Hiroshi Kozaki Sensei (7th Dan Kendo) was giving a Kendo seminar at Shin Nakada dojo. WaShinKan took care of parts of the organization and we are happy to conclude yet another successful and great seminar.
As a former practitioner of Kendo and Iaido in Japan, the seminars are always interesting and give new insights to both experienced and beginning Kendoka. The focus of the seminar we had this time emphasized the importance of a vigorous spirit and strong intentions from the very basics in Kendo.
On Friday, the first day of the seminar, Kozaki Sensei travelled with the German delegation (Mainz, Tübingen, Urbach) to the Netherlands. It was an extremely hot week in Europa, so the drive with all those people in the small car and Mainz University bus must have been quite tough with so many. Arriving a bit late on sight, Kozaki Sensei was welcomed by most of the people in hakama and gi already. Sad to hear that this was the last seminar to be held in Sportschool Thomas due to some new housing projects, Sensei and the people who also arrived a tad late quickly changed and went to the next door practice hall. Realizing it was a very hot week and the seminar was held in a hall with many participants, Kozaki Sensei and Alphons opened the seminar by pressing on the fact that people should be careful of their body and mental state during practice. ‘If it’s to hot, just take a short break. Just make sure you sit and watch and not talk or distract others.‘ Then of course it was time to practice! With participants from Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Jordan, Japan, China and Ukraine, we had quite a large group to start from on this Friday evening! Completing the warming-up, Kozaki Sensei gave an explanation about the intention that people should have in Kendo, most of us lacking actually. We started with partnering up and then had an explanation of cutting straight, followed by a session of Kirikaeshi. All still without Bogu or even Shinai. This made everybody focus a lot more on the actual placing of the hands and also resulted in most people having a nice posture and vigorous Kiai. After practicing all Kihon this way (Kirikaeshi, Men, Kote and Do) we lined up and put on the Bogu to switch to a quick session of mawari-geiko. Then it was time for the real deal, Kozaki Sensei putting on his Bogu and then everybody having time for free Keiko!
After the Keiko we went back to the changing rooms, had a quick shower and then went upstairs for dinner. It has become tradition for the first day (Friday) at the seminars that we organise for participants to bring some food and drinks. This makes for an incredibly variated and delicious buffet that everyone enjoys. With all different sorts of food, from fried chicken, fruit salads, sushi and nigiri, bread, potato salads, cookies and much more, everybody ate their fill and discussed their Shiai over some drinks. After this it was time to go home. Alphons taking in Sensei and some people, Zita having some of the Germans and Bill taking in the others, Genta and Ivo, (and the WaShinKan members) driving home was one of the last things for that night.
The very next morning breakfast was served by our generous hosts and we then hurried off to the dojo to start practice again around 10:00 in the morning. After the warming up lead by Tino, Kozaki Sensei took the time to yet again emphasize to take care of yourself during the heat and then started off with a Kendo talk. He explained a lot of stuff, starting of with the way how he learned Kendo and about the generations that were before him. About his teachers and his practice in Japan, as well as him practicing in Germany and having those Japanese Sensei visit him during these times. He talked about his road to the 7th dan and explained that he was able to achieve that by having Sensei who kept pushing him to improve his Kamae, as well as being forced to start thinking about his own Kendo after reaching the 3th or 4th dan. He took his time to talk about the differences and resemblances when it comes to Kendo and sports. A lot of people see Kendo (or Budo) as a sport, and there are also many who say Kendo isn’t sport at all. His main explanation was that it is actually both overlapping. Kendo has many aspects that are sport, such as the physical and mental improvements that you get, but that Budo also has Zanshin, that is an important part of it, while Zanshin of course doesn’t exist in sport. With a chart showing the important parts of correct Kendo that we need to focus on for our own practice, Kiai and examinations, he explained the differences. All the parts that people know about Kendo actually consist of multiple parts. Starting from Kamae, we build up our Seme, then force a reaction from the opponent, called Hanno. This gives the opportunity to make a Waza, and to finish it, we need to keep our focus, or Zanshin. These points are usually understood by every Budoka. The interesting part however was that Kozaki Sensei showed us with the chart that there is actually an inner (ki) and outer part (mi) to all of those aspects. For instance a Kamae is just a posture, but the actual Kamae is build up with energy from within oneself. The same goes for Seme. As we all can see, with a correct Seme you see the opponent move forward (mi). But the important part of the moving forward is the intention that comes from within (ki). This is actually what puts the pressure on the opponent and what Kozaki Sensei wanted to work on during this seminar.
We yet again started of with practicing without Bogu or Shinai and focused on the basic movements and our Kiai. After having practiced the Kihon (basics) like this, we went trough with the same movements but this time with Bogu and Shinai. He kept telling us that with each thing you practice, you also improve the other things. With a good Kote, you will also improve your Men. And so on and on. After having practiced the basics, It was time for our lunch break!
