|Courtesy of T. Patana|
Hiki waza have never been my specialty, but every once in a while I have a moment of clarity and an alarmingly high success rate. The moments are few and far between, but they are there. I've always believed in having strong hiki waza, even though my personal preference is to attack forward using shikake or oji waza. I like having the ability and confidence to use techniques that work in any given situation I'm in, and since there's a lot of time spent in tsubazeriai having a strong hiki waza repertoire just makes sense. This month our dojo is going to be focusing on hiki waza, and on some main points to make them work. As always, this is just my personal experience and opinion on things, so take it as you will.
When discussing this subject with my sensei, there were a few main points that we came up with that help to create successful hiki waza. The first we touched on was proper tsubazeriai. I'm sure we've all seen scenarios where one (or both!) competitors had their arms either too far out or too close in. I'm sure you can make arguments for each position, but personally I feel like having the arms too far out creates tension and a weak position which can be easily exploited with a little lateral force. Likewise, arms and hands too close seems another weak position which can be really weak when pushed back, resulting in loss of balance and/or injury from a backwards tumble to the floor. It also seems to create a weak striking position. I like to keep my arms at my side and "naturally straight", in a position similar to where I have them during chudan kamae. This allows me to create a slight pocket between my body and my hands/shinai to help diffuse any shock or force coming in from someone trying to push my hands, body, or shinai out of the way, and keeps my upper body relaxed in a good way. To me, I feel like I'm in a good, strong position already. Add to this my hand, wrist and shinai position, making sure to keep the shinai tip in front of me, and I feel like I have a good position for tsubazeriai and, therefore, for hiki waza.
Maai also plays into good hiki waza, and was another point that we discussed. Being at a good distance from your opponent, and the target, makes for opportunities to attack with the most efficient movements. Too close and you'll have to move quite a ways to have the proper distance for striking. Too far and you won't be able to reach the target without over-extending and/or leaning. If we have a habit of coming to a good, proper distance, it's a very quick and small movement from tsubazeriai to the target.
Lastly, we talked about footwork. One of the most important pieces of any good kendo. One thing I tell the beginning classes is that you can have the best, fastest strikes in the world, but if you don't have the footwork to get yourself to the target it's not going to matter. Likewise, none of the positioning or setup for hiki waza will work unless you have good footwork and body movement to execute it. I'll refrain from talking about specifics regarding footwork, since that can be a whole other can of worms.
These are some of the pieces we'll be going over this month, as well as ways to create openings for hiki waza. Again, I like to strike moving forward and I'd say 99% of my strikes are done in this manner, but I always like to have that extra 1% in my back pocket for when the situation arises.