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.