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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.


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