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!