Thursday, June 24, 2010

No Dojo? We'll Train in The Park!

Lack of organized training is getting to me. I miss the camaraderie and feeling of teamwork and friendship and accomplishment I get when I'm with my fellow kenshi. I also miss putting on my bogu and hitting other people =)

We had a few people show up last night at the park for some suburi and training. There were 4 of us in all (myself, Marek, Jeronimo, and Nathan), and it felt good to train with some others while we're waiting for our dojo floor to be repaired. We went through the team training suburi, which I outlined in this post. We did sets of fifty, and I was surprised and pleased to see that everyone else was able to keep up. A couple of the people that we had there last night don't do the team training, so I know it had to be a bit of a workout for them to do the extra drills. Heck, it's a bit of a workout for me!!

After a short break we all decided to continue on with training, and did some Kirikaeshi, Men, Kote, Do, and Kote-Men drills. Moving through the grass is definitely hard, and messes with your footwork a lot, so I tried to concentrate on proper distancing on my hits and doing good solid hits using my shoulders and wrists. After a while it was easier to move through the grass (probably because we had beaten a path in it by then), but still I tried to concentrate on upper body more than lower.

We took another short break, and then decided to do a little kata practice to finish things up. We mainly worked on kata 1 and 2, since one of the guys there last night only knew those ones, so Marek and I pointed out some of the finer points of kata to him. It was definitely a lot of info to be given at once, but we will hopefully be going over kata again soon since our local shinsa is coming up in August. I think I might work in a night of kata practice each week into my routine, so that I don't get rusty on it. We went over 3, 4, and 5 just for fun and I had to second-guess myself on some of the steps...

All in all we spent 2 hours at the park. It was a fun time, and we put in a lot of work by ourselves. I hope that everyone else had as much fun as I did, and we'll definitely be doing it again, at least some of us, if we don't have training on Saturday.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Bowling Ball Analogy

What a semi-relaxing weekend I had. It was rather busy, but honestly it didn't feel like it. Hung out with family and friends, caught a movie, was taken out to lunch, had some brews and, of course, did some Kendo training!

I've read and heard a quote around the dojo a few times, and I really like it and relate to it, "If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late." I believe that this is a major factor in the reason that I started showing up to class as early as I can. I feel that, as a kenshi, I have a responsibility to others, both higher and lower rank, to be available to help in whatever way I can. Right now it's just in small ways (being a Motodachi, sweeping the floor, helping someone with bags, etc), but as time goes on I'll have more and more to do and help with, so I want to be sure to get that mindset going and make it part of my "routine" now so that later on I'll have it etched into me.

I didn't do much on Saturday with the beginner/intermediate class. I helped clean the floor a bit, and went through a Kirikaeshi demonstration with McNally Sensei for the beginners. I mostly observed and did my own warm-up before our class started.

Wendy and Sinclair Sensei were both out of town (and still are) at a Kendo conference, so McNally Sensei led our class. After warm-ups and suburi we jumped into some footwork drills, designed to help us expand on Nishimori Sensei's advice from Wednesday night (feet first, move from the legs and lead with the center, not with the hands). We started with Fumikomi drills, first with three steps in between, and then two, one, and finally no steps in between (all Fumikomi steps). I was doing ok with the drills, trying to keep my posture straight and move from my center and legs instead of bending forward. I WAS doing ok, until we had to do all Fumikomi steps. I then decided to mix things up by tripping on my hakama and sliding across the floor. At least I had the mindset to roll to my side/back, but my right leg and arm are still kinda sore from taking the initial impact. It's a good lesson; don't lift my feet up so high next time! I have to say, I'm not the only one that went down that day. Maybe it was the heat...

After picking myself up and regaining my composure we moved onto the horseshoe drill. We call it this, because we make a large horseshoe shape around then entire dojo floor, with a partner, and do various strikes along the way. For this drill we did Kote, every hit was Kote, and we had to keep the timing of the strike with the timing of our feet, and we also had to work on not leaning into the strike but letting our legs and center carry forward.

Next we donned our Men and proceeded with Kirikaeshi, Men, Kote, Kote-Men, and Do drills (three hits each for these waza, so that we could take time to set up and make proper, clean strikes). I'm still trying to get the 3-breath Kirikaeshi down, but it's hard. If I can find a more effective way of keeping my Kiai going I will definitely try it, but for now I just keep trying to do the drill while taking less and less pauses for breathing. My Men strikes felt ok today. I'm still playing with the distance with not only Men but all of my strikes, although now I also want to focus on keeping my body straight and not leaning forward. It's a simple idea, but seems to be very hard to do in practice.

Sinclair Sensei mentioned before, most recently on Wednesday, that if we get into a pattern with our Kiai on Ni-dan waza such as Kote-Men, that we will never get faster with with our strikes. He said one key in making those waza faster is to make our kiai faster. Even if our hands and feet can't keep up with the speed of our kiai, eventually it will if we keep on it. I've been trying to break my own pattern on that lately, since I know exactly what he means. I try to kiai as fast as I can on that hit, and practice getting my feet and hands to go that fast, as well. It will take some time, but I think I'm on the right track...

We moved onto waza-geiko, where I used my time to work on Do again. If I keep putting this time and effort into practicing Do then I'll be able to utilize it sooner. I worked on straight Do hits, and then Men-Nuki Do. I didn't feel as good with it as I did on Wednesday night, but practice makes perfect. I do remember my round with Aaron, and I told him to mix up the speed of his Men strikes. That boy is fast!! I had to stay on my toes to hit him, and I'm pretty sure that he hit my Men first every time. Not that hitting first is the point of the drill, but I definitely had to stay alert against him.

We took a short break and then started jigeiko, but we didn't pair up with each other. Instead McNally Sensei had all the Yudansha line up and we created lines to practice with each of them. I was able to do jigeiko with most of the Yudansha that day (sorry Justin and Harvey), including my first jigeiko ever with McNally Sensei. Wow! He is very fast and powerful, and there's no better way to feel humble about one's Kendo than to go up against someone like that. We went on until I struck a valid hit, and then we bowed out and moved onto the next person of our choosing. During my time with each Yudansha I tried to just do good, straight Kendo, and it was interesting to see and practice against the different styles that they all had.

