Practice last night was pretty intense, but very rewarding. I felt really good. Physically, my thumb and heel are healing up, so I was able to go longer without having to step out...actually I didn't step out at all last night. Also since I had missed practice in the valley the night before, I was really looking forward to getting into the dojo and practicing. Also we did a few new drills and variations that we haven't done in a while. It's always fun when we mix things up. We also played a game called "pig in the pen," which I'll explain more later. Also, lastly, my brother and mom showed up for practice, to watch. My brother is going to join the new beginner's class in a few weeks, and my mom stayed and watched our whole practice, which I appreciated very much.
Since Sinclair Sensei, McNally Sensei, and Ando Sensei were absent last night, Wendy led class. We had a pretty small class, only about a dozen or so people, but everyone gave their all and really pushed themselves as much as they could. It was great to see that no matter how many people we have, or who is leading, that we all give it our best. I firmly believe that we get out of Kendo as much as we put in, and for me that means putting in as much as I can. I definitely want to excel, but I know that it takes hours and hours of practice and repetition to get there.
Wendy had me lead warm-ups last night, and afterwards we went into Kirikaeshi drills. Again, I focused on good form, nice relaxed hits, and then sped it up after a few rotations. Wendy pointed out that we shouldn't cut ourselves short on the Men strikes at the beginning and in the middle, that we should avoid dropping our hands straight down to taiatari after the strike. I tried to strike and then push through a bit before bringing my hands down, and I tried to bring my body up to my hands instead of collapsing my hands back to my body, and it seemed to work rather well.
Next we did Men strikes, and then a variation from to-ma. We would step in with pressure and then smother our partner's shinai, pushing it ever so slightly out of center to open then up, before launching forward with a Men strike. She explained that this should be a very small movement, and that it should stay within the "triangle" of our partner's head and their shoulders. The idea was to take the center and then strike from there. I had mixed success with this drill, and found that the smaller I could make the movement the better position I was in to strike. It didn't take a huge opening to get in and hit, just throw them off for just a second.
Next we did Kote strikes, but instead of going over the shinai we went under the Shinai. Wendy said that, just like when we go over the shinai and barely pass over the top, this drill should be done with our shinais barely passing underneath our opponent's shinai. She also pointed out that I should work on sliding forward, since she pointed out that I leaned forward into the strike. I'll be sure to be mindful of this and work on it in the future. Other than that leaning, though, I felt pretty good moving my shinai underneath and then striking. I used to do this kind of strike a lot, but stopped doing it as much so I could focus on good, clean strikes.
We took the Kote drill to another level, by going under and doing a form of harai from the other side of the shinai. The first two strikes were Kote, and then the last one was harai Men, after dropping under the partner's shinai. I didn't get to practice this one much, because we only did a couple rotations on it, and one of my partners had no Men so I only did the Kote strike part of the drill.
Next we went back to re-visit the pressuring drill from earlier, only this time it was the Motodachi that pressured. They were instructed to pressure a bit too much, which the Kakarite would use to do Kaeshi Men. The object of the drill was to use that pressure to whip the shinai around and strike. I actually felt pretty good with this drill last night, and I focused on bringing the shinai up and over my head, instead of striking from over my shoulder, which is a bad habit to get into. Now, whether I was succeeding at getting my shinai all the way up there is another story.
The next two drills were very similar. In both the Motodachi would step in and strike Kote. The Kakarite struck Kote-Men, and then later Kote-Do. At first I was waiting for my partner to move before I moved, and I used the Kote-Men as a counter. Wendy said that we should be striking at the same time, though, so each time after that, when I heard the whistle blow, I would try to hit immediately. A few times I was able to hit pretty fast, other times no so much, but I tried to keep that feeling of readiness. Like a spring all coiled up and ready to go once you let go of it.
Ai-Men was the last drill that we did, and I honestly felt a lot faster with it. I concentrated on straight, fast strikes, and tried to keep the center as much as I could. I felt that it worked more often that it has in the past, and that I was able to get some really good strikes even against people with more experience. That last part could have been in my head, but I did get some comments on it from some of the friends, so I think I'm on the right track. In the end nothing beats straight, true Kendo.
We took a quick break, and then we started our game of "pig in the pen." If you are reading this and have never heard of it, this is how it went. We all made a big circle, with two people facing off in the middle. All of us were responsible for calling points that we thought were valid, with one person designated as the "shinpan," and they would have final say on the winning point. The winner would stay and face another random person that would jump in from the circle, and it would start over again. It was great fun, and I got beat right off the bat a few times, but the last time I went in I won. And won. And won....and kept going. I went through quite a few opponents, but I was quickly getting exhausted. I wanted someone to beat me just so I could take a breather, but at the same time I wasn't about to just give up. Even though not all of the points would be considered valid in a shiai setting, it was still great fun and I definitely enjoyed being able to fight in such a fast-paced setting.
After a few rounds of jigeiko we bowed out. Unfortunately I wasn't able to keep myself fully injury-free, because I stepped back on my heel a bit hard right during the end in one of my jigeiko matches. I'll have to continue to be careful with that foot and work on using more of my foot for my fumikomi step, instead of landing on the heel, which caused the pain and bruising in the first place.
A few thought:
Men/Kote: Keep working on striking with my whole body, instead of leaning into the strike. I should concentrate on moving from my feet and center and keeping my upper body above my hips.
Jigeiko: I should work on striking my opponents as soon as they enter my range (uchi-ma). Billy does a good job of forcing this on me, as he is constantly walking right into my striking distance. When I practice with him I am forced to think and act a lot faster than with other people. It's a skill I need to cultivate, so that I can recognize openings more quickly and act on them in less time.