Saturday, July 31, 2010

Spokane Kendo Club Shinsa, July 2010

I wish I had some pics of this event...oh well, I'll remember next time to bring my camera and have someone take some pictures for me.

In a nutshell, today was awesome! And it's not even over yet. We had our local shinsa today, and had about half a dozen people, including myself, testing for rank promotions. For the past year I've been 7 Kyu, which is a very low rank. Now I am 4 Kyu. Still a low rank, but I'm moving up the ladder!

Yep, 4 Kyu. I skipped a couple of ranks. I'm not exactly sure why, except that I've been doing a lot of Kendo practice and Kendo-related exercise in the past few months, so Sensei saw fit to bump me up a few ranks from where I was. I definitely appreciate it and feel honored that he believes my Kendo is at this level. With the new promotion comes new responsibilities, including being more of an example for everyone around me, especially those that are lower-ranked then I am. I always strive to be as helpful as I can be, but I know that I can make myself more approachable, by talking with the beginners and getting to know people and encourage them in their Kendo. I have been trying to do this more and more recently, especially with the opening of the Valley dojo, which only had a couple of members that I knew from downtown (Besides Mark and Courtney) when it first opened.

I arrived at the dojo way early today. I was a bit too anxious to just sit at home and wait, so I ended up being about half an hour early, and chatted lightly with one of the guys testing for 9 Kyu. McNally Sensei showed up after a while and we were able to open up and start setting up the dojo. After sweeping and setting up chairs and tables, and rearranging a bit, I left to change. I knew that I was going to be nervous, but it hadn't hit me yet. It didn't hit me until I walked out and Harvey gave me my testing numbers. 401, my sticker read. When I had read Sensei's email he had me testing for 5 Kyu, but according to Harvey's paper I was testing for 4 Kyu. At this point I started feeling nervous. Sensei called me over and stated that he made a mistake on the email, and that I was supposed to be testing for 4 Kyu today. So now the pressure was really on. I definitely had to show the best Kendo that I had.

I had asked McNally Sensei about my strikes yesterday, and he mentioned that I should try to stick to nice, large swings. I thought about this all through the time that the others were testing, as well as trying to get my feet a little less sticky. The last thing I needed was to stick to the floor and fall flat on my face in the middle of my test. I don't think that would go over well.

After watching everyone else go through their tests, noting things that they all did well and areas they could work on, I was called out for my turn. My buddy Billy Joe came out to test at the same time, he was going for 5 Kyu. Our first drill was Kihon Kata. I did number 1 with Billy Joe, and then he stepped out and I did 2 through 5 with Damon. The kata portion went fairly well, except for a slight hiccup on kata 4, but we soon got past that and finished up the last one, bowed out, and I waited for the next portion.

Sensei then had Billy Joe and myself grab the rest of our bogu and our shinai, and the judges observed us putting on our Do, Men, and Kote. I took my time on this part, I didn't want to end up making a really stupid mistake because I was rushing and overlooked something. I tried to imagine it as if it were a regular day and I was suiting up for practice. Only this time everyone was watching me do it...

After letting the judges check our bogu, we lined up with another volunteer, Finn, and went through Kirikaeshi, Men, Kote, and Do drills. I kept my Kirikaeshi at a nice pace, and focused on snapping each hit and holding my shinai out at the end of each hit, as well as a strong kiai on each one. For Men, Kote, and Do I focused on accurate strikes, big swings, and trying to keep my strike, fumikomi step, and kiai all together (Ki Ken Tai Ichi - Spirit, Sword, Body as One). I also tried to hold my sword out and do a good follow-through as I moved past my partner.

Next we were to do Hiki Waza, which consisted of Hiki Men, Hiki Kote, and Hiki Do. Again, my focus was on big swings, good strikes, and keeping everything together as one. The final drill we had to do was jigeiko. I kept my spirit high with lots of kiai, and made sure my swings were big, as well. I worked hard to push through my partner and not get caught up in a lot of Taiatari and Tsubazeriai, and for the most part I feel like I succeeded. I remember two times we were in Tsubazeriai. The first time Billy Joe nailed me with a Hiki Men. The second time I got him with a Hiki Kote. I threw in some Kote, Men, Do, and even a Kote-Men strike, among others, before our time was up.

Oh, and did I mention that I did all of this with a foot injury, thumb injury, and tweaked ankle? I felt like everything was working against me this past week, injuring me. I haven't had an injury in months, and then to get three right before the shinsa was pretty frustrating...

After sitting and removing our bogu, and bowing out, each of the judges had some advice for us. From what I remember we were told that each of our kata was a bit too fast, and that we can always slow it down even more, to be more deliberate with the movements and precise. Wendy and Sean noted our footwork and basics, and put a major emphasis on keeping our good basics, because they will serve us well as we progress through our Kendo lives. Sensei mentioned, and this was mostly for the lower ranks, but can apply to everyone, that we need to have good, strong kiai. For something such as a shinsa, a good kiai can help ward off nervousness and help us to do the best we can. He said that we kiai about 90% of the time in Kendo, and it helps to build up our own spirit and the spirit of our partner, and can help give us the edge over our opponents.

He said that we had all passed our tests at the end. I was so excited! The next time I test it will be on the coast, testing at the PNKF shinsa. If I thought I was nervous today, I can just imagine how nervous I'll be there!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gearing Up for Shinsa, pt. 2

So....I might have pushed myself just a little too much last night. My foot pain was little much, and it's still kinda sore this morning. I think after the shinsa I'll have to take it a lot easier until it's back to normal. Also my thumb still hurts a bit, but luckily last night I didn't injure it any further. It should be ok for this weekend.

I had my last full practice last night, before this weekend's upcoming shinsa. I'm pretty sure I'm ready. I just have to go out, relax, and do the techniques that I know and try not to think about it too much. I know I can do it, I just need to not be nervous.

We started out advanced class with Nihon Kata practice again, and I used the time to go over 1, 2, and 3 again. I am still swinging too big on Nihonme, but I think that I was able to help fix the distance on Ipponme and slow down the pace just a bit on Sanbonme. I went over Nihonme with my partner many, many times, on both Uchidachi and Shidachi side, and Ando Sensei still pointed out that my swing was too big. I believe that I need to take a much shorter swing than I think I need to, and not snap my wrists back as much. this is causing my bokken to drop behind me way too much. Something I'll try to remember at the shinsa.

I started joining the line while putting on my Men and Kote. For the longest time I held back, thinking that I wasn't fast enough with it and would hold people up, but I realize that I am pretty fast at tying everything, so about a week or so ago I started jumping into line with everyone else. It's something I've been meaning to do, but I finally just did it. Just like my decision to come back to Kendo in the first place; one day I just did it.

We started off, as usual, with some slow Kirikaeshi to help warm up, and then did a few rounds of Kirikaeshi at normal speed. Next up were some kihon drills with Men, Kote, and Do. Jeff pointed out to me that on my Men strike I was leaning my right shoulder into it a bit too much, which turned my body to the side. I have heard this before, and will try to focus on correcting it in the future. Kote and Do felt pretty good, except that one of my Do strikes was a bit high. I'll have to remember to keep my hands down around my center.

