Day One:  Paul Gray
Our new dojo has prompted a rethink on the general direction of the club and a renewed determination by our Sensei Jeff Humm to focus on the best traditional kendo practice and to insist on the highest standards of effort and etiquette in the dojo.   This chimed nicely with the traditional kangeiko (News Year’s practice) theme of returning to basics.  And boy, did we start with basics.
We started with shizentai – natural standing position and moved to more general reigi, etiquette or proper behaviour – and correct sonkyo position.  Footwork was emphasised as Sensei asked that we take care to stand and sonkyo in migi-shizentai (the normal kendo standing position with right foot slightly forward) rather than twisting the left leg or drawing the ankles together as is sometimes done by people in sonkyo.
Kendoka should pay attention to small details and straight lines are important – so always check that you are  in line with the person standing or sitting next to you (on the side towards the senior end of the dojo). This in time leads to better understanding of  awareness of our surroundings.
Basic cutting followed, with some suburi to get us warmed up.  Again, perhaps the long break or simply bad habits meant that numerous errors in technique soon emerged. Sensei pointed out the need to start with the correct chudan-no-kamae otherwise the ‘swing’ to begin with the correct shape.  This meant ensuring that the tip of the shinai (kensen) is not simply pulled back with the hands and fore-arms being exposed to a kote attack, but rather the emphasis is to push forward and raise the shinai above the head with the hands and wrists remaining behind the tsuka (hilt).  Hands should be relaxed and rather than twisting the wrists around the shinai to make the crisp end of a cut (sai) this should be achieved simply by slightly closing your relaxed hands around the tsuka at the moment of impact or when you want to stop the shinai in flight.
Practicing our cuts – both as static suburi and the moving across the dojo, meant reminding ourselves of ki-ken-tai-ichi – mind, body and sword as one.  In particular, the importance of simply hitting the floor with your front foot as the cut lands and the kiai (shout) is given -  was emphasized. Sensei explained that careful observation of one’s own body movement and self-awareness is needed by every kendoka. 
Kendoka should dress smartly and treat the ‘outfit’ as a uniform rather than as sports clothes.  Kendo is, after all, a martial discipline and soldiers on parade are never sloppy.  Many people wear their tare to low.  Do are too are often tied low as well.  Himo on both the do and men should not be excessively long (they should be 40cm at the back when tied).  Himo should also be smoothed flat and not left twisted.
So, that was pretty much what we covered on day one of kangeiko.  Basic basics!
 Day: Two      Nari
After the first night of the kangeiko many braved the horrid weather conditions and aching muscles from lack of practice over the December period. Many changes had been made to etiquette in the dojo and the contribution of everyone to the dojo.  As we now have a new dojo Sensei has decided to go back to the roots of kendo and practice kendo in an orderly manner with awareness of others around you. The practice started with a recap of the 1st night with practising of a good quality men cut. Those of us who hadn’t made it to the first night had to quickly get up to speed and get on par with the rest of the group. Again this all had to be performed in timing with the rest of the group and not go off into our own rhythm.
After performing men cuts for a while Sensei asked to go back to the very beginning and look at our footwork. Many of us started off well but as the cuts progressed the footwork became narrower and more eschewed where some of us resembled a tight rope walker. Another key point  was that many of us were not taking a large enough stride when cutting and those who did, did so cutting forwards but upon going back to chudan the backwards step was smaller so there were net forwards movement. To make us concentrate on footwork we placed our shinai’s on the floor and had to step both forwards and backwards the length of the shinai from the tsuba. Once many had a feel of this Sensei moved on to co-ordination of the cut to make sure footwork and cut finish at the same time.
We then moved onto motodachi work with emphasis on both kakarite side and motodachi pushing each other to work hard. The first exercise involved the motodachi moving in a random direction with the kakarite side following both in chudan. The aim of the exercise was not to break shinai contact. As the motodachi side moved faster the harder it was to follow. This was then followed up by a series of techniques which the motodachi opened up for but were also allowed to move around the dojo to encourage the kakarite to come into correct distance then cut. So the motodachi had to work on their footwork posture whilst kakarite distance and technique. The Motodachi were then asked to make the kakarite side to work harder and move more. You could feel the spirit lift a little more at this as everyone tried their hardest to perform at their best.
Sensei then moved on from this exercise so that the motodachi were allowed to perform oji waza to the kakarite cuts. The aim here was the same as before but now the kakarite had to try and hit the motodachi before the motodachi could perform the oji waza. Everyone gave their all with some good success on both sides. There was some real energy flowing through the group at this point.
Finally we finished the class with a few rounds of kirikaeshi and Sensei explained the importance of it in general kendo and at grading times. This was good insight especially as many people will be grading this year.
Sensei then concluded the class and prepared us for the 3rd day and reminded the cohort not to forget the lessons of days 1 and 2 and that day 3 will be harder.
