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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.

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