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Monday, August 23, 2010

Kendo advantages

During your kendo career you will battle many people whose waza will be based on their height. The key to balance a match between two kendokas of different height is distance, speed and strikes at your opponent’s most vulnerable spots.

For instance, if you are shorter than your opponent do you utmost to get as close as possible to deliver physically powerful kote or do. If you are the tallest person in the match you will reach your opponent’s men easily but you will also have to keep your guard up and avoid giving your back to your adversary. Tall people do not need to “enter” to attack as they can attack from issoku ittō-no-maai whilst short people can have the advantage attacking from chika maai.

In kendo it is best to develop your own waza based on your physical advantages rather than on your shortcomings. Don’t get discouraged when facing an adversary either shorter or taller than you; study your opponent and learn from him or her to improve waza and develop new strategies for future matches.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Friendship and camaraderie

From left to right: Sho-dan Rosemarie Read, Suyin Crook,
Christian Alfredo Acevedo Herrera, Martina Aldeano, Alberto Prado and Javier Moreno

PAKA’s kendo group is growing as you can see from this picture taken on August 14th at University of Panama gym (Photo Rosemarie Read). And with growth comes new challenges as older students introduce newbies to the Way of the Sword. Alberto and Javier (far right corner) have new responsibilities being the older students while sho-dan Rosemarie (left corner) is doing her part in blending her kendo club members with PAKA dojo. Old and new students, male and female, are happy to be part of this endeavor and we congratulate them for their extraordinary effort and determination.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

PAKA’s tidbits

Against all odds
When sho-dan Rosemarie Read and Delia Sanchez joined Lopez Q. sensei's dojo he had no idea that they had been practicing by themselves. Amazingly, Rosemary had formed a small all-female kendo club in the back porch of an international benefit and they are currently holding Friday night classes, attracting women to kendo. Lopez Q. sensei visited Rosemary's dojo and was truly impressed by the women's determination to keep practicing despite little to no equipment (have you shared only one kote?). Sensei invited the women to visit PAKA dojo and he will continue visiting Rosemary's, hoping that several kendo clubs are formed in Panama in the years to come.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 19, 2010
Rosemarie´s kendo club also includes male kenshi.

Kendo training dummy
We have a kendo training dummy as of August 14th (see dummy or motodachi in the back of class facing sensei). Dummy has no name yet but surely students will find one that suits him as he is part of the PAKA family now. Motodachi is made with wood, nails, plastic pipe, old car tire and old men. We encourage you to make your own hitting dummy if possible and share your dummy-making stories and pictures with us.

Thanks for reading, be sure to send us your comments!

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Waza and geiko: striking the perfect balance

Beginner´s kendo is always interesting: after a brief period of time you´ll witness a natural separation between those who apply themselves to waza and those that within minutes of starting class they want to do geiko with sensei.

Kihon waza is basic training and geiko is combat. Many kendoka try to swerve around waza and jump right into geiko while others try to master waza without engaging in geiko with their peers. Both types of students believe that sensei will not notice their little avoidance games but he does believe you me!

For sensei is easy to spot the reluctant student that does not want to do geiko; he has good, solid waza but once geiko is on he loses confidence and is afraid to hit anybody. The geiko student is also easily noticeable: he wants to fight, he will coax his teammates to fight him, and looks desperately at dojo clock because he can´t wait for geiko to start.

In kendo there are no shortcuts to perfection. To have strong waza is great because that is the foundation of your practice. But without geiko you will soon fall short because you need to develop your personal style in order to compete. To be unafraid of geiko is wonderful but without waza you´ll have nothing to show other than brute force. In order to become the best you can be you have to master waza and geiko at the same time.

Are you more into waza or geiko? Please enrich this post with your feedback as we want students and sensei alike to benefit from your thoughts and experiences.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kendo rankings

It is understood that at some point in your kendo career you will try to achieve a rank. But, what does a rank really mean? Does it prove your true worthiness as a kendoka? Can it gain you respect, appreciation from your sensei and peers?

In Eiji Yoshikawa's 'Musashi', the hero Miyamoto Musashi traveled throughout Japan to perfect his technique by engaging in combat with other kenshi. During his dojo visits he seeked to fight their most gifted students and perhaps add something new to his 'toolbox'. Musashi was often ignored due to his poor appearance. But despite looks Musashi defeated all of his adversaries. His calling card? His reputation that preceded him.

In kendo there are no visible ranks or colored belts meaning that every kendoka you cross swords with inside or outside dojo must be treated with courtesy and respect. Rank does help in determining your skill level and if you are ready to teach. Rank also speaks loudly of your personal commitment to kendo as a way of life. But rank does not define your character, the type of person you are when bogu is off. One should assess a person by his or her technique and most importantly by the way he or she treats fellow kendoka rather than just rank.

"To make kendo appealing to larger crowds some schools have bestowed ranks to students that have not yet acquired the appropiate skill level" said Lopez Q. Sensei. "To me this is a mistake; students should value kendo and ´sweat blood´ to achieve a rank. Who would you rather be? A low-level san-dan or an excellent ni-dan that fights like a san-dan and makes yon-dan break a sweat?".

Have you been treated unfairly because you had no rank? Have you ever felt pressured to obtain one just to prove a point or gain respect? Please give us your feedback. Take care.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Warm-up exercises: body rotations

Preparatory exercises help kendoka lift the mental anxiety he or she feels prior to kendo basic training. We will not go into each of the limbering exercises because many kendo books and videos offer step-by-step instructions. Instead, we will go over one particular limbering move that we feel its utmost important: body rotations.

Body rotations as shown above consist in rotating your trunk from the waist so that it stays as horizontal as possible as it moves through a full circle. To do this you must first spread your legs and, holding the shinai by its ends, lift it above your head. Do it properly before training and you may be warding off lower back pain derived from any kendo position, especially chudan-no-kamae.

Chudan-no-kamae is the basis of all kendo positions, and it puts heavy pressure on your spine when bogu is on. If you have trained for many years and have forgotten to do body rotations you may be in pain right now so perhaps you should take care of that right away. Start by identifying the source of the pain, then make an appointment with a physiotherapist or sport specialist. Also, feel free to explore acupuncture, Pilates, tai-chi, yoga or any other alternative method to decrease pain. Lastly, look for traditional botanical remedies as they have been known to lessen back pain.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t put up a tough front and pretend nothing is going on. At the dojo your body will feel great but when you get home and rest the pain will quickly return. Muscle pain relief creams can only alleviate pain for a short time so it's in your best interest to step up and do the right thing for your body. Take care, get better, kendo will wait for you. Cheers!

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