1st Kendo World Keiko Kai - June 30 2012

Kendo World magazine held their first annual Keiko Kai yesterday at the Nippon Budokan.

48 participants from 16 countries gathered together to "Cross swords and Borders" along with a host of Sensei from across Japan.

The day began with a stunning display of Nippon Kendo Kata, by Kouno Sensei and Katsura Sensei. I have seen Kata performed with Mogito (blunt swords used for practice) before, but never from up close or with such intensity...

The pace of the kata was unbelievable, the cuts were lightning fast with ferocious kiai, the pressure and zenshin were so strong you could taste it.

I was blown away to be honest, I like kata, and I've been lucky enough to practice it with some great teachers who tried to show me that it is more than just pre set movements, but these two ladies made the kata beyond real...

Ipponeme, Uchidachi takes Hidari-jodan, Shidachi responds with Migi-jodan... They take three strides to the centre... without pause, Shidachi lowers her hands less than a millimeter and Uchidachi "unleashes" an astounding Kiai and strike, intending to cut her opponent from head to stomach, Shidachi responds instantly with Nuki-men, stepping back and raising her sword to avoid the strike, stepping forward again and striking men with a kiai like a banshee.... I don't think I was alone in picking my jaw up from the floor....

The rest of the kata was even better, the ring of the metal swords clashing together in yonhonme, the sliding sound as Uchidachi takes distance and attacks with tsuki, and again when Shidachi uses kaeshi waza to counterattack...
The first Kodachi Kata was even more thrilling than the Tachi version, I thought the cut had come too fast, but Shidachi deflected it with her short sword and returned the cut perfectly

There is surely going to be a video of this kata and I'll add it to the post later.
It was by far the best I've ever seen, brought fully to life by two wonderfully skilled Sensei.


After this we had a kihon session with Inoue Sensei, who was a healthy 84 years young, he thought us of the importance of Kiai, saying that for suburi it should be short and powerful, MEN! rather than a drawn out MEEEEENNNN! When doing suburi we should try to do as many in one breath as possible, 5-6 7-8 even 9-10, like kirikaeshi. He then had us cut renzoku men with fumikomi ashi the length of the hall, cutting as many times in one breath as we could. It was pretty exhausting and Sensei said we should aim to do this in every exercise almost to the point of blacking out! By not breaking your breathing you can continue to attack, being able to cut once more than your opponent can lead to victory.

We put our men on and lined up in groups by grade first practicing kirikaeshi. The emphasis being on kiai as well as correct cutting. Sensei said kirikaeshi should be big, fast and correct. All cuts from the left hand, the left hand raised correctly above your head and extended correctly for the cut.

Next we practiced men focusing again on breath. Innoue Sensei then had us practice tai-atari (body attack/check, crashing into your opponent after an attack, correctly using your hips to knock them off balance) , we practiced 3 times men tai-atari and reset in one breath. I must admit, my tai-atari needs alot of work!

We finished with a final round of Kirikaeshi using all of the things Sensei had thought us, first a large swing for men, a strong tai-atari followed by 9 cuts to the sides of the men in one breath, hands raised correctly and cuts finished cleanly.

It was a great kihon session, nothing confusing, just some great teaching on some very simple, but hugely important basics!

Alot of credit to Alex Bennett Senei who translated perfectly for those of us without good Japanese!

We had a ten minute break before keiko with Sensei, I saw my chance to impress Hirakawa Sensei and took it, I was first with my Men on and the first to ask a Sensei for keiko. It was a really nice keiko, and it meant alot to me, why, ill explain in another post!

Hirakawa Sensei took every ippon with a smile and a laugh, I could really see where his Kendo has influenced Delepière Sensei! I gave it my best! After that I practiced with Ozawa Sensei, Shigematsu Sensei, and Bennett Sensei (possibly one more...?) giving my all but thinking that I was a bit out on my feet for lack of practice!

The keiko closed with a speech from Inoue Sensei who said we should practice every time as if our lives were depending on it, We are all blessed with a life" he said, "and we should make the most of it".

We moved from the Dojo to a dining area under the main hall, first passing through a throng of Japanese women who were waiting to see a concert in the main arena, SACRILEGE! but this is what the Budokan is used for mostly (as far as I am aware). There was an opening speech by Alex Bennett followed by a toast by Shigematsu Sensei, there was food and a TON of beer, my table did ok on the beer count, but not as good as the table next to us who could have played bowling with their empties!

They added one more before the session was over!

There was also a few prizes handed out and a small raffle. Inoue Sensei was asked to watch the Keiko and select three of the best performers to receive some beautiful Shinai bags handmade by the mother of a Kendo-world staff member, each bag was made from the Obi (belt) of an old Kimono.The first was presented to Great Britain team member Stuart Gibson, the second to Kate Sylveste who is possibly from New Zealand or Australia ( there was some confusion!) and the third was presented to.... ME! I was shocked, when he said my name I could believe it! It was an absolute honor to be picked out of such a talented crowd! The bag is absolutely beautiful it will be fantastic for special occasions!

After the prizes there was more drinking before the day was brought to a close at 3 pm. Bennett Sensei and the Kendo-world team put on a fantastic day, and I really look forward to the next one!

The participants and attending Sensei (photo from www.kendo-world.com)

Kendo World Shinai bag - Handmade by Mrs Shishikura
presented as Fighting Spirit Award
Kendo World Shinai bag -  Presented by Kendo Hanshi Hachi-dan Inoue Yoshihiko Sensei

Inoue Sensei, Kendo Hanshi Hachi-dan sitting next to John Doherty Kendo San-dan (joke)