For the second year in a row I was able to participate in the Spokane Kendo camp, and it was a blast. We had about 10 or so people that camped the whole weekend with us (Friday through Sunday), and about 16 people that showed up for the training on Saturday. We had good food, good training, good fellowship, and it was definitely a weekend to remember.
Things kicked off on Friday when we all arrived that evening to set up and get everything in order. We started off the activities with a "fling sock" fight. They are basically bean bags that are attached to long tails, so you can whip them around and toss them. Being the group that we are, we decided to toss them straight at each other. There were some hits, some misses, and some very close calls, and we actually ended up getting a lot of the kids that were camping in on it as well (I wish I had pictures of this!).
After dinner that night we all huddled around the campsite, talking and sharing stories and getting to know each other. There were a few new people that showed up. A couple of girls from the valley dojo, and a beginner from downtown. We all did our best to welcome them into the group so that they could fully enjoy the weekend. I know that last year when I came I didn't really know any of the people I was camping with, and I really appreciated the efforts they took to include me in activities and get to know me, so I also wanted to do my best to help them out and talk with them and try to include them in everything we were doing.
Saturday brought on our training for the weekend, and Sensei talked extensively about making and keeping a connection with our partner/opponent, both physically and mentally. He explained a few steps that we should take to form these connections, with the first step being our physical movement. We should strive to have good basics and body carriage and footwork (tai sabaki = body movement). We started off the training with warmups, and then Kihon and Nihon Kata, with the emphasis being on keeping that connection with our partner throughout the whole kata. We should not break this connection from the time we step in to bow in, until the time we step back after bowing out.
Next were some drills that were designed to help us keep a good, straight posture throughout all of our movement. Sensei explained that we should have the same upper body posture throughout all of our movement, so that if we took a picture of ourselves from the waist up it would look the same whether we were walking or sitting or getting in/out of seiza.
Once we had that, we worked on Fumikomi steps (first fumikomi with three steps, and then two steps, one step, and finally fumikomi every step). This eventually built up to us performing this drill with our shinai, doing Men strikes with each fumikomi (alone and the with a partner's shinai as a target). By this time we had worked so much on our footwork that most of us were not even thinking about that part of the drill, which helped us all to keep better posture and freed us up to concentrate more on our shinai swing.
We grabbed our Bogu at this point and jumped into Kirikaeshi. Sensei stressed the importance of keeping the connection with our partner. Keeping our kamae up so we were ready, even after they hit and go through, and also working on finding the correct distance to step into after our partner turned around. This led straight into our next drill, which had the Kakarite performing Men strikes and the Motodachi striking Men as the Kakarite turned around. We were instructed and practiced hitting our partners when they were at about a 45 degree angle from us. Too soon and we would have an invalid strike. Too late and our partner would see us and be able to block and/or counter in some way. I had mixed results with this drill, but for the most part it went well. I was able to hit my partners while they were just turning, although I think I could have started even earlier than I did. I was also working on bringing my left foot up as fast as possible. I think that if I shorten up my fumikomi a bit it might help me to bring the left foot up fast. Once I have this down I can start lengthening the fumikomi step. I'll try this tonight at practice.
We broke up into Mudansha/Yudansha groups at this point, and finished out our training time with waza-geiko. I worked mainly on Debana Kote, with my focus on hitting and going forward (either to the left or right), and also on anticipating my opponent's strike and acting before they moved. Again, most of the time I was able to hit correctly, but here and there I felt like I was a bit late on my strike. With this technique I'll work to try and "control the situation" a bit more, so I'm able to strike before they are, and almost force them into the position that I want as I move. It'll be interesting to see how this goes.
The most important thing that I took away from training was that a connection with our partner/opponents is one of the most important things that we can develop. If we are able to build and cultivate this as we grow in our physical Kendo, we will soon to able to surpass kenshi that have quite a bit more experience than us, but never took the time to build this mental aspect of Kendo. With a proper connection we can learn to read our opponents and their movements as if it were a second a language, and act/react accordingly. To do this, we should have the proper "readiness" (coming to kamae as soon as they hit and go through so that we are ready to act), set the proper distance, mentally strike at our opponents, and finally using all of that to physically strike, as we did in the 45-degree drill.
Be sure to check back later on for a recap of our game of War and pictures!