Next up was Kote-Men. Again, Jeff let me know that when I went to hit Kote, my hands were coming up and bringing around from the let, and he said it was too obvious what I was about to do. The rest of the rotations with this drill I focused on bringing my shinai straight up and straight down, to not telegraph my moves so much. It seemed to work well, but it's something I'll have to be mindful of later on, as well. The speed of my strikes felt pretty good, since I've been working on moving as fast as my kiai. It's definitely not an easy task, but with a lot of practice I am a lot faster at it now than I was even a month ago.

McNally Sensei had us do waza-geiko at this point, and I used that time to go over a few different waza (techniques). I worked on Kote-Men a bit more, and then on Hiki Men, and finally on Debana Kote. Hiki Men felt pretty good, as far as the strike, but I don't think my footwork was solid enough, I could push off backwards pretty quickly, but it didn't feel any different than my regular follow-up steps. There has to be a distinction there. For Debana Kote I worked on accuracy, and checked with my partner after a few strikes to see where I was hitting. He indicated that a few landed around his knuckles, so I adjusted my strike accordingly and was able to hit a couple of solid Debana Kote strikes at the end. I also tried to act instead of react. I've spoken a bit about this before, and Sensei has brought it up before, too. We should be performing an action when he strike Debana Kote, instead of a reaction to what our partner/opponent is doing. In doing this, you appear to move before your opponent does, and sometimes you even do physically move before your opponent.

After a short break, the rest of our time was used for jigeiko. Again, we focused on doing straight, smooth, clean Kendo. No blocking, not a lot of taiatari, but good form and technique. I tried to remember to push through my opponent on each of my strikes, whether I was able to hit them or not. One of my partners, Justin, told me to keep going through despite what he does. If he blocks, moves, counters, whatever, I should still keep going.

I stepped out after a few rounds because my foot started feeling uncomfortable, but I stepped back in when I saw that Ando Sensei had no partner to do jigeiko with. One thing that is emphasized at our club is to never keep a sensei waiting for a partner, so I sucked it up and jumped back in with him, and then ended up finishing out our rounds of jigeiko and our final Kirikaeshi. I tried to not move too much, so that I didn't aggravate the pain anymore, but in doing so I got hit a lot. I don't think that I even came close to hitting Ando Sensei or McNally Sensei last night, but the more important thing for me at that point was not putting too much stress on my foot. There will be other days, when I'm back to 100%.

All in all it was a great practice, but I need to not be so...determined to go on. I didn't do anything too bad, except that my foot is a little sore today, but still I need to be able to firmly say when I have to take a break for my own good.

A few thoughts:

Men: Work on not leading with my right shoulder. Keep my shoulders square during the strike.

Kote: During jigeiko I missed Kote a lot, most of it because I wasn't bringing my shinai up over my opponent's shinai or because I was trying to strike from too far out (or both). I need to remember these two things in the future. Gauge my distance correctly and make sure that I'm clear of their shinai before trying to strike.

Do: As much as I'm working on my footwork for this strike, I still need to be accurate with the strike itself.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gearing Up for Shinsa, pt. 1

On Monday Sinclair Sensei sent out his recommendations for who should test, and the dates for the local and PNKF shinsa. I am testing for 5 kyu, which means I'll be skipping a rank (I am currently 7 kyu). This is very good news for me, and I appreciate the fact that Sensei thinks I have enough skill and understanding to skip a rank. Another big surprise is that the shinsa is this Saturday. I believe that I'm ready, but I also ended up injuring myself, twice, this week. I have a foot injury from Saturday which I'm hoping will be ok by this Saturday, and I jammed my thumb on Monday night at practice. What a time to injure myself. After being injury-free for months, this happens right before shinsa....Murphy's Law gets me every time.

Since we had a shortage of Yudansha on Monday, Marek and I ended up tag-teaming and leading the intermediate class. Marek did the bulk of the speaking and explaining, and I interjected advice and more explanations here and there for the students. We went over Kihon Kata 1 and 2, and then Hiki-Men and Kirikaeshi. Overall I think we did a good job, but we tried to keep it simple and stick to techniques that they already knew and were working on.

Our advanced class started with an extended Nihon Kata session, and my partner and I practiced Kata 1, 2, and 3. Ando Sensei and McNally Sensei had advice for me on each of these. for Ipponme Ando pointed out that we were too far apart. He said one of the most important things about that kata is the distance, and that we should be close enough that if the Shidachi doesn't move they will get hit. This builds up a little more tension between the two kenshi. For Nihonme he said my swing was too big, both on Uchidachi and Shidachi side. McNally Sensei said that the reason it was too big is because my swing is too smooth, and when I bring my hands back my wrists continue to pull back and this causes the tip to drop way behind me, instead of stopping. He said to try to imagine stabbing something behind me with the kensen (tip of the bokken), and to not bend my wrists as much. Once I get that down I can work on making it smoother. Finally, for Sanbonme, he said that our actions once we meet up in the center should be a lot slower. If you've seen this kata, you can imagine what I mean. All of it is valuable information for me, and I'll work to integrate it into my own kata technique.

The rest of class went pretty smoothly, with no new techniques or drills. We went through a few rounds of Kirikaeshi, slowly since we skipped warm-ups, and then moved onto Men, Kote, and Do. As is my usual practice, I started each drill by making medium swings (shinai above my head, about parallel to the floor), and then working down to doing small strikes at the end. One of my biggest focuses of the night was my foot, and to be super light and not injure it further. Which meant that I had to step out for a few rounds while the rest of the class moved onto waza-geiko.

McNally Sensei gave everyone a short break, and we used the rest of the time after we'd all geared up again to do jigeiko. He emphasized not blocking and trying to do nice, straight Kendo,s since this is the kind of jigeiko we'll want to do at the shinsa. I was able to jump back in at this point and do a few rounds, but ended up jamming my thumb when I ran my Kote into my opponent's Kote during one of the rounds. This pretty much put me out for the rest of the class, since I didn't want to be too handicapped during shinsa.

A few thoughts:

Nihon Kata: As McNally and Ando Sensei pointed out, be aware of the distance between my partner and myself, work on not making such a big swing during my strikes, and slow down a bit when necessary.

Kihon Kata: A point I slip on sometimes is to make sure I'm close enough when I strike. My kensen should be above my partner's head, wrist, or to the side of their abdomen on each strike, and I should stay out of that dangerous area right in front of them. I do this most of the time, but every once in a while I feel that I'm too far back when I start. It is ok to take a step in for distance.

Jigeiko: I did a pretty good job of not blocking while in jigeiko, but there were still a few times I went for a block without actually having it part of my waza. It's a bad habit, and one I need to break.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Better Late than Never

So I have had such a busy last two days, I wasn't able to get a proper blog post up. But fear not, I have one today!