McNally Sensei decided to mix things up a bit with a couple of last drills, ones that we haven't done in a while. The first involved one person in the middle of the dojo, and two lines on each side of them. The object was for the person in the middle to give a target, and we would all try to hit them while they did their own Oji waza (counter attack). So they would counter the person in front of them and then immediately turn to face the person behind them and counter again. This was meant to be a fast-paced drill, but we had some stumbling blocks here and there. Still it was a fun experience all around. I decided to go with Debana Kote, and I think I did ok for the most part. A lot better than the last time we did this drill (I had to do Nuki Do and was TERRIBLE at it!).

The final drill we did consisted of us stepping forward, and then stepping diagonally to the right and then the left (later on it was changed to forward, left, right). We had to go on McNally Sensei's count, and after a while it was very confusing and hard to keep up with it. By this time we were all pretty tired from training (and the heat), plus trying to remember which way to go next led to an interesting time. I nearly fell over again on this drill, as I brought my foot too high again and caught my hakama for a second time. It was as if I'd never worn my uniform before! I will definitely remember it next time.

Now then, to explain the "bowling ball analogy." McNally Sensei was explaining how we should move from our center, and said that we should imagine a bowling ball sitting right there. All of our weight and all of our movement should be coming from this spot, where the bowling ball is sitting, and it should propel us forward, with the hands following. A little odd, but a good point is being made.

No other thoughts for today, other than to remember to keep my center and my legs underneath me while moving, in all strikes. It's the key to good, beautiful Kendo (that and basics!).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Straight Lines, Beautiful Kendo

I usually don't like the rain. Especially back when I used to skate a lot. moisture in skate bearings is NOT a good thing, and I've had to change many bearings due to the fact that I was more stubborn than the rain and would go anyway, but the rain always won in the end (and in my wallet!). I have recently discovered a new silver lining to rainy days. It makes for a nice cool environment for Kendo practice!

Last night we not only had a lot of visitors, but we had a very special guest. Nishimori Sensei from the Osaka area of Japan is a Nanadan (7 Dan; right now the highest Kendo rank one can acquire is 8 Dan), and wanted to watch our practice. We were very, very honored to have such a guest at our dojo, and even though he didn't practice with us, he did have a lot of good advice for us afterward (which I'll get to later on). Also he will be in the area fairly regularly, and we were told that he would be leading class every once in a while when he visits. I'm looking forward to this very much, as I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge that Nishimori Sensei holds from his Kendo experience.

I usually try to arrive at the dojo just before or at the beginning of Beginner/Intermediate classes. I've found that I really enjoy helping out with class, doing whatever I can. Whether it's being a target with or without bogu, or demonstrating techniques, or whatever they need me for. I remember when I was a beginner and seeing advanced people every once in a while. They seemed to move so fluidly, so effortlessly, and their Kendo was always so good to me. At the place I'm at now, I know I have a lot of room for improvement, and I could pick myself apart on the mistakes I make and improvements I need, but if it helps others out then I'm all for it. Anyway, last night I was Motodachi (receiver) for part of the beginner's class, and was paired with Billy Joe's son. We did Men, Kote, Do, and Kote-Men drills. He definitely has a lot of energy and takes his Kendo training seriously, and seems to be very quick at taking instructions. Having those qualities at his level will serve him very well later on, in my opinion.

Sinclair Sensei arrived with our honored guest a few minutes before class started, and after bowing in and warm-ups/suburi we started class proper. Kirikaeshi, Men, Kote, and Do drills kicked off the evening of practice. Harvey informed me that I should use more left hand on my Kote. He said that I was doing a lot of push/pull motion with the right hand. I focused on that a bit more in the next few Kote drills I did, and really tried to snap my left hand back and forward while bringing my shinai up and down during the strike. I will say that my Do felt a lot better to me tonight. Not just one or two of them, but the majority of my Do I felt comfortable with. I haven't felt like this in a while with Do, so I was very excited about it. I think that Harvey put it best after practice when he said that a lot of the problem with Do is mental. He said when he doesn't think about it, he can hit just fine. It's when he starts thinking about it that he messes up. While he was referring to his own Kendo, I believe that he was right on the money, since that is how I feel, as well.

We split into Yudansha/Mudansha groups at this point and continued with Kote-Men, Debana Kote and Nuki Do drills. With my Debana Kote I really tried to not move my left foot back while doing fumikomi forward. I noticed that I did this in one of the videos from Obukan, and it's something I'd definitely like to correct as soon as I can. It was hard to do, since I kept wanting to move that left foot slightly back. I think it come from the fact that I have to basically fumikomi in place and then push through. For some reason I want to put my left foot back so I have that feeling of stepping and stretching out. Nuki Do felt pretty good, except against certain people I'm still way slower striking Do then they are striking Men (as I noticed by the constant crashing of their shinai into my Men). I tried to time it so that I was moving as soon as I felt they were going to go, instead of waiting until they moved and then reacting to their movement.

the Yudansha group took a break at this point, and we pushed on with a few Taiatari/Hiki Waza drills before stepping back for own break. These including Men-Taiatari-Hiki Men, Men-Taiatari-Hiki Do, and Men-Taiatari-Hiki Do-Kote-Men. While doing the first drill, Mark pointed out that my Hiki Men seems to be getting a lot faster, so I'll want to be cautious of hitting too hard with it at this point. This was also pointed out on my Hiki Do, so I'll definitely want to keep that in mind and keep the speed but with a little less force against certain people. The last drill we did, Men-Taiatari-Hiki Do-Kote-Men, felt really, really good to me. I remember the first time we did this drill I was SO SLOW! Last night when I did it, I felt great, even though I was pretty tired at this point. I was able to almost immediately hit Kote-Men after the Hiki Do, and I only took one step back on the Hiki strike. I don't notice it so much from practice to practice, but when I'm able to look back over a long period of time like this to see the difference between then and now in my Kendo, I can see improvements. It's definitely a great feeling!

