Relative Grip Strengths – Exercises to Improve Shinai Control (Part 4)

Zau sensei doing suburi on the Potato Chip Rock at Mt. Woodson in San Diego. Probably a first ever on that ledge.

I list a few exercises below to help improve shinai control – focusing on the left hand and digits.   A firm understanding of the ideal grips described in Part 2 (in brief) and Part 3 (in detail) is assumed.  When performing the exercises, I would suggest keeping in mind the following preliminary points.

  • Start with slow movements and gradually increase the speed.
  • Make sure to “relax your arms and shoulders, let your elbows have enough flex [KendoInfo _Holding].”
  • Practice striking not only an imaginary target in the air but also a physical target (e.g. a shinai raised horizontally by a partner as shown at the 1:57min mark in [SKIjournal _Tenouchi], a person wearing bogu, a ‘training dummy’ or tire).
    • The hands can then be used to transfer power to the target rather than being limited to stopping the shinai in mid-air.  The quality of the strikes are more readily gauged as well.
  • Consider also practicing the same (in-the-air) exercises with the wooden tachi 太刀 (also referred to as the bokuto or bokken) in place of the shinai.
    • With the lighter instrument, the one-handed exercises are easier to perform.  And, with the oval-shaped handle, the grip-related teachings described earlier are easier to put into practice.
  • Consider also doing the exercises with the eyes closed or partially closed.
    • The closed eyes facilitate finer awareness of the muscles associated with the grip and any tightness across the entire body.  (Interestingly, this could be incorporated as part of a slow moving meditation practice like Tai-chi.)
    • If maintaining balance or touching the ceiling is an issue, sitting on a chair or going to seiza may help.

List of Exercises

  • Practice and maintain the grip with a shinai in various stationary positions as if a mannequin:
    • With one or both hands, in chudan-kamae, jodan-kamae) or in any position along the trajectory of a men-uchi.
      • For the one-handed grip, hold it as long as desired or possible – which may be brief initially and longer eventually.
    • This is a good opportunity to continuously and consciously check to make sure that the shoulders, arms, index finger(s) and thumb(s) stay relaxed.
  • Practice suburi with the left hand only – as suggested by Mr. mtk_genesis_7477 in [Chiebukuro_RightHand].   I’d also suggest the adding the following variants.
    • If, too heavy, choke up on the shinai, by moving the left hand closer to the tsuba, for less stress on the left hand and wrist.
    • Add the right hand to cradle the shinai with minimal to no power.
    • The same but with the instantaneous addition at and then the immediate release of right hand power (using the last three fingers) after the instant of impact.   The thumbs and index fingers remain relaxed.
  • Practice the tenouchi (inside-of-the-hand) exercises demonstrated in [SKIjournal _Tenouchi] from (e.g. 0:26 to 1:12min and 1:30 to 1:45) and the variants described below.
    • Note: For more details on the mechanics and theory behind the tenouchi action, I’d suggest reading [Kenshi247_Tenouchi], [KendoInfo_Tenouchi] and [Shugo_Tenouchi].
    • Do the same exercise with the left hand only near the tsuba (easier) and eventually further away – towards the tsukagashira (tougher).
    • Do the exercise with both hands but with the right hand relaxed throughout.
      • Position the two hands close together initially as in the video at various positions along the shinai handle (tsuka).
      • Repeat the exercise with the two hands further and further apart until they reach their normal positions.
    • Do the same with power inserted in the right hand at the instant of “impact” and then immediately released.
    • Additional notes:
      • As recommended by Chikamoto sensei, make sure that the index fingers and thumbs for both hands remain relaxed throughout.
      • The gap in the left hand and the arc in the swinging motion may be excessively large in [SKIjournal _Tenouchi, 1:30 to 1:45min].  As noted by B. Sheppard sensei, avoid “opening the grip of the left hand to increase the size of the swing” – as illustrated in the last two photos in [Shugo_Tenouchi].
  • The sand in beer bottle exercise.
    • You may be familiar with this one.  Some, like Mr. takaharukita1 in [Chiebukuro_ RightHand], suggest making a small make-shift shinai substitute by filling a water bottle or large beer bottle (the kind with a longer head typical of Asian brands) with sand or water and sealing it.
    • Practice tenouchi with the left hand and wrist to strengthen it.  It’s handy as this can be done while watching T.V. and in an area with less space.

Continue to Part 5 – References

Back to the Overview.

Copyright 2017

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