Let me mention one of the things that stuck out to me from Wednesday's practice. Before we started practice Sinclair Sensei had a question/answer period for questions about kata. One of the questions that came up was how fast or slow should each movement be, and this led to an explanation about the "pace" of kata. Sensei said that each movement has a purpose, and we should look into the purpose and meaning behind each one to determine if the movement should be tense, relaxed, fast, or slow (this was actually going to be my blog title for Wednesday). Let's use Kata 1 (Ipponme) as an example. lowering your sword and stepping back to the proper distance is a slow, relaxed movement. There's no immediate danger of attack since you are far out of reach of your partner. Coming to kamae and then to Jodan kamae is also slow and relaxed, for the same reason. But when you take those three steps back to striking distance, that's where it starts to get intense. The steps in should be quicker than the steps away. You are coming into striking distance for both your partner and yourself, and this requires a certain level of focus and alertness, which should be reflected in your movement. The strikes themselves (both Uchidachi doing Men and Shidachi doing Nuki Men) should be fairly quick. You wouldn't swing slowly at a real opponent, would you? Not at all. You would swing quickly, but controlled. This is the same with the two strikes by each side. The step back by the Uchidachi and lowering the sword by the Shidachi are also fairly quick movements, and things start to relax again (just a bit) when Uchidachi steps back for the last time and Shidachi advances and raised up to Jodan again. This movement should be quick, but not as quick as the strikes themselves. As Uchidachi, you have been beaten, and as Shidachi you are still pressuring forward to make sure Uchidachi has in fact given up. I'll work in the future to think through these situations in each kata, so that I can try to find the right rhythm and pace for myself.

Now then, today's practice was intense, to say the least. I've been going to each of the intermediate classes this week, and in total I have done 12 hours of practice between each of the dojos and team training (we did suburi and core exercises today). I don't say that to brag, but when I look back at the week, it seems amazing how much time I can devote to something I love to do when I have the time to devote. I would say it's almost like a part-time job, with the amount of time I spend on it (and that 12 hours doesn't count any of the at-home training I do). But unlike a part-time job (most of them, anyway), I love what I'm doing so I don't mind putting in the time at all. Plus it's very motivational to look back a few months ago and be able to see the differences between then and now, and look forward to even more progress in the future.

We started off with warm-ups and the Kirikaeshi, which we have been going over in depth in the intermediate classes. After a few slow rounds we did a couple more rotations at "normal" speed. I'm still working on breathing, and I think I'm getting a little better at it, but still not able to do Kirikaeshi on three breaths. We also did a few rotations of Kirikaeshi Do, in which we hit each side of the Do instead of doing Sayu-Men. I feel more and more comfortable with Do with each practice I do. I noticed today that hitting Do on the right side of my partner felt a lot stronger than on the left side, since the right side of our partner is usually the side that we aim for at my level of experience.

Next we did Men, Kote, and Do drills, but we performed them by starting at toma-ai, which is a distance of further than one step to striking distance. Ando Sensei was leading this part of class and had us perform a three-second kiai before we struck, and then we stepped in for proper distance and then hit Men, Kote, or Do, depending on the drill. I believe that I'm pretty good at hitting with the tip of shinai these days, since I have been practicing it for months now, so I usually don't even have to think about that anymore. I love it when I finally feel like I'm making progress with a technique I've been working on. Step through one door and you have many more open in front of you, though. Each technique I learn opens up the door for more improvements. These improvements, for me, include good follow-through steps and turning and being ready at all times.

We moved onto doing a few Men drills in which we tried to do five Men strikes (hit and go through ) on just one breath. I made about three and a half before I had to take another breath. It is definitely harder than it looks, and falls into that breath control category that I've been working on with Kirikaeshi. McNally Sensei said that it's easier to do if we are relaxed and take our time with each strike instead of trying to rush through all of them. Even with that advice, though, I couldn't do a full four strikes before I had to take another breath. It's not a drill that we do often, but I appreciate the opportunity to practice it from time to time.

Kote-Men and Kote-Do were next up today. My Kote-Men, for the most part, were ok. I felt a little sluggish, but after a few rotations I was hitting pretty quickly. And then it all fell apart when I had Ando Sensei as a partner. I hit three Kote-Men strikes ok, and the last two I was too far back and caught his Kote and stumbled by him...Practice, practice, practice. Kote-Do was a little better. I tried to focus on doing Kote in place and then stepping slightly to the side for Do, and I felt like I was more accurate with the Do strike in general. I also tried to make my Do strike as small as I could, keeping the kensen (shinai tip) out in front of me instead of letting it float behind me while I brought the shinai around to hit my partner's side. I still had a few stumbles, though, but overall it's getting better.

We had one last Men drill before we took a break. We had to hit Men, then turn and hit Men x2, and then Men x3, and finally one last Men. Luckily this wasn't all to be done on one breath, or I might have passed out. I tried to keep my Men strikes big, like Ando Sensei showed us, but when I'm moving forward that fast it's hard to bring the shinai all the way back like that and then all the way forward again and remember to have proper tenouchi (grip). I think I did ok, though. At least I had no complaints from any of my partners.

After the break, McNally Sensei led us through some waza geiko. First on the list was Kote-Kaeshi Men. Our partner would hit Kote, and we would block and whip our shinai around to hit Men. I had to do a few of these as Hiki Men, since some of my opponents moved a lot faster than I could get the shinai around properly, and I also noticed that I kept catching my Men when I would circle around. I had to experiment with it a bit to finally find a movement that didn't disturb my Men. I wasn't the fastest in the world with this drill, but I felt like I was striking in sync with my fumikomi step, so I felt good when I would do the technique. I tried to wait for my opponent to strike so that I didn't hang my shinai out any longer than I needed to. Plus it helps to do the technique faster because you can use the momentum of your opponent's swing to whip your own shinai around to strike. Definitely a technique I'll need more practice on, though.

Kote-Suriage Men was next, and McNally Sensei absolutely destroyed me on this drill. But he did give me some good advice, he mentioned that when I do the crescent movement to knock my opponent's shinai out of the way, and that need to rotate my hands. This keeps me from launching my hands straight up into the Kote strike, and allows their shinai to slide off to the side as they hit. I tried this with a few other partners and had more success, but still I was just a bit slow with it. As all of the sensei have pointed out before, though, quality Kendo leads to fast Kendo, so I should be more concerned with doing the technique correctly and not doing it fast.

Debana Kote was the last drill that we did before pairing up for jigeiko. For the most part I did ok with this technique, since it's one that I've been practicing for a while now. I focused on trying to catch my opponent's Kote on the way up, not when they were coming down to strike. A few times I would actually launch at them before they started to move and was able to hit their Kote just as they started to raise their hands to strike. I also experimented with moving off in different directions after the hit.

I was only able to do a couple rounds of jigeiko today. I stepped wrong on my foot and ended up getting some pain along the outside edge of it, so I thought it best to not push it for the day. I'd rather cut out a few drills for one day than keep going and not be able to practice for a few days while it heals. I had jigeiko against my friend Matt and Ando Sensei. I am definitely getting bolder, at least with people I know. I was able to hit a couple of good strikes on Matt, including some multi-hit waza (Kote-Men-Men, etc). I'm starting to recognize openings a lot more, and I'm even fast enough now to hit some of them. I just wonder if he was taking it easy on me.

