Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pushing the Limit...Over and Over...

Sometimes I wonder why I do Kendo.  I mean, I've never questioned whether I should quit or not, that thought hasn't even crossed my mind.  I just wonder sometimes.  From a neutral standpoint, it seems that I push and push and push to the edge of exhaustion, and then come back and do it again.  Over and over.  Multiple times a week.  I end up tired, sore, sometimes injured, but still I come back to do it again.  This can probably explain a lot of sports and martial arts that people decide to take up.  But then I remember the feeling I get from hitting a really good Men-uchi, or pushing just that little more beyond what I think I can do and getting that much more satisfaction from training.  Or the fact that it helps to make me a better person by applying lessons I learn in Kendo to other areas of my life.  So many good points to think about.  What was the point of this?  Not sure, just some good ol' fashioned pearls of wisdom from a very humble person.

Last night was one of those nights.  THOSE nights.  That leave me exhausted and sore all over the next day.  But it was a great class, and I feel like I kept up a bit of the "advanced" feeling I gained from training last week.  But I also found out that the harder I push myself, the faster I get exhausted.  I had to sit out a couple of times last night, but each time I jumped back in when I felt I could handle it again.  I felt like I pushed myself to the edge, stepped back a bit, and then rushed back at the edge again a few times last night.  Even though I felt like passing out last night, looking back on it I think I did a great job, personally, even though I had to step out a few times.

We started off the night with Men drills without our bogu on.  Just hitting each other's shinais.  The focus was, as it has been, on no wasted movement and fast shinai speed.  I've been working on keeping my shinai up so that it doesn't drop below parallel, and I think that my "muscle memory" is beginning to change and remember this.  I feel that each training session I have to think about it a little less.  When we moved onto hitting Men and pushing through, I tried to remember to do my follow-through steps as fast as possible, while pushing forward with my shinai for that "second cut" that Sinclair Sensei talks about.  It feels like my footwork is improving, but I still have to actively think about it.  My biggest thought last night was, "GO FASTER," and it helped a lot.  I also tried to focus on pushing straight through instead of stepping to the side, as Ando Sensei showed me a few weeks ago.  This led to a few run-ins with other people, but he said that it's ok to do that.

After grabbing our Men and Kote we went into Kirikaeshi, as is our normal routine.  Sensei pointed out after class that I am doing a great job of hitting and stopping the shinai, but that I should start to focus on speed.  He mentioned that I need to have faster shinai movement and that will help my footwork become faster.  I've tried this a few times at home and it's definitely hard to do.  Be accurate, move faster, and not stop the shinai like I'm used to doing.  I'll continue to work on this, in and outside of the dojo.

The next few drills were Men, Kote-Men, and Do, and we were supposed to try and keep the same fast shinai speed that we were working on earlier.  While I think I did this, I was also told that A) I drop my shinai tip right before I strike, and B) this happened when I started getting tired, but I bned my knees before I launch forward.  Both of these are bad habits to pick up, as they telegraph my intentions.  I need to work on striking from a fairly fixed point (relative to what I'm doing). 

Debana Kote.  Sensei went over this a bit last night, outlining four different techniques for striking them, and telling us that we should experiment with each one to see what feels best for us, or if we already know what feels best to work on that.  The ways that he noted were:
  1. Fumikomi with right foot and strike while moving to the right side of the opponent's body.  This works just like regular Kote would, but with a much shorter fumikomi since the opponent will be charging in at us.
  2. Bring the left foot forward and fumikomi with it while moving to the opponent's right side.  Some people find this to be faster.  It's not one that I've worked on too much, but I want to start working on it a bit more when I have the chance.
  3. Fumikomi with the right foot, but move to the right side of the opponenet as you strike. The key point here is to turn your hips and body as the opponent moves through, and continue to display zanshin back while facing the opponent.  I felt really comfortable with this move, but it seems to require a bit faster shinai speed since it feels, to me, like I have to move across the opponent's body instead of to the side.
  4. Perform Hiki Kote, and display zanshin while moving backwards.  This one works well with opponents that are significantly faster than you, as it gives you a few extra moments to set up and strike.
I mainly focused on the first and third examples, with the third being my preferred method of striking Debana Kote.  I do want to be at a point where I can use any of them, though, so I don't become predictable in my movements.

