By Emily Jackman
For a large variety reasons, most of us may have done some training on our own at some point in our budo life. Whether it’s lack of other practitioners, wanting to practice at home between sessions, practicing on your own isn’t that unusual. So here’s some of my random training techniques for when there’s no-one around for me to poke at with my numerous sticks.
Repetition is a key part of budo – getting that muscle memory working and muscular support built up is important. When I started practicing at home it was easy to find something to distract me when I got tired or lost motivation so I looked for ways to encourage repetition.
One useful bit of equipment I bought was a standing punching bag – it takes up very little storage space and is height-adjustable. It’s also great for practicing tsuki; being a relatively small target and getting the contact feedback is really helpful for keeping me focused. It’s also just great as a punching bag when I’ve had a frustrating day! Back in the pre-punching bag days, I had two other options:
- Stacking cushions up on the couch against the wall and stabbing at them or,
- a small piece of wadded up fabric I attached to a wall/doorframe (please, DO NOT attach it to a plaster wall unless you like fixing them!). Easy alternative is find an old pair of socks and roll them up.
Both options provided different kinds of feedback and target sizes and being able to swap targets helped keep repetitions up. And if you really need incentive to hit them, cover the target up with something you really want to strike, such as your latest electricity bill. Add a good music playlist with a strong beat and you can rinse and repeat tsuki for ages…
Play back your own audio – something I’ve thought about doing for Jukendo.World for a while is seeing if we can create some audio training sessions with different set lists of exercises that can be played while you practiced. While that’s still on the backburner I have previously sat down and recorded myself (on a phone app) giving a walkthrough of the various kata. Taking the written guides and re-writing them for how I like to visualise them and then reading them back so I can ‘see’ my partner’s actions is really helpful when I play them back while learning them. I recorded a few different versions – a long explanation one where I talked through each action of both partners, a shorter version that minimised the description and sped it up and a close-to-actual speed one where I’d give one or two words to aid my memory. Then as I got better at them, I could use the shorter versions just as a quick aid.
Stairmaster Fumikomi – since my original training is in naginata rather than kendo, I have terrible fumikomi. Slapping my foot down as if I have a grudge against the floor instead of gliding around silently like a vengeful ghost is difficult for me so sometimes it’s really good to focus on something as basic as the footwork. One technique that I did on repeat at the Yokosuka seminar was Stairmaster Fumikomi – where as long as you have a single stair you can practice*. Stand right up close to the first step and as you fumikomi onto the step up focus on the following:
- Keep the knees gently bent at all times
- Ensure that your hips are always level even as you move
- The heels of the feet should be raising up, only lightly resting on the floor
- The push and energy should come from the ball of the back foot
- Make sure your hips and feet are moving together rather than hips following behind
*You can do this on a flat surface but it can help to have a slight transition of floor levels such as over an entrance way to ensure you’re pushing off properly.
Equipment substitution – maybe you don’t have all the weapons you need to practice with on hand. You’re at home, want to do some exercises but your mokuju or tanken is elsewhere. Or maybe you just want to build up some muscle memory. In any case, equipment substitution can provide solutions.
Books – books are great! Small, portable, usually easy to find and can provide a good read. Put a decently weighty book in each hand and you can practice jukendo tsuki – only got one? Change kamae and work on your tanken technique. The good thing about books is you can work with differing weights and because your hand closes over the spine you can check that your hand position is over the top rather than rotating beneath.
Small weights – if you have these about, individual 1-3kg hand barbells are good for training your strikes. I wouldn’t suggest going to heavy early on but as you do more, you can increase the weight. I find it helps to practice keeping my shoulders down simply because the weight of the barbells is pulling at them. Wrap around ankle weights can be attached to the wrist for a similar effect.
Mop/Broom handle – I’ve suggested this to naginata people before but it works for jukendo just as well. The position/angles aren’t quite correct but if you keep your hands loose you can practice the thrusting movement.
Raid the vegetable drawer – A large zucchini or cucumber can replace your tanken. Plus it’s full of good eating assuming it’s not been smushed to bits during your exercises!