|Photo courtesy of T. Patana, Kendo Photography|
I've written about this before. I know I have. But, just like anything in kendo, my understanding of techniques evolves and changes as I gain more experience. I read something earlier which goes along with this. Sinclair Sensei talked about painting a line, and every time you come to practice you paint over it and over it, until the faint line starts becoming more solid and more vivid in color. If you'd like to read it, it's here:
The Red Line
For this post, though, I'm not going to talk much about how to actually perform debana kote. I'm sure I've done that enough in the past, plus I'm sure anyone reading this will have their own way of doing it, or their own instructions on the intricacies of it that work for them. If not, I encourage you to talk with your sensei about it! I believe that debana kote is one of the most effective waza out there, no matter your rank or skill level. The waza is simple enough to grasp at first, but as you practice, learn, and being to understand it, it takes on new levels of complexity.
Debana Kote is the focus of our dojo for this month, and as we've been going through I've really been thinking about the mental aspects of it. Where I'm at right now, this is how I understand it: debana waza is the opportunity that is created when your opponent's mental thought becomes physical movement. For this waza, when your opponent starts his physical movement for his attacks, that's when you should be striking his kote. You shut them down almost before anything on their end even started. If we were talking basketball, debana waza would be stuffing the shooter as they started their movement to shoot, but before their feet even left the ground. I'm sure my opinion will change as I grow, but it works for where I'm at now. But how do you develop that kind of timing?
Notice I said "timing" and not "speed." I believe that speed doesn't necessarily come into the question of debana waza, as it's more a question of timing and efficiency, to me. Speed just gives your technique that extra bonus on top of everything else. But back to the question: how do you develop that kind of timing? I've been breaking it down in my head and this is what I've come up with.
To build the correct timing, you must be able to read and anticipate your opponent, and you must be confident in your kote strike. Both of these take a lot of time on the floor, practicing with real people. Developing your kote is something that everyone should be doing anyway. It should be quick and efficient, so that when you do find that opportunity (or create it) you can strike without hesitation. Back to the first point, though. When I read and anticipate, I first try and establish a connection with my partner. I try and move with them, on their timing. I watch their body and their movement to see what their "tells" are. You know, the things that someone does when they're about to launch an attack. Everyone who has done this before knows what I mean. There's a certain feeling you get sometimes when you just KNOW when someone is going to attack. That's what I look for, that feeling, that moment. Once I'm comfortable finding that, I simply anticipate it, judged on things like their posture, their footwork, their breathing, their distance in relation to me, etc. There are a lot of cues you can look for to make your judgments. Sometimes I go too early and that's ok. If I do I try and continue through with a good kote strike and finish well. Sometimes I'm too late and I get struck myself, and that's ok, too. No one is perfect at this one hundred percent of the time. When I do get it right and make a successful attack, though, I try and remember that and build upon it for next time.
Once you have a good grasp on how people move and attack, and can anticipate that moment to apply this technique, you can take that one step further and start using that knowledge and experience to control when that moment happens. You can actually force them to move when you want to, by the way you act and react to all of their cues. Sounds easy, but in application it's not. I'm still terrible at it, but every once in a while I can force that moment on my terms, when I want it to happen. It's a great feeling. It's weird to say, but it's also a great feeling when someone does it to me. It feels so masterful that I can't help but give a little mental head nod to how awesome it was that they did that to me. A lot of times I'll even try to take a mental note of what they did and how they did it so I can practice it later on.
At this point in my kendo life I've probably performed debana kote tens of thousands of times. Ninety-nine percent of them have been on the dojo floor, working to improve it. One percent have actually been done in a tournament setting, or at a shinsa. I'm still learning, though, and still looking to improve any way I can. There's always something I can tweak in relation to my timing or setup, or my body movement or footwork or sword movement. But each time I come to class and work on it, I'm painting another line, making that debana kote color as vivid as I can.