Tactics in Kendo Part 3

Tactics in Kendo Part 3

Introduction In the previous article, the tactics for Kyu grade practitioners and 1st~2nd Dan practitioners were looked at. In this article, tactics for 3rd~5th Dan practitioners are discussed. Firstly, I will describe methods of Keiko that 3rd~5th Dan practitioners are recommended to try out, to discover and develop their tactics against various types of opponents. This is followed by the continuation of ‘four opportunities for striking in Kendo’. In the previous article, two opportunities, ‘strike when the opponent finishes a strike’ and ‘strike when the opponent blocks a strike’ were covered in the relation to tactics. In this article, two other opportunities, ‘strike when the opponent begins to strike’ and ‘strike when the opponent moves back’ are discussed through ways of making an opponent attack or move back through the use of Seme and the practical use of the right foot.

1. 3rd~5th Practitioners: Methods of Keiko for Discovering and Developing Tactics

At this level, it is important to think how to develop Ji-geiko tactically when considering your ‘type of opponent’ and ‘your opponent’s type of Kendo’ whilst trying to extend the scope of your own Kendo.

Thinking about your ‘type of opponent’, for example, can be categorized into those; who are tall; short; those whose Ken-sen is high; or Ken-sen low; is slightly to the right; where the stance is big; or the stance is small; is wide; where the back foot is diagonally facing left; where the weight is rather on the right foot; or on the left foot, with posture straight; posture is leaning forward; or leaning backward and so on. Considering your ‘opponent’s type of Kendo’, can be also be categorized into types of Kendo in which your opponent; holds a shinai tightly, softly, does not use Te-no-uchi but relies on power, moves fast, is good at or tends to try Debana-waza, Kaeshi-waza, Hiki-waza, Renzoku-waza or feint techniques and so on.

As the above examples imply, when you think about ‘your opponent’, it should include both elements. To be able to do ‘your own Kendo’, it is quite important for you to consider, try, develop and acquire tactics for fighting against both ‘types’

Here, as I asked you to do in the previous article, I would like to ask you to stop reading for a while and instead think, refer to the above examples and the Kendo or your Dojo members:

  • How are you fighting against various types of opponent and their Kendo?
  • What footwork, shinai and body movements, Waza and combinations of Waza are you using?

As I described in the previous article, also try thinking of the process of using Tokui-waza [your favorite Waza] and how much your Kendo depends on how clearly and quickly you can picture all of the possibilities in your mind. Thinking about the above things will also help develop the tactics you will need to create and try against various types of opponent and their Kendo in order to develop the scope within your own Kendo. As described in Tactics in Kendo Part 1, ‘doing your own Kendo’ does not mean doing Kendo in which you attack with the same timing and same Waza all the time against all types of opponent. How you fight changes and you must change your tactical methods of fighting accordingly to your opponent, their type of Kendo and the situation. This does not mean, however, you should try to do something you do not normally do. You must choose the best option or the best option may be unconsciously made from a variety of choices. Of course, a person who does not have any choices can only do one sort of Kendo. Such a person can easily beat some particular type(s) of opponent and their Kendo, but is no match for some others. Speaking from a position of coach, such a player is difficult to select and use. What tactics can we use and how can we fight? Here it is not my intention to describe what to do against every type of opponent and their Kendo, but I would like to describe some methods of Keiko that 3rd~5th Dan practitioners are recommended to attempt, reflect, revise, develop and refine their tactics.