Having some delicious food like sushi as well as fried chicken and a lot of fruits and bread, Kozaki Sensei decided it was nice weather and we should go out to the beach! We jumped in the car and drove of to Hoek van Holland, about 20 minutes from where the dojo was. Sadly, we got stuck in traffic quite fast, resulting in us getting to the beach, stepping outside of the car, taking some pictures, hopping back in the car and driving off to the dojo again. But at least we saw the sea for a bit! Arriving a bit early, Kozaki Sensei explained som Kata (Kodachi) to the people who decided to have stayed during the luck break.
Then it was back in gear again, and back to training! Since the lunch-break was already over and we had a BBQ planned at Bill’s in the evening, we switched rather fast to Keiko mode. Everybody had a chance to train with Sensei and with each other. After the Keiko sessions were done, everybody lined up for some advise, and then of course a group picture! It’s a shame that not everybody who was participating in the seminar is on the pictures, but at least this shows pretty well how much people attended this day.
Then quickly taking a shower and getting all the stuff, we drove to Bill’s place. Drinks, food and friends! Almost everybody who joined the Seminar that day also joined the BBQ. Bill had an incredible variation of different kinds of meat, vegetables and other delicious kinds of food already set up at the tables. Having a good time, drinking, talking and laughing, most of the evening was filled with laughter. However, in the faint distance, you could hear the screams and moans of people getting massaged by Bill. He is an incredible deep tissue and tendon masseuse who focuses on correcting muscles and bones back to where the belong. Since the massages are quite intense, and we as Kendoka somehow are all a bit sadistic, we were watching Bill massage some of the Kendo people. We don’t have all that much pictures of Bill at work, but we managed to get one of Jonathan receiving a light knee massage!
On Sunday, our last day of the Seminar, we yet again focused on the importance of a rigorous spirit in Kendo and life. For some reason, this year brings a lot of issues for a lot of individuals on a personal level. This can vary from some internal struggles, loss of loved-ones, friends or family, sickness and in example stress from other aspects like work. This resulted for a lot of people a stop or declining line in their Kendo career. It is the way that we act in Kendo, how we will reflect upon ourselves in the daily life before and after practice. With this in mind, Kozaki Sensei tried to force us to have a strong and unbreakable wall around us. In Kendo we are of course talking about different Waza and how to be able to use them separately and independently by choice, rather than by luck or coincidence. However, this usage of the wall that we build around us, and use to put pressure on the opponent, comes from a serious and focused mind from the moment you enter the dojo. By making an example out of the people who showed up late he reminded all of us again why we were there: to practice, to become stronger, and to do this all together.
To be able to start a Keiko, Shiai or anything in Kendo, Kozaki Sensei wanted to focus on a correct posture and spirit from the start. That means the genuine intention to kill your opponent should be present from the moment you enter the dojo, and kept until you leave. With most people only starting to show spirit the moment ‘Hajime’ is called, Sensei told us to go back a step, and perceive how we actually walk up to each-other, how we go to Sonkyo and how we then form our Kamae standing upward. With these 3 parts of the etiquette we started the practice. Kozaki Sensei explained how he turned his foot and that he has been trying to improve his Kamae for over 40 years now. And that the sensei that told him to do so, still keeps telling him to improve and make it stronger. We focused on ourselves and started from Sonkyo. Our hands in the form of holding a sword, we stood up as one group and tried to keep a nice posture. We have been practicing this for quite a while and every time we switched rows, (so Kozaki Sensei could see a new line of people) we improved and realized what was being taught. More and more people were able to have a more beautiful Kamae than the had before, as well as be able to put more pressure forward into the opponent.
Kozaki Sensei showed the tuski movement that we practiced the days before with both Genta and Egberth. We all tried to practice this for some time, but now more with the intention and focus that applied from the exercises before. Since it was the last day of the Seminar, we didn’t have too much time left. We switched to Bogu and Kozaki sensei showed the Tsuki and on how to raise your hands when someone has a Bogu. It was a interesting part, because each person’s preferences depend on their body and mind. In example, Kozaki Sensei is a rather small man (for European standards) and his Tsuki is therefor aimed from a lower position. To be able to put enough pressure on the kensen and have the lowest risk of injury, we practiced a Tsuki that goes up and ends horizontal. Or in some cases even with the left hand slightly tilted higher than the tip of the Shinai. We all practiced this move, since it was both a strong and straight Tsuki, as well as a advantageous Waza against someone with a rather low Chudan. Putting the exercise to the test and yet again focusing on our hands, we all learned a great deal about distance, Kamae and center in this single Waza. Quickly changing the Waza to a do movement, we finished the 1st part of this last day, only to switch to a final Keiko session. After this great seminar with a lot of struggles for a lot of people on personal levels, we all came out stronger again. Although for some people it still is hard to work on the road to better oneself and Kendo, we have to overcome these problems and focus on getting stronger together.
Time to say goodbye to the hall and back home again!