For many, getting into kendo armour, or bogu, can be a daunting, if not frightening experience!
A kendo students' future kendo career can both be boosted or busted by those initial training sessions in bogu.
Here are some general notes for those going into bogu:
1. Relax! There is no immediate need to try and do what the more experienced bogu members are doing. Just stick to the basics (kihon) for now. It's going to feel like you have to relearn everything again!
2. Start off slow and only wear the TARE and DOU to begin with. Get comfortable putting these bogu pieces on, and more importantly, being able to do the kihon (basic movements) and suburi (sword swinging) as closely as as you had done it when you were NOT yet I'm bogu. There might be some adjustments required as the bogu might feel like it's limiting your movement. This is normal and is part of the adjustment period (it will become even more awkward when putting on the KOTE and MEN)!
3. When you are reasonably comfortable wearing and performing with the TARE and DOU on, your sensei might then tell you to put on your KOTE and start performing kihon and suburi with it on. Wearing KOTE will challenge the way you are holding your shinai - it will naturally force you to hold the shinai in a "hammer grip" (due to the shape of the KOTE by the palm section), however, you must "force" your hands to hold the KOTE in the "trigger" or "umbrella grip". This will be key to your future kendo development and especially on concepts such as "tenuchi" (where one has to squeeze the shinai on impact to create the correct strike). Note: this is also why the KOTE, and especially the leather palms of the KOTE , is generally the bogu part that gets damaged the most through correct usage!
4. The MEN will be the last part of the bogu that will be put on. Putting on this bogu piece will take patience and practise. Firstly, get a senior member to show you the correct way to both put on and take off the MEN. Then, practise as many times (outside the dojo) as you can on how to do this correctly. The goal is to be be able to put the MEN on as quickly as possible when told to do so during a kendo practise session. It should also be noted that putting on the TENGUI (head-towel) will also need to be practiced over and over again.
For Kendo Kids, it is acceptable for them to use the "hat-styled" TENGUI method. However, teenagers and adults should begin to use the other 2 methods of wrapping the TENGUI around ones head.
With the final bogu piece on, it is now time to practise KENDO with your full bogu on! It will be claustrophobic, heavy, hot and sometimes smelly in there, making it easy to give into your emotions and senses. However, try and stay focused, breathe normally and try work through those unnerving feelings. With time and practise, provided the MEN and the rest of the bogu is worn correctly, wearing the bogu becomes easier. In my opinion, one should never feel entirely comfortable wearing bogu. Remember this is martial arts and that controlled bit of uncomfortableness keeps us on edge to give us an edge over our opponents.
At this stage the member in bogu should work at doing kihon, Suburi, wazza, uchikomie-keiko and gikari-keiko in full bogu.
You could find that because you're now wearing your full bogu (and therefore feel more protected), you might be more courageous with your Kendo. This is great as it will allow you to overcome those fears and hesitations you might have had earlier in your kendo career. However, keep in mind that since you're in bogu now, not only will you be striking your opponent, but your opponent will be striking back!
5. It take many hours of dedicated practise to get to a reasonably comfortable position while in bogu. It will be both at the Sensei's and students' discretion as to when they want to start on the final phase of wearing bogu, namely, where others will now begin striking them on the bogu parts.
This will start off with controlled strikes (i.e. controlled power) by the Sensei's and/or seniors of the dojo. Being struck correctly should not be debilitating to the recipient, but rather like a short, sharp strike to the correct bogu target area that isn't painful. If this is not done correctly by the person doing the strikes, please let the sensei know immediately.
As a general rule when striking another kendoka in bogu, use 70% of power for MEN, 60% for KOTE, and 80% for DOU. For some odd reason, some think that being in bogu means they need to hit extra hard compared to what they used to do when not in bogu! The reality is that you do not and you'll just have to control your strike power now that you are wearing bogu.
As a newbie in bogu, your goal is to try and stick to what you were taught in class, and not give into your emotions and survival instincts. Very often, newbies who are still learning to manage those emotions and instincts, and their techniques will look like they are doing EVERYTHING ELSE other than kendo - Ducking, bopping, side-stepping and running backwards; together with shinai-bashing, hitting NON-valid strikes, anime-poses and Star Wars reenactments, will be a common sight amongst the beginners in bogu. Again, just do what you have practiced before (in a kendo class)!
Eventually, after doing Kihon, Suburi, Wazza practise, kirikaeshi, yakusoku-Geiko, Uchikomie-Geiko and Kikari-Geiko, you will progress to JiKeiko or "free practise / sparring".
Jikeiko can be further subdivided into the following 2 types:
1. HIKITATE KEIKO is where the partners are of unequal grade. In this case, the lower grade will be referred to as kakarite, and the senior grade as motodachi, When performing this type of keiko the kakarite must show their BEST kendo form and try and attack the motodachi with proper technique. Nothing fancy is required, just the basics and what was being taught in class before. One should not worry if one gets struck. This is irrelevant as the purpose of Keiko is to "improve oneself" rather than to "win a point" (this is what Shiai or competition is for). From the motodachi's perspective, as the senior grade, they must have a feeling of "lifting the kakarite up" by encouraging him to do his/her best kendo. They will present a challenge to the kakarite, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed or disheartened. Furthermore, this is NOT an opportunity for the motodachi to beat the kakarite with their perceived "superior kendo". Doing kendo in this manner requires the motodachi to be aware of both his kendo skills and that of the kakarite, and be able to adapt his Keiko accordingly.
