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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.

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