Jigeiko or Shiai?

We’re at the stage now in the club where some of our members are doing jigeiko, and starting to get used to it. And we also have several people still working their way towards bogu (soon, I promise!) who often act as spectators during the jigeiko, so they can see what they have to look forward to. Often after jigeiko, someone will approach me and say something like “who won?”, and I usually end up mumbling some non-answer that’s not very satisfying.
The reason I have difficulty answering is: no-one wins in jigeiko. Jigeiko is not shiai, shiai is not jigeiko, and I think it’s worth spending a bit of time outlining the difference between the two.

What is shiai?
Shiai is competition kendo. The word “shiai” means “to test together”. A shiai refers to a situation where two kenshi test out their kendo by trying to apply it to someone who’s trying to stop them. Often, shiai happens at a tournament so there’s an incentive to win – if you win you get more fights, and possibly even a medal! In shiai we keep score. We need to know whose kendo was stronger on the day, so we keep score and by the end we know exactly who has won.

What is jigeiko?
Jigeiko is sparring. Keiko (or -geiko if it’s used as a suffix) means training or practice, so jigeiko is not a competition. If I’m in jigeiko and I attempt a men cut, I’m not trying to beat my partner – I’m trying to practise men. In the same vein if my partner catches me by surprise and is about to land a solid cut on me, I won’t block in jigeiko. Why should I? If all I can do is block then I’m as good as admitting that they had the advantage over me. Better to let my partner practise finishing the cut rather than preserve my ego by blocking last-minute.
Jigeiko is when we work on the bits of our kendo that need work. If I treat it like shiai, if I just try to win, then I’ll only use the techniques that I’m good at – what’s the point of that? Far better to try things that I’m rubbish at, to hopefully be less rubbish next time.
So you can see why I struggle to answer the question “who won”. If both people are pulling out their weaker techniques, and both are accepting strikes that they technically possibly could have blocked, the question “who won” starts to become very difficult to judge.


Now, that’s not to say there’s no crossover between the two! Shiai-geiko is competition practice, and it’s exactly as it sounds. Two people fight as if they were at a competition, including keeping score. Sometimes there’s even a whole mock tournament taking place, so you have the same incentive to win and continue fighting. This is usually done in the run up to a competition, with the intention of practising our shiai-style kendo before the event. It’s unlikely to be the norm in most dojo.
But what about enjin-geiko? This is something you’ve seen before and will hopefully continue to see at most of our sessions in the future. During enjin-geiko we fight each other, and as soon as a point is scored the “loser” steps out and is replaced. This might lend itself to a shiai-geiko mindset, but at our level it should really just be done as jigeiko. The score-keeping aspect isn’t a reason to start trying your hardest to win, it’s more of a system of immediate  feedback – this cut was good enough, that cut wasn’t.

Jigeiko and shiai are both very useful training tools, but we need to approach them correctly. Treating jigeiko like shiai (or vice-versa) is just going to slow your progress. Don’t mix your exercises – know what you’re doing and do that.


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