Problem-First Training

When we’re learning a new technique or a new approach to a waza we already know, I don’t like to just jump straight in and start practising it. I prefer a “problem-first” approach, where we start by taking some time to identify and understand the “problem” we’re trying to solve. For example if we’re learning how to make attacks work against an opponent with a very stiff kamae, we’d start by just trying to attack a motodachi with a stiff kamae. No advice or instruction, just grappling with the problem. Or if we’re learning an oji-waza such as kote-nuki-men, first we would just receive kote for a few repetitions.

What does this achieve? We only have a limited amount of dojo time, so this approach needs to provide something. For me the main benefit is so we really know the “why” behind the technique we’re practising. That understanding helps us to remember the technique itself, and lets us judge if we’re doing it correctly. It also makes it much easier to bring the technique into jigeiko, since we know what the “right time” to use the technique looks like. In the case of an oji-waza like our kote-nuki-men example, receiving kote a few times lets us study the timing and shape of the attack before we start trying to counter it.

And once we’re used to this it can benefit the whole rest of our kendo. If we’ve done kote-nuki-men, and we’re used to watching another person’s attack to pick up their timing, then what happens if we practice basic kote cuts? Each time our partner cuts kote we get to watch their timing and distance, and little by little we practice how to see an opportunity for nuki-men. Once we’re used to this problem-first approach, every exercise we do is more effective and we can pack so much more kendo into each training session.

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