The fight with Ando Sensei didn't end nearly as well for me, but I imagine those fights to be like trying to fight a brick wall. I can hit it all I want but nothing ever happens, however I do get feedback and learn a lot from those times. I had one decent Debana Kote on him, as well. On a scale of 1 - 10, I would say it was a 5. Not the best, or fastest, but I think it was acceptable. I recognized one other opening, for a Men, and I stepped in to hit straight Men, but I underestimated the amount of distance between us, and feel short. My shinai stopped a couple of inches from him. I had to laugh about that one.

A few thoughts from today:

Men: Be sure to become familiar with my reach and the amount of distance I can cover with fumikomi. It can be a deal breaker, sometimes, as I found out in jigeiko with Ando Sensei.

Kote: When doing multi-hit waza, be sure to execute a proper Kote strike. This is the reason that I got caught up with Ando Sensei today. I was not giving enough credit to my Kote strike, and ended up fumbling it.

Do: I think that it's feeling a lot better these days. I can feel the solid strike of my shinai against my partner's Do more and more, so I still need to concentrate on footwork. Don't raise the toes, don't take a huge step to the side, and execute proper follow-through steps and zanshin.

Suriage Waza: When performing this move, my hand should move slightly out and rotate to deflect my opponent's shinai. The movement should be like a crescent-shape. Move out to deflect and then back to center to strike.

Kaeshi Waza: First thing is to drive my left hand up. This will give my shinai the proper angle to block my opponent's strike. I should also try to "catch" their strike, so that the momentum will swing my own shinai around to counter. It is ok to perform this is a hiki waza, if my opponent is way faster than me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kaeshi Do

I think I did a little too much last night. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and I paid for that with a small blister on my foot. Not a big one, which is good, but still. I think on Wednesday night I'll skip intermediate practice so I can heal up a bit. Intermediate last night was good, and tiring, but all of the extra footwork got to me, and I had to sit out during jigeiko in the advanced class because I could feel the blister starting.

Class last night started with Nihon Kata. I partnered up with my buddy Billy Joe, and we went through kata 1 - 3. We each took our time, and went through both Uchidachi and Shidachi sides many times over. I focused on keeping that connection with him, and doing each movement precisely and deliberately. Trying to make each movement stand out as I performed them. Afterward we were told to pick one kata with our partner to demonstrate in front of the class. We decided on Ipponme, and I was Shidachi for it. Ando Sensei gave us some advice on Ipponme when we were done, pointing out that it wasn't anything that we would find in a book or in the "rules" of kata. He said that the Uchidachi, when they step back after striking Men, should take one small step and then one bigger step to get proper distance. That way there is less fumbling around trying to find the distance when coming back to kamae. I'll remember this for later on...

We put our bokken away, grabbed on Men, Kote, and shinai, and started uchikomi drills right off the bat. We did a few rounds of Kirikaeshi, and then did Kirikaeshi Do and Kirikaeshi Kote. If anyone is not sure what these are, please see my previous post here. We then moved into a variation of Kirikaeshi that I've never done. I will try to explain the best I can, but it's something that has to be seen more than written about. We hit Men and came to taiatari, like normal, but then we would do a "tap, tap, hit" rhythm. We would tap Sayu-Men on the right side of our partner's Men twice, and then hit Sayu-Men on the left side of their Men. We repeated this twice going forward, and twice going back. Having never done this drill before, I took my time with it.

The next couple drills were brand new to me, too. The first was Kote-Kote-Men. Again we used the "tap, tap, hit" rhythm, but we added in footwork for this one. Fumikomi steps for each hit. I'm pretty sure that while I did it I missed a fumikomi here and there, so some of my strikes involved three strikes, but only two steps. The way I approached this drill was to use my first hit to knock my partner's shinai out of the way. Then I would follow up with a Kote strike and Men strike.

The next drill was similar. We performed Kote-Kote-Do. Again, I used the first strike to disrupt my partner's shinai, and then struck Kote and Do. And again I'm pretty sure a few of them involved only two steps. I might take some time before class in the future to work on this. Basically, the two steps for Kote should be in place or very, VERY short, and then a short fumikomi step for the Men/Do/whatever the target is at the end.

We moved onto some more familiar drills at this point. Kote-Do, and finally Do. Kote-Do, after doing the previous drills, felt a lot better, as did Do. I feel like I'm a lot more accurate with my Do strikes these days. Most likely due to having done hundreds of them by this point in time. I look forward to hundreds, and thousands, more to help refine my technique. I'm still a bit close on Do, which is helping me to take a shorter fumikomi step. After I get comfortable there I'll start backing up to hit from further out. Also I feel like I'm whipping my shinai around a bit better these days. Doing the proper "C" or "half-heart" shape that Sensei talks about. Now I need to be sure I'm hitting the side of the Do and not the front.

We did a full-class drill next. We all lined up on one side of the dojo and had one attacker in the middle. Everyone else would go through and try to hit Men, while the attacker countered with Kaeshi Do. I did my best to hit Men, changing it up a bit depending on which kenshi I was going against. When it was my turn I focused on blocking and pivoting my shinai around, like McNally Sensei showed us on Saturday. I'm not sure how accurate I was with the Do strike itself. I'd like to say that I was very accurate, but I'm not sure. The few people I asked, though, did say that I hit their Do. On the very last person I thought I was done so I started to bow to her and she nailed me right in the head! That's what I get for spacing off...

Waza-geiko was up next, and was the last set of drills I was able to do last night. I decided to use my time to concentrate on Nuki Do, with fairly positive results. On a few people I was able to tell when they were about to hit, so I moved almost exactly as they did. Others, the faster ones (Marek), I was still able to hit Do, but I was VERY close to being hit myself.

As I mentioned earlier, I had to step out and skip jigeiko last night due to my foot, but hopefully on Wednesday night I'll be back for more, with our without sports tape.

A few thoughts:

San-dan Waza: Be sure that I'm actually doing fumikomi for each hit. First couple should be in place (or relative to where my partner/opponent is). Last one should be pushing me forward.

Do: Make sure I'm hitting the side of the Do, not the front. Also concentrate on the footwork, to make sure that I'm not popping my foot up on the Do strike. I can still feel myself doing that here and there.

Nuki Waza: For Do, with faster opponents, I should step more to the side instead of forward. It doesn't have to be a big step, just enough to get out of their way. I think my shinai speed is pretty good at this point, so I can concentrate more on the footwork.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Otaku-Con Demo, and More

This weekend was very interesting, as far as practice goes. I touched a little on beginner class, showing one of the new people the opening and closing movements that we go through (Seiza, Mokuso, Rei to Shomen/Sensei), the proper Kendo stance, and the proper kamae. I wasn't able to help too much with this, as we had a demo to perform today. I was one of six people that performed in a demo at Otaku-Con, which is an anime convention here in Spokane. I'm not that into anime (I do like an episode of certain shows here and there), but I always welcome and enjoy the chance to do and show more Kendo.

