I've joined an online club. Many of you, if you are reading, may have seen it or are even members yourselves. It's called the Hundred Suburi Club 2018, on Facebook. Check it out if you'd like! This may be a shameless plug for it, but that's ok, it's my blog. It's been fun joining in with other like-minded people around the world to share this experience. I didn't necessarily join for the suburi itself; I've already been doing that consistently on my own time anyway. For me it's more the community aspect of it, and being able to cheer on and motivate others, as they do the same for me, and share our stories back and forth. Kendo really is a friendly group, and this gives me another way to meet and greet new people. With that being said, though, it does make me think of my own suburi and practice and small tidbits of info that I've collected or realized throughout the years. I want to present some of that, BUT please please please, if you are reading this, don't take this as gospel of any kind. My suburi is not your suburi, and the way I do it may be vastly different than anyone else. But it's what works for me right now, where I'm at with my kendo, and I'm sure that as time goes on it will evolve and change. Also, this just covers what I think and focus on for men suburi. I can modify this to suit my needs for different strikes or different types of suburi that I do. That being said...
Since I began teaching the beginners class a couple years ago, I've tried to present the best kendo that I can. Even though they may not know what to expect and what to look for in good basics, I do and I want to be sure and start them out the best I can. This had led me to scrutinize every little thing that I've done and that I continue to do. I'm by no means perfect in any of my execution, and I always find things to fix here and there, but I think I do a passable job with them. Suburi is one of the big things that we focus on, with lots of repetition in various stages of breaking down and building up the waza we're working on. A few points that I always try and drive into new people are to use wrist and shoulders, shoulders and wrists. What I mean by this is to make sure that you aren't artificially focusing on or bending your elbows, as this can lead to wasted movement and improper swing. Instead it should come from flexible wrists and the big shoulder muscles to move the sword up overhead (furikaburi) and down into the strike itself. Natural bending of the elbow will occur, because we don't want to be stiff and tense, but it should all feel relaxed and not forced in any way. I believe this is a good start to basics, and one that can be built on with more detailed movement later on.
When I do a full swing I try and get my left hand all the way up over my forehead, instead of stopping prematurely out in front of my head and body, and I try and make sure the sword goes right up the centerline and doesn't sway to one side or the other. This allows me to really utilize my shoulder muscles and open my chest, before bringing everything down and together for the strike. I also try and feel for a "whipping" motion when I strike. This is hard to explain, so the imagery of a whip unfurling and cracking at the end is the best for me. I try and let my energy unfurl and build up from my body, through my shoulders, forearms, wrists and hands and out into the end of my shinai. This feeling, along with directing that energy forward into the strike, instead of down into the floor, makes a good feeling for me. I also try and stop my tip about eye height. I've heard arguments for eye, nose and chin, but personally I stop about eyes. This allows me to make a firm strike, but not one that's too hard and won't leave people seeing stars. At least, I hope they aren't seeing stars after I strike them!
A couple of final things round out suburi for me. Lately I've really been focusing on starting the strike with my body, instead of letting my hands go first and having my body follow. This creates a much different feeling, and for me it's a bit more intense. I can then perform it fast or slow, which also adds another layer to the suburi. I also try and concentrate on striking as my back foot pulls into place, as most of the time when I do suburi it's not with fumikomi. This allows me to really isolate and focus on either my swing mechanics, my body mechanics, my hands, my shoulders, my arms, or any other number of things and combinations.
Suburi is a powerful tool and I believe doing it regularly has tremendous benefits. Personally I also try and make every strike good, so that I'm helping to build good habits. If I'm doing 100 strikes and my tip is always up in the air and not down at a good target height, am I really learning how to do a good men strike? Likewise if my body and my sword or disconnected too much, am I practicing good ki-ken-tai-ichi? It might take a little more effort, or a little more time, but I believe the benefits are well worth it. And after a while, after becoming better and more efficient at it, that time and effort starts to decrease and decrease, while still building good habits. But, maybe if it starts becoming a bit too easy that's my queue to change it up a bit and challenge myself more.
My current suburi set includes:
shomen uchi w/ hiraki ashi
katate men uchi- left hand
katate men uchi - right hand
matawari suburi - squatting suburi, you strike as you squat, furikaburi as you stand
Again, I'm no expert on this, and my way may not be your way. My way definitely isn't the most efficient, I'm sure, but it works for me and I enjoy it. But I'm always open to advice or constructive criticism. That's how we grow, right?