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    2013 Kōdōkan Kagami biraki-shiki

    Cichorei Kano
    Cichorei Kano

    Posts : 1948
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    Post by Cichorei Kano Wed Jan 16, 2013 11:03 am

    Many, many moons ago on the 20th of January a New Year’s reception was held in Japan during which noblemen used to offer and consume rice cakes offered on gusoku containers whereas the women did the same though their rice cakes were offered on a dresser. Over time the custom has been modified with both the timing of these celebrations being moved forward to January 11th and be less formal. Uneven numbers are often preferred in Japan and associated with good fortune.

    The Kōdōkan took over these New Year’s celebrations when jūdō started to develop its own identity around the middle of the 1880s under the name Kagami Biraki-shiki 鏡開式. The term literally means “Opening of the mirror”, the term ‘opening’ referring to no longer having to ‘abstain’ from it. The term opening also can refer to opening a cask of sake rice wine.

    At the Kōdōkan the ceremony is held these days on the second Sunday of January and typically starts with a speech by the Kōdōkan kanchō (president), and jūdō performances, usually formal demonstrations of the most common Kōdōkan kata and some randori. The ceremony ends with what is called ‘shiruko-kai汁粉会, the gathering during which those present consume sweet red-bean soup, and stamped rice mochi cakes. Jūdōka look out to the Kagami Biraki-shiki with great expectations because many years ago when no Internet was available and jūdō and Western jūdōka not as advanced as today, it offered a rare opportunity to witness life performances of what for Western jūdōka were rarely seen advanced kata. In addition, top-Kōdōkan ranks are often formally awarded during this occasion. The 2006 Kagami biraki-shiki for that reason is still fresh in people’s memory as for the first time since 22 years the Kōdōkan issued 10th dan-ranks, and this to three of its most senior instructors: Abe Ichirō, Daigo Toshirō, and Ōsawa Yoshimi.

    This year, the Kōdōkan held its Kagami biraki-shiki on Sunday January 13th. With regard to technical jūdō, this year was characterized by some of the lamest and most disappointing kata performances seen in years, particularly with regard to the most advanced kata. There was, however, also a positive note in that this year contained a performance of the full Sei-ryoku zen’yō kokumin taiiku complete with kime-shiki and jū-shiki. The Kōdōkan taking no risks announced each tandoku-renshū solo technique before it was demonstrated in this way avoiding that techniques were skipped. These days we are already glad to have an opportunity to see this in the West rarely performed kata. That being said, the performance was characterized by a lack of spirit and intent, with uke’s attack completely lacking realism or desire to actually threaten tori. In stead, we saw performers who mostly just went through the motions. Noritomi Masako, long the spirit of the Joshi-bu would have gotten a fit if she were still alive to watch this performance, and I can’t for the life of me imagine that Fukuda Keiko would have been impressed with it either.

    For those interested in watching the performance:

    The tandoku-renshū (solo) part:

    The sōtai-renshū (partner) exercises, i.e. kime-shiki and jū-shiki:

    Kime-no-kata this year was performed by Hirano Hiroyuki (tori), who saw himself recently promoted to 7th dan, and Takano Kenji, 6th dan.

    Little decisiveness was shown, and in kime-no-kata the uke showed little interest in actually attacking his partner. Instead, we saw an uke often going through the motions, stopping and waiting until tori would do his thing.

    The kime-no-kata performance can be found here:

    Among all the kata performed in this Kagami biraki-shiki, the Kōdōkan goshinjutsu demonstration was probably the best, and the least fake of them all, though this should by no means be understood as a confirmation of its hyperrealistic character. Hardly. It was a vanilla demonstration, but it wasn’t as painfully embarrassing as some of the other performances. You can see the performance here:

    The honor to perform Koshiki-no-kata was given this year to Murata Naoki, 7th dan (tori), and most known as the curator of the Kōdōkan museum and book author, and what looks as Dōba Yoshihisa, 7th dan. Murata had already been seen in recent years taking up the position of uke during the Kōdōkan International Summer Kata Seminar, thus the evolution to the role of tori is perhaps logical. I am emphasizing the word ‘perhaps’, since the performance he gave, was one of the most geriatric and lame demonstrations of Koshiki-no-kata I have seen in a long time, and I have had to observe some really disappointing ones these last few years. The constant fiddling with the gi after each single technique and throughout the entire performance was irritating. By the time one achieves 7th dan it is reasonable to expect that the performers should be sufficiently versed in dressing themselves properly so that their gi does not come completely undone to the extent that such would be necessary. To be fair, in this case it wasn't necessary, but the mannerism was constantly present nevertheless. Most striking though was that Tori showed a total lack of control of the attacker, who had no interest in attacking tori, the whole which led to two jūdōka succeeding in separately doing their thing without any action/reaction or real connection to each other. It mostly reminded of an event with the performers not really wanting to be there, whereas that probably was enough reason for the audience not really wanting to be there either. At the least, the performers were clumsy and not ready for doing what they were doing. At the same time the performance offers a silent witness that having some historic knowledge of the background of the kata and of jūdō becomes painfully useless if not supported by crisp, incisive and high-spirited jūdō technique. For those who have wondered in recent years if things still could get any worse in the Kōdōkan’s approach to Koshiki-no-kata, they received their answer last Sunday.

