Kangeiko 2010

Day 1, 4 January 2010

For many of us this is our first meeting of 2010. After a few minutes milling around and talking about who’s seen Avatar, we line up and begin with the customary nip of sake, toasting the new year. Jeff Sensei explains that he wants us all to focus on three ‘S’s: speed, sharpness and spirit. With several days of kangeiko ahead, sensei also suggests choosing a simple, achievable goal for our own kendo, keeping mindful of how we progress during the week.My own goal is to hold the shinai more lightly and flexibly, and increase the amount of work I do with my feet. I hope this will lead to a flexible, natural mind, enabling me to switch easily between cuts, and between attack and defence.After running a few laps of the dojo and warming up, it’s straight into armour for practice focussed on small, relaxed cutting. We start with men cuts, then men combined with hiki waza, and build up to a sequence of men, hiki men, men nuki do.After kihon and waza practice, we have ji-geiko. Sensei suggests we try both vibrant, attacking kendo, and also try inviting the opponent to attack, in order to carry out oji waza.

Day 2, 5 January 2010

The first few snowflakes start to fall as I walk to the dojo. Inside it’s pleasantly warm, and we’re joined by visitors from Oxford and Nenriki, including Mr. Eurokendo himself, Young Park.Our format is the same as the previous day, with a vigorous warm up and kihon session, with the emphasis on moving sharply and relaxedly from one cut to the next, without compromising the footwork. We finish with 40 minutes of ji-geiko.There’s a good covering of snow as we leave the dojo. I don’t envy our guests from Oxford their journey home.

Day 3, 6 January 2010

The snow has pretty much carried on falling, but despite some of the worst weather for years, 26 people make it to the dojo, and we’re pleased to welcome back our guests from Nenriki.The format is slightly different tonight, after warm up and suburi. We practise smaller cuts, in pairs, with one person holding the shinai across their partner’s arms at shoulder height to prevent an over-large swing. Without armour we do men and kote cuts, using the partner’s shinai as a target, building up to add more movement, and more variation to the timing. We also cut one handed with an emphasis on using the wrists and elbows, not the shoulder.We repeat the drill of small men and kote strikes, this time in bogu, building up to a kind of uchikomi, but with a few seconds between each cut to build tension and vary the distance. Sensei emphasises the importance of sharp, relaxed cutting, and says the tension in the body should only be present as the cut lands. For the zanshin, we have to be relaxed again.After a few rounds of ji-geiko we finish slightly early, to give everyone a chance of getting home in the bad weather.

Day 4, 7 January 2010

Another packed session, and we’re again delighted to have guests, including old friends from Wakaba and Japan. After warm up and suburi, we practise cuts across the width of the dojo with continuous kiai, building up to three cuts across the dojo in one breath. The emphasis is on relaxed movement and strong spirit. Then it’s into armour for kirikaeshi, men cuts and a sequence of hiki waza. After half an hour of this, the seniors line up and practise ji-geiko with the lower grades.Perhaps sensing that people are starting to flag after four days of training, Jeff Sensei asks us to concentrate on making each cut better than the last, and to return tomorrow determined to do our best kendo.

Day 5, 8 January 2010

With the worst of the snow gone, 42 people make it to our final day of kangeiko. We start with a modified form of suburi, with fumikomi and a few steps forwards after the cut, then back to the starting position in chudan. Sensei asks us to make sure our posture is good to allow us to change direction quickly, and I try to picture the controlled movements of a dancer.After our standard kihon drills we practise a series of oji waza against men and kote, and then some more unusual counter techniques, like do uchiotoshi men.The final ji-geiko gives us the chance to put into practice what we’ve learned. As we close with a final cup of sake, Jeff Sensei stresses the importance of continually trying to improve your kendo, not simply going through the motions. I’ve been aware this week of how small changes in posture and kamae can help you move in a more relaxed fashion, which will hopefully allow me to perform a greater range of techniques.

This was the first year our kangeiko has been advertised to other dojos, and it’s been a pleasure to do kendo with new people and see friends from other clubs. We hope even more people will join us next year.

Report: Phil Wilson