If you've been training for any amount of time, you probably have a laundry list of items that you are working on. Our dojo has an established process for addressing how to tackle these items to try and keep them manageable for each person. This works great for short-term goals and improvement, and can help build good habits for later on. I, of course, have a list of things I'm working on, but I also have a set of long-term goals that I'm working on developing. These are goals that I feel are a bit more complicated than basic corrections. A lot of these goals are multi-part, and I'm working on breaking them down into edible pieces that I can use to build on each other, similar to the system that we already use for improvement. Here are just some of the thoughts I have an how I'm thinking about approaching them. Maybe by outlining them here I can solidify my plans. Perhaps I just might find a new and more efficient way of approaching them, as well. Who knows? Let's find out!
I first began thinking about my long-term goals after the AUSKF Nationals last year. It was my first time there and I was enveloped by some awesome, top-tier kendo all weekend. It's an experience that I will never forget and it changed my views on my own kendo and kendo as a whole. A lot of the individuals and teams that I saw that did really well exhibited a lot of, if not all of, these qualities, and I want to do my best to make them part of my own kendo. This is not only for my own benefit, but for everyone that I train with from here on out. I've broken it down into four main parts: solid strikes each and every time, proficiency with oji waza and nidan/sandan waza, explosive movement (from 0-100 in a split second), and, finally, a razor sharp focus. Even though I feel like these will take months, or years, to improve, I'm committed to seeing what I can do to make them part of my kendo.
I've decided to start with a few pieces. Solid strikes are something that should be part of my kendo anyway, but the level of it I experienced at nationals was something else. What this means for me is that each time I step up to my partner or opponent, whether it be a drill or jigeiko or kakarigeiko, I'm working on making each attack in a "real" way. I do this right now by using my imagination. Each time I step up I try and imagine that I'm at shiai, or shinsa, or that my sensei is watching over my shoulder, and I try and use that imagery to make a strike as if I were in those situations. Would it have been ippon? Would the judges have nodded their heads in approval? Would my sensei approve? This doesn't mean that I'm trying to hit harder or anything like that, I just simply try and make each strike count in a way that no one can deny. I've also been playing with the mechanics of my swing, i.e. What exactly are my hands, my fingers, my palms, my arms doing? How is my body moving in relation to that? How can I take what I have and improve upon it? Upping my daily suburi and being consistent with that has also helped to test and answer some of these questions, as well.
I've also been working on conditioning. This one has been tough for me, because for some reason my body seems to reject any effort to change it, so this one is going to be the hardest one for me, I think. Anyway, my thinking is that in order to be able to go from 0-100 as quick as I want, I have to be in control of my body and be able to trust that I can move at those speeds and with that kind of force without hurting myself. And I have to be able to do it consistently. Now, I don't think I'm slow or without force right now, but there's always room to improve in that area, so that's my first step.
As far as mastery (haha!) of oji waza, for now I've simply been trying to recognize what works and what doesn't to get my opponents to do what I want so I can set them up properly. I've also been making a habit of trying to be ready any time I strike and turn around, whether my initial attack was successful or not. This in itself has led to me being able to see and, sometimes, capitalize on new openings and I feel that the more I do it the better I'll get...just like with anything that I practice, I guess. Once I have a good grasp on that, adding in nidan and sandan waza (along with the conditioning improvements) will be a lot easier and will lead to a more dynamic style.
Finally, razor sharp focus. I mentioned above that conditioning might be the toughest thing for me, but I feel like this might actually be tougher. The other pieces are all physical, and physical improvements can be learned a lot faster and easier than mental improvements. This one is still bit of a mystery to me, but definitely separated a lot of the competitors that I saw that weekend at nationals. One thing I've been trying to do recently is have more of an attacking mindset, and trying to couple that with keeping my attention on my opponent at all times during jigeiko. I try not to break that until it's time to rotate. It's hard to do consistently, though! It's so hard. So, again, I'm still exploring this one and how to really work on it, so if anyone reading this has any ideas let me know! For now I'll work on those two points until I feel rather comfortable with them and see what I can add from there.
So there it is. Just a few thoughts on how I'm beginning to make these long-term goals into a reality. I hope to revisit this post later on and maybe share some progress on it, or some new thoughts or ideas that I may have that pertain to each point I'm working on. And I'm hoping that through this I can also help those around me to improve by giving them better quality kendo to practice with and fight against. Isn't that part of the reason we do what we do, to improve not only ourselves but everyone else we train with? I'd like to think so.