Kendo kata is an integral part of modern Kendo. More important than the fact that it is included in kendo rank testing, the kendo kata embody concepts and techniques that are essential for our shinai kendo remaining and developing as true Kendo. Accordingly, the Fall 2018 Southwest Kendo and Iaido Federation training event opened with a seminar on the kendo kata. Robert Stroud, sensei, (Kendo Kyoshi 7-Dan) led the kendo kata seminar at the Fall Event, held in Omaha, Nebraska, the weekend of October 12-14, 2018. During the seminar, Stroud sensei focused on several important concepts involving both engagement, disengagement, maai and general mindset during the kata.
Stroud sensei emphasized that when closing distance in the various kamae, one should not do so in a passive manner. Rather, kenshi should assume kamae and approach at a slightly quicker pace and more importantly, with the "feel" of cautiously closing as though entering an actual sword fight. Accordingly, Stroud sensei also emphasized expression of strong situational awareness at the completion of each kata. As in an actual life and death encounter, Stroud sensei advised uchidachi and shidachi to "disengage gingerly."
As kenshi rise in rank, there is an expectation of less reliance upon rote memorization and execution of the kata. Rather, elements such as the specific number of footsteps taken and expression of various maai are increasingly determined by the physical characteristics of the individual practitioners. Stroud sensei noted as an example that just prior to cutting in nihonme, uchidachi should be at uchi-ma, but when each kata is completed, uchidachi and shidachi should be back at shokujin no maii. Throughout the kata, both uchidachi and shidachi will be adjusting the length of their steps. So instead of just focusing on the number of steps in kata, we should consider how close or far we need to be from the opponent during different stages in kata, and position ourselves as the situation dictates.
In addition to the spatial aspect of combative engagment distance, the temporal interval was also addressed. Stroud sensei noted that the interval between "yaa" and "tou" is to be such that it corresponds to a vigorous, rapid cut by shidachi in response to uchidachi's attack. Again, the idea of realistic adaptation and response to the situation was reinforced. This is akin to execution of techniques such as oji-waza in shinai kendo, whereby the opponent's sword/cut is parried and immediately followed with a counter without waiting, delay, rocking back on one's heels, or otherwise breaking "connection" or seme.
Stroud sensei also provided several corrections or tips for specific portions of the kata. One notable example was the shidachi's response to uchidachi's thrust to the left lung during sanbonme. Rather than a hooking redirection with the mune of shidachi's sword, shidachi instead utilizes nayashi waza (tsuki nayashi tsuki) in order to neutralize the incoming thrust and counter attack. Shidachi neutralizes the tsuki (rendering it ineffective) by redirecting it to their left and down (see photos below). Stroud sensei also emphasized that while doing so, shidachi must not allow her left hand to pull away from her center.
Finally, Stroud sensei discussed the progressing skill or even nobility of action demonstrated by the kenshi, during the kata, particularly in the first three longsword kata. The conclusion of these three kata show the development of ability and sophistication of the swordsman from lethal dispatch of the attacker in ipponme; de-fanging the attacker with an injurious cut in nihonmne; and finally defeating the attacker without injury in sanbonme. In a way, this was a recurring theme that could be found throughout the seminar; i.e., that over the years, as our understanding and skill at kendo increases, our execution of its waza will evolve as well.
Takuro Yamaoka, sensei, the leader of the Omaha Kendo and Iaido Kyokai, recently returned from South Korea, where he competed as a member of Team USA at the 17th World Kendo Championships. Yamaoka sensei participated as a member of the five-man team that won bronze medals in the team competition. Team USA's Men's Team defeated the teams of four other countries (Serbia, Croatia, Italy and Singapore) before being defeated by Korea, the team that would ultimately win the silver. The final results of the team competition were Japan winning the gold in the team competition, Korea the silver and the United States and Chinese Taipei both winning the bronze. The Men's Individual Champion was Sho Ando of Japan. The Women's Individual Champion was Mizuki Matsumoto of Japan.
The 17th World Kendo Championships were held in Incheon, South Korea, from September 14-16, 2018, and featured competition among teams from 52 countries. The United States was represented at the WKC by a contingent of male and female kenshi who competed in the men's individual, women's individual and men's team competitions. Team USA was led by the following senseis: Delegation Leader Yuji Onitsuka; Delegation Managers Chis Yang and Shuntaro Shinada; and Coaches Brandon Harada and Daniel Yang.
Yamaoka sensei was selected for the team in 2017 after a series of highly-competitive try-outs that drew team prospects from across the United States. Yamaoka sensei and his teammates participated in numerous challenging workouts held in California and Texas, as well as in other countries, including France and Japan, all in preparation for the World Championships. Hundreds or even thousands of kendo practitioners worldwide train for decades in order to gain a spot on their highly-selective national teams. All of this effort and dedication condenses down into the WKC matches that are three points or four minutes maximum, during a global tournament that is only held every three years. As a result, the WKC features kendo at a very high level of intensity.
