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!).