After a short break we moved into waza-geiko and then finally jigeiko. I used my waza-geiko time to focus on more Do. I figured that I was feeling a lot better with it so I might as well use that time to work on it even more. I did regular Do and Nuki Do drills and focused on keeping my left hand in the center, down by my center (like on a Kote strike), and using my right hand to direct the shinai around. I also tried to make my step to the side as small as possible; just big enough to pass my opponent. During jigeiko I tried to make sure that I wasn't landing on my right heel, and instead using the entire bottom of my foot. Last practice I bruised my heel a bit because of too much force on the heel when I would do my fumikomi. I also couldn't help but notice that I was pretty successful with Hiki Kote. I'm not sure if that is because I'm getting better with it (seeing/creating an opening and striking) or because my opponents were giving me openings. One of my other big focuses, not only in jigeiko but all night, was to hit from my correct distance. I played with this a lot with the Men drills, trying to hit from as far out as possible while still having a good, clean hit. I have a huge reach, especially with fumikomi, and I don't think I take advantage of this as much as I should. It's something I'll continue to work on.

We ended with Kakarigeiko, but unfortunately I was a bit too tired to do the entire drill so I stepped out, watched, and cheered on my fellow kenshi. We lined up, bowed out, and then Sinclair Sensei asked Nishimori Sensei if he would like to give us some feedback and advice. He seemed very willing, and as Ando Sensei translated, he began to talk to us about Kendo.

Nishimori Sensei noted that the biggest issue he saw was that we tend to be a bit too stiff and jerky with our movements. He said that our hits and movement should flow, and that we should have "beautiful" Kendo. He demonstrated what he meant with a few passes with Ando Sensei. He said that we should have a nice straight back and posture, to let our chests "open up" during kamae, and that we should lead with our legs and hips and let our upper body follow, instead of leading with the hands, as this tends to make us lean forward into the hit. Watching him demonstrate was very cool. He made all of his movements seem so effortless, yet they were fast and powerful still.

Nishimori Sensei also mentioned, as we've heard before, to keep our kamae down at our center and at least a fist away from our body. What I mean by this is that when in kamae we should be able to fit a fist between the handle of the shinai and our body. When we hit we should have straight movements up and down, and with the left hand on Do, and that we shouldn't lean when we side step or move out of center to hit. Instead we should move and turn the body and still keep our hands moving straight up and down our centers.

I wish that I understood Japanese so I could catch everything that he said last night, but he was very good at getting his points across using visual cues and references (along with Ando Sensei translating). It was a great night, and I was very lucky to be part of it!

A few thoughts from last night:

Men: Use that reach advantage! I need to be able to play with distancing a bit more, so I might try changing up my distance from here on out to get myself used to hitting from all kind of distances, including from as far out as I can.

Do: Continue to work on it. I felt like I made some real progress last night, and that all the pieces are starting to come together. Now I need to get my head in the right place and stop thinking about the hit so much and just do it. I believe that is one last piece of advice I received from Takado Sensei before she left. Don't think, just go...

Hiki Waza: As Mark stated, be careful with this one. I need to keep working on the speed, but I can ease up on the force of the blow a bit. Power does NOT equal speed.

Fumikomi: I felt better with my fumikomi step last night, but I need to make it a bit more forceful now. I tend to do a very soft step when landing on the whole foot. I can still have the force of the step, but distribute it throughout the foot as I land using the whole bottom of my foot instead of just my heel.

Kiai: Sensei pointed out that spirit and energy come from our Kiai, and it should be forceful, but that doesn't mean that it needs to be as loud as possible. I think that I make this mistake without even thinking about it. I just open my mouth and let it out, but I can be more forceful with it without being super loud. It's something I worked on after he mentioned it, and something I'll have to remember to do in the future.

I'm looking forward to practice on Saturday! There's so much I want to work on, and so little time to share with my fellow kenshi!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's the best way to relax? Ask McNally Sensei!

I feel good today! I was up a bit late last night, but I dragged myself out of bed regardless to go jogging this morning. I'm able to jog! A little bit, but still it's a LOT better than before when I couldn't jog or hardly even walk long distances without any pain. Yes, go me!!

As the title implies, Sean (McNally Sensei) led class last night, and he wanted to make sure that we were all very relaxed during class. So what did he do? After warm-up exercises he had us do suburi. A LOT of suburi. 50 sets of Jogeburi (swings using full range of motion behind our back and forward), Men, Kote, Sayu-Men (Tai-a sabaki), Katate Men (Only 20 for each hand). We then partnered up to do a hitting drill down and back across the dojo floor. One person would hold Kote height, and the other would fumikomi with each step and hit Kote with each step, as fast as we could. Finally we did 5x5's, down and back. If you don't know what 5x5's are...well, you're lucky!

After donning our Men, we proceeded to do some modified Kirikaeshi. we did 10, 20, or 30, depending on what level we thought we could do. I did two sets of 20 and a 10 to finish it out. By this time I think most people were very, VERY tired, and so Sean decided to start class properly =).

Next up were some basic Men, Kote, and Do drills. We were instructed to take our time, and do 3 instead of the usual 5. Sean focused on keeping the relaxed feeling, the feeling of letting our shinai slip through our hands, but able to apply proper Tenouchi when needed (i.e. when striking or when someone tries to knock our shinai out of the way). Being so relaxed made my hits feel really good, especially on Do. I tried to remember to do small steps, which I think I succeeded at, but I noticed that my hits were a little's a see-saw, back and forth with me!

We moved onto some Debana Kote drills, and again emphasis was on staying relaxed. We were not supposed to be concerned with getting hit (as the Kakarite) but instead of having relaxed, proper movement. As the Motodachi we were supposed to try and hit Men, but also to keep it relaxed. Interesting enough, we hit faster when relaxed than when our muscles are all tightened up, but keeping ourselves relaxed through the strike is a very hard task, indeed.

A couple of drills that I haven't done in a while finished out our time before we moved onto waza-geiko. The first was a "tap" drill. Motodachi held up their hand so that their Kote was flat in front of them, and Kakarite did a hopping motion like we do in jigeiko, and hit Men going forward, and Kote going back. We started out slow, and then built up our speed, while keeping our shoulders and muscles relaxed. We were instructed to go as fast as we could while remaining relaxed, and at that point to strike 10 times and then push through to finish. I actually enjoyed this drill very much, it was a nice change of pace. The last drill we did involved Kakarite hitting Men and going through, then turning around and immediately trying for an opening to hit again. Motodachi was instructed to chase the Kakarite after the initial Men strike, and then to try and find their own opening when the Kakarite turned around. I had a lot of fun with this drill, I hope we do more like it in the future.

