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Thoughts on Kaeshi-Dou

Wow, has it really been almost two months since I've written a post?  Time sure flies, and I didn't realize that it had been so long.  I have been busy with life, and kendo, and lunch training, so at least that's all going well.  Lunch training takes up 4-5 days of the week now; almost every single day that I'm at work.  I have to get in as much as I can before we move offices, because once that happens I won't be just around the corner from the dojo and those trusty hitting dummies.  Once we move, though, I'll be sure to get together a new lunch training regimen.  For now, though, I'll continue to work hard and put in that extra time as best I can.

Last night was a good practice.  Monday night was a good practice, too, even though I've been dealing with a heel injury this past week.  Actually, two heel injuries.  My left heel is acting up, I'm not sure why, but the heel/Achilles tendon are starting to get sore.  Then about a week ago I stepped on the hem of my hakama during practice, and I'm sure some people out there reading this know just how painful that is!  Suffice it to say, I've had a lot of time to work on other things besides my footwork.  Last night I had the spotlight put on me for one such thing, even though I wasn't expecting it at all.

Lately we've been changing up the way we do kirikaeshi.  We've been combining what we do as first rhythm and second rhythm into one drill.  First rhythm, as we perform it, is when we strike and stop our shinai after each sayu-men (hitting to the left or right side of the men).  Second rhythm is similar, but we just take the pause out and made the strikes fluid motions.  Neither of them are fast, but very controlled.  the second version we've been doing is one where we start out normally, by hitting men and coming in for taiatari, but after that the motodachi will step back/forward while striking men, and the kakarite performs kaeshi-dou to each side as he steps forward and back.  Sounds simple enough, and for me it was, but it seems that I was doing something right because I was asked to demonstrate it for the class, and afterward had various people asking me about it and what I was doing to make it work.  I thought I'd take this opportunity to elaborate a bit on what goes on with me, both mentally and physically, when performing kaeshi-dou.

As a disclaimer before I begin, I'd like to say that I'm no expert at kaeshi-dou.  It's a waza that I rarely use and I'm still figuring out the mechanics and timing of it myself.  If I may be honest, I would even say that my kaeshi-dou sucks right now, but hopefully in time it'll become usable.  So please remember, these are the notes of someone that is still very much a student, but here are a few points that I try to remember while doing kaeshi-dou:

  • Timing - I always try to wait until the last minute to counter and strike.  It doesn't do any good to start the movement early.  If this happens, you get to hang out waiting for the strike to come in, which not only turns kaeshi-dou into a two-step process, but also leaves you open to anyone quick enough to pick up on it and change their tactic.  Instead, I try to wait until the last possible second and then counter.  On this note, when I counter I try and make it one beat, with the block and the counter-strike becoming one movement.
  • Shinai -  when I perform the movement with my hands, I bring my left hand slightly out of center, so that I can angle my shinai properly for the block.  I am in the habit of blocking out in front of me, so my arms move more up from kamae into the block, instead of coming in close to my head and body for the block.  I've seen that version of kaeshi-dou done, and done well (Teramoto Sensei), but I've never been able to get it to work for me.  The angle that I make shouldn't be horizontal, though, or else the counter won't work right.  To prevent this, I try not to block "too big", by taking my arms way too far out of the centerline.  Only a slight deviation is needed for me to get the right angle.  Right when I feel contact between my shinai and my partner's I bring my shinai down sharply, with my left hand coming back to center, while my right hand is used to whip the shinai around to my partner's dou.  This part is important to me, because if I try to move the shinai too early it will mess everything up.  I have to wait until the moment of impact to move/twist the shinai around, which also helps me use my partner's power to give my strike even more "oomph".
  • Distance - Since my partner is usually the one committing to the strike and closing the distance, I let them do most of the work there.  That way I'm able to take just a small step to the side as I counter and strike their dou, or in the case of kirikaeshi I'm able to take small steps forward and back (to match whatever distancing they are setting).  When I first learned this waza and tried to use it I was in the habit of stepping forward as I struck, which would cause me to hit way too deep on the target.
These are things that I've heard over and over at the dojo, but as I practice this waza they make more and more sense to me, and I'm able to utilize them more and more.  I think the points that really helped me the most were keeping a good kamae and not striking until the very last second, making sure that I'm not stepping in too far as I strike, and not over-blocking but using just enough angle to "catch" their shinai before I return that strike to my partner.

There's still so much I'm learning and working on and failing at with kaeshi-dou, but at least with some good basics under my belt I'm able to land  a fairly decent one from time to time.  I'm sure that the more I learn and the more I practice, I'll revise my thoughts on dou, add new things, maybe even take some other things away.  All in the name of having more good days with it than bad days.  The road is long and difficult, but I'm willing to walk it for as long as it takes.


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