After a short break I jumped into Jigeiko.  Since I was the lowest ranked person at training last night, I was able to train with the higher kyus and the Yudansha, which felt awesome.  I was SO SO tired by this point, but I tried to push on so that I could soak up as much time and training with them as I could.  I've been working on my Hiki Waza a lot lately, and actually used it a few times in Jigeiko, even a few times that I think were rather successful.  I feel that the weird pause I have is starting to disappear, and there were a few times I struck Hiki Men and moved back so fast I even surprised myself.  This is all, of course, from my point-of-view and very well could have seemed faster because I was tired, but it's encouraging to me nonetheless. 

After practice, I spoke with Ando Sensei and Sinclair Sensei.  Ando Sensei said that my Men strike is very fast, and that I should continue to work on not hesitating during jigeiko.  This is definitely a problem for me, especially when going up again the higher Yudansha in our club.  It brings to mind a term I've read about a few times.  Shikai, the four sicknesses of the mind. They are: Surprise, Fear, Hesitation, and Doubt.  I definitely feel Hesitation and Doubt while fighting some of them, and I need to work to clear my mind of such negative thoughts and feelings.  Sinclair Sensei said that I have improved my shinai speed and footwork, and to continue working on it, and that I need to start working on making my strikes in Kirikaeshi faster.

A great practice last night, and I'm definitely still feeling the drain it put on me, but I look forward to going back for more this weekend.

A few thoughts:

Men:  Don't drop my tip down before I strike, and don't bend my knees down before I strike, either.  I need to be able to hit from a static spot, or while moving in jigeiko.  I'll work on this, on exploding from a standstill, so to speak.

Kirikaeshi:  Again, work on faster shinai speed and faster footwork during jigeiko.

Ashi Sabaki:  Continue with my mindset of "Be Faster."  It's helping a lot, and helping me push myself even harder than before, which is helping to have a faster shinai and faster footwork.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Improving, One Step at a Time

I wrote a poem for an English class in junior high. The main point I relayed in it, in so many words, was that the mind is a powerful thing, and can drastically influence are physical body and limitations. This was demonstrated last night, during practice. Just by changing my own mindset, I felt that I was practicing on a higher level, and I wanted more. Techniques that I had been practicing finally started to "click," to make sense to me, and I felt like the higher Kyu that I am instead of a complete beginner, which is how I feel a lot of times. I felt like I vaulted completely over the wall that I've been running into at practice lately, and it was all due to a new perspective and a different way of thinking.

Just a few remarks about the intermediate class last night. Wendy pulled me to teach the intermediates, and I worked to the best of my teaching ability to help them go over some finer points of Kihon Kata, and hopefully not confuse them too much. Everyone said that I did a great job, and I definitely welcomed the chance to lead and teach, but I know there are a lot of things in this aspect that I need to work on. Explanations, examples, being able to break techniques down to their core movements to isolate and work on them one at a time and build up to the technique. I, personally, don't think I did too bad, and all of the intermediates look pretty good with their movements. A few hiccups here and there, but that's expected. We went over Kihon Kata 2 and 3, Kirikaeshi, Men and Hiki Men.

Billy led our advanced training last night. He has quite the knack for getting points across using examples and stories and explanations. It's a rather admirable quality that I hope to develop in case I eventually end up leading and teaching more. We focused on a few key things that we've been working on lately, namely fast shinai speed and fast footwork, along with an emphasis on Men and Hiki Men drills.

Billy had us start out with a drill where we separated into lines and would fumikomi and then do follow-through steps as fast as we could to a designated line on the dojo floor, before slowing down, turning around, and repeating. At first we tried to just go fast enough to catch the person in front of us, then he had us do the drill with each line going separately, as a sort of race to see who could make it to the line faster. Again, I wasn't the fastest, not by a long shot, but I also wasn't the slowest. I made good time after a while, after I got into the "groove." But watching some of the juniors do this drill was inspiring. A few of them were super fast with their footwork, and I know that if I keep working on it I can be that fast, too.

We paired up and went over some Men drills, with the focus being on fast shinai speed and no wasted movement or time. I've been trying to shorten up my strikes a bit, because as I mentioned before I noticed that they were still going way too far back even though I didn't realize it. So it felt a bit weird to me, but I was trusting that the shinai wasn't going past parallel. I also tried to keep a nice loud kiai and good spirit throughout this drill. We broke the Men strike down a bit, first performing the strike on one step, and then hitting and pushing through our opponent.