During Waza-geiko I worked on Nuki Do. Trying to get the correct timing, the correct body movement, the correct hand position...basically everything. I feel like I'm getting better at it, but at the same time I find more and more to work on.

After a short break, we finished our night with jigeiko. I was able to practice with a few people before I had to step out due to my heel. I'm putting way too much weight on my right heel when I do fumikomi, so I'll have to work on distributing my weight more evenly over my foot. Some ice should help get me back into practice on Wednesday night, though.

A few thoughts:

Men: Make sure that on small Men strikes I'm lifting my hands up high enough, but not too high. I'm trying to cut out the wasted movement. Also I need to make sure that I'm hitting as my hands are coming down, not on the way up.

Kote: I think I can take a much smaller step on this strike. It seems that when I'm at the proper distance I can reach my opponent's Kote without much forward movement at all. Also on small strikes here make sure my hand is coming far enough up to be valid.

Do: Still a lot of work to be done, but I think I'm getting it. Slowly but surely. Still focus on bringing my left hand to center, and focus on a smaller fumikomi step.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's not "Goodbye", it's "See you later!"

What a busy weekend I had! Happiness and sorrow and good times and farewells and training and bowing and even a few tears here and there.

Saturday was Takado Sensei's last practice with us, for now. I say for now, because we are all hoping very much that she is able to at least come back and visit us when time and circumstances allow her to. I, for one, am very grateful I was able to meet and train under such a great sensei, and great person, and I know the rest of our dojo feels the same way. It's going to be hard to imagine training without her from now on, as she's been a big part of our dojo for the past few years (even before I came back), and she's been a big inspiration to myself and everyone else. I hope to keep her teaching and advice close and use it to flourish in my Kendo training.

I arrived early at the dojo on Saturday, not wanting to miss a thing that happened that day, and was honored to be part of another kenshi's testing that day. He is in the intermediate class, and was testing to move into the advanced/pre-bogu class. He passed, so it will be fun to have another person in our advanced class soon.

A LOT of people showed up for advanced class. Word went out to everyone that it was Takado Sensei's last day, so almost every member of our dojo showed up for a final chance to practice and do jigeiko with her. I was lucky enough to have a few rotations with her, including a few drills and one last round of jigeiko.

We started off with Sinclair Sensei leading us through exercises and suburi to warm up, and then moved into Kirikaeshi, Men, Kote, and Do drills. Men and Kote feel ok right now, Do is starting to feel better. I think taking the shorter step really helps. One of my big problems, I think, is that I was trying to over-extend the hit, so it made me do all kinds of weird things, including lifting my foot too high on my fumikomi. I will keep working on this and see what I can do to fix it.

We moved onto a few Kote drills, including Kote-Men, and Debana Kote, and a final Nuki Do, before settling in for a LOT of jigeiko. Sensei wanted to make sure and give everyone and opportunity to do jigeiko with Takado Sensei. My match with her was, well, enlightening! I tried to hit her, but the only times I was able to were when she gave me openings. She told me not to think, not to stop, not to hesitate, but to go and hit. I'll definitely have to work on that. Seeing the opening and taking it before it goes away. I second-guess myself a lot during jigeiko, and in that small hesitation I lose a lot of opportunities. I will continue to work on this. Another point to note was my jigeiko with Billy Joe. I actually tried and had a successful Nuki Do on him, except that I didn't think I was going to get it so my hit was super soft. I had everything else, though. The timing, the hit, the step, so next time I need to fully commit to it (sutemi).

We ended class with Kakarigeiko, and we all had a chance to say our goodbyes to Takado Sensei at the dojo. They had planned a going away party for her, as well, which most of us attended. It was fun to get together with my fellow kenshi for food, drinks, good company and conversations, and to wish Takado Sensei well on the next stage of her life. I, for one, will work hard with my training, and I know that we're all looking forward to seeing her again!

A few thoughts from the day:

Men: Again, be sure that I'm doing a straight cut, up and down.

Do: Remember to keep my fumikomi small, and make a small motion with the cut, much like the small Kote cut. Also against moving opponents, time it so that I'm hitting on the side instead of the front of the Do. Sensei pointed out that a lot of times we do less than what we practice, so if we practice hitting the front of the Do we'll get less than that when it counts. So be sure to practice correct form.

Fumikomi: I had a chance to watch one of my matches online, and from what I could see I did some weird things with fumikomi, including not doing fumikomi at all (more of a step forward with no force behind it), and also on one of my Kote strikes my left foot actually went back as I did fumikomi, which caused me to pause for a second before pushing forward. I need to see if I could work on this during practice and jigeiko.

I'm looking forward to more practice, although it will definitely be different without one of our best teachers there now.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Basics - Not just for Beginners

Last night was a bittersweet night. It was great to be at practice, and there were some kenshi there that haven't been there in a little while, and it's always, always fun to practice with them! But bad because one of our Sensei is leaving us soon, and she only has one more practice to go before we say goodbye (for now)...

I arrived at the dojo last night early, as I usually do, and was able to help out with the intermediate class a bit before joining in with our normal advanced class. I'm always happy to help out when and where I can, and it's great to see everyone's Kendo coming along nicely. We went over Kihon Kata 1 and 2, and then I donned my bogu and acted as Motodachi for the intermediate kenshi. They went over some new and interesting Do drills, as we did later on in our class.

We bowed in and things started off normal, with our warm-up exercises and stretches, but then Sinclair Sensei had us do something new; something we've never done before. We partnered up, and one person would kneel with one knee down, their foot bent, and toes curled under. Their partner would vigorously slap the inside and outside of the lower calf and ankle with their fingertips. We did this to both sides, exchange places, and did the same for our partners. Very interesting indeed, but my calf/ankle area did feel a lot better when we got up, and we went on to finish our warm-ups and suburi.

