Shiai and Shikai

Every now and then, I hear a sentence which sounds about the following “Naginata is cool, but I don’t feel like competing. I just want to practice.” While every person is entitled to his own opinion, and you can surely practice for a long time period without ever going to a competition, there is a good reason why the founders of Naginata included Shiai in the Naginata curriculum.

The Japanese word “Shiai” 試合 is comprised of the kanji “試” (trial\test) and “合” (together). Meaning – that trough combat we take our skills to trial.

Unlike Ji-geiko, where we can sparr with an opponent freely for as long as we want, the shiai sets us a clear definition for victory or defeat. Got a good ippon within the time limits? You won. The opponent got it? You lost. This makes a huge difference – if not physically then psychologically.

Imagine the European Championship: It is held once every two years. In order to get there, you need to train hard two years in advance, you need to be among the best practitioners in your country, you need to pay for travels, you adjust your work and family life, you get to the sports-hall on time to see all the participants from the other countries, some are pretty famous for their past victories, you put your bogu on, you get to the shiaijo and then you only have 3 minutes to do your best.

The meaning of Shikai is “Four illnesses” : kyo – Fear, ku – Surprise, gi – Doubt, waku – Hesitation.

While every person is experiencing the Shikai differently – I’ll try to get these terms “down to earth” by giving examples of my own “four illnesses”

Fear   – That moment when you are afraid of the possible results of defeat, or if the opponent is particularly aggressive or famous of his past victories.

Surprise – If the opponent manages to get us surprised and confused by his actions, our response time and decision making will be flawed.


Me experiencing fear and surprise:

Why did the opponent switch kamae? How come he is not fighting at the distance\style I expected him to fight? My family\sensei\friends will be disappointed, my students will no longer want to learn from me, I will be laughed upon, the opponent already scored an ippon, I have no chance of winning…  etc.

Doubt – If the opponent manages to confuse you by his\her stance – we will have a difficulty to decide on our next step, and what action should we take.

Hesitation – The direct result of the doubt. As we lose the confidence and are unsure of what to do – the opponent might take advantage and use the momentum to attack.

Me experiencing doubt and hesitation:

I don’t see any opening, the opponent seems to put me off distance all the time, my usual strikes don’t seem to hit, my plans don’t work, the opponent is going to strike but I don’t see it clearly… etc.

Sometimes I experienced shikai and lost, and sometimes I experienced shikai and won. It usually happened when I attacked while not having confidence in my strikes, or when I was surprised by my opponent and just automatically attacked, and somehow by accident one of the strikes landed on an undefended target. That’s not the best way to gain a victory.

On the other hand – I remember when I fought against superior practitioners, and lost. But for one second – I managed to see through their plans and managed to get the initiative. Even if I didn’t get an ippon – I know that for that bare moment – I did the best Naginata I could muster.

by GUR