    If you still desire to watch the performance with your own eyes, you can see it here:

    Itsutsu-no-kata is at the same Kōdōkan’s shortest but also hardest to understand kata. It has been a long time ago since this kata presented the zenith of Kōdōkan ceremonies and Mifune stepped on the tatami to lead us through his favorite. Like koshiki-no-kata, itsutsu-no-kata offers the welcome excuse that performers could always claim having no clue what they are doing if it does not go well, but that does not mean that such should be in the spectators’ face from the very start. This year’s Kagami-biraki itsutsu-no-kata offered a sad extension to the other kata which had just preceded. In recent year’s the Kōdōkan seems to have prepared Enoki Yoshiharu, 8th dan, as one of the Kōdōkan’s appointed instructors for this kata, if we can take his frequent role as demonstrator of this kata during the International Summer Kata course as a point of reference. With a successful past as a police jūdōka and coach, he certainly brings with him some good randori experience. How relevant this is for kata, is another question and even during the Summer Kata Courses he has often looked bored and forced in the position. On several of those occasions even though one of the teachers, he was made to repeat some of the movements several times in front of all because Ōsawa-sensei was dissatisfied with what he saw. Ōsawa was correct, but that being said, it probably was not the most opportune pedagogical approach to the problem. Whether that has contributed to a further feeling of discontent in the position of having to teach this kata I do not know, but fact is that significant problems in its performance have not disappeared. In this year’s itsutsu-no-kata we get to see a disjointed and mechanistic performance that lacks confidence and depth. As it is not my intent to drill the performers into the ground, but only share my observations I shall cease my comments here and share with you the last images of this Kagami-biraki:

    If anything, this year’s Kagami biraki-shiki shows that today’s kata situation at the Kōdōkan is that of a critical patient in great distress, and I choose my words here with care and reticence. If I were to be really critical I would conclude that the patient has long died and that the mummification process was a failure leaving nothing but rotting pieces behind.

    For those eagerly awaiting if this year saw any new 10th dan promotions, I am afraid I must further disappoint you. The person currently closest to such a rare promotion is Nishioka Hiroshi-sensei from Ōsaka. He is long past the minimal time-in-grade for such promotion having been a 9th dan since 1998, and he has maintained an excellent relationship with the Kōdōkan. Nishioka-sensei like most Kōdōkan 9th dan holders is almost completely unknown outside of Japan. That should not be in the way for such promotion, though being from Ōsaka rather than from Tōkyō would. A 10th dan promotion would require the Kōdōkan to break with a near 65-year tradition to not promote any jūdōka to 10th dan while alive unless he is from Tōkyō.

    After last year’s huge number of 9th dan promotions at the occasion of the 130th birthday of the Kōdōkan this elite group has grown to nearly 35, which must be the largest group ever of 9th dan-holders being alive at the same time. Awazu-sensei (born 1923) in France now too has met minimal time-in-grade requirements but it is widely expected that the Kōdōkan will not promote any jūdōka abroad, certainly not someone who has been away so long from Japan. At the most a posthumous promotion might happen, but not a live promotion. The same applies the Fukuda Keiko who will not be promoted to 10th dan by the Kōdōkan. For those interested in these things Kobayashi-sensei made a wise decision to return to Japan, but has not met minimal time-in-grade, and hasn’t really been very active the last few years, despite maintaining good relations with the HQ of jūdō. Rather a few other names are ranked before him, but most are unlikely to ever get promoted to 10th dan, one of the reasons being that most are not in Tōkyō and the Kōdōkan is not keen on handing what is seen as a symbol of power and authority, to anyone outside of Tōkyō and the Kōdōkan, irrespective of those sensei’s skill and knowledge.

    In summary, the Kōdōkan’s 2013 Kagami biraki-shiki was characterized by geriatric and lame kata performances, of which we retain only the full SRZKT as a point of reference for future, not because its performance was exemplary, but because in today’s jūdō has become rare. No 10th dan promotions were announced. It seems that the main contribution of these ceremonies today has become that you can get free food. That probably is not worth it to travel all the way to Japan in terms of cost/efficiency, but recommended if you’re local or passing by.

    Last edited by Cichorei Kano on Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:14 am; edited 8 times in total
    George Lyford

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    Post by George Lyford Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:25 pm

    Thank you CK for posting this report.

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    Post by cuivien Fri Jan 18, 2013 12:43 am

    I actually watched the Kime-no-kata and koshiki-no-kata yesterday before I knew of this writeup, and I agree completely. I'm not qualified by any means to comment on the finer points of the koshiki (hands-on experience is limited to about 1 hour lol), but it looked completely without soul, like as CK writes "the performers not really wanting to be there".
    For the kime, I was puzzled by how much difference there were in the various parts of the kata. Some of the techniques were fine (not spectacular), but for some I actually wondered if they had forgotten what came next and consequently had to stop and think about things :-/

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