Things started off with Kirikaeshi, Do Kirikaeshi, and Kote Kirikaeshi. I don't know if I've actually ever done Kote Kirikaeshi, but it was interesting. Instead of striking to the left-right side of the head (Sayu-Men), you strike the left and right Kote while the Motodachi holds their shinai in place in front of them, kensen pointing up. Sensei wanted us to do the drills fast, but not so fast that we stop making good, clean strikes. So in that regard I took it easy, since my Do strikes are still a bit off. I did feel more comfortable hitting, and not having to focus on the target or look down every once in a while. It really is all about bringing that left hand back down to center. It seems when I do that everything else falls into place.

We moved onto some basic striking drills, mixed with some Taiatari and other drills. My Men strikes were a bit off-center, as Takado Sensei pointed out. When I bring my shinai up I need to remember to bring it straight up the center. We next did Kote, and then Kote-Taiatari, and finally Kote-Taiatari-Hiki Waza (whatever was open). Kote-Taiatari felt good, I tried to be more aggressive with the hit, but not "mean". One of my big problems, in my opinion, is that I'm too soft with my hits, and with Taiatari and things of that nature. This especially shows in the difference between my Taiatari and someone like Ando Sensei or McNally Sensei (both of which I had the pleasure of receiving Taiatari from). On the receiving side, I tried to remember to do a small step into the Taiatari, and set myself well. It worked for the most part, except a couple of times with McNally Sensei, where I felt like I was going to fall over. Luckily I just took a couple extra steps back to catch my balance.

After a few Do drills, we split into Yudansha/Mudansha groups, and we got into the meat of our training for the night: basic Do strikes. We started in fairly close to our partner, stepped in, and struck as our back foot pulled up. Not too bad so far. next we struck as our front foot landed, but Sensei emphasized striking with the shinai before the front foot landed. The timing should be shinai strike, and foot lands a split second later. We did this, still going straight forward and still fairly close to our opponent. Our next drill was stepping at an angle, and still striking before our foot landed. Sensei also pointed out that we should be taking small steps for these drills. Very small. I had a tendency to take steps that were way too big, and it was not only slowing me down but causing me to strike the wrong area on my partner. The rest of the night I tried to focus on small steps, just big enough to move past my partner/opponent.

All of these drills were getting us prepared for what was to come soon. It became more and more apparent as we moved into the drills, how each one was connected. Our next drill was to hit our partner, the same way that we had been hitting them, by stepping to the side at angle. Only this time the Motodachi (receiver) was moving straight at us. They would hold their shinai up over their head and come straight at us. It was our job to hit them with the right timing. I fumbled on this a couple times before Sensei told me to try hitting a bit earlier. I was letting them get too close and striking the front of the Do instead of the side. We did two different versions of this drill, too. In the first one the Motodachi would move towards the attacker, and after the strike each person would turn and set up again before hitting again. The second version the Motodachi would move, get hit, turn, and then immediately move back towards the attacker again. The attacker (Kakarite) had to stay on their toes and be able to turn and strike again almost immediately.

Our last drill of the night was Nuki Do. All of a sudden it made sense. The timing, the short step, everything. Motodachi was to strike Men, and Kakarite was to strike Nuki Do. Nuki is an attack that involves not being in whatever place your opponent is attacking. So as the opponent raises up to strike Men, you move forward at an angle and strike Do. I did ok with this drill, considering all of the previous Do strikes that we had done that night, but still some people were just way too fast with their hits. We ended the night with a couple rounds of Kirikaeshi, and then bowed out.

After practice Sinclair Sensei mentioned to me that I should try and develop my Nuki Do. He said that with some practice at it, with the way I do Kendo I could turn it into a fast and powerful technique to use. I was glad to hear this from him, since Do is definitely my weakest technique at the moment. He must see some potential there. He explained how Do can help with everything else, too. That having a strong Do helps with things like Nuki Do, Debana Kote, Kote, and even Nuki Men. I think I'll be happy if I can pull off a successful Do strike one of these days, let alone everything else!

Some things to remember:

Men: As I pointed out above, make sure that the shinai is going straight up when I raise it, not off to the side.

Taiatari: Keep doing what I did tonight. I felt like I was putting more power into it, but wasn't being mean or too forceful about it. Also on the receiving end make sure to stand firm, and take a small step into it like Ando Sensei taught us. On both sides I need to keep my hands down around my chest, center, for more stability.

Do: Gotta keep my foot down! Sensei pointed out again that I was lifting my right foot way off the ground when I would strike Do. I think that I might be trying to take too big of a step on it. Next time I'll try taking smaller steps.

Very good night of practice, all in all!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Going the Distance

Hello All! I am a tired person right now. Friday night practice in Portland, taikai on Saturday, hiking up and down a mountain on Sunday, and then practice at home last night. I'm looking forward to resting a bit today, that's for sure!

We didn't have too many people last night, but it was a great practice nonetheless. Takado Sensei is leaving us very soon, so I want to get the most out of her teaching that I can before she's gone! She will surely be missed.

We started with warm-ups, suburi, and Kirikaeshi. First slow Kirikaeshi, and then faster with three breaths. I'm still working on this part. We moved onto a few rounds of Do Kirikaeshi. Instead of hitting Sayu-Men (Men strikes to the left/right of the head), we strike to the left and right sides of the Do (abdomen area). I'm still very unsure about my Do strikes, so I was going pretty slow on this part, and trying to focus on my opponent instead of looking down at where I was hitting. We finished out Kirikaeshi with one pass as fast as we could go. Given that I was exhausted from the weekend I wasn't fast at all, but I gave it my best shot.

Instead of doing our normal drills, we worked a lot on distance (maai). Hitting big and small strikes from different distances. We did Men, Kote, Do, and Kote-Men strikes. First big, and then small, from a couple steps away (To-ma), from one step away (Issoku-Itto No Ma), and finally from a very close distance that required no steps to hit the opponent (Chika-ma). This forced us to play with our steps, our timing, our speed, pretty much everything. It was very refreshing and I learned that I have a large striking range. Many times I would step in a bit too close and have to take a small fumikomi, or just fumikomi in place to hit correctly, or I was able to hit from a lot further out than I first thought. Distance is VERY important, as I came to find out during this tournament. Stepping in too close for a strike can be just as bad as trying to start too far away, so playing with distance in our drills is a great thing for me. Although hitting stationary targets is way easier than hitting an opponent that is not only moving but also trying to hit you!

