It was a lot easier to get up this morning and go walking/jogging. I actually was awake around 5:30 this morning, just tossing and turning and waiting for the alarm to go off at 6am. I was able to jog for a short block before my shins starting acting up. I'm trying to push a little more out of them all the time, but I know that this is a slow recovery process, so I'm also not frustrated that I can't do much yet. It'll come, with time. And then I'll be bouncing and running all over the place!
Kendo practice last night was awesome! I was tired, sore, ended up with a new blister, but it was well worth it. My brother came to visit and watch practice, and he's very excited about starting with us in August. It'll be fun to have someone doing practice with me, and I'll hopefully be able to help him along the way. Also Takado Sensei was back to practice with us, after being gone for all of last week. We don't have much longer to practice with her before she leaves us for good (about a month), so I'm trying to enjoy each and every practice left, and learn all that I can from her until then.
We started out with warmups and Kirikaeshi. Wendy emphasized slow, deliberate hits with tangible pauses in between to start, finishing after a couple of rotations with Kirikaeshi as fast as we could. I'm still slow in this department, but I'm trying, lol. I can safely say I'm a lot faster than I was even 6 months ago.
After this we moved onto some kihon (basic) keiko, with Men and Kote-Men, and then a drill in which we did Kote-Men, Kote-Men, and then Kote-Do. Wendy wanted me specifically to focus on doing small Men strikes, since I'm getting ready for my first tournament, so she wanted me to make sure that I was doing small hits and focusing on doing those clean and fast. For the most part I was doing them ok, but here and there I could still feel myself leading with my right shoulder instead of keeping them even and squared up. My Kote-Men felt good tonight, the Kote-Do....not so much. I think I need to take smaller steps so that I'm not burying my shinai as deep into their Do when I strike. We'll see, I'll keep it in mind for next time we do that drill.
We ended our waza drills with some Oji Waza, including Men-Debana Kote, Men-Nuki Do, and Kote-Kote-Men (in other words, using our Kote strike to knock down then attack and then striking Men), and Ai Men (a waza where we both hit for Men, the point being that we hit before our opponent does). Debana Kote felt pretty good, for the most part. The one problem that sticks out to me is that a couple of times I started my Kote strike earlier than my opponent started their Men strike, and a few times I actually missed because I anticipated where their Kote would end up incorrectly. While this in itself isn't a bad thing (being faster than my opponent), it does show that I need to be more accurate with my strike.
With Nuki Do I didn't have as much luck. My Do is still slow compared to other people's Men strikes. I was able to hit it only a handful of times, and I honestly don't think they would've counted as good, clean hits in a match. My swing was too big, my footwork was a little off, and I was very slow starting my hit, especially against guys that are a lot faster than I am (Aaron, Marek, etc).
With my Kote-Men I was feeling ok. I'm getting better at doing really short Fumikomi, or doing Fumikomi in place on a faster opponent. As Wendy pointed out, though, since my opponent is already moving to the side to hit my Kote, I can just hit Kote-Men going straight ahead, I don't have to move to the side for them. A small thing to remember, but it eliminates even more wasted/unnecessary movement.
Finally we did Ai-Men. My success rate in this drill was about 50/50, but I think that was a bit skewed as one of my opponents I had a HUGE reach advantage over so I could hit from a lot further out. I felt bad about that one, but it's how the rotation went so I did my best despite my guilty conscience. But again, more speed, more speed, more speed. On this drill I really tried pushing forward with my hips a lot, and starting my swing while I was already moving forward, instead of starting my swing at the same time as I started moving, or even before I started moving. It's a subtle change, but big in terms of timing.
We moved onto Jigeiko here. At about that point I was dying last night, so I had to sit out a couple rounds. When I jumped back in I had the privilege of fighting Jeff, who has recently taken up Nito. Wow...that was an experience. Having never fought Nito before, I was very, very unsure of what to do. He does a lot of sweeping motions with the Shoto (shorter sword), while hitting you with the Daito (longer sword), and it was very difficult for me to deal with. He pointed out after class that the Shoto is not the proper Kamae distance, so I don't need to come all the way up to the Shoto to hit. But he also said that this was a common mistake that a lot of people make, even higher ranks. Long story short, though, I need more practice against Nito, and I have a feeling I'll be able to get it since we have a few people that started Nito recently.
We took a short break before moving into some practice shiai matches. When I heard we were going to do shiai-geiko I was really excited. I haven't done it in a few months, and I wanted to see how I would do in a somewhat regulated setting. Unfortunately I couldn't have my rematch with my buddy Matt (last time we fought shiai-geiko it ended in a tie, 0-0). They split us up into 18 and under and adult categories. Which means that I had to go up against a lot of higher ranked people, including Jeff and his Nito (fortunately I didn't have to fight him...this time).
My first match was against Marek, who is 2 Kyu, and has very good, fast Kendo. Our match dragged on for quite a while (seemed like forever to me since I was already tired), but he finally scored two points on me to end the match. I had a lot of fun fighting him, and I think that I put up a good fight. He said afterward that I had a couple of Kote that he thought I should have scored on, but honestly I was ok with him winning. It was a great learning experience for me.
After a few rotations I had my next (and final) match, against Mark H. A couple of seconds into the match he scored Nuki Do on me. Wow! It was a great hit, I was wide open because I went for Men. We reset and started again, and after a few failed attempts on both sides to score, I backed him up toward the boundary, and then Scored with a Kote-Men. Wow! My first point ever! I was really excited about that. We reset one last time, and after a few seconds I saw him move to hit Men, and I went for Debana Kote. I hit and stopped for just a second before following through, and I heard Ando Sensei call out "Kote-Ari!" What?! I actually won? Wow! I remember thinking when I saw Mark move, "I just hope my strike is faster." I knew that his Men strike was dead on and unavoidable, so I threw everything I had into my Debana Kote. I think now, looking back on that one moment, I understand a bit more about Sutemi. I had to throw all all regard for blocking, or moving, and just dive straight into my own attack. Mark and I congratulated each other and we ended our shiai-geiko session.
Ando Sensei talked with us about our hits, and he said that a lot of us had really good hits, but no follow through, no Zanshin. He said that, as a Shimpan (referee), they are not always looking for the best hit, so we have to show them that we deserve the point, by using our Kiai, our movement, and Zanshin. He said that we need to give them a reason to raise their flag and give us the point, and if we had a good hit we need to push through and show it.
After class I talked a bit with Wendy. She said that I did a great job, but I should really start focusing on not coming into Taiatari/Tsubazeriai as much, and instead try to hit and go through as much as possible. She said if something tries to stop me to use that to "bounce" off of them and get back into a good position to strike. She said that in the upper ranks I'll hardly ever score with a Hiki Waza (attack going backwards instead of forwards), so most of my points will be scored while moving forward. Very valuable advice, and I'll be sure to work on it more throughout the next few training sessions.
Men: Some people pointed out that I'm very straight on my hits, so it's good to hear that I'm not leaning into them anymore. I hope I can continue that. I do need to remember to keep my shoulders square and not lead with the right one.
Do: More practice, lol. very small movements, all in the wrists. With Kote-Do I need to shorten my steps and use my hips for power as well as my left arm.
Ai-Men: Take the center, make a solid hit. Don't be afraid of them hitting me, just put everything I have into it.
Jigeiko: Focus on hitting and following through, and not getting caught up in Tsubazeriai. If I do end up there, get out quickly so I can set up another attack.
It was cool having my brother there, so that he can see first-hand what I do, and to see what he can expect in the future.