This was the turning point of the night for me, the point at which everything came together. I remember I was right in the middle of hitting my opponent, and I began to think to myself. Began to change my concern. I took my emphasis off of striking my partner, and instead started thinking "Be faster" to myself. Billy had given us another line to visualize, and my thoughts led me to try and make it to the spot, and beyond, as fast as I could. It worked. Billy told me after class that he saw a noticeable difference in my speed, and he had me demonstrate a few strikes to the class. I always feel funny being put on the spot like that, but with the mindset I was in I was more than ready for it. I worked to continue this way of thinking into the rest of class. Good spirit, and focus on footwork and moving as fast as I could, and it led to some amazing results for myself.

We also got a chance to work on Hiki Men again, which I always welcome since I'm working on that myself at the moment. I'm trying to transform my Hiki waza from a passable technique to something that I can use with speed and effectiveness. Sensei told me it's good to have a good Hiki Waza or two to use, a couple that I'm comfortable with and work on and practice to develop and get better with. First we worked on straight Hiki Men, and then we worked on the technique that we did on Monday to create an opening and strike. I felt like tonight I had a better grasp on that technique and was a lot more effective with it, even so much so that I used it later in jigeiko a couple times. Billy gave us some advice on doing this, and said that we don't have to raise our hands all the way up over our head on Hiki Men, as this is wasted movement. We should concentrate on bringing the shinai up to about the level of our face and then snapping our wrists down while we fumikomi back and move to get out our range as fast as possible. I took full advantage of the time we had to work on Hiki Waza, and even continued my own practice of it into our waza-geiko time.

We finished out the night with a few rounds of jigeiko, and I was able to fight almost everyone in our Mudansha group, including Wendy! I was really happy to be able to fight her against, since she's a MUCH higher rank than I am. And I'm not sure if she let me or not, but I did manage to get in a few good hits. I also felt a lot more focused during all of my matches, and tried to concentrate on good strikes and continue with my fast follow-through steps and attitude.

There are a few times when I get through practice and really feel like I didn't accomplish anything, but last night I definitely felt improvement. The mind is a wondrous thing, and just changing the way I thought about practice helped me to do better physically. I had a high spirit, I didn't feel as exhausted, and I believe that I physically performed at a higher level than I have been doing recently. Everything is coming together, and I'm improving, even if it's at a slow pace.

A few things to note:

Ashi Sabaki: Billy pointed out three things to help us have faster footwork. The first was to think faster. We won't be faster unless we think we can be. And not just half-heartedly, it has to be a mental commitment and confidence that we will be faster. The second thing was to visualize a point and to blow completely past it. Try to make it to the point and beyond as fast as we can. The and the last thing was to have a strong Kiai, a good kiai that intensifies as we move past our partner/opponent.

Men: Ando Sensei gave us some advice about small Men. He said that we should be able to generate the same power as we do from a big swing in a small swing by snapping our wrists, and that we should raise our shinai about 5-6 inches above our partner/opponent's Men when we strike small Men. He had us imagine putting our hands in a hole in the wall, which would obviously keep us from raising our hands up over our heads to strike.

Hiki Waza: Billy said that my extension on my strike was good, but that I was leaning forward a bit while striking. I should work to keep my body upright and just reach out with my hands/arms. Also, remember the dynamite analogy and keep working on exploding out of tsubazeriai into my strike.

Jigeiko: Continue with my focused mindset, and I'm thinking that I will change my thoughts from my shinai to my feet for a while and try to work on good, fast follow-through. It seemed to me that it helped speed everything else up.

I'm definitely looking forward to next week and this renewal of spirit and practice for me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hiki Waza

Last night was a great practice. Not that I did all that well, there are still tons of things I can work on. But I pushed myself pretty hard. I had to step out just a couple of times, but I jumped back in and gave it my all, and by the end I was ready to fall over and very, very satisfied with myself.