The importance of pursuing Ji-geiko with people who are hard for you to deal with was described in Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2. To keep avoiding practicing with them is not a solution. Your problem will remain. It is suggested that you should try to do Ji-geiko with them more than with anyone else and try to overcome the fear and problems, by being struck again and again, reflecting on your Ji-geiko with them, planning and creating your tactics. In addition to this, here, I would also like to recommend actually trying to copy their Kendo. I think that we all have had this experience of trying to copy someone’s Kendo that we admire. We try to copy that person’s way of Kamae, footwork, posture and attacking, trying to be that person and trying to gain something from doing it. Trying to copy someone’s Kendo that is hard for you to deal with in Ji-geiko is the same. By trying to copy that person’s Kendo and trying to be that person you are trying to grasp the feeling of that person’s attacks and strikes and also try to grasp what type of Seme that person may not like and where that person may not like being attacked against i.e. Men Kote, do etc, where there may be a weaknesses and so on. By adopting a style of Kendo that you find difficult, you may also get insights into the strengths of that style whilst practicing with a junior and be made aware of those weaknesses when you practice with a senior.

2. Learning Seme to Make Your Opponent Strike or Move Back

Previously, I referred to ‘four opportunities for striking’ and said that ‘striking when the opponent finishes a strike’ would be an important tactic for Kyu grade practitioners to learn and try during Ji-geiko with other Kyu grade holders. I also talked about attacking with feint actions and attacking with Sute-waza and Mise-waza that makes use of one’s Tokui-waza for 1st~2nd Dan practitioners.

These are related to ‘striking when the opponent block a strike’ within the four opportunities for striking. In addition to these, 3rd Dan and the above practitioners should learn two other opportunities for striking, ‘striking when the opponent begins to strike’ and ‘striking as the opponent moves back’.

What is expected of practitioners at this level is to have acquired the proper technique of Te-no-uchi in both Shikake-waza and Oji-waza. I don’t not mean that you should be able to execute both Shikake-waza and Oji-waza with the proper technique of Te-no-uchi in Ji-geiko, but that you should at least be able to do them in Waza-geiko when there is normally no resistance from your partner and you know where they are going to attack. In my experience, however, less than half of practitioners at this level in the U.K. can show the proper technique of Te-no-uchi in Waza-geiko. By acquiring proper Te-no-uchi, we can attack and defend without relying too much on our physical power, practice with anyone irrespective of the difference in sex, age and physique, and practice throughout our lifetime. It is no exaggeration to say that acquiring Te-no-uchi is vital for lifelong Kendo. However the purpose of this article is to describe tactics and not to describe methods of acquiring the technique of Te-no-uchi. The following focuses on two opportunities for striking, ‘striking when the opponent begins to strike’ and ‘striking as the opponent moves back’ and proceeds on the premise that practitioners have a proper understanding of the technique of Te-no-uchi.

2-1. Seme in Kendo

It should be fairly obvious that striking when the opponent begins to strike or moves back does not just mean waiting for the opponent’s action. 3rd Dan ~ 5th Dan practitioners are required to learn methods of Seme that will make the opponent strike or move back. Let’s examine what Seme is before discussing methods of Seme. According to the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (A.J.K.E., 2000, p. 83), Seme in Kendo is explained as “To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent with full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents them from moving freely.” This definition gives the impression that Seme occurs in only one situation. However, it is my opinion that the pressure generated by Seme can be felt at all distances and in all situations. That is, even if you are at very close distance such as Tsuba-zeriai, where you cannot get any closer or alternatively at a far distance, it is quite important to give Seme with full spirit and with the action that aims to take an advantage and overwhelm the opponent. Due to page limits, some methods of Seme in situations where you and your opponent are facing each other in Kamae are not covered here. However these methods of Seme are quite importantly related to how you make your opponent strike or move back.

2-2. Seme from Kamae: Use of the Right Foot

There are an infinite number of methods of Seme in Kendo. Here attention is paid to the practical use of the right foot and some of the methods of Seme that include making your opponent strike or move back.

