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!