We arrived, got ready, and waited for our introductions. I found out that we were going to be doing our demonstration on a carpeted floor, and looking back at it the carpet didn't bother me much at all. I was paired up with my friend Matt and we started with some Nihon Kata. Matt and I went through Sanbonme and Yonhonme (Kata 3 and 4). I was Uchidachi (teacher) and he was Shidachi (student). For the amount of room we had, which wasn't much, I think we did very well. I tried to keep the pace nice and slow and relaxed so that our spectators could see everything that we were doing, plus I always like to be slow and deliberate with kata.

We all put on our Men at this time to do some basic uchikomi drills for everyone, including Men, Kote-Men, Do, and ending with Kirikaeshi. The drills weren't too bad. Again, we seemed to have plenty of room as long as we kept our hits short and didn't follow-through too much. Kirikaeshi was the only problem. We had no room to back up while receiving, so the attacker (kakarite) had to do all of the hits in place that he would normally do while going forward. Oh well, live and learn and adapt.

We ended our demo with a few rounds of jigeiko, with Wendy calling points for the audience. I won my first match, 2 - 1 (I scored Men on both points), although I think I was supposed to win as we had a certain order for doing jigeiko with each other. My second match was against Matt, and he thoroughly beat me, ending the match with 2 - 0. He went on to fight my friend Justin, who won the match, and then Justin fought in Nito (using two swords) against my friend Jordan, and they ended with a tie. We all bowed out and a few of us hurried off to join the last half of our advanced practice at the dojo. All in all I think the demo went very well, although if we do it again next year I might suggest they scoot the rows of chairs back just a little more...

Matt, Jordan, and I all went back to the dojo to jump into the rest of training there. When we arrived, and by the time I had my Men on and was ready to go, we were starting Kirikaeshi Do. This is a variation of the regular Kirikaeshi in which you hit Do (the abdomen area) on the left and right side of your partner's body, instead of hitting the left and right side of their head like in regular Kirikaeshi. I noticed a lot of times while bringing my shinai back up to hit again I would brush against my opponent's arms. I'll have to bring my sword out a little more next time we do this drill. Normally it's not an issue. I hit Do and push through while dragging my shinai across the front of their body, so I usually don't have the need to bring my shinai up again, but still it's a good thing to remember and practice for later.

The next drill was Kirikeashi Kote, another variation in which we hit the partner's left and right wrists (Kote). I felt ok doing this drill, but I think I might been a little too light on my hits. I'm still trying to adjust to hitting fast but not hitting too hard. I noticed that when I do practice with Tsumekawa Sensei that he can hit very fast and the hit is strong, but not overly powerful. what I mean is that you can definitely feel the hit and hear the pop when it connects, but it doesn't hurt or leave bruises later on. I want to have hits similar to this later on in my Kendo life, and it takes a good balance...

We broke into upper and lower ranks at this point (Yudansha and Mudansha groups) and focused on Kaeshi Do. Sean (McNally Sensei) explained Kaeshi Do in detail, and noted that there are generally two ways that you can perform the block. Either catch the opponent's shinai out in front of you, or catch the their in close, so it looks like the block we do in Kirikaeshi. He wanted us to play with both of those for a while, and then he had us try the early block for a few rotations and then the late block for the last few rotations. I tried to remember what he said about pivoting my shinai around the opponent's shinai after I block, and worked on keeping my left hand in place while I blocked and counter-attacked...not an easy task! My left hand wanted to have a mind of its own and go out of the center with each hit. Sometimes it did, but sometimes I was able to keep it in place. If I have a chance tonight I will practice it more.

The final twenty or so minutes were devoted to jigeiko, and I fought almost everyone there, it feels like, including Sean and Ando Sensei....and I'm still no better against either of them. I didn't really expect to be, but you never know. Sean advised me to look for openings and "act" instead of just "react" to his movements and attacks. I definitely am more defensive against the higher ranked people than I am with people around my own rank. I think this is because I know they can pretty much hit me at will, and counter anything I would be able to try on them. But that shouldn't stop me. I read an article before about a dojo in Japan that had a certain way of teaching students. When they would perform uchikomi drills one person would hold a strong kamae, and the other person basically had to rush into their kamae. Yes, they got impaled a lot, but after a while they lost that fear of running into the shinai and were able to attack with full commitment. In a roundabout way I think I need the same kind of thinking against the Yudansha. Despite what will happen I need to be able to attack them with full commitment.

A few thoughts:

Men: This wasn't mentioned above, but we did a Men-uchi drill, as well. Sean told me to snap my wrists more. They were pretty stiff during this drill, so I'll have to work on bringing them back and snapping them forward again.

Do: For the Kirikaeshi Do drill, bring my shinai out a bit more so I don't hit my partner's arms while swinging. This might also be good practice for if I ever am able to use Do-Men effectively...

Kote: Work on that balance with strength and speed.

Kaeshi Waza: As it applies to Do, work on pivoting my shinai around after blocking my opponent's attack. Also I should probably do fumikomi in place, or to the side. When I step in I get too close and end up hitting the front of my opponent's Do. Also remember to keep that left hand in place.

Jigeiko: As I learn more and more I need to let go more and more during jigeiko. Learn to not care about being hit. I have been trying to get into this mindset, and I think I am getting there, very slowly, but it's something I need to always keep in mind during jigeiko.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Taking it Back

I arrived at practice last night not planning on doing intermediate practice. My foot was a bit tender from the last practice. Too much weight on my left foot, and I was afraid of getting another blister. I've had my fair share throughout my Kendo experience, and I'm sure I'll have more in the future, as well. After getting changed and ready, though, I saw that intermediate class still hadn't started...and my hunger for all things Kendo overruled my initial decision, so I lined up with the other students for intermediate class...

We kept it pretty simple, going over footwork and strikes for both Kihon Kata 2 and 3, then we put them into practice with our shinai (Kote-Men, and then Harai Men drills). We finished off that class with some kirikaeshi.

Advanced class started with an in-depth look at Nihon Kata 3 (Sanbonme). We lined up on the far side of the dojo and went over both the Uchidachi and Shidachi footwork, up and down the dojo. We then grabbed our bokken and went over the footwork paired with the strikes. Finally we started bringing it all together by going through the Tsuki strike of Sanbonme with a partner. I learned that I need to make smaller circles when I am Uchidachi, and when Shidachi I need to not pull my hands back on the "smother" part of the kata, at the very beginning. I should let them stay while I step back, and then only pull them back to kamae position while smothering my partner's bokken. We finished off our kata practice by pairing up and going through Sanbonme, each side having a chance to be Shidachi and Uchidachi.

After donning our bogu we jumped into Kirikaeshi to start things off. Since we had no formal warm-up today I took it slow, as Sinclair Sensei advised everyone to do at first. I've been working on my breathing, as well as being very snappy with my Sayu-Men strikes. It's...well, it's coming along. I still need to get to 5 breaths, but I'm doing the best I can and trying to keep it more orderly as I go through.

