During the recent 2016 All United States Kendo Federation (AUSKF) summer camp, the guest Senseis Toru Kamei (Hanshi 8th Dan) and Toshiya Ishida (Kyoshi 8th Dan) shared advice and tips for shinsa i.e. grading examinations. Among them were the importance of an excellent kamae and kiai (or 発声 hassei).
In that area, they noted the following. First, though it may sound obvious in retrospect, these two components are in one’s control and independent of the opponent. This is in contrast to the kendo sparring component which is not entirely in one’s control and does depend on your opponent. Second, these are fundamental for shinsa which judges tend to look for.
Indeed, this importance is echoed in the comments of a panel of four judges in a Shinsa video with Hanshi 8th Dan Senseis Masuho Shinozuka, Masatake Sumi, Masashi Chiba and Takao Fujiwara [DVD08]. In the video, the Senseis serve as judges for multiple groups of candidates for 4th and 5th Dan who perform the sparring part of shinsa. The Senseis provide individual comments afterwards – which, I believe, are invaluable and very educational for those going for shinsa and uncertain as to what the judges may be looking for at these levels.
The Senseis provide a number of comments related to kamae and kiai. For example, in the first group of 5th Dan candidates, for candidate #28, apparently his hands are extended too far out, his grip of the shinai is improper and his body is leaning forward excessively. For candidate #29, they remark on and commend her powerful kiai. For candidate #30 whose posture is somewhat hunched, they recommend he push his chest out and straighten his posture.
A couple more comments on kiai. During the summer camp, Ishida Sensei recommended delivering a strong kiai especially in the beginning at tachi-ai 立会い when one stands up from sonkyo and, in general, delivering it from a safe position such as toma. Otherwise, from a closer distance such as issoku-ittonomai, this would provide an opportunity for an opponent to attack. In the video, the Senseis noted how some candidates and people perform ouji-waza such as kaeshi-do with a more subdued kiai and recommended a kiai even louder than that for shikake-waza to ensure an effective and inspiring strike. This likely stems from the possibility of one’s kiai with ouji-waza being drowned out by the slightly earlier kiai of one’s opponent who striked initially.
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