Traditionally in Kendo, the right foot is called ‘Seme-ashi (foot used for Seme)’ and the left foot is called ‘Jiku-ashi (foot used for supporting the body)’. You need to use the right foot softly, smoothly and freely to give pressure and invite the opponent to initiate an attack. You need to feel as if your left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of the body is connected by one line and you also need to make your left foot ready for following the right foot and Fumikiri anytime. If however the distance between your right foot and left foot is too wide from front to rear, or the centre of gravity moves forward and backward or from backward to forward, or your upper body leans forward and backward in the Kamae, whilst you are trying to give pressure to each other, inviting to initiate an attack, you will not be able to use both feet as described above. You will not then be able to see your opponent in a fixed position and the timing of your striking will be easily sensed, when the stance of the feet is too wide and movement of the centre of the gravity is also big.

It is important, therefore for practitioners at this level to understand how to use ‘Seme-ashi’ and ‘Jiku-ashi’ and develop their Kendo so that they give Seme with smaller and more effective movements. What follows is a description of some methods of Seme-ashi.

Firstly, it is important for you to be physically and mentally prepared to attack your opponent and to react to your opponent’s attack from the moment you take Kamae after standing up from Sonkyo. It is said that Kendo starts with Rei and finishes with Rei. I don’t think that this only refers to the matter of etiquette. From the moment you face your opponent and bow, your fight begins and it is important to remain focused until the final Rei with your opponent. If you attempt to do your Keiko with this attitude, you will discover the most suitable methods of putting your weight on the feet, taking the stance between the feet, keeping your Ken-sen, stretching your left leg, bending the right knee and so on. If your attitude to how you take Kamae changes, your footwork will change, your posture will change, your Seme will change and your Kendo will change.

Earlier I described the use of the right foot as Seme-ashi. The right foot is also used as a kind of radar that can detect the opponent’s intention. Ji-geiko, Shiai and grading examinations normally start with the two practitioners trying to ‘search out’ and discover each other’s type of Kendo and intention, as well as trying to give pressure with their own tactics. For this ‘searching’ and ‘pressurizing’, bring your right foot slightly (only slightly) forward, without leaning forward and losing the feeling that your left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of the body are connected. At the same time, try to give pressure together with invitations to your opponent to attack by using the Shinai in the following ways; Osae, Harai, straight in, raising the Ken-sen up or lowering it. In the situation when your opponent does not react to your Seme or you feel uncomfortable with the timing, distance and body balance, bring your left foot up and slide the right foot forward again, searching and pressuring or bring back your right foot and start over again. In addition to this, there are other ways of practical use of the right foot. For example, you stamp on the floor quickly and strongly with the right foot or bend your right knee quickly and slightly in order to get the opponent agitated or make the opponent initiate an attack.

If you would like to get closer to your opponent (especially when you fight against someone tall) without them knowing, bring your left foot up firstly to the right foot before sliding the right foot forward (Tsugi-ashi technique). As the result of or in the process of the above ‘searching’ and ‘pressurizing’, you find an opportunity, you must immediately go and strike. If your opponent feels strong pressure from you and moves back, you immediately follow and give your opponent bigger pressure or follow and strike. If your opponent begins to strike or strikes, use (Debana-waza) or counterattack (Oji-waza).

What you should be very careful of is the timing as you bring your left foot up. It is quite difficult to react if your opponent attacks at this point. In fact, top level kendo-ka are looking for this point and can score a wonderful Tobikomi-men. All of the top level Sensei that I know check that they are standing firmly by keeping a line between the left foot, left leg, left hip and left side of body and are in the position that they can attack and react to their opponent’s attacking at anytime. Moreover, their skilful use of the right foot and Shinai handling make their opponent’s initiate an attack (for example Men) enabling them to counterattack beautifully (for example Kaeshi-Do). Their skilful use of the right foot and Shinai handling also gives their opponent strong pressure and makes them move back. Then they are immediately followed and struck by a wonderful Men or Kote-Men.

In conclusion there are an infinite numbers of methods in the use of Seme in Kendo and the above methods are just some examples. I think, however, that these patterns of Seme are well worth while practicing in order to acquire a higher quality of Kendo and Kendo that you can continue throughout your life.

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