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!