Hizen’s kangeiko on 6 January maintained the emphasis on reigi, we started with a recap of all that we had practiced up to now with additional information and detail. Once this had been covered and we had been warmed up in the process Sensei then started to look at the correct behaviour in shiai for both competitors and referees.
The first shock was that there was no area marked so the competitors and referees had to mentally visualise the space and keep within this area. The Competitors also had to refrain from using tsubazeriai and if we came into this position both sides had to move back out into distance at the same time as in the action of wakarei. Sensei explained that this is a very high level of respect and discipline and shows a higher level of kendo understanding which also produced a much higher level of skills.
As a referee we had to control the matches with firm commands and make sure that the competitors felt that we had control of the match. In addition we had to explain our action and give reasons for our actions so the pressure was on. At the end of the practice Sensei informed us that this would be the format for our internal taikai which would be held on Sunday 8th due to problems we faced at the end of last year with the sports centre being closed.
Saturday 7th, This was a day of rest for everyone and it gave everyone chance for there bodies to recover and think about what had been covered so far.
Hizen Winter Taikai “2011” Tatos
There were 3 new and exciting changes to the Hizen Winter taikai this year: firstly was the new dojo; secondly was that no lines were used during the competition, the area was dictated and controlled by the shinpan. So now there was pressure to be spatially aware whilst fighting and also pressure on the shinpan to manage the fight more strictly.
The final change to the Hizen 2011 Winter Taikai was that it took place in 2012. Of itself that has little relevance but this timing placed the taikai in the middle of Kangeiko which created an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional kendo we’d been practicing and our instinctive ‘shiai’ kendo.
The first competition was for nidan and below and was split into 2 pools of 6. The usual 1 point handicap was applied to dan grades. This combined with the progress of the kyu/mu grades led to some surprising fights.
 In the first pool Machiko scored a nice kote on Armando (who won best shikake waza) and the surprises continued when Alex M very quickly scored against Nari.
Two people went through from each pool into the semi-finals. Chi and Steve fought first, both utilising sharp nidan waza, quick men cuts and oji waza, but Chi managed to pull out ahead and score a place in the final. The next fight was not as quick; Ini was out of practice and Tatos was full of mince pies from Christmas! But in the end a kote cut meant Chi and Tatos would be in the final.

In a fairly give and take final Chi went 1-0 down quickly. Whilst this relieved his opponent it focused Chi and he came back to score 2 men points and win the match.

Next up was the senior completion for the san-dans. Notably absent this year was Clay whose shiny new 4th dan meant he’d be a shinpan instead.
Already running short on time the ippon shobu bouts were shortened to 1 minute. Without much time to score (and with a nice new floor to work with) the seniors had to take a much more aggressive stance and hunt for the point. There were some lovely examples of timing on display particularly nice was Natasa’s dou-nuki-men against Phil. It was hard to tell who was ahead as everyone seemed to be winning and losing in equal measure and in no particular pattern. However in the end there could only be one, and Paul and Frank were tied for points so they fought a decider (this time with no time limit). It seems Frank, at this point, had an attack of amnesia and forgot that earlier he had said he wasn’t interested in winning, as after a very close match he did just that!
In the Balloon Cup traditions were upheld and one colour dominated right from the off. After a blistering first round (Antonin alone popping 4 red balloons) the whites had decimated the reds, leaving just Clay to fight for the whole red team. He made a valiant attempt to claw back some honour for the reds but ultimately being outnumbered 10-1 mean he too was despatched. As the whites turned on each other, some tried to “honourably duel”, whilst others picked people off while they weren’t looking. Then after a while, with a bit of underhand distraction, Ini was despatched by Natasa leaving her and Tatos. She hit the target a good few times but her success in buying such strong white balloons would be her undoing and finally her balloon was popped!
Picture from left to right: Armando – Best shikake waza; Steve M – 3rd Place; Chi – 1st place and best oji waza; Tatos – 2nd place, f/s and Fusen cup; Frank – Senior Cup.
Frank – Senior Cup.
Monday 9th Last Night of Kangeiko
After a good turn out on all the other days Monday saw a drop in numbers, which maybe be understandable as family and other commitments last to come into consideration. But saying that those who managed to come fall into the new guide lines of practise and it made a great difference compared to the visitors who looked without direction and lost in a properly run dojo. Everyone has improved over the week although it is not second nature as yet. Everyone can say that they are now practising Kendo and not just swinging a stick in the direction of another person hoping to hit them with in some fashion. As Paul pointed out on the first day Kangeiko and the meaning of a new year and in the new dojo has given me the opportunity for change.
The simple maxim of ‘Kendo starts with Rei and ends with Rei’ should not be lost, to make the primarily focus on technique and self gratification through victory rather than the possibilities for character cultivation is not the DO in Kendo it is just purely a sporting pursuit.
                                                So please do not lose the or your ‘WAY’