So, first of all I avoided injuring myself further last night, so I'm very happy about that. I took it pretty easy and relaxed last night, and just did a couple rounds of jigeiko so I could avoid bruising my heel any more or jamming my thumb again. I'll continue to take it easy for the next week or so until I'm back to 100%.
We started out a bit differently last night, and I'm always welcome to new drills. After bowing in, we practiced standing and sitting in seiza, back and forth. The focus was on our posture and centers and keeping our backs straight and keeping a good posture. As I mentioned before in this recent post, good posture in seiza can translate into good posture during keiko, and can help with overall better Kendo. We also practice standing and sinking down into sonkyo, with our focus, again, on keeping our backs straight and having good posture.
After warm-ups, we worked a bit on footwork, keeping our toes down during fumikomi, and practiced going back and forth across the dojo floor. We would slide our front foot out as far as we could, and then at the last second bring our foot up and step to catch our balance. Sensei explained that we should commit so much to the step that we couldn't pull back and are almost at the point of falling over before we step to catch ourselves and shoot forward.
Next we added in our shinai, and first tried the same drill while holding a strong kamae, and then worked on stepping while striking Men. This was the focus of the night, and one that I definitely want to practice. We would step forward, and pressure forward with our kensen, and then at the last moment when we would step bring the shinai up to strike. The strike was supposed to be nice and relaxed, but I found myself rushing the hit, tensing up, messing up my footwork, or not getting my swing to stop at the same time as my footwork. This is a very powerful technique, to be able to always pressure forward, even in our strikes, and it's one that I will definitely work on to improve. I seem to be at the point where I can start my step and strike at the same time, but the swing goes more up and back than forward first. The forward bit it what is throwing me off at the moment. Sensei made it look really easy...I still have a lot of room for improvement.
After grabbing the rest of our bogu, we started with Kirikaeshi. I was nice and relaxed, yet firm, and worked on accuracy tonight. Accuracy of my Men strike and my Sayu-Men strikes. I also worked on breathing, and was able to do it fairly smoothly with a few breaths (about 5 breaths). This has been a pretty big struggle and focus for me, so I'm glad to see that I'm making progress with it.
Next we did Men drills, and then Kote-Men. I tried to focus on keeping my body straight and not leaning into the hit or letting my right arm drift out and turn my body. It's a lot harder to do than it sounds, that's for sure. I worked on both big and small strikes, as well, mixing it up again as I have been doing, but trying to do each one as quickly (and correctly) as I could. With Kote-Men I still need to try starting it from an in-place fumikomi step, and then launching forward.
The Do drill we did today was supposed to incorporate the footwork and shinai work we had worked on at the beginning of class. Namely, pressuring forward with the shinai at the same time we start to slide our foot forward, and then striking Do at the last minute. The way Sensei explained is that as we pressure forward we should make our opponent think we're going to strike Men, but at the last second we strike Do instead. Make them afraid of our Men strike first, and then hit them with Do. I did fairly well with this drill, I though. I felt like my shinai and foot were moving together, but I might have, again, been moving my shinai up more than forward. I'll continue to work on it.
I only did one round of jigeiko, as I'm still nursing my injuries and didn't want to overdo it. My partner was a newly-minted Ikkyu, and we had a good match, with both of us getting some really good hits in. I tried to work on Shomen, and good clean hits throughout. No ducking or blocking without purpose, just solid strikes with the best movement and follow-through and zanshin I could muster.
After stepping out, I continued to watch the Yudansha group as they finished out their jigeiko rounds. I am impressed by each one of them, and I know there is a lot that I can learn from everyone. Footwork, shinai speed and movement, body carriage, posture, and on and on. I'm especially impressed by the Nidan/Sandan and how they seem to be able to set up, find and opening, and strike faster than I can think about one of those points. I know that if I keep practicing and pushing myself I can be at the point, and beyond. It just takes practice and dedication...
A few thoughts:
Men: I should begin to try pressuring forward with my strikes, as best I can. It will be a long, hard road to work up this technique, but the sooner I start, the sooner I can start to see development.
Do: Same thing as above. I should start pressuring forward on this strike, and then strike Do at the last minute (unless I'm doing off-timing). Also I am pretty accurate with the strike itself, so I can start thinking less on that issue and more on my footwork and movement.
Kote-Men: Begin my strike from in-place fumikomi, and see how that works for me. I played with it early on for a bit, but now I seem to always take a step forward, no matter how small it is. I'll try to remember to work it into my drills from now on.
Jigeiko: Not much to note here today, since I'm still taking it easy so as not to re-injure myself, but I need to be mindful of what Ando Sensei told me a few classes ago. When I strike I should move to the center, with the mindset that I'm going to crash straight into my opponent's Do if they don't move.
Maai: I should continue to work on hitting from various distances, so I can become familiar with my own reach and limitations. If I'm aware of this and able to use it to my advantage, it will be a big plus for me.