches, I can see what pressure they have on them during each and every match!

I heard Billy say that we are not just judges on the court, but to be truly effective we need to be part of the match with the two competitors.  This was echoed at the seminar itself by Elliott Sensei.  What that means to me is in order to truly excel at being a shinpan I have to be able to mentally fight with each of the competitors on the court.  And I have to be able to have this kind of attention and focus while also paying attention to my fellow shinpan.  We'll see how well I do with it as time goes by.

One of the main things I noticed about myself was that I had no trouble calling the commands. I felt like I was loud and clear with each command, from starting the matches to calling the points to handling out penalties when needed.  One thing I need to work on is actual flag positioning.  Specifically keeping my palms down when I call points.  I tend to let my palms face forward when I bring the flag up so I'll have to keep that in mind next time.  Another thing I need to work on (and this is a biggie) is handing out points too generously.  I tend to give points when sometimes I should be more reserved.  Along this note it was good to hear Marsten Sensei tell us that if we call a point early and then change our minds we can always wave off our own point.  I hope to be able to work on this so that I don't have to wave off my own points too often, but I feel like being able to see and call a good point is something that will get easier with time.  Just like when I was first learning to do a correct men strike, now I am learning how to JUDGE a correct men strike.

All in all we had a great weekend at the seminar (which I just now realized I didn't write about much).  One thing that I remember is some parting advice that Dejong Sensei gave us.  He said to "make your own mistakes."  What he meant was to take what we learn from others and then go out and try to always improve that.  Note other shinpan's mistakes and learn from them, and if we do make a mistake fix it next time.  That way we are always working towards improvement.  In addition to this piece of advice, I gained so much new knowledge about being a shinpan and had plenty of matches to run through to work on my own skills.  I feel like this is really a step in having "complete" kendo and it's a duty that I want to take seriously and improve as much as I can.  Just like everything else, though, practice makes perfect.

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