The past few practices we've really been concentrating on eliminating wasted movement and time from our strikes, and having faster footwork. We continued this focus last night, but the meat of the training was centered around Hiki Waza. And tasty meat, it was! After going through a few Hiki Men drills, first just doing the strike, and then trying to move our partner so we created an opening, Ando Sensei showed us a very effective technique to use to throw our partner's/opponent's shinai out of center, so I tried to incorporate that technique into the rest of my training last night. I felt pretty good with some of my strikes, not so much with others, but I can start to feel what Sensei explained to me. He said that our Hiki Waza, or any strike, should be like dynamite. What he meant is that dynamite doesn't gradually build up to an explosion. It goes from a stand still to exploding instantly, with no down-time or lag in between. This should be the way that I practice Hiki Waza, too. I should go straight from pressuring my opponent in tsubazeriai to attacking and launching myself backwards. I have a nasty habit of having down-time in between pressuring and attacking, and it was my focus last night to work on eliminating that down-time, that extra step, that wasted time. After I got a taste of how it really felt, I wanted more. I want more! I'll be sure to keep working on this whenever I can, including being more aggressive with it in jigeiko (since many other people had luck doing it to me last night in jigeiko).

The other piece, like I mentioned earlier, has been a recurring theme, and a much needed one. I took some video of myself this past weekend, and noticed that I do have a lot of wasted movement, so through the other drills I did (which consisted of mainly Men strikes), I tried to remember to not being my hands back as far. I have a terrible habit of dipping my shinai too far down, which I've mentioned before, so I tried to concentrate on not bringing it back so far, and eliminating wasted time as well by not slowing my swing down at any point. Also, just a small though in the back of my head, was driving the shinai up and back down with my left hand. It seemed to work out pretty well, and my thoughts were reinforced by Sinclair Sensei, who said that in the past few weeks since we started working on faster shinai speed he's noticed my speed change significantly. It's always good to hear encouragement like that on issues that I know about and am working on.

Footwork...where to begin. I still feel pretty slow with my follow-through steps. We went over a previous drill again, one in which we did fumikomi and then follow-through steps (ayumi-ashi), with the purpose of speeding up our steps after the strike, rather than slowing them down. I feel like I can speed up my steps, but not very much, so this is something that I'll definitely have to work on. Plus after trying to do this the whole time my legs starting cramping just a little bit so I had to back down on it during waza-geiko/jigeiko at the very end. When I had run out of steam but was still in, I tried to concentrate on finding openings and making really good hits. Not many hits, but good ones. Trying to put all of my force and spirit behind these few choice hits. It seemed to work pretty well.

All in all, a great training session, and one that I was definitely thankful for. I've wanted to work on Hiki Waza, since I felt mine was pretty lacking, and last night I learned some valuable information and techniques that I'll be able to practice and work on from here on out.

A few thoughts:

Men: Continue working on shortening my strike. Once I can do a really good, fast, big swing, I can start working on making it a smaller strike. Sensei also went over this, saying that after we work on big swings for a while we'll be working on small swings with no wasted time or movement. I'm excited!

Hiki Waza: Keep working on going from a "stand-still" to exploding with my attack. I got a taste so now I know what I'm working towards, and I hope to see more improvement in the weeks to come.

Ashi Sabaki: Try to speed up my follow-through steps as much as I can. It starts in the mind. I have the basics, now I have to think faster and push myself to go faster.

Jigeiko: Think, act, and react faster. I still need to work on seeing openings, or creating them myself. I did pretty well with a few Harai Men last night, and it might be best to concentrate on a few key techniques so I don't try to overwhelm myself with a plethora of techniques that I can only do passably.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Faster Shinai Speed, Better Zanshin

Well, after a short break I'm back. Back to Kendo (I didn't really leave that, just missed a couple of practices), and back to writing. I find this blog to be an extremely valuable tool to myself, not only to go back and look at what I've done, what I've improved on, and what I need to keep working on, but also as an outlet for my overflowing desire for all things Kendo, and my creative juices that have re-awakened recently. To me, Kendo is not only the physical aspect, the training and practicing footwork and techniques, but also the mental aspect, and this is a good exercise to stretch my mental Kendo muscles. Here I can take a thought or an idea or theory that I learned and expand upon it, look at it in my own way, shape it to something that I can use, and then review it later to see how I did. Where was I going with this? Not sure, other than there is so much more to Kendo than just what people see and what we do at practice. I really want to be the best that I can be, and I feel that I can, but it takes more than just physical training.