2. GOKAKU GEIKO is then the partners are of equal grades. Keiko between members of moreorless equal grades, age and/or athletic ability (please note the list) can be more like that of a Shiai where each kendoka will fight hard for a YUKODATOTSU (valid point). As one becomes more skilled in Kendo, fighting for YUKODATOTSU becomes more difficult as it implies that "cheap tricks" should no longer be acceptable. However, a fundamental difference from Shiai is still evident, namely that the point of Keiko is to improves oneself and ones kendo, and NOT to WIN at all costs. Therefore getting struck in Keiko is ok! The questions should be, "what was my opponent doing; why was I stuck ; how can I do better in future?".
In conclusion, getting into bogu is a major milestone for any kendo practitioner's journey as it will allow one to fully unlock not only the more intricate techniques in kendo, but also allow one to fully explore oneself - physically, mentally and emotionally.
RKC Dojo Members who have gotten into bogu share of some of their experiences in the following paragraphs below:
"I remember when I was a newbies in Bogu. I couldnt stop myself to blink my eyes when I got Men strike from training partner. This is a natural reaction for every kendo learner I think so no need to be embarrassed (I spent months to overcome this problem 😂😂). To be honest, I see a lot of people still have this blinking eyes problem during practice even few years after they have their bogu."
"I think it is important for a new bogu member to learn to maintain their center. A lot of times during Waza and kihon practice a new bogu member would step in and their body
and the sword will slant and I think it is very difficult to take the center or break someone's kamae when your kamae is broken.
We all want to cut fast when we start the keiko journey but I can feel when I keiko with my seniors that finding and creating the opening is 80% of the work and the cut is 20%
In my personal experience, when I first started to do gi-keiko I felt lost because I wasn't sure about some things.
I would kiai and then someone would not kiai back or they would kiai before me and I wouldn't know if I should step in or not.
I would constantly ask questions like should I be in issoku-itto, or to-ma? how often should I kiai? just understanding that Gi_keiko has no set routine helped me a lot."
1) You have bogu, don't worry about getting hit, focus on execution of your own Waza when the opponents provides and opening.
2) When stepping into issoku-itto-no-maai make sure you feel the opponent's energy/intent through the Shinai, pause/assess (doesn't mean be still) and execute only when there is an opening and/or create the opening or reaction. Doing this in all Waza sets you up for doing the same when engaging in Keiko/Shiai."
"1. It was difficult to learn how to put on the bogu and also get used to the feeling of the bogu. I struggled to put it on initially. A major struggle was also starting out keiko which was very confusing and took a bit to get used to. Getting hit may also get a bit discouraging. I felt quite lost during the transition to bogu.
2. My experience has been quite mixed but mostly positive, getting into bogu is really just completely different but getting into bogu is when you can start really fighting and doing kendo. Getting into bogu isn’t a really pleasant experience but it allows you to actually participate in the full kendo experience which is a small sacrifice that i believe is worth it. You also get used to the bogu after a while and the experience gets a lot better. Also the bogu looks very cool!
3. I think the process of getting into bogu is a big change so it is important to really focus on getting the basics down again before doing any keiko or fighting. Even if you get discouraged from the bogu it is important to realize that if you stick with it, it gets a lot better. The bogu feels a lot more comfortable the more you wear it. The experience of getting into bogu is experienced by all kendoka and is a completely normal process. It is important to realize that the change is difficult but it does get better after time. And remember to ask the sensei’s for help if you run into any issues so they can help you solve it."
"The first challenge was getting used to how the kote feels and cutting with the kote on. I remember my hands and fingers would be sore after training but I forced myself to maintain the correct grip. The men was easier to deal with I only needed to get used to the sensory deprivation, most people think your vision is a problem but hearing is harder, if the men fits properly you can still see most things. "
"At first it felt heavy (to wear the bogu) and I ran out of energy a lot quicker. However, my overall experience in bogu has been positive as it makes me more confident to take the hit knowing how it feel and I suppose it has helped me grow. "
"One of the main challenges I overcame was (a lack of) confidence and to not be scared about being hit."
" Initially I struggled to get it tight enough around my head and this caused it to come loose during training. However, now I feel more connected to the art then ever before. It feels like my previous training sessions were just the prologue for the art that is kendo. Now that I have Bogu, I can really start Kendo and get that rush and excitement that comes with sparing and helping people. "
The Ryū Ken Chi (RKC) Dojo train the traditional Japanese martial arts of Kendo and Iaido (sword-based martial arts), as well as Jodo (the art of the short staff), that encourages the cultivation of the human character.
Kendo Kid is also available for children aged 6-11 years old.
RKC DOJO has 2 training venues within Johannesburg - RIVONIA and OBSERVATORY. Online training is also available.
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