After a short break we jumped into jigeiko, and I did my very, very best to stay in until I was able to fight Takado Sensei. I gave my all to all of my opponents, considering I was over the exhaustion limit at this point. I remember when I fought with Jeronimo, we were both dead on our feet so it turned into very much a Kendo-version of a slugfest =). We would each get a burst of energy here and there and land some good hits, and then die out again. I had a lot of fun, though, and I was able to do jigeiko with many many people, including Ando Sensei and Takado Sensei. I felt more confident in myself, after this past weekend, and was able to throw caution to the wind and attack without thinking about being hit by the higher ranked people. I've mentioned it before, but this was Sutemi at work. throwing away all regard for winning or losing, life or death, and focusing on and committing to the attack. I especially felt it when fighting Ando Sensei. He is fast, powerful, and has a lifetime more experience than I do, but even though he beat me up in our match I still gave it everything and attacked when I could, when I felt I had an opening, when I saw an opportunity. I felt really good knowing that I gave it my all. I also played with some different timing, and hitting different (Sayu-Men, instead of just straight Men every time). For the most part I saw some good results, such as doing Kote-Men with a Sayu-Men strike and using a bit of off-timing. I'll continue to work on some of this and see if I can find some new techniques to use.

Practice ended with one last round of Kirikaeshi. Unfortunately I had to step out with one round of jigeiko to go (headache and exhaustion finally got me). After closing ceremonies I thanked Takado Sensei for the training, and spoke with Wendy for a few minutes. She said that she could see the confidence in me as I was doing jigeiko. She said that when I am able to successfully strike an opponent it builds that confidence in me, and from there I can grow and cultivate my Kendo. She also mentioned Sutemi and spoke for a minute about it.

Some things to remember:

Men: Wendy pointed out that on the big Men strikes I need to be all the way over my head with my hands. She said that it looked like I was rotation my hand, and that might be causing me to feel like the shinai is all the way up when it's really not.

Do: Before class I had a chance to do some Do drills with Jeronimo, and I really focused on feeling the left hand pushing the sword up and driving it down. I need to work more with this, and start using it in jigeiko.

Kote: Caught another opponent's shinai with mine today, so I might be falling back into not stepping to my side enough. Also when we do big Kote strikes I need to make sure I give myself plenty of room to extend my arms out while still striking the proper area of the Kote.

A great practice, and I'm definitely looking forward to Wednesday!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Obukan - The Trip Home and Afterthoughts

Sunday morning rolled around and after a lazy morning and conversations with everyone we packed up and started making our way out of town. We decided to make a few stops along the way, besides stopping for lunch.

Our first stop was at Multnomah Falls. If you haven't been here, I highly suggest is if you are driving through the area, even if just for a few minutes. We made our way to see the falls, and get some pictures, and then we proceeded to hike to the top. There were signs along the way stating "Switchback: 1 of 11" and so on, all the way to the top of the falls. It rained on us the entire time, and not just a little sprinkle but full-on drops of water, so we were all pretty soaked, but still we made our way up the mountain, stopping to take pictures here and there. The entire climb was a little over a mile of winding trail to a small overlook. A group of us, at about switchback 7, decided to run the rest of the way up. The home stretch, as I called it, and we chanted on the way (counting to keep time in Japanese). What an experience!

We wandered around the top of the falls for a while, taking pictures and video, and then Sensei decided to take a group of us and jog back down the mountain to the bottom again. That was quite an experience! The group of us jogging down, chanting the whole way, enjoying the day and the rain and the exercise. I jokingly mentioned that times like these are why our team is so strong. Where other teams go to sight-see, we go to sight-see AND train!

The rest of the trip was very relaxed, as most people were tired from the night before. I passed the time by talking with the people in our van, listening to music, and thinking a lot about what worked and what I need to work on from the taikai. Lunch and downtime in The Dalles, some random stops for breaks, and sword fighting with whatever we could get our hands on in Wal-Mart in the Tri-cities filled out the day, and we rolled back into Spokane at around 9pm Sunday night. We unloaded our stuff and had our goodbyes before heading our separate ways. All in all, our trip was a great success, everyone did really well in the taikai, and I far exceeded my own expectations for myself. I'm looking forward to another opportunity to gather with my fellow kenshi, whether it be shinsa (grading), taikai (tournament), or our upcoming summer camp. I know that I've learned a lot this weekend, and formed a stronger bond with all of my Spokane teammates, and I hope to keep that energy going throughout my training here at home.

Obukan - Rose City Taikai

Saturday. Taikai Day. Go Time!

We arrived at the taikai around 9am, and after getting checked in and dressed and ready we did some team warmup and practice. Then it was time for opening ceremonies. From here on out I'll document my own accounts of the day and my own matches and feelings and what not. A lot happened that day, and everyone has their own spin and own exciting stories to tell!

I was placed into the 0-3 Kyu division, and had the first match on our court. My opponent was a fellow from the University of Oregon by the name of Nagamatsu. I stepped onto the floor after hearing our names called out, and found that I was surprisingly calm. Ever since I put in my name for the taikai, I had these overwhelming feelings that I would freeze up from being so nervous in my first match, but I quickly realized that this wasn't the case. My biggest worry for the past few months had disappeared in an instant, and when the shimpan called "Hajime!" I stepped up out of Sonkyo and forward to my opponent. I took my time, trying to see openings and set up hits, and after exchanging a few blows I scored first with a Kote strike. My first real point in a taikai! I was happy enough that my nerves didn't take over and make me freeze up, but this was over the top of my expectations for the day! I was so very excited when I saw the flags go up, but I knew that I had to remain calm and collected and finish the match.

After resetting to our spots on the court, the match started again. We both exchanged a few hits and misses again, and after a few moments I scored a Men strike to finish the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I almost couldn't believe it! Not only had I scored my first taikai point, but I won my first match, all in the same day! We bowed out and I walked around to thank my opponent for a good match. He definitely fought well.