I've been struggling with the thought of cutting back on practice, but I knew in the back of my mind it was something I would have to do. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and everyone needs time to rest and apply what they've learned on their own. I need to create that time for myself, and so after talking and confirming with Sinclair Sensei last night (he also felt that maybe I should take some more time for myself, to rest and practice on my own), I believe that I'm making the right choice in doing this. While the actual amount of Kendo I do each week won't change, the time will be divided a bit more between my training at our main dojo and my training and helping out with the valley dojo. I think it's for the best, and I'm slowly realizing that it's ok to not attend every class, and in the end it will help boost my Kendo even more. Anyway, onto the meat and potatoes of my post for today.

I really almost titled this post "Men Uchi" since we did so many Men strikes last night. It was nice to go back to the basics a bit, since it feels like I've been out of Kendo for a while. I know it's only been a week, and I was at practice at the valley on Friday night, but still, a week is a long time for me! We started things off with warm-ups and suburi, and performed Hayasuburi as a group instead of breaking into pairs, as has been our custom for quite a while now.

Opening drills were done with no bogu on, and we went over Men strikes, with the focus being on eliminating two things from our swings: wasted movement, and wasted time. Wasted movement was any movement before (dipping the shinai) or after (bringing the shinai too far back past parallel to the floor) our strike, and wasted time was explained as letting our shinai "lag" or slow down at any point during the strike. Sinclair Sensei demonstrated this by bringing his shinai up until it was parallel, and then letting his shinai slow way down before bringing it forward to strike again. It was a bit exaggerated, but did a good job of vizualizing what he was explaining to us. While doing this drill, one of my major faults started to show up, and didn't leave until I was consciously thinking about correcting it. I let my shinai swing back past parallel, and it leads to wasted movement on my part. This happened during the drill, during Kirikaeshi later, and pretty much kept happening throughout the rest of practice if I wasn't thinking about it. I was glad to have it pointed out, so I can take some time to practice this and make sure that I am swinging no further back than parallel. I might try to take some video (since my camera sees less use than it should), and see if I can correct it that way.

Sensei had us go over this drill, first in place, and then with one step, and finally with one step and snapping the left leg up afterward. I believe (in my most humble opinion), that I have the wasted time taken care of, as I really try not to let my shinai lag or slow down at any point, but this is also something I'll keep in mind while working to get rid of wasted movement.

The next drill we did was a footwork drill. It involved us keeping our hands extended out in the Men strike position, and doing fumikomi forward, and then accelerating our follow-through steps until we passed a certain point on the floor. We used this as a type of race, and unfortunately I wasn't the fastest in the group (although I don't think I was the slowest, either). This is another area I need to work on, accelerating through the strike. Sensei was using this drill to demonstrate Zanshin, and that we should continue to press forward on the strike and afterward, showing even more spirit than when we initially struck. He explained Kamae as being ready and alert before the strike, in a position to move and act in an instant, and Zanshin as being alert and ready after the strike, showing your commitment to the attack.

After grabbing our Men and Kote we went into a few round of Kirikaeshi, where my issue with dropping my shinai too low came out again (definitely a recurring theme this night). I need to start focusing on speeding up my Kirikaeshi, as well. I've written about it before, but up until now I've been focused on good form and solid cuts and focusing on tenouchi and stopping my shinai with each strike. Now that I've worked on that for a long time, I need to start speeding up a bit after my first few rounds.

We moved into a long round of Men strikes, which took up the majority of our class time. We focused on the same things we focused on before. No wasted movement, no wasted time, speeding up after the strike, strong kiai that is level or increases in energy after the hit, and keeping the kiai going until we turn and are ready in kamae again. I, for one, need to work on keeping my kiai going until I'm fully turned around and fully ready again. Sometimes it dies out after I pass my partner, or while I'm turning but before I have a chance to ground myself again for another attack.

After a short break, we split into Mudansha/Yudansha group, where our next set of drills were waza-geiko. I used the time to work mainly on Hiki waza, specifically Hiki Men. I want to fix my Hiki waza because I feel that it's definitely not a strong point for me. I am able to pressure my partner/opponent up until right before I strike, and then all of that pressure goes away as I try to pull back to strike. This space where there is no pressure needs to be reduced as much as possible, and I'm trying to figure out how to do that. I'm also working on bringing my shinai high enough for a valid Men strike, and getting my shinai and footwork to match. I've seen some terribly fast Hiki strikes, and I want to be one of these people down the road.

