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.
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.