After a few rounds of Kirikaeshi, we moved into what I like to refer to as the meat and potatoes of our training. Tonight it was taiatari and Hiki Waza, and let me tell you they make for a tasty dish. The first two drills were Men-Taiatari, and Kote-Taiatari. Sensei wanted to make sure that we knew to not be "brick walls" to people new to advanced class or new to armor, so I took a mental note and stepped back appropriately. For myself, though, I like the resistance of running into someone, but even when I was attacking I didn't try to run everyone over. I was trying to find the balance between hitting them fairly aggressively and trying to run over them. It's a thin line, indeed. Sinclair Sensei pointed out, on one of my Kote drills, that I should be doing small strikes, so that I could hit and be at the target as fast as possible.

Next up was Kote-Taiatari-Hiki Men. My first few strikes were slow, so I could get the proper feeling down, and then I focused on hitting correctly as fast as I could. I will say that, compared to a few months ago, I do feel faster. I kept my Kote and Men strikes as small as I could, and tried to not linger after the taiatari. I tried to use it much like a springboard to launch myself back into the Hiki Men, which worked to varying degrees depending on how solid my receiver (Motodachi) was at the time. I'll have to try it out in jigeiko one of these days...

The final set of drills we had before being unleashed to do jigeiko were Hiki Waza drills. Both people would start in tsubazeriai (locked close together with the sword hilts touching), and the attacker (Kakarite) would try to find an opening and hit either Hiki Men, Kote, or Do. The receiver (Motodachi) would try to block/counter/whatever they could do to keep the kakarite from hitting properly. The next drill involved both sides trying to hit Hiki Waza on the other side, at the same time (both sides hot, as Sensei describes it). I had a few good hits here and there, and a few failures. On the flip side, I also was able to completely block and nullify a few attacks, and other times I couldn't stop a hit if my life depended on it. I think the majority of the strikes I was able to successfully connect with involved either Sayu-Men (hitting to the right or left of the center of the head), or bringing my hands up like I was going to hit Men and instead hitting Kote when my opponent moved to block. While Motodachi, I was able to read some people's movements a lot better than others, and I believe that in this drill a lot of it comes down to being able to read them and see how they're moving and interpret that correctly, as either Men, Kote, or Do strike. Still, even with that knowledge, some people are still a lot faster than I am, so I'll keep working on that side of things, as well.

We took about the last half-hour of class for jigeiko. I had MANY opponents in that time. I believe I did jigeiko at least once with every one of the Mudansha (below black belt) group. I'm feeling a lot bolder these days, which is leading me to hit more often, do multiple hits, and try out new oji waza (counter attacks). I believe during the course of the night I had tried (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) Nuki Waza, Kaeshi Waza, Debana Waza, possibly Suriage Waza, and a whole list of others. I believe the biggest issue in my jigeiko is zanshin. That follow-through that says "I'm still ready and prepared to fight, but that hit was mine." I tend to stop more often then not, or get caught up in taiatari and tsubazeriai and lose my momentum. I've noticed that the higher ranked kenshi will actually bounce off of people when they end up in this position, so that they can continue with their follow-through and show proper zanshin. I feel like I'm recognizing openings a little more during each practice, even if I'm not fast enough to capitalize on them.

One last round of Kirikaeshi, and we bowed out and called it a night.

Some thoughts:

Taiatari: As Motodachi, when I need to be solid, I need to slightly step into the hit. This will give me a solid base and a little forward movement to absorb my opponent's hit and stand my ground. I do this, but I need to be more consistent. Also remember to keep my hands down and away from my body, not pressed into my chest/stomach area. As kakarite, I need to strike and then pull my hands down and use my body to crash into my opponent, not my hands.

Hiki Waza: I focused a lot on speed and not power. Again, Sayu-Men is my friend. With Kote I need to eliminate the small step back I take before I strike. I need to be able to explode from where I'm at instead of trying to sneak back and then hit (at least consistently).

Jigeiko: Zanshin! If I don't have that it doesn't matter how nice my hits are. Without the follow-through they won't mean anything. I need to work on pushing through, or around, or bouncing off my opponent to show proper zanshin during jigeiko.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Edge. And Beyond.

Due to an interesting day on Saturday there was no blog post. I was able to jump into the intermediate class and go over some kihon kata, but that was it. Our advanced class was canceled last minute due to church plans for the gym that day. So we all packed up and ate popsicles outside!

Last night was one of the toughest nights for me. Sinclair Sensei talks about always pushing ourselves to the edge during practice. To give it our all and know our limits and be able to go up to the edge each time. I do believe I not only hit the edge last night (which I usually do), but I was dangling my feet out over it...

I came really early last night, to be sure I had enough time to get changed and ready for intermediate practice. Since there was no practice on Saturday I felt an urge to get in a little more, and to my surprise the intermediate class was very full. All of the Iaido people stayed to do intermediate training, which was nice. We went over kihon kata 1 (Men, Kote, Do, Tsuki) and 2 (Kote-Men). Sensei explained each step for both attacker (kakarite) and receiver (motodachi), and talked about what movements we should make, the footwork, and keeping the connection with our kamae. He then had us grab our shinai, and had a few of us, including myself, put on our bogu to be targets. We went over the kihon kata again, but with a more practical approach. He had the kakarite perform both kata 1, but they were instructed to actually hit us. We then spent the last of the time going over Tsuki and how to properly perform it in the kata. this is the first time I'd ever actually received Tsuki. It was an odd sensation. Not painful, but a bit unpleasant.

After bowing out and warming up a bit, we started advanced training. We split into groups and performed traditional kata (Nihon Kata). I went over Kata 3 (Sanbonme) with my buddy Matt, going over teacher (Uchidachi) and student (Shidachi) sides many, many times. One of my biggest issues on this kata is the distance. If I don't have the proper distance on either side, during the first movement (Tsuki, or the parrying of the Tsuki), I miss my partner's bokken and it seems to mess everything up for me. I asked Sinclair Sensei about the proper distance after we were done with kata, and he explained that technically having the swords touch at their tips is correct, the way we practice is to have them slightly crossed, just like we would with a shinai. He wants us to have that feeling during everything that we do. I will try this distance next time.

Warm-up exercises and suburi, and then Kirikaeshi got us full on into training. We started with kihon drills; Men, Kote, and Do. Sean pointed out that my Kote strikes were very fast. I definitely heard the "pop" sound that we are all looking for on a good hit, which made me happy. Not sure if I've heard it before or not on my strikes. Wendy pointed out on my Do strikes to snap my wrists more. I was really concentrating on footwork during Do, but after she said that I snapped my wrist around and felt that satisfying solid strike I was looking for. I definitely still need to work on my footwork, though.

Next on the list was Kote-Men. I concentrated on making my kiai as fast as possible, as I have been doing lately, and tried to not worry about striking perfectly on the Kote. I wanted to either hit the Kote or hit my partner's shinai so it knocked it out of the way, thus making an opening for a good Men strike. I don't think I did too bad on this drill, but I could definitely feel the heat beating down on me, which was causing me to lose force and steam when I would turn around. I've been pretty successful with doing my first fumikomi step in place, though, so it's good to know I don't have to think much about that part anymore.

