Just for the record - I've had one cup of coffee today and I'm considering another. VERY tired today!
Last night was a good practice, although for some reason I was more tired than I usually am. I had to step out for a couple of rotations to catch my breath and let my shins rest for a bit. They were throbbing last night, which hasn't happened in a while. I'll still push on, but I hope they're not digressing again. I really, really want to get rid of these shins splints! Anyway, onto the meat of the post, Kendo!
Sinclair Sensei was back and led practice. We started a little differently then we normally do. We did a few footwork drills, including variations of fumikomi and follow-through steps (during this time we held our shinai behind us to help keep our bodies straight while moving). We then moved onto doing suburi drills in place. First Kote-Men, and then Kote-Men-Men. The final part was forming a big circle and we were instructed to hit Kote-Men-Men when Sensei blew the whistle, but we were trying to do the hits faster than the person across from us. I, unfortunately (fortunately?) was across from Wendy (Sinclair Sensei's wife), and she is very fast, but there were a few times where I was faster than her. That's all well and good in a drill, but I'll see if I can be that fast in Jigeiko with her sometime =). The main thing I was focusing on here were good swings and technique, and keeping myself relaxed. It's very hard to do when I try to go fast, as my natural tendency is to tense up when I move that fast.
We then worked on basic kihon waza . Men, Kote, Do, Kote-Men. I'm still working on not letting my right shoulder lean and not turning my body when I hit. I think I'm slowly getting better at it, but it's going to take time. Ando Sensei made a comment earlier to another student, in which he said "There is a saying that goes, 'If you have problems with your hands it takes 3 months to correct. If you have problems with your footwork it takes 5 years to correct.'" Yikes! When I find an issue to correct in my own technique, or when an issue is brought to my attention by someone else, I always try to focus on that and try to correct it as fast as I can. But the beauty of Kendo is that when you fix one thing, you open a door to so many other things to correct. It really is a lifelong pursuit of excellence.
After kihon practice we move onto some rather new drills (at least ones I haven't done in a while). We started on one side of the dojo and had to hit Kote-Men-Men-Men, but we used different variations of footwork to do this (the footwork drills we did at the beginning of practice; suddenly it was all coming together!). The first set we hit Kote-Men, and then a few follow-through steps between the next two hits. Next was Kote-Men, and then a lot of follow-through steps, ending with two quick Men hits. Finally Kote-Men-Men-Men all in a row. I tried to do my best with my footwork, and also while I was Motodachi so that I was always ahead of my partner to allow them to do full, good hits and proper technique. I like doing new drills like this, something different from the normal drills that we do. It's good to keep things fresh and to be able to use our waza in different circumstances like this.
After a short break we moved onto waza geiko. I chose to focus on different Oji Waza, such as Men-Debana Kote, and Kote-Nuki Men, as well as Do. I'm still working very hard on Do, and hope to have a nice, fluid, fast Do strike one of these days. My Nuki Men and Debana Kote felt good (even though I was super tired by this point), but I need to remember proper Zanshin and to push through when I strike. A good strike will mean nothing if I don't have the spirit behind it and to show that I'm prepared to strike again afterward. Also with Nuki Men I've been trying to eliminate the wasted movement, which for me means not stepping back as far, and keeping my weight fairly forward so that after I step back I can immediately spring forward. For the most part it worked (Marek gave me a thumbs-up, so I must've done something right).
Finally we moved onto jigeiko, and during this time I really focused on ippon-shobu (first strike/first point). I read somewhere that when you first start a jigeiko match it's good and proper to try for ippon-shobu. I also worked on taking the center, controlling the center, or having the center before I would strike. With some opponents this was a lot easier than with others, which helped me to understand a little more about taking the center during a match and while attacking. It definitely kept me on my toes. I also was able to practice with some fairly new people in armor, so that was fun. Every has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it's interesting to explore those while doing jigeiko.
After we did our formal closing, Sinclair Sensei had a few words for us about reigi and the Yudansha, especially the Kodansha (referring to the 3/4 Dans). He went over the proper way to practice with them during drills and in jigeiko, dos and don'ts of Kamae while practicing and in shiai, and proper form and respect concerning Shomen and the center of the dojo (Chu-shin, if I remember right). I will definitely try to remember these, and I know I've done a few no-no's by accident, especially with my Kamae. He talked about not dropping your Kamae during jigeiko or practice or a shiai match, as this is considered very rude to do. I know that I've done this in jigeiko without even thinking about it, so I'll have to be more mindful of it in the future. I definitely don't want to be "that guy."
A few thoughts from last night:
Men: Don't turn the right shoulder inward, I'll continue to work on this. I need to square up my shoulders when I hit. Not only will this create other bad habits, but a good opponent can see my hit coming from a mile away like this.
Do: Still trying to get my hit and my follow-through to be one fluid motion. It's getting a little better, but it's slow going for me on this technique.
Hiki Waza: Use it more during Taiatari! I'm still not utilizing it enough.
Zanshin: Be sure to show proper spirit after each hit. I should just do it after everything, whether it was a good hit or not. This also goes along with Sutemi (commitment to the hit; putting everything into it and not holding back).
A side note, since I didn't know where to put this. I need to be more mindful of the boundaries during jigeiko, especially since I'm getting ready for my first taikai. I seem to step out a lot during jigeiko, which many people have started to point out to me (which I am grateful for!). It's something I need to be able to keep in the back of my head, and always be mindful of exactly where I am on the floor.
All in all, great practice. I'm a little disappointed in myself that I was so tired, but I was able to stay in for most of the drills. Looking forward to more practice and team training on Saturday.