Learning Kendo Tactics - For KYU Grade Holders

It is quite often seen in Kyu grade holders' Ji-geiko, Shiai and grading examination that they keep attacking big Men from the same distance and with the same timing. Similarly, their teachers are often seen giving advice to "Keep attacking" or "Give everything". When one side starts moving and tries to attack big Men, the other side soon reacts and starts doing the same. As the result, they keep hitting each others Shinai before reaching their opponents Men and a successful strike does not happen for a long time. At this level, as described in Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 1, it is certainly important for them to try to use techniques they have learnt in Kihon-geiko without hesitating and being shy. This would be their first simple, but important tactic. However, you cannot learn opportunities for attacking by repeating the same techniques from the same distance and in the same timing. Typically in Kendo, there are four opportunities for striking, which are; when the opponent begins to strike; when the opponent blocks a strike; when the opponent finishes a strike; and when the opponent moves back. In these, "striking when the opponent finishes a strike" would be an important tactic for Kyu grade holders to learn and try during Ji-geiko with other Kyu grade holders. Taking a concrete example, many Kyu grade holders tend to go though either side of an opponent after attacking, exposing their back completely to their opponent just like they do in Kihon-geiko. When this happens to your opponent in Ji-geiko, you should immediately follow then and attack as the opponent turns around. An additional merit of learning this tactic is that it will make them realize the importance of trying always to keep an eye on their opponent whilst fighting as well as realizing that there is an opportunity to strike when an opponent takes their eyes off, losing concentration

When Kyu grade holders have Ji-geiko with their seniors, they tend to feel, in many cases, difficulty in completing their attack and stop their attacking in the middle of an action or keep moving back. Then teachers and seniors shout, "Keep attacking" or "Give everything". Unlike Kyu grade holders, their seniors do not expose their back during Ji-geiko (or at least they are not supposed to). In this instance, it is not easy for a Kyu grade holder to execute the tactic of "striking when the opponent finishes a strike".

What is recommended for Kyu grade holders in Ji-geiko with their seniors is to try to kill their opponents Shinai before striking. This means that you do not just attack straight but try to deflect the tip of the seniors Shinai by using Osae-waza (pushing the opponents Shinai down) and Harai-waza before striking (knocking the opponents Shinai from right to left, from the left to right, from the lower right to the upper left, from the lower left to the upper right, from the upper right to the lower left or from the upper left to the lower right) (see also Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, pp. 30-31). Of course, it does not mean that you can definitely score on your seniors if you use these. You will still be blocked by them. At this stage however, starting to learn "how to break the opponents centre" which is the most basic and important tactic in Kendo, is quite important no matter how simple it is. This simple tactic of "breaking the opponents centre" develops into more complicated and effective ones as you develop your footwork, Fumikiri, Fumikomi, speed and Te-no-uchi (I will explain this in detail later). As I described in "Attitudes to Ji-geiko Part 2", Kyu grade holders should focus mainly on developing Shikake-waza. It is important not to be afraid of being dodged and counter attacked, and not to stop attacking in the middle of your action, but to try to complete your attack. In this article, I would like to suggest the use of "Osae-waza" and "Harai-waza" in your Ji-geiko (and of course you need to practice these in Waza-geiko as well).

Although this may not be directly related to the tactics, here I would like to add something about defence in Kendo, which I briefly mentioned in "Attitudes to Ji-geiko part 1" . As a term "Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi (no defence just for defence)" basically says that, in Kendo, defence is supposed to be done in order to promote the next attack and one has to make an action of attacking immediately after defending. This is also called "Ko-bo-icchi" in traditional Kendo terminology. As described earlier however, even if Kyu grade holders try to attack immediately after defending their seniors attacking, the seniors should not show their back to them and so Kyu grade holders will not be skilful and fast enough to counterattack with Oji-waza or Kaeshi-waza. I suppose, on the contrary, that they have not learnt and acquired the basic skills of how to defend an opponents attack. Strangely enough, methods of defence are seldom taught but left to a practitioners" self-learning and by experience in many clubs. Because of this, I think that many Kyu grade holders try to defend in their own (uneconomical) ways when they are attacked by their seniors and they have no opportunity to learn the idea of "Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi". Okajima (1992) points out that beginners" anxiety and fear of opponents" attacking would prevent them from finding opportunities for a strike. I suggest, therefore, that teachers show basic defence techniques to beginners before they are allowed to join Ji-geiko. Here what I mean by basic defence techniques is not to defend by only blocking an opponents Shinai by just using ones own Shinai. What one has to be learnt are "Metsuke (positioning of the eyes)" and "defence with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi". Beginners tend to stand and gaze only at their opponents Shinai and their hands tend to move as the opponent moves their Shinai. Therefore, they are quite often easily caught by a feint action such as "pretending to attack Men by lifting the arms up and actually attack Do". According to the Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (2000, p. 62), Metsuke is explained as "The act of paying attention to the opponents whole body while looking into their eyes." In addition, there is also another term to teach us the positioning of the eyes called "Enzan-no-metsuke (looking at a far away mountain)". The Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo (2000, p. 24) explains, "It is important to look at the figure of the opponent as a whole rather than at a particular point, as if looking at a far away mountain." As for "defence with Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi", when one defends, one needs to try to defend by keeping a positive mind and using the Shinai, footwork and body movement. The term "Ki-ken-tai-no-itchi" is normally used for expressing the striking action, but its concept should also be applied to defence. It is not easy for beginners to do this. However, it is in your best interest, that you develop your Kendo through being struck over and over again, keeping proper posture and effective defence position, which will not necessarily be effective at first. In the future you will develop the skill to make a defence in the most efficient way. Okajima (1992) argues that strong defence is an important element in performance in Kendo. If that is so, then learning defence techniques with an understanding of "Bogyo no tame no bogyo nashi" at this stage will be quite useful towards helping execute high-level tactics in the future.

Article by Dr. Satori Honda-sensei, British National Kendo Team Coach