The next drill we worked on was Ai-Men. Again, my abundance of wasted movement showed up here and there, as I let my shinai dip too low and this caused me to be slower than a few of my opponents. Sensei talked a little bit about this drill, too, saying that we should be using a mix of big and small Men Strikes. We should use big strikes on partners that are slower than us, and to use small strikes on faster partners. He says that if we do things like use fast strikes on slower partners, it may make us feel good to always hit first, but it will end up wrecking our technique. When he said this I had a mental image of banging a sword again a rock, which is definitely NOT something you ever want to do!

Jigeiko was the next, with one final Kirikaeshi afterward. During jigeiko I concentrated on trying to read my opponent and their movement. Even if I couldn't always act on what they were doing, I tried to see and recognize what they were doing. I also worked on Zanshin, which is a big one for me (big one as in I need work on it), as well as trying to find openings and capitalize on them. I've taken to trying a little more aggressive start with jigeiko and winding down a bit after the first few seconds so I can concentrate on the things that I am working on that night.

All in all, it was a great practice, and I was glad to be back at the dojo!

A few thoughts:

Men: I will say this again, because it can't be stated enough. Eliminate the wasted movement! This goes for all of my strikes. I'll start varying my practice at home to try and correct this issue.

Zanshin: I need to follow-through more with my body. I believe that I have a good, strong kiai when I attack, and I've been told that my timing is pretty good with the shinai and fumikomi step, but too often I let my attack die right after I connect. This, I believe, comes from a hesitation on my part to commit to an attack. I feel that when I'm unsure about an attack I will hold back in case I need to strike again. This seems to be the wrong mindset for me and I believe it's a big factor in the reason I don't always do proper Zanshin.

Kirikaeshi: Start speeding it up. Use the first couple rounds to warm up and do good form, and then begin speeding it up.

Hiki Waza: I might talk with Sensei about that feeling of losing pressure, so that I can get some good advice on how to tackle that issue.

Looking forward to the next class on Monday!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Note to the Readers

Hello to anyone that reads my blog:

I'm taking a short hiatus, to regain some focus, get back in a good mindset, and get some much needed rest! I'll probably be cutting down to twice a week postings at the most for a bit. If you'd like feel free to browse through my older entries (there's a lot to read!). Even though this is a personal blog, I do appreciate anyone that stops by to take a look, and I hope you can all learn even a little bit from my experiences.

Look forward to new posts starting next week!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Focus on the Center

With Sinclair Sensei gone and McNally Sensei out for a while Wendy and Ando Sensei took over teaching for tonight. Our main focus of the night was on our center. Moving from the center and not letting our bodies lean forward or back.

After warm-ups we made one big line (which was pretty big, there were about twenty of us there last night), and worked on some footwork, with the emphasis on pushing our bodies forward with our hips and thighs while pulling with the center, so that we have the feeling of moving our center forward first with everything else following. The first drill just involved taking one step forward, keeping our toes down, and pushing our right foot out. Afterward we built up to fumikomi and one step, and then two fumikomi with a couple follow-up steps. Again, we were instructed to focus on our thigh, hip, and core muscles and try to use those as we moved. We also worked on snapping our left foot back into place after our steps, so that we didn't let it trail behind us. Considering these are things that I have been working on lately, I really appreciated the special focus during drills last night.

We repeated these same drills a few times, first without shinai, and then with our hands up mimicking our shinai, and finally with shinai and full swings for each step (Men strikes). I found that the more I tried to concentrate on my center, the better I was at pressuring forward on my strikes...hmmm.....

We split into Mudansha/Yudansha groups after putting on our bogu, and began with a few rotations of Kirikaeshi. My first ones were slow, as is my practice, so that I could really work on proper technique, footwork, and snapping my shinai and my feet up with good timing. The last few drills I sped up just a bit. I think it would be a good time for me to start working on speeding up my Kirikaeshi just a bit, but not much because I don't want to wreck the form that I'm working on. As Sinclair Sensei points out to us a lot, speed comes from proper technique. If we are doing everything like we should, speed will come naturally.