The next drill was Debana Kote. Our partner would strike Men while we pushed forward with Debana Kote (or backward, as we did in a later variation of the drill). I actually felt really good on this one, despite how tired I was. I've been working on it, trying to make it one of my better techniques, and I can feel it coming along. I did have to sit out for one round to catch my breath a bit, though. The one and only time I stepped out, but we did plenty of rotations of this drill that I was able to get a lot of practice in on it anyway.

The final sets of drills we did were Hiki Men, Hiki Kote, and then a variation where we would strike at either Men or Kote (still doing Hiki) and our opponent would try to block our attempts. Hiki Men felt pretty good. I still think I'm moving my hand up a bit too high on the strike, but I was concentrating more on not hitting too hard. I remember a few practices ago when Mark told me that my swing is getting really fast so I'll have to be careful about how much power is in it. I took the same caution with Kote, although that one felt better. Since my wrists are already pulled back from being in Tsubazeriai, I can just snap them forward as I pull away from my opponent. The last drill, I had a little luck with, doing Sayu-Men on a few people to throw them off, but I didn't have as much luck when I was motodachi trying to block. Some people are just way faster than I am! Someday I'll be that fast, too...

Sensei had the Mudansha (below black belt) group sit to the side at this point, while the Yudansha group performed jigeiko (free practice). He then told me to go ahead and join the Yudansha group. There was the edge. There was me almost crossing it. I was exhausted at this point, but put in as much energy as I could with each of my opponents. In the end I had seven rounds of jigeiko, each one minute. It was also able to go against our newest member, Seth, from Hawaii. I have to say that his Kendo is very impressive. He's very fast and powerful. I know that we are all going to learn a lot from him.

One last round of jigeiko and we bowed out for the night. It was definitely one of the most tiring, and rewarding, nights of training in recent memory.

A few points:

Kote: Keep doing what I'm doing. Work on bringing my hands up only as high as they need to go, do get rid of the wasted movement. I feel like I'm on the right track with this technique, though.

Do: As Wendy pointed out, more wrist snap. In my pursuit to make my footwork better I softened my strikes a bit. I'll have to remember this next time.

Kote-Men: I feel that I'm eliminating the two-step feeling of this waza that I used to have. I just need to keep on it and keep pushing myself. I'm only as fast as I think I am.

Debana Kote: Watch my opponent and concentrate on their movement so I can recognize when they are about to strike. I have to believe I'm fast enough to catch them if I can gauge when they will strike properly.

Hiki Men: I asked one of my opponents, the smallest one, if I was hitting too hard on this strike. He said no. So I will concentrate on eliminating wasted movement here, as well.

Jigeiko: I really need to work on my follow-through and zanshin after I strike. I need to get into a habit of, even if I miss, still pushing forward. This is going to turn into a big issue if I'm not able to correct it at this point.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Connections

This is the first week that the new valley dojo has been opened. I went by to see it the first day on Tuesday, and let me say that it is a huge dojo! I am going to thoroughly enjoy helping out there and getting a chance to go over basics a bit more than in our advanced classes. I can always learn more about my own basics, whether it's in my swing, my footwork, my spirit, or anywhere in between.

I showed up last night early, as is my custom, and was able to help out with the intermediate class a bit. Sinclair Sensei had me work with one of the new intermediate guys on kata one (Ipponme) to learn the teacher (Uchidachi) and student (Shidachi) sides. I tried not to confuse my student too much, and just go over the steps. I did want to point out two very important parts, at least to myself. One thing I told him is that there is no such thing as going too slow on a kata. The other thing I told him is to make each movement deliberate, on purpose. These are both especially true with the Uchidachi side. Since they are the leaders, being slow and deliberate and setting the pace and making sure your partner is ready and moving with you is very important. I had him go over each side a few times with me, and a few times by himself. He had the steps down pretty well, only missing an occasional pause or step here and there, but overall I think it went very well for never doing Ipponme before.

Our class started with kata, as well. We will be doing a lot of kata for the next couple of months, leading up to the two shinsa in August (our local shinsa and the official PNKF shinsa). We broke up into groups that were learning or refining 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5, and 6 & 7. I have gone over 1 & 2 in depth a few times (but I can always use more practice), so I decided to jump into 3 & 4 for now. If I get a chance I hope to be able to go over 1 - 3 in detail during our kata time.

My partner and I were only able to go over kata 3 (Sanbonme). I was Uchidachi for the whole time, and led her through the steps and movements of Shidachi and how they corresponded with my movements. By the end of our time together she had Shidachi side down pretty well. Sensei talked a lot about keeping a connection with our partner throughout our kata time. He talked about when the connection should start and end, and how focused we should be throughout. Our connection with our partner should start before we even step in to begin kata. He said that we should physically make that connection with our attention and eye contact, step in (even just slightly) to signal that we're ready, and then flow through our kata (or katas) while maintaining that connection. When we're done we should not break the connection until we have bowed out, faced our partner again, and stepped back. He explained that this is why katas are so short, as it's very hard to keep that kind of mental focus for a long period of time. We'll be digging into the katas more as time goes on, but this was a very good start.

We switched out our bokken for our shinai, donned our Men and Kote, and warmed up by ourselves for a few minutes before lining up for uchikomi drills. During kirikaeshi I made sure to stay nice and slow and deliberate, since we hadn't done official warm-ups. Afterward we moved on to Men, Kote, and Do.

I took it easy on all of these drills, doing three strikes of each drill with my partners. Men felt pretty good. I might be popping my foot up a little bit on small Men, though. I'll have to watch it sometime, or ask my partner to watch for it. when I do a full Men swing I don't feel it as much, but on the small ones I feel like it might be coming up a bit too high. Kote felt pretty good. I've been working on snapping my wrists and good tenouchi, and also angling my body off just enough to pass my partner and get around their shinai without going way too far to the side. It seems to be working ok; I haven't caught anyone's kensen (shinai tip) in a while.

Do...what can I say? I seem to be getting better, but with every step I take with this technique, more issues become apparent. Sensei stopped me and pointed out that my Do strike looks very good these days, but that my feet need some work. He said that I'm lifting my right foot too much during the strike, and not bringing my left foot up fast enough. He says to not think about my shinai next time, and to concentrate on my feet now. I was glad to hear that the work I've been doing on Do is starting to pay off, and now I have some other things to work on. I'll keep on it and hopefully here in a little while I'll be able to show some progress with my footwork, too.

Our next drill was Kote-Men, which we worked on for a long time. First we did the drill normally. I've been working a lot on my speed with this one. Making my kiai as fast as possible and letting my feet catch up to that. Sensei has gone over that point a few times, and I have noticed that I'm getting faster with it, even though I don't feel like I'm doing too much differently. Just a different mindset. I'm only as fast as I think I am, so if I think I'm faster eventually I will be faster. We switched up the drill after a while, and instead of us moving, our partner would take a step in while we did Kote in place, and then Men. We were supposed to just as fast here as we were doing it the "regular" way, but I felt quite a bit slower in this drill. I think I need to anticipate my partner moving just a bit more, that way I can be acting with their movement, instead of reacting to their movement.

