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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).

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