My next match was against a kenshi from Obukan named Neilson. He had very, very strong Kendo, was constantly moving his kensen around during the match, and kept me on my toes. He scored first point with a beautiful Men strike. I came back a little while later with a Kote of my own to tie the match. This is about where things went downhill for me...

After fighting for a while, I hit Men and pushed through to find Neilson right on top of me, I went to Taiatari but was a bit high and when I brought my hands down he brought his up, which popped my hands back up and my sword right out of my hand. I received a Hansoku for this (1/2 point penalty). We reset and went back to the match again. It finally ended when I struck Hiki waza (not sure if it was Kote or Men), and stepped out of bounds, giving myself another Hansoku and giving Neilson the win.

Final Score: 2-1 (Neilson)

After watching some amazing matches throughout the rest of the day, I was able to take part in team matches. We had a B team consisting of (in order): Taryn Imanishi, Tom Antush, myself, Courtney, and Mark. Taryn and Tom were very welcome additions to the team. Our first (and only) match was against Bellevue, who had a very strong team. We all did our best, and only lost by 2 points. For the level of kenshi that we were facing, I think that we did pretty good.

My match was against Scherer Sensei, from Highline. He is not only Yondan, but has a TON more experience than I do, and was fighting in Jodan (upper guard; the shinai is held above the head in a ready position). I saw some of his earlier matches and watched him destroy a few people in a matter of seconds, so I knew that I was up against a super tough opponent.

After talking with Sinclair Sensei and my teammates and getting some encouragement and advice, I stepped onto the court with him. After bowing in he went straight up to Jodan and I made sure to switch to Seigan Kamae, which is a guard position where you point the kensen up at the Jodan player's left wrist. This helped me to keep my Kote covered a bit. From Jodan he simply needed to drop his shinai to hit me, so I knew I had to be fast to block and counter. I constantly circled to my right to try and expose his Kote a bit more, as well as to be able to move out of the way for that Men strike that he was inevitably going to throw my way.

Scherer Sensei was a very tough opponent. It seemed no matter what I did I couldn't hit him, or if I hit him I didn't have everything together for a proper point, but I didn't give up. I was tired and showing it, but still I kept on him and tried to not let him set me up too much. About halfway through the match he finally scored a point on me, I believe it was Kote. We set back to our places to continue the match, and at one point he went to hit Men, which I blocked and came down to do Taiatari with him. I don't know what happened after that, except that I saw his shinai go flying up and behind him, and he was in my face in an instant, to keep me from scoring a point in that split second before the judges stopped the match and gave him Hansoku. I, myself, was a bit too amazed that it happened to hit him, and I'm hoping that if I'm ever in that situation again I will have the mindset to take that opportunity to get a point.

We both threw everything we had at each other for the remainder of the match, but I was unable to score at all by the end. But on the other hand I kept him from scoring another point and finishing me off. We bowed out and came around the court to congratulate one another, and walked back to our place with our teams. Even though I lost the match, I felt that I had gained a personal victory. I not only faced someone who had a higher rank and much, much more experience than me, I gave them a run and a hard time, and was able to last the entire match time going toe-to-toe with them. It was a great feeling, and I hope I can use it to better myself in the future!

Final Score: 1-0 (Scherer Sensei)
Team Score: 3-1 (Bellevue)

The rest of the taikai passed, and I was able to see some amazing matches and Kendo skill, as well as meet some great new people. I was very inspired by it, and loved being in that atmosphere all weekend, and I hope to be that good and even better one of these days. We returned to the hotel and had dinner around 8 that night. Sensei talked with us about our trips and how we really have an advantage because we form such a strong team bond while on the trips, and it shines through in the taikai that we attend. Swimming, hot tub, beers with Sensei, and relaxation rounded out the rest of my night. A lot of the younger guys stayed up all night and played a serious game of Blackjack, but I was WAY too tired from the day to join in so I went to bed around midnight. One more night of sleep and then we would be heading back home...

Obukan - Friday Night Practice

There aren't many words that can fully describe what transpired this past weekend at the Obukan Taikai, and the trip as a whole, but "awesome" and "amazing" come pretty close.

We had a 3-day trip to Portland, OR for the Rose City Taikai (hosted by Obukan Kendo Club). We left Friday morning, and after a fun trip down there (I'm being totally serious, the trip down was a blast!), we arrived at the dojo around 6:30pm, just in time to get ready for Friday night practice with Obukan.

Being in a dojo that's not your own, you have to realize a few things, one of which is that they do things a bit differently. I did my best to follow along, and everything went fairly smoothly except for a couple of drills. there were about 25 people there that night, most of the group actually being made up of those of us that came from Spokane. We started off with some warmup exercises and then jumped into Kirikaeshi. The only difference I noticed here was that most people didn't receive the Taiatari at all. They would step back after the first Men hit. Hmmm.... Not a big deal, just not something I was used to.

We moved on to some Men and Do drills. I was thrown off quite a bit by the Do drills, because my receivers would all move in towards me before I started to hit, so it forced me to hit as they came at me. Some people were a bit faster at this, so I really had to be on my feet (after the first couple of times where they moved at me and I didn't do anything because I wasn't used to it). I'm still sloppy on my Do, and I think with them moving at me it brought it out even more. Must work on this!!!

We jumped straight into jigeiko at this point, and pretty much continued jigeiko for the rest of the night. I was able to practice with a lot of the Obukan club that was there, including a couple of their sensei. Boy did they make me feel like a beginner! With both sensei that I fought I was unable to do much at all, as they danced around me and my kamae and shinai and hit me at will. One of the sensei (Grobart Sensei) had me do an interesting drill with him. He would move his shinai out of center, and I was supposed to kiai before he pulled it back to center. I failed, a lot! But I finally started to get it. He came up to me and said "Ok, good, now when you kiai, hit me!" Again, a lot of failed hits followed these instructions, but after a while I got a couple of good hits with him. He was very nice, although somewhat unorthodox with his teaching methods, and he had a lot of good advice for me. He also had me stand in kamae while he pushed on my back, and then he had me slightly lift my right foot so that all the pressure he was putting on me sent me forward. He said that is the feeling I should have all the time, a pressure to go forward so that when I lift my foot I should immediately shoot forward at my opponent.

