Hizen Kangeiko 5-9th January 2009

This is when in our dojo the theme and aims of the coming year are set out by our Sensei these are:

  1. Relaxed cutting action with correct weight of cut in application
  2. Correct physical alignment before during and after the cut
  3. Spirited attacks with purpose and reason
  4. No unnecessary actions

Day One
The first day of kangeiko found about 25 gathered at the Somers Town Community Sports Centre. Several people got a jump on kendo in 2009 by participating in Saturday’s kyu grade taikai, Sunday’s Hizen taikai, or both! We start off with the traditional welcome to the New Year, toasted with a cup of sake. As soon as the warming glow is at its peak, we set off on a route march around the dojo, complete with chants to keep everyone in step.

Next was suburi, done with emphasis on the shape of the cut and the action of the wrists.
The sweat’s dripping by this point and Humm Sensei spent some time demonstrating how a cut at the same speed looks faster from a standing start than from a moving one,which makes it harder to anticipate. We try some cuts again, with kiai, and two things happen; first, everyone tenses up, and second everyone slows their cut down to match their kiai.

On we go with suburi, until Humm sensei calls halt and we line up. “Men tsuke,” cries sensei then he calls “Yame!” We’re all too slow; we should be ready practice in 60 – 90 seconds after being told to put our armour on. We try again but we’re still too slow.

We spend the rest of the practice learning about correct attitude and outlook. The importance of the right action at the right time with in the practice and how to conduct ourselves in the dojo at all times.
Day Two
A few had arrived by 18:00, and we’re hanging around upstairs thinking it’s too early to change into hakama and keiko-gi. We’re wrong – Humm Sensei walks into the dojo and starts getting things ready. All I can do as I arrive is say ‘Good evening’ in a loud voice and offer to sweep the floor.

More people start to arrive, old faces and new, and by the time we start we’ve got 30 – 35 kendoka. It’s a pleasure to see a few people who’ve been away for a year or more. We start with some jogging, same as day one, and in the large space it’s nice to get warmed up this way. Then we line up for suburi, it’s time to sweat in earnest, doing continuous sayu-men cuts back and forth across the width of the dojo – a lead-in to doing the same with a partner, then a similar exercise in bogu with motodatchi. We move on to kiri-kaeshi, extended to accommodate the width of the dojo.

We move between motodachi for a while, and then Sensei swaps the senior motodatchi for more junior ones. Things get a bit harder mentally, as the point of the practice is to elicit the three men and kote men cuts by releasing the pressure on the opponent’s shinai, allowing them to take centre and cut. People make an effort to feel the release of pressure, but it’s hard to get it right. Before I know it sensei’s called ‘Yame’ and we’re back in double-file, jogging around the dojo to warm down.

At the end Sensei speaks about why running in step in a group is helpful. It’s not conformity for its own sake; it’s also a way to understand timing and your part in it by taking control of your own individuality.

Day Three
This is crunch day. Previous experience tells me that this is when kangeiko gets tough.

We gather outside the practice hall and compare aches and pains. Some have open blisters on hands and feet, some have sore calves from the warm up and cool down jogs. One of us has nearly lost his voice. Helping to lighten the mood is the presence of a guest, Michael Ishimatsu-Prime from Kendo World.

We all pile in to the dojo at 19:00 sharp and line up quickly. There’s about the same number of people as yesterday, 35 – 40, but in a smaller space. The warm up jog begins when we’re done warming up, Humm Sensei splits the class by gender. He drops the axe on the lads – one thousand suburi. As we use to much physical strength in cutting. The ladies work on footwork as they don’t have the same problem we are told.

After this was completed we lined up for motodachi-geiko. Starting and ending with kiri-kaeshi, with three men and three kote-men cuts in between. This is repeated with all five motodatchi. The next exercise starts and ends with three men cuts, with a light keiko in between.

We move on to mawari-geiko focusing on building the sense of contention for centre, and taking the opportunity to cut when pressure is released.

The cool down jog came as a bit of a surprise, and we get through closing rei quickly. The mood afterwards is good, a mixture of relief at finishing keiko and pride in doing 1000 suburi.

Day Four
After the third day’s arduous suburi, everyone had a few more aches and pains to deal with as Thursday’s practice started. Still, the number of kendoka was high with 30-35 people ready for practice. Everyone is beginning to take benefit of all the exercise over the last three day, and the warm up jog is a bit more spirited this evening as a result.

The start as usual began with suburi, this time with the emphasis on the size of the step when cutting. Humm Sensei points out the distance to cover for a correct Men cut from the right maai. We work on covering this distance, and we finish this section by practicing long cuts both forward and backward, leaving the motive foot in place.
Next is kiri-kaeshi in bogu with motodachi. Our bodies appear to be remembering lessons from yesterday and the sayu-men cuts are more relaxed than at the start of the week.
After speaking briefly with the motodachi, sensei tells us that they will now cut men if we are given an opportunity by the motodachi. Normally this is a speed exercise, but that doesn’t appear to be the case this evening – the speed of my cut doesn’t seem to provoke motodachi, but something else does. It wasn’t until later that I learned that sensei had asked the motodachi to cut our Men when our Men cut wasn’t straight.

We then move on to an extension of yesterdays exercise, taking the opportunity to cut when pressure is released and the centre opens up. This time the focus is on getting the distance correct through correct footwork. The end of practice comes as a complete surprise – “Is that really two hours?” The clock on the wall confirms that it is.

Day Five
There was quite a bit of speculation about the last day of kangeiko for 2009. Those who attended the last practice in 2008 will remember that we finished on a Saturday with three hours of Keiko, after which we had to do haya-suburi for a long time. This year kangeiko finishes on a Friday with a two hour practice.

The turn out is large, about 45 kendoka for this last practice. It begins with the now familiar jog around the dojo, in unison and chanting away. After a brief basic suburi, Sensei lines us up in two lines for what can only be described as seated suburi. We start with a hundred men cuts in seiza position. Next comes a hundred more with our backsides lifted a fist’s distance from our heels. This is followed by a hundred more on our knees with our toes curled so they’re on the floor. Then it’s up into the sonkyo position for another hundred. Needless to say this is all a bit difficult to sustain, and by the end several people, can’t balance enough to perform a basic men cut and the pain is unbelievable.

Once we’re a little more conscious of keeping straight, we line up for some Keiko. After a few practices Sensei stops the group to demonstrate some of the changes to our practice that he would like to see: more awareness of centre, a better understanding of when to cut, and less reliance on overly-complicated technique. We go back to Keiko and all manage to do a bit better.

Kangeiko ends and a big crowd make their way to the pub to celebrate.
Report by S. Daniels