The reason for this Christmas being so kendo-special was because Nabeyama sensei graced Thailand kendo once again. I don't know what it is, perhaps I'm mildly starstrucked, (I've just found out this was possible for me when I sat behind Miyazaki sensei this Summer in Japan, I was extremely starstrucked, to the point that I almost screamed) but in the small amount of time that I got to play under him, he's always had a big impact on my kendo. Last year he installed Suriage-Men into my arsenal, this year ... hope and courage. Right, hold your horses, it might sound soppy as hell but let me explain. This year we got to sit down, eat and drink with one another. So we could talk outside the context of the dojo, which makes a massive difference in my opinion. There were also less people on the Saturday, which made the whole ordeal very intimate. It could well be the alcohol but who knows. We talked about all aspects of kendo from suburi, waza, movement, technique, seme ... up to a promise that he'll tsuki the hell out of me at practise the next day. Hmm ... it's gonna be kendo 201 instead of 101 as P'Prem said!
Photo courtesy of Ma Prang
This does leave me with a problem. The fact that so much shit, sorry pearls of wisdom, were said over the weekend I don't think I can write all of them down. Even though they are all worth sharing. I mean for a start
my memory isn't particularly stellar, far from it in fact. Well I'll try by splitting them up into little chapters, all may interest you, some may not. I can't be arsed to make them into separate posts either so here we go.
Chin-up, heads down
I have an ongoing discussion with Joe about the best way to tuck your chin in whilst doing a men cut. A lot of kendoka suffer from this, myself included. Joe with his brilliant mind came up with some awesome analysis as per usual, and possible ways to fix it, though incomplete. He used to do it as well, but he got pushed over a lot. So since then he forced himself to keep his head level and his bum forward. Junji still does it. The reason for getting it in the first place included the pushing of the shoulder flap up as your arms go up, and your neck being relaxed, which I think Joe best described as akin to dragging a rag doll. I will quote him word for word,
"Think of your head as a rag doll, just a weight on your head, keep it loose and move forwards quickly. It's like you're dragging it along with you, if you then think about keeping it level, it's sort of like moving everything forwards at once. So instead of dragging this loose weight around, you're moving forwards like an arrow."
In the end he said go ask one of your senseis in Thailand/from Japan, perhaps they'll come up with a better answer. So who better to ask than Nabeyama.
He started off by making the distinction between the two routes of kendo, budo and sport. Then he said this question falls under the budo category because if a sword goes under your Men, you're dead but frankly with a shinai ... it doesn't really matter. It's natural and makes no difference. Oh ... right. So all this time worrying, for nothing?
Actually, when talking to Joe I was afraid that its going to slow me down or fall over as my weight may be shifting backwards, but no he said "well may be ... but i think it just looks stupid" So just me then.
Nabeyama gave the analogy of a car suddenly accelerating, the unknowing passenger will whip-lash back. Your head is this unknowing passenger. It is actually a good sign since your body is moving before your head. If your head is diving in first, then you have a problem. The only upside to it is it looks cool (he literally used the word kakui). To be fair the only reason I initiated the discussion with Joe was because of the photos that were taken of us at the Mumeishi 3's. It just looks fucking awful. Kendo is a vain sport by nature, so I guess this is a valid point.
So I pushed him further, what if I want to look cool? Well ... if you get tsuki enough times whilst your tsuki-dare isnt where it's supposed to be ... you'll learn to keep your head down and chin nicely tucked in. He then volunteered to help me look cool. Fair play.
Beating the Midgets
I then asked how to maximise my height advantage, since he is a tall kendoka as well. I figured he'll have some gems for me to mull over.
Using distance has always been a pointer, but it's only effective to use as a surprise up-the-sleeves trick, in my experience after a while people will be able to block it. I shared my concerns with him, to which his reply was: "datte ... omai wa warui desu"
T.T thank you sensei ... I love you too
One of the things that made him stand out as a good teacher for me is his impecable attention to basics, because as we know without solid basics (something I definitely don't have) good kendo cannot be built upon. Last year he was admiring his suburi in the mirror and saying how beautiful he was, this time he was making us do hiyasuburi. His one makes a sound every time it cuts through the air.
When I started kendo I was told to pull the shinai all the way down my butt. This is to straigthen my back and teach me posture. I then somehow decided that this was the proper way to do suburi. It of course isn't. I've been told by everyone all the time, especially at our beloved UCL. To reiterate why not, Nabeyama-sensei said you should pull back as far as your left arm would allow you to go, as we use the left to cut in kendo. If the shinai reaches your arse, you are now bending your right elbow too.
Each strike should be made with the abdomen, like doing a vertical sit-up, snapping your body together. Easily said, very difficult to do ... and bloody tiring at that!
Last year he did a lot of shomen, which happens to be my favourite waza. I was in awe of the speed and timing. At 7dan, most of them would revert to 'old-man's kendo', with lots of kaeshi-do thrown in, he's not one of those, and I admired him for that. This year he seems a bit more laxed, more kaeshi-do and a lot of debana kote. Slightly worrying, but not to say he wasn't awesome. His kaeshi-do was somewhat different though from all the others, the block was rather powerful, almost a cut on its own. It apparently destroys the opponent's spirit and initial strike, I'm not sure if this is necessary as one might probably want to make the least movement and get to the Do bit as quickly as possible ... but who am I to question him.
Ikeda our beloved coach
The fun didn't only come from Nabeyama sensei, but also Ikeda sensei our newly appointed national coach. First a side story on him, he flew all the way to Nagoya, got on a bus took his 6th Dan, passed it, and flew straight back to Thailand. All in the name of the Thai national team since 5th Dan is, and I'm quoting, not good enough to be the coach of a national side. If that's not dedication, I don't know what is!
He then told us of stories of when he was studying in the States and Canada, of how he would exchange kendo for language lessons and a place to stay. How it is the duty of Japanese speakers to speard the knowledge to kendokas in the rest of the world since they have access to materials not available outside of Japan.
His pearl for the night was that in a shiai match you should think that you can score any point, against any opponent. That will give you the confidence to approach a match without any fear or hesitation. Always move and be ready, and try many different forms of seme.
We then drank more sake and all was well.