Learning a new skill: seme to tame to butsu

2013-01-22 20:09:00

Tonight’s class was guided by Fukuyama-sensei, in the absence of Heeren-sensei, with Kiwa-sempai providing translations for those not familiar with the Japanese language. After the usual warming-up routine (no kata practice tonight), we moved on to two separate but entwined subjects:

  1. Seme to tame to butsu
  2. Hiki waza

In kendo we are often taught to “build pressure”, to “feel tension” before launching an attack. This pressure is described with the word seme (攻め) and it is something that is learned through long practice. The Glossary related to budo and kobudo by Guy Buyens offers the following:

SEME (攻め) in BUDO (武道) is usually used to indicate the initiative to close the distance and maintain the pressure when launching an attack. This can be part of a very decisive and even explosive technique or in combination with TAME (溜め), where pressure is build in a more gradual way and where the final target depends on the reaction of that opponent.

Tame, from the verb tameru, meaning “to ammass” or “to accumulate”. In this case we are creating seme and then gathering more and more tension. For this particular session, Fukuyama-sensei described our exercise as follows:

  1. Assume issoku itto kamae.
  2. Generate seme.
  3. Inhale deeply and kakegoe (*) strongly.
  4. Do NOT inhale, do NOT exhale further.
  5. Hold your breath for five seconds.
  6. Attack at your fiercest, with a very strong kiai.

Fukuyama-sensei explained that, in this exercise, holding your breath will help you retain focus on your opponent and on seme. This way you are deeply invested in your attack, almost guaranteeing a beautiful strike. He compared it to a story he once heard about olympic sprinters, who would finish their 100m dash without breathing to retain 100% focus.

We practice seme to tame to butsu with different kihon and waza: first with chisai men, kote and dou, then in oji waza where motodachi would attack with chisai men. As usual we were told to do our very best attack, because otherwise the exercise would be useless.

Before moving on to jigeiko, we practiced the various hiki waza: men, kote and dou. These exercises were combined with the previous tame exercises. When it came to hiki dou, Fukuyama-sensei explained that moving backwards can be done in three backwards directions.

  1. To the left is sub-optimal, as it makes it hard to properly strike and follow through.
  2. Straight, where you remain on the center line of your opponent.
  3. To the right, making for an easier strike while also putting you off the opponent’s center.

For showing zanshin after hiki dou, Fukuyama-sensei said that you should relax after striking. Your arms should not be tense and your shinai should not be immovable. Instead, follow through downwards in the natural arc of your strike and relax your arms (so you are also ready for a counter attack).

*: For extensive information on kakegoe, what you could call the “kiai in kamae”, please refer to chapter 13 of Noma Hisashi-sensei’s ‘Kendo Reader.

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