Next up were some small Men drills, with the emphasis on pressuring forward during the strike. I felt a lot better with this drill than when I first tried it a few weeks ago, since I've been trying to practice it ever since then. Good key points to remember here were to bring the shinai up far enough to be able to see underneath the left hand, and to try and either start the swing with the fumikomi step, or slightly push forward with the kensen while starting the fumikomi step, to give that extra pressure during the strike. The started the drill by taking one fumikomi step to strike, and then built up to follow-through steps after the strike, like we do with most of our drills.

Harai Men was next, and this is a drill that I haven't done much of. We were instructed to have a nice, sharp strike to the side/slightly over the to of our partner's shinai, but not to bring our own kensen out too far. This can lead to telegraphing our intentions to our partner/opponent, and can cause us to strike too hard and bring our kensen too far to other side of center. The kensen should stay within the silhouette of our partner's body, and the harai movement and actual strike should be one smooth motion, not broken into two parts. I worked on a snappy harai movement at first, but Jeff advised me to try and make more of a downward motion with the shinai when I do harai, and then use that momentum to pop my shinai up for the Men strike (or Kote, or whatever you are going for). I tried this a few times and I think I got the general idea, so I will continue to work on this style.

Next up was a Kote-Men drill that we've done a few times before. Motodachi would strike Kote, and Kakarite would strike/counter with Kote-Men. I tried to vary the timing of my hits so that I was using it as both an attack and a counter, since I remember Sinclair Sensei pointing out before that we didn't have to wait for Motodachi to initiate the attack before we struck. I do need to watch out for my Men strike on that one. I was putting a little too much effort into it, and was told I hit just a bit too hard on it a few times, so I'll be mindful of that in the future. Also, I tried to vary my footwork so that I performed my Kote-Men with two steps, and also with the first step in place. I believe that for this particular technique, for me, doing the first fumikomi in place worked a lot better.

The last drill we did was Nuki Men, with the Motodachi striking Kote and the Kakarite countering with Nuki Men. Wendy said that a good way to use this in jigeiko, or begin to start using it, is to try and "bait" our opponent with our Kote. She gave a few examples of how to do that, one of which was slightly bringing your shinai up and over the opponent's shinai to smother it, thereby opening up your own Kote. Timing is definitely a big issue for me on this drill. Sometimes I feel like I'm a little too fast with the Men strike, or I'm not bringing my hands up high enough for it, and end up striking my partner when their hands are still up. I guess it's not a bad thing, but it doesn't help when I can't hit my partner's Men because their hands are in the way.

We did a few rounds of jigeiko, and I had various degrees of success and failure with things I was working on. I tried to apply the Nuki Men technique and advice that we received, and found that I was very successful with baiting my opponent to strike at my Kote. I only did it once, though. This seems like a technique that is best used once. After that a good kenshi would see it coming and change their own tactics accordingly. One of the matches I had, with Jeff, felt very frustrating, but it's a good reflection of what I need to work on. Since he has an injured arm right now he wasn't trying very many waza of his own last night, so most of the match he put pressure on me and moved me all around the floor, while blocking just about everything that I threw at him. I did sneak in a few strikes here and there, but the majority of them were light taps that wouldn't have counted for anything. I really need to learn to fight people that are very aggressive and put pressure on like he was doing. I should work on not backing down and always watch for any openings that I can see and capitalize on.

One last Hayasuburi and Billy doing some Ai-Kakarigeiko for his birthday rounded out our training last night. I was very appreciative for the lesson and the advice and instruction I received last night. I hope to do my best to apply it to my Kendo in the future.

A few things to note:

Waza: Always move from the center. Push with the hips/thighs, pull with the core and center, keep my shoulders above my center as I move, and snap my left foot up and quickly as possible so I can be in a good position to move or strike again. Also remember to pressure forward with my shinai during my strikes, and keep working on this. I'm starting to see success with it in jigeiko, so I feel like I've at least made a little progress with it since I started practicing it.

Harai: Work on making more of a sideways/downward strike for the Harai movement, instead of sweeping the shinai as I go up (which is an entirely different technique). I can use the momentum from striking to propel my own shinai up into striking position. On another note, I think I did an ok job of doing all of this during my fumikomi step, which was another piece I was working on. It's all starting to come together, slowly but surely.

Nuki: Work on my timing with this drill and technique, so that I can adjust it accordingly for different partners/opponents and their skill levels.

Jigeiko: Work on dealing with opponents that put a lot of pressure on me. I need to learn to not back down and not step back (unless it's part of my technique that I'm using at the time).