As the Tankendo All Japans are looming over for some people, Hisatsune sensei decided that the quantity of the short stick training should prevail over the long one – hence today’s session was held in the Aichi Budokan with a primary and only focus on tankendo. As I have already mentioned multiple times, my heart was stolen by the mokuju, though it is always fun to try to stab people with its detached short end. We did some basics, quickly escalating towards applying them in more realistic (aka: shiai, not going onto the streets) conditions.
Unfortunately, the last days with rain and wind made me sick enough not to withstand the circulating tankendo movements, so at one point I resigned myself to avoid getting even more feverish (and it wasn’t the fever of the fight, I assure you) and grabbing the cameras to take some pretty pictures and recordings that might be of use later on. While it is definitely more fun to participate in the practice, watching it is not useless, as I tend to see certain dependencies – and also that I am not alone with my habits and problems, which helps a lot!
The second – and last – training in Gifu was challenging, as my cold did not recede – and yet I’ve managed not only to cough myself to death in my men, but also to learn a lot. As usually, we’ve started with basics – which was even more beneficial, having five sensei during one practice. Every single one stressed different aspect and offered various advice, hence I believe that my awareness grew rapidly during just that one session. Even during the core exercises, we’ve switched partners only to switch from one sensei to another – an amazing experience that, sadly, won’t be repeated for a long while. After a short break, we put on full bogu – and that’s when the coughing escalated – and did some more dynamic exercises, including kakarigeiko – continuous attack practice that leaves everyone breathing heavily. Then we did some short fights – while with the younger ones it’s quite often an all-out duel, with the senseis it’s pushing your own limits, as they try to make you realize your weak points and faults, while pressing you to constantly attack. What I really like about it, is the fact that the more exhausted you are, the easier they make it for you, just to encourage offensive, not defensive, actions. Again, shiai followed – and I wish I had been destroyed during the initial half a minute, as my kiai-ing turned to coughing and the only thing I focused on was holding my ground and not being smashed to the ground. This didn’t end well, as it’s not much in the spirit of jukendo, though I admit, when I’m looking at the recording, it looks a bit better then I felt afterwards. Akira won his matches rather spectacularly, I am really proud!
As Hisatsune sensei insists on adding more and more tankendo to the schedule, we were then told to switch our futons to the other side… up to the point, when Terada sensei mentioned that we have a choice – as the young ones stuck to the ‘big stabber’ to practice more advanced techniques. The word choice doesn’t need to be repeated twice in this matter, so I quickly reversed the futon once again, put on my kata, and joined the ranks of rather surprised young Japanese boys whom I tried my best to match. We did lots of counterattacking, reacting to okuri, breaking the defense, following the strike, and other useful stuff in a really dynamic way that left me panting heavily, but craving for more. I will definitely miss the Gifu practice. I already do.
Today, Konno sensei took over the tedious task of trying to teach how to stab people correctly and efficiently. We did lots of movement, as this is the thing that is his center of attention – the steps should be smooth and light, with heels kept off the ground as much as possible, until the last step, with the fumikomi and strike at exactly the same moment. With the weight kept at the balls of the feet, it is much easier to keep the forwards momentum, hence the speed is increased without much effort. The other thing it really helps with, is the quick movement of the back – right – foot. Ideally, it should provide power for the body to leap forward, and, as it happens, be brought back speedily to make the striking stance stable and strong, allowing to achieve the maximum possible distance. The footwork is crucial, as it is there where the victory lies – the arms and hands have less to do, as there is no swinging and, in a perfect situation, almost no blocking. Therefore, we have worked a lot on trying to learn how to perceive and use the distance, and power each step from the ball of the right foot. The next segment was devoted to harai waza, the opening/deflecting techniques. I have never been a master of them – I do have a general image of how they should look like, yet my body rarely agrees to make it happen. Lots of work ahead of me in this field!
Today’s training helped a lot, though, as we worked especially hard on relaxing and gripping the mokuju while doing harai. Soft hands allow the weapon to move on the correct path, while tenouchi – tightened grip in the moment of impact – provides the strength and stability much needed to go back to kamae and follow with a strike. Still, I believe that the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt today is to trust the motodachi (teacher) and be a good one. While it is rather easy to provide a good target for basic omote, everything else can be made simple or almost impossible, depends on how and when the opening is made. With an unreliable motodachi, the student tends to learn how to circle around partner’s wepon, strike downwards or upwards, or move sideways just to reach the target – whereas in a perfect situation the thrust should always be straight, strong, and horizontal, and reach the intended target that way – and no other.
It was the last training with Konno sensei, which makes me truly sad, as I really enjoyed the last few days. Today, we have revised everything we’ve learned over the last three months with a focus on the mistakes we are still prone to repeating – the goal is for us to remember about those aspects and don’t let them become ingrained and carry over to the rest of our career. We’ve discussed and reviewed taking kamae and naore, with a special attention drawn to the common pitfalls we are likely to see while introducing new people to jukendo. Then we focused on the role of the motodachi, the timing of the openings and commands, starting from chokutotsu sanbon – even there it is crucial to do everything correctly, so the exercise has a purpose and can be developed into a true fight. The correct distance allows the student to develop awareness of the body and the weapon, of the point from which the strike should be initiated to allow for the maximum reach.
The proper opening progresses into the student being conscious of small flicks of hand that can result in scoring a point and the correctness of the strike – which should not divert from the straight line. The command helps with just the same thing, stressing the moment when the attack should be executed. All of that might sound easy and basic, yet there is a lot of work behind developing good habits as the side being struck – contrary to what you can expect, striking is a lot easier and requires much less thinking and judging. Unless you make a really weird mistake, a proper thrust should reach intended target – when the teacher does everything right, of course. We also did lots of exercises focused on movement and seeing the opportunity to strike, plus following with a proper zanshin. It is not that easy to attack in jukendo when your opponent keeps a constant pressure on you – blocking is not effective, as in a flurry of strikes some are bound to reach the target. That’s what we, the beginners, are supposed to do. Attack. Easier said than done, though:)
The last training in Japan. It is hard to believe, but somehow those three months passed so quickly. While I can’t really perceive the progress I have made – I was becoming more and more aware of my problems and weak points each week, hence the feeling that I actually got much worse – others claim that I became quite scary, in a good way, if scary can ever be good.
Today’s training was highly sentimental, with the thought that from now on we’re on our own, on our way to establish a stabbing stronghold in the middle of the faraway continent. The last pictures had been taken, the last advice spoken, the last thrusts made – not without some tears, quite inconspicuously filling my eyes from time to time. What we’ve been hearing on an almost daily basis – how a good kamae should look like, how the footwork should be smooth and quick, how the thrust should be horizontal and strong – now has a deeper meaning, as these are the areas we’ll be looking for in other people. I already miss the daily routine of being focused on one thing only, to the point where I had dreamt of jukendo every night. Now I just have to make it contagious and spread all over Europe.
The diary ends with our departure on the 5th of October, 2017. The journey does not, however, as it is only the beginning. That’s what shodan means, right?
The words cannot express how thankful I am for everything that has happened to me. I am truly honoured that I could go to, experience, travel through, and certainly enjoy Japan, but most importantly train jukendo and tankendo with many wonderful people.
Thank you, Simon and Ewa. Thank you, Terada sensei. Thank you – everyone that I’ve met during the journey. See you again, someday.
*This is part of an ongoing series of posts by Jukendo World translator and guest author, Klara, who has only recently started jukendo and is undertaking a 3 month visit to Japan to further her training with her partner, Lukasz.*