Since I joined the intermediate class, as well as trained in advanced, I was able to hear this information twice, so I hope that I can convey the feeling that I'm looking for properly. Sinclair Sensei brought it up a bit during intermediate, and then expanded on it during advanced class.
He said that there is a saying among some more experience kenshi that states the key to finding opportunities to attack is in a good seiza. Seiza is the traditional seated position we use in Kendo, usually done during the beginning and ending of class, at the very least. You may be asking yourself...how does sitting properly lead to finding good openings? I asked myself this same question, as would most people, but Sensei did a very good job of explaining the steps taken to get from point A to point B in this discussion.
Let's start with seiza itself. You should have a good position (which I won't try to explain here), and you should have a nice straight back, with a slight arch. The position causes your hips to lean forward, which creates the arch in your back and gives you a very natural position with no tension on the lower back. The arms should be relaxed, with your shoulders relaxed down and not protruding at all. The head should be up and straight, not leaning forward and tilted down This position, the back straight, shoulders relaxed, and straight head, translates straight to what you want when you stand. This translates to what you want when you take a good Kendo stance, with your left foot (most of the time) behind your right and your weight on both balls of your feet, with your left heel slightly raised off the floor. So you see, the good posture and habits that you learn and work on in seiza directly translate to standing, to your stance, and finally to attacking.
We took about half and hour on this lecture, which was very interesting, to say the least. I'm just sorry that I can't recall the entire thing to reproduce it here for my own good later on, but I hope I got the general summary that I was looking for.
We started off with Kirikaeshi, taking it slow for the first few rounds, and the moved into Kote and Do variations. I feel like I am faster at Do these days, since I'm starting to get over that mental block that was stopping me before. I also feel more accurate with it, although I do tend to miss every once in a while, still. The sound of hitting a good Do strike is very satisfying, though, and it motivates me to do better with the technique. With the Kote strikes I had to take really small steps, since I was able to reach out so far to strike. I would rather take smaller steps and be able to reach out properly than collapse my arms and hit incorrectly.
We moved onto Men next, and I took my time on this one. I tried to be sure that each hit I was doing was while my hands were moving down, not on the way up. Sensei pointed out that at the lower ranks you can get away with hitting on the way up, and a lot of people do, since it's initially faster. But he said that we should work on hitting on the way down, properly, because in time we will have a faster, correct technique. I think that I'm doing this pretty well, but I'll continue to work on it. The last few rotations of this drill Sensei wanted us to focus on hitting as fast as we possibly could, whether we were taking one or two steps. I tried doing both of these variations; hitting from a standing position and hitting with a quick step in to close distance. I think I did pretty well with this, at least for my level, but speed is something that I can always work on. I've heard a saying around our dojo that applies to speed. If you want to be faster, relax. It seems weird at first, but it's definitely true. Tense arms and muscles only slow you down and create improper technique.
The next drill we did was one that I first saw and did at Kendo camp last year. We set up with a partner at an angle, and we step in with fumikomi to taiatari, and then move around then and step back with fumikomi again as we move away from them. This is done at about a 45-degree angle, and then we do it while moving back to our starting position. At first we did the drill with no shinai, just to get the feel of the movement, and then afterward we added in our shinai and did it with actual Men and Hiki Men strikes. I was definitely better at moving left-to-right. It seemed that when I went the other way I took way too many steps to get around my partner.
We split up into Yudansha/Mudansha groups at this point and proceeded with jigeiko. I was only able to get in a couple of rounds, though, before a blister popped on my foot, forcing me to step out. I didn't want to make it any worse that it already was, or else I might have to miss even more practice later on. While in, though, I worked on Shomen and Nuki Do strikes. I landed a couple of really good Nuki Do strikes on one of my opponents, by controlling the distance and forcing them to come to me and make a move. I do need to work on being more accurate in a jigeiko setting, though. Many times last night I saw an opening and went for it, but then completely missed my target (mostly Men). I also need to remember that even if I miss my mark, to keep pushing through and finish the strike as if I had hit it properly. I have a tendency to stop myself when that happens. Sean referred to it as killing my own technique.
The last drill of the night was one that we call "Pinball." I wish I had been able to do it, too, because it's one of my favorite drills. The way it's done is there are 4 receivers that make up a square (one at each corner). Then 4 attackers are positioned in between each receiver and they go through hitting Men and then Hiki Men on each receiver as fast as they can. It's a very fun drill, both to participate in and to watch. I made sure to have a strong spirit and give lots of encouragement and cheering to the kenshi that did do the drill. It's the least I can do when sidelined.
I'm very much looking forward to this Saturday practice, and also to next week. I was informed that we will have a guest leading our practice. Stroud Sensei from Idaho Kendo Club. I haven't met him yet, but I've heard a lot about him, so it's very exciting for me.
A few thoughts:
Men: Bring my hands up higher on my small Men strike. I need to make sure that they are up high enough for a valid, and correct, strike. Also I still need to remember to square up my shoulders and not let my right arm lean me to the side while striking.
Do: Be sure to keep my left hand in the center always. I noticed on Kirikaeshi Do that it comes out to the right and left side slightly.
Jigeiko: Work on being more accurate with my strikes, Men in particular. Also finish my attack by having a good follow-through and zanshin, even when I miss.