The next sensei I had the pleasure of fighting with was an older sensei by the name of Strauch Sensei. He told me that we would practice until I got one good ippon (point). What I don't think he realized was that I am fairly new to Kendo, so it took me FOREVER to get that one point. After he beat on me pretty good I finally got a Men strike when he went in to hit Do. He said it was very good, and then had me get two more points before he bowed out. I finally took those two points, but I have no idea how long it took me to do so. It was very much a test of patience as well as anything else, trying to stay in there while getting beat on to try and get those valid points. I appreciated Strauch Sensei's efforts very much! He also said that I should be like a coiled spring, ready to rush forward at a moment's notice.

We ended with a last round of Kirikaeshi before bowing out and heading to our hotel. Pizza and fellowship was the last thing on the agenda for Friday before we all went to our rooms and prepared for the next day...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

It felt like a lifetime since I had been to practice. I was sick last Wednesday, and Saturday and Monday there were no classes due to the Memorial Day holiday. I think, for being out of normal practice, that it went pretty well. I have been doing suburi on my own a lot in the past week, but it's definitely not the same as getting together with my fellow kenshi and having real practice together.

I arrived a bit early, as I usually do, to get dressed and ready for the evening. Sensei called me in to be a target and help with the intermediate class a bit, so I got to do some Kirikaeshi and other hitting drills before advanced class. I was also used for some of the beginners. I'm pretty sure they haven't hit people in armor yet, so it was interesting to see how they all reacted to a real person and a real target after a few weeks of bokken training.

Our class started off with the Hollywood treatment! One of our members, Harvey, is a photographer by trade, and he brought in his equipment to take some pictures of Takado Sensei and McNally Sensei doing some Men Nuki Do strikes. It was very fun to watch, as he had all his lights and flashes and a big white backdrop and everything set up for a while. I'm interested to see what they will be using the pictures for!

After opening mokuso and rei, warmup exercises, and suburi we jumped straight into Kirikaeshi, and then to Men, Kote, and Do drills. I could tell I hadn't hit anyone in a while, as I felt a bit uneven on the ground and took a little bit more time setting up my hits. My Do hits still feel very inaccurate and slow. One of these days I hope I start seeing some progress there, as I seem to be on a see-saw with them. One day they'll feel great, and then the next day they'll feel worse than before. Sean reminded me that with Do I should be hitting just before my fumikomi step lands, as well. Oy, so much to think about on Do! I'll be grateful when I start feeling a bit better with it, as it's definitely the weakest of my strikes right now (except for maybe some of the advanced Oji Waza).

Next we did a lot of Tsubazeriai and Hiki Waza drills. First Hiki Men and Hiki Kote, and then a few drills where we picked what to hit as the attacker (Kakarite), and when we were the receiver (Motodachi) we were supposed to do our best to not let them have an opening to attack. I wasn't too successful with this drill. Some people I could hit pretty well with Men or Kote, but others I couldn't hit to save my life! Also a lot of times on Hiki Men I would step too far back and actually not even be able to reach them with my strike. It was like I was backing up faster than I could hit. I think maybe I'll stay away from that as much as I can this weekend at the tournament...

Sensei had us split up into Mudansha/Yudansha groups and do some Waza geiko. I took this time to focus on Kote, Men, and Debana Kote drills. After a few rounds of Kote I felt pretty good with it, and with Men I played around with hitting from different areas (such as Harai Men from left and right side of the shinai, etc). I tried to keep myself as upright as possible, so much so that I almost felt like I was leaning back a few times. Debana Kote felt pretty good, although a couple of times I struck a bit too fast, and didn't judge where my opponent's Kote would be very well so I ended up striking at the air right in front of them....grrrr......

We took a short break to watch the Yudansha group do jigeiko before doing our own jigeiko. our Yudansha are all very, very good in my opinion, and I hope that someday I can be that good and fast, and even excel from there. It's good motivation to see where I could be in a few years time if I stick with it, and I definitely intend to stick with Kendo for as long as I possibly can.

I felt a bit sloppy in Jigeiko today, probably because I'd been out for a while. I only fought a few people, but everyone felt way faster than me, so I ended up doing a lot of fumikomi steps right in place and then pushing forward. One person, Ellen, definitely keeps me on my toes. She is one that will attack you at any chance that you give her, so I always have to remember when I turn around to expect her to be there, or when I try to back out of Tsubazeriai that she is going to try and hit me. It's very good on her part to be looking for those openings and exploiting them, and it's good for me, too, because I have to constantly be alert while fighting her.

One last round of Kirikaeshi brought our night to a close, and after our closing ceremony Sensei had a very special announcement for us. He announced that there will be a new dojo location opening up in the Valley, run by our very own Mark and Courtney. Times will be on Tuesdays and Fridays, 6pm-7pm, and once they add in advanced classes, another session from 7pm-9pm. I was so excited to hear this! I'll definitely have to check it out when it starts, to see how it goes and see if I can help in any way, since it'll be just a few minutes away from me.

Some points to remember:

Hiki Waza: It is ok to do things such as Sayu Men (hitting to the left or right side of the head). Ando Sensei did this to me A LOT during our Hiki drills. I don't always have to hit straight in the center, and I don't have to go straight back after hitting. I can go off to the left or right side, as well.

Men: I should start doing Men from different positions, and incorporating some Harai movements in there, as well. Remember my Sayu Men, just like in the Hiki Drills!

Kote: Kote felt good, I didn't catch anyone's shinai this time, so I think I'm starting to remember to step to the side a bit more. Just remember not to make it too big.

Do: The question might be what am I doing right, instead of what am I doing wrong. Well....I feel like I'm more accurate with my Do these days. I don't think that I've hit anyone too high or low in a while, so that's good. Also I'm trying to remember to make the hit small, just like with Kote. I think that's about it for now. Everything else I need to work on, which is a lot!

One more day and then I leave for Obukan. Training on Friday night, and the taikai on Saturday. I'm so excited! It's finally here!