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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!


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