Congratulations to Team USA for again doing an excellent job of representing the United States at the World Kendo Championships!
Recently, members of our iaido class made the trek to Fargo, North Dakota, for the iaido seminar hosted by Anderson, sensei, and the Agassiz dojo. Pam Parker, sensei, (iaido nanadan) of New York’s Ken Zen dojo, once again led the seminar.
Xanto putting up a fight.
In order to complete the seven-hour land journey from Nebraska to the seminar, we first had to cross through a spring blizzard that had been named “Xanto” by the weather service. Xanto was an intimidating storm that was not to be taken lightly, and at times reduced road conditions down to zero visibility. Eventually, Xanto’s blowing and accumulating snow and sleet caused closure of Interstate 29, and one of our members was stranded at a filling station and had to wait out the storm overnight in his car.
Clearing the north edge of Xanto
However, by the next day, our members arrived in Fargo and were suited up, swords oiled and on the training floor ready to go. On the floor as well were members of Des Moines Iaido, including their leader, Flinn sensei. Their drive to the seminar had been even longer than our own.
Parker sensei shared numerous insights and details regarding Seitei iaido - the twelve standardized forms of the All Japan Kendo Federation. However, Parker sensei also discussed the equally (and some would say “more”) important topic of etiquettes and courtesies found in Būdō, which go beyond the opening and closing formalities of our practice. A major point being that these qualities should permeate everything we do, in the course of our practice. It was noted that higher level senseis would be able to see the presence or absence of these qualities in our actions. Similarly, to such an informed eye, our individual personalities would be revealed in our execution of the forms.
That’s something to think about both on and off the dojo floor.
The seminar was well worth the drive required to attend it. Our sincere thanks to Parker and Anderson senseis, and to the Agassiz Dojo for their time and efforts that made it a top-notch training.
For more information about Parker sensei, please read her excellent article, courtesy of George M. and Kenshi 24/7:
The OKIK was in attendance at the Idaho Iaido Seminar this past weekend. The seminar featured world-class teachers and gave attendees the opportunity to receive excellent instruction in both modern and classical Iaido forms as well as Kendo.
The seminar was hosted by Robert Stroud sensei and the Idaho Kendo Club. Instruction at the seminar was provided by Konno sensei (Seattle), Stroud sensei (Boise), Seto sensei (Seattle), Ichimura sensei (Dallas), Olson sensei (Washington), and Hankins sensei (Salt Lake City).
It is often said that Kendo and Iaido are two wheels on the same cart, and this seminar provided a rare opportunity for instruction and competition in both arts. The weekend featured Kendo keiko and post-keiko feedback from senseis and a full-fledged Iaido seminar. Finally, a unique combined Iaido and Kendo tournament capped off the multi-day training. A highlight of the tournament was a thrilling Kendo match between the Atagi Brothers (both instructors at Boise State Uviversity Kendo Club). In addition to the excellent, high-intensity Kendo of senseis Atagi, the match featured a fascinating matchup of nito (two sword style) versus jodan (overhead guard).
The OKIK looks forward to the 2019 Boise Iaido Seminar.
Hidehisa Nishimura of Kumamoto claimed first place at the 65th All Japan Kendo Championship on November 3rd at the Tokyo Bodukan. This video features the final match between Nishimura and Ryoichi Uchimura of Tokyo. This is Nishimura's second time winning the championship at only 28 years old—you can see why in the first video below!
For years, Nishimura has idolized Uchimura and has worked hard to develop his own version of Uchimura’s style of kote attack. Nishimura used that very attack to win the match with his long-time hero, Nishimura.
Uchimura observed kendo etiquette, and showed little or no emotion, during what must have been a pinnacle moment in his young life. Similarly, Nishimura showed grace and dignity after the match, as the two calmly removed and bound up their gear.
At 10:07 in the post-match video below, the announcer says, “they looked for each other and Uchimura looked like he gave Nishimura some sign. It appears that at that Uchimura says to Nishimura, “well done” (よくやった。). This is a good example of the rich subtleties of the Būdō, that are largely hiding in plain sight.”
For more info, check out the All Japan Kendo Federation website.
Thanks to everyone who came out to Lauritzen Gardens to participate in our kendo and iaido demonstrations during the Japanese Ambiance Festival on Sunday, October 8th. Members of Kendo & Iaido Kyokai were honored to present their martial arts to more than 100 interested observers at such a rich and educational cultural event. If you weren't able to make it, the Japanese Ambiance Festival is an annual event—so mark your calendar for next year!