Just a few words about teaching before I start my normal post. I definitely have a lot more respect for teachers now. I had a lot before, but after this weekend I can see what a tough position it really is. I had a chance to experience two different teaching situations. The first one, on Friday night at the valley dojo, I had a plan of action and knew, roughly, what I was going to do, so practice went fairly well. I taught the beginners and the time went by smoothly, and we were able to cover everything that as left for me to do. Saturday, though, I got thrown into the fire a bit. I had to lead the one intermediate member that came to class, and I had no plan and was not prepared to do that at all, but I did my best and went over some drills and points that we had been covering lately. I have to say I definitely like the planned route better, but in both situations I did my best to cover material and techniques that were relevant to each class's experience level.
Saturday we were back to our "normal" routine, with warm-ups and drills to start with, instead of kata. With all of the testing done for this time of year, McNally Sensei decided to get us back to our normal practices. After warm-ups we went straight into Kirikaeshi. First normal, then Kirikaeshi Do and Kote. I did my best to have a fast, strong Do strike, but I'm pretty sure I missed a couple of times. From what I could gather the times I missed were the times where I didn't bring my left hand down to center. I'm a lot better at it now than I used to be, but it's still something I need to work on, and I can't let it slack. For Kote I tried to take smaller steps, again, so that I could fully extend my arms for the strike. I also worked on tenouchi, so that I didn't bring the shinai crashing down on my partner's Kote very hard.
Next up we went into a few kihon drills. My Men strikes were, well, nothing spectacular today. I took my time on each one, first doing a big swing and then finishing them out with smaller strikes, but I need to remember to bring my hands up high enough for a valid Men strike. I think I tend to hit too small sometimes. Ando also brought up a good point about this, which I will reflect on later. Sean had some good advice for me with Kote, as well. He said that I tend to lean to my left right before I strike Kote. He said the good news is that I move from my hips, but I need to eliminate the lean. When I focused on it and did the drill again, he said that I wasn't leaning. I will add this to the list of things I'm working on, I definitely don't want to start developing any "tells" in my techniques.
The next drill is one that I did once before Billy left to Japan, but not on this level. We did a variation of Hayasuburi where we hit Men, Kote, Men. We would step forward and strike Men, like normal. Step back and strike Kote, and then step forward again and strike Men, ending by stepping back and bringing our shinai back over our heads again. This was one count. We did this drill forty times the first time, and then fifty times immediately afterward. Although I started out strong and fast with them, I was unable to finish that way, and quickly learned that I need to work on my stamina...
After a short break we moved into Kote-Men. I worked on varying my strikes, first doing small Kote, Big Men, and then small Kote, small Men. I also tried to vary my footwork to see what worked best for me, and what different timings I could accomplish with the two strikes. I also tried to work on knocking my partner's shinai out of the center, instead of trying to strike their actual Kote. Sinclair Sensei has pointed out many times before that the Men strike is the most important one in that drill, so it should be where our main focus and effort are.
The next drill we did was Kote-Men, but the Motodachi would strike Kote, as well. So we were supposed to nullify their Kote strike with our own and then strike Men. I had various results with this drill, depending entirely upon how fast my partners were. Some people I was able to strike a really good Men strike on...others I felt like I practically buried my tsuba in their Men. I'll keep working on this one, try to get my hands to move faster.
We moved onto Ai-Men at this time, which is a technique that I haven't done much. The drill is done with both people striking Men at practically the same time, each one trying to score a valid point. It was explained that the person with the best, straightest technique would be the one to score, and that we shouldn't try to duck or dodge or hit any other way besides straight Men, because anything else will only slow us down and make us lose the center, which is critical in this drill. Unfortunately one of my partners for this one was Sean himself, and I'm pretty sure even on a good day I can't match the speed of his Men strike. But with others I had a little better success. Again, a technique I'll have to continue to work on.
We had time for a few rounds of waza-geiko before moving into jigeiko, and I used that time to work on Men strikes, and Kote-Men. Again, I worked on timing, distance, and big/small strikes. During jigeiko I had to step out for a few rounds, again due to the blister that I received on Wednesday night, but I came back in later on to finish up the jigeiko time. One of my opponents was Ando Sensei, and he gave me some advice concerning my Kote and Men strikes. He said that my Kote is very good, that I don't need to practice it that much anymore, and that I should instead be trying to use good, big Men strikes him. The way he put it is that I'm taller than he is, and bigger, and I should concentrate most of my strikes on his Men. He also said that I shouldn't try to side-step to avoid him after I strike, but I should try to keep the center and crash right into him if he is there. We tried this a few times, and I was able to do it, although I felt a bit uncomfortable crashing into a sensei like that.
The last drill we did for the day was 5x5's. This drill is done with a partner. The first person will strike Men, and then five Sayu-Men strikes. then the next person will do the same, so you move back and forth across the dojo floor. This is one count. We do this five times. I was only able to get in one rotation of 5x5's, due to my foot and the fact that I was exhausted and about ready to fall over, so for the last rotation they did I cheered them all on. If ever there was a lesson to be learned from this practice, it was that I need more stamina and endurance!
A few thoughts:
Men: Ando Sensei pointed out that, against a shorter opponent than myself, I should concentrate on striking Men, and only occasionally strike Kote to mix it up. Also, concerning Ai-Men, I should keep my strikes as straight on on-center as I can, and if I know my opponent is faster than me I should try to start my strike firt.
Kote: Don't lean! Try to strike from a stationary position, or from a short step in, but avoid leaning to the side before the hit. I should angle my whole body to the side at the time that I do fumikomi and strike.
Jigeiko: I'm getting a little better with finishing my strikes, but I need to remember to do it in all cases, even if I miss or if my hit is too shallow, etc. I need to always push through with good spirit and follow-through.