We moved on to Kote-Nuki Men. This drill was also done in place. Our partner would move in to hit Kote, and we were supposed to draw our hands up out of the way and then hit Men and fumikomi in place before pushing forward. Sensei pointed out that it should be a split-second pause between the fumikomi and when we push forward. I felt pretty good with this drill, using my left hand to push my shinai up out of the and using it to pull the shinai back down to the proper striking position. I also felt like I was anticipating my partner a bit better than before. I still need to stop my left foot from trying to step back behind me, though. I felt it was an almost involuntary movement, and it will definitely be a costly one later on if I don't work to fix it now.

Before we moved on to our next drill, Sensei had me and my partner demonstrate Nuki Men for everyone. the purpose was to help her to keep the center and not let me have it, and to push straight through me (I was going off slightly to the side on my Kote strikes). Sensei pointed out a few things that I think can apply to all of us. Our spirit should be at or above the level of our partner. If we have a small spirit, we're not going to do as well as if we have a big spirit. This comes a lot from kiai, and our kiai should be powerful and confident and big. Not necessarily loud, although that does come into it. We should also hold our ground and not let our opponent take the center. Our hits should be confident, fast, and on target even as our opponent passes us.

We were able to fit in one round of waza-geiko before doing jigeiko. I used my time to work on (what else?) Do. I tried to think solely of my feet, and worked to keep my right foot as close to the ground as I could. Sensei said to try and slide my foot forward as far as I can, and then at the last second do the fumikomi stomp. It's definitely going to take some time. My tendency is to bring my foot up slightly off of the ground, so it's skimming the ground, and then stomp as my weight shifts forward.

Even though I was ready to die at this point, I stayed in for jigeiko. I went against Loren (briefly, we were able to get in a couple hits each before changing partners), Jeff, and finally Marek. I am still trying to work out what to do against Jeff. I can see some openings (most of which he gives me deliberately), but it seems if I wait he hits me. And if I try to hit something he counters and then hits me. So, in short, I get hit a lot when I fight him. One of these days I might get a legitimate hit on him, but for now I'll keep trying. And Marek...well, I don't know about that, either. I was way tired by that point. I think I might have had a couple of good hits, but he is very, very good. He stays on me and counters me very effectively. I definitely have to keep on my toes when fighting Marek.

After one last kirikaeshi we bowed out and closed for the night.

Some thoughts:

Men: Be sure to watch my right foot and make sure it isn't popping up like I think it is.

Do: Work on the footwork. Don't worry about my hands so much right now, they seem to be doing an ok job at this point.

Kote-Men: Keep pushing my kiai faster and making my feet catch up. I can do it!

Nuki-Men: This is true for all of my waza that I can do in place. Stop pushing the left foot back. Fumikomi in place and push forward.

I'm excited for more at the new dojo tomorrow, and practice this weekend. It's going to be super hot, but that's always part of our training.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Back in Black, and Blue

I have missed training so much these past couple weeks. We had the dojo shut down for repairs on the floor. While it was for a good reason, the absence of training in my schedule was definitely leading to some withdrawals. In the off-time we did organize some outdoor training in the park. It was definitely a lot of fun, and it sounds like everyone enjoyed the time together to go over suburi and kata, but it did feel really good to get back to the dojo again.

The repaired floor was a lot better, but they did miss quite a few spots. We took a few minutes before class to mark as many of them as we could. I'm wondering if we'll have another period of downtime while they go back and repair all the spots they missed...

We started with warm-up exercises and suburi, then donned our Men and Kote and went into Kirikaeshi. I really emphasized slow, deliberate movements since it had been so long since I had done that drill. Large swings, good tenouchi and pauses on every hit. I still need to work the breathing pattern in a bit better, though.

Kihon (basic) Men, Kote, and Do drills were up next, and Sensei had us do three hits on each drill. I believe not only so we could concentrate on each hit more, but so that we could all work back into our normal practice routine. I'm sure that not all of us had kept up on the training while we were out, so this might have been a time to ease everyone back into the drills. Men and Kote felt good, Do felt ok. I didn't feel horrible with it, as I have so many other times, but I also didn't feel spectacular. If I were to give it a grade, it would have been a solid C.

Kote-Men and Kote-Do were up next. I thoroughly enjoyed Kote-Men, and while I was doing Kote-Do I actually felt pretty fast for it. I tried to concentrated on keeping my left hand centered and using it for the force while I direct my shinai around with my right hand. I was actually a little surprised at how fast I could hit Kote-Do and still feel in control. I guess all that extra suburi is paying off?

The final drills we did were a couple that we haven't done in a while. Kote-Nuki Men, Men-Debana Kote, and Kote-Kaeshi Men. For Kote-Nuki Men we stayed in place, and did fumikomi in place for the first few rounds, and then we moved during the fumikomi, either forward (at an angle) or backwards. For both Nuki Men and Debana Kote I had to focus on keeping my left foot from springing backwards when I went to hit. I'm still not really sure why I do this, but it's wasted movement and I've been working to get rid of it. Kaeshi Men, after a few rounds, felt pretty good. I've been doing the movement for some of my suburi drills, so incorporating it into this drill was a lot easier than I thought. Again, the first few drills were in place, and then we were allowed to move while hitting. I usually had to move backwards, since most of my partners were a lot faster than me and almost in my face by the time I was able to hit. I'll definitely work on being faster at this one.

The last of our training time was spent with waza-geiko drills, and one last round of Kirikaeshi. I used my time to work on Kaeshi Men a little more, and Do. I feel like my Do is getting stronger, and I think at this point I just need to let go of that mental block to allow me to hit it with more authority and commitment.

After class Sensei Sinclair made some comments on how we were going to be changing the way we approach waza this summer, and introduce a course of training that will hopefully be more efficient. I'm definitely looking forward to what's in store, and feel that my Kendo will be benefiting greatly from this.

A few thoughts:

Kirikaeshi: Keep up the work on the breathing, and learn to use it properly while going through this drill.

Kote: Look for that nice, solid popping sound from a good Kote strike.

Do: I think I'm going in the right direction as far as training, I just need to work on the mental block I mentioned above, and keep at it. It's a hard technique for me, but I feel the benefits will be worth it once I'm able to utilize it more effectively.

Kote-Men: Fumikomi in place on the first hit, and then explode forward. As Sensei pointed out, on this and others (such as Kote-Do), we want to be at about 30/70 on our hits. Light Kote, heavy Men.

Debana Kote: Hit my opponent on the way up, which I can do with some people, but others I will have to learn to anticipate the hit more.

Kaeshi Men: Remember to drive the left hand straight up and drop the shinai to my side, and when I rotate it around be sure to have it up in a strong position before I hit, not trying to bring it over my shoulder, which leads to too much right hand/elbow movement.

One more day off on Monday, and then back to our regular training schedule on Wednesday!