Kendo, Aikido, martial art related

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fundamentals of Kendo II : Kamae

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Kamae (positions of posture)
Kamae actually means 'Posture' but in context is more clearly expressed as 'position' since it refers specifically to the position in which the Shinai or bamboo practice sword is held. The height of blade is divided into three levels or Dan (steps) and designated as Jodan (high step), Chudan (middle step), and Gedan (low step). 'No-kamae' means 'posture of', but the short form as above is general.

Seigan no kamae (natural posture)
Seigan (natural step) is the more common name for Chudan. The right foot is advanced with the knee slightly bent; the left leg is straight with the heel clear of the floor. The Shinai is held in front of the body with both hands, in a natural manner that does not interfere with the basic Shisei. The sword points directly at the opponent's eyes and crosses his point about three to four inches from the tip. This is at a distance of some seven to seven feet six inches and defined as Ma-ai or the theoretical distance from which an attack can be launched with a single step attack.

Seigan (or Chudan) is defined as when the blade points forward from the left hand, which is held in line with the Chushin (body centre), at an angle above horizontal and below the opponent's eyes. A lower angle more completely covers the front attack line whilst a higher angle to cover the eyes has more psychological effect on the opponent. Seigan is the most important posture to study and understand. It is the only position which covers the front attack line and also the only position to give equal facility for offence or defence as required. All variations are virtually a weakening of this basic stance, used to deliberately provoke an attack by the opponent.

Judan-no-kamae (high posture)
Jodan is the only important variation used today and is favoured in contests. Jodan has a very strong character since it is very aggressive. 'Jodan' is universally taken to mean Migijodan- no-kamae (with right foot advanced) unless otherwise specified. But the more common or comfortable form is the Hidari Jodan (left foot advanced) this makes single handed cuts very convenient as explained later. The angle shown is fairly conservative (about forty-five degrees) but this can vary a good deal from almost perpendicular to nearly horizontal. Some schools suggest that the arms be as shown - in a natural position - whilst others allow the elbows to spring out. The body direction can be square or slightly turned to either side. Sometimes the Shinai is held in this line whilst at others it may be canted over or held almost cross-wise. Much of this variation is due to the particular techniques specialized in or according to personal taste. At any rate the only classification made is left, or right foot advanced. An exception to this is the radical Katate Jodan (single hand) postures in which either hand will release its grip on the hilt and the blade is balanced back on this hand which supports the back edge of the blade. Any form of Jodan completely opens the front attack line and the student must have a good sense of timing and outmatch his opponent if he is to take any advantage.

Gedan-no-kamae (low posture)
Gedan is still used to some extend and in this case the attack line is opened by dropping the point. In some variations the Sinai may be turned off to either side and Gedan is in itself an invitation to attack the head. The posture is defined as when the point drops below horizontal.

Waki-Gamae (side posture)
Waki-gamae has little use in modern Kendo apart from Kata (forms) in that it was originally designed as a Sutemi Waza (sacrifice technique) and such techniques merely result in Aiuchi (double hits) in modern Kendo.

Hasso-kamae (figure of eight posture)
Hasso-kamae is not illustrated but the Shinai is carried almost vertically at either shoulder, so that in combination the two complimentary sides are likened to the Japanese figure eight, or Hachi. These are sometimes referred to as Yo-no-kamae and Inno-kamae, Yo-in being the positive/negative principle (Yinyang in Chinese). Hasso has variations in the Jodan and Chudan positions, the former high above the head and the latter low at the hip and canted backwards. As a minor point Waki-gamae takes what would be the Gedan position of Hasso, except that the blade is reversed.

Hasso-kamae is also a Sutemi Waza and has little use in modern Kendo but with Wakigamae, Gedan, Chudan and Jodan, completes the five fundamental postures.

There are literally dozens of other postures - many very ancient. Some better known ones are the Kasumi-kamae found in low, middle, and high positions in which the arms are crossed over so as to partly conceal the technique; Kasumi means 'mountain mist'. Another variation is the Kongo-kamae in which the blade is held vertically in front of the face. There is a particular phase during which such postures appear attractive to the student but he should not become involved in them. It is, however, as well to learn by experience and it will soon be found that such postures are too restrictive under modern conditions.

The essential posture to concentrate on is the Seigan (natural posture) and this is absolutely essential as a basis for anything else. To enable the hands to grip as naturally as possible it will be noted that the elbows are slightly sprung outwards. The Shinai is exactly in the centre line and the posture should be relaxed and comfortable. An amount of stiffness and awkwardness is inevitable at first but if no effort is made the position cannot be achieved with ease at a later date.


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