Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Yudansha Group

Saturday's practice was downright awesome, and I feel that I pushed myself and did exceptionally well.  Not because I did perfect Kendo (that'll be the day), or because I picked off everyone in jigeiko (I didn't, not even close), but because Sensei gave me a challenge and I rose to it and pushed past my limits.  He invited me to practice with the Yudansha group, which usually contains the 1 Kyu and up kenshi (I'm currently 4 Kyu).  Yesterday we had a great mix:  a lot of Ikkyus and Shodans, a few Nidans, and Ando Sensei (Yondan).  It's definitely a different experience there.  Everything is faster, with purpose and intent, and I had to be at the top of my game, both physically and mentally, to keep up.

When Sensei asked me to join the group, I was almost at the end of my stamina, physically, but I took up his offer and jumped in with them, knowing that I wouldn't be able to step out at all for the rest of class.  I really didn't want to be that guy, the one that has this privilege given to him and then balks it with his actions.  I found my second wind and jumped in with their group about halfway through practice, so I had a chance to do some kihon drills with them before diving into waza-geiko (I practice Nuki Do, with varying degrees of success), and jigeiko.  I did my best to put up a fight in jigeiko, and ended up fighting almost everyone, including Ando Sensei (which is always a joy, though a humbling experience at the same time).  Sensei had us play out a couple of different scenarios, as well, in which he gave us 30 seconds and our goals was either to protect the point that we have, or to try and gain a point on our opponent.  Obviously different strategies and styles come through depending on what we were trying to do, with the people a point up being very cautious and mindful of the actions, and the people without a point trying desperately to create openings to strike. 

Again, this opportunity to practice with the Yudansha was a great one, and I took full advantage of it.  I felt that I had more mental focus, I chose my strikes and opportunities better, and I worked harder to create openings of my own to capitalize on.  I also don't think I did too bad at protecting my point in those scenarios.

A few thoughts:

Men:  Sensei advised me to not let my hands go too high after I strike.  He said that I should try and keep either my left or my right hand at about my partner's face height and no higher.  It was an easy correction to take once I started thinking about it, but I'll be sure to think about it throughout the week.  I should also be sure to keep my small Men strikes small, and not raise up too high on my swing.

Debana Kote:  I had a chance to demonstrate my Debana Kote for the class, so I must be doing something right with it, but after watching Sayaka demonstrate I realized that I need to turn faster after the strike. 

Tenouchi:  Harvey pointed out that I am still gripping my shinai too tight for too long, and that proper tenouchi should only be for an instant.  Squeeze, then relax.

Ashi sabaki:  I have been working on being lighter on my feet during ayumi ashi, but I still need a lot of work on it.

Great practice for the weekend, and I'm really excited to see what's in store the rest of this week, all leading up to PNKF on Saturday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kiai!!!

I was trying to think of a title for my post today.  Most of the time I like to have a title that represents what I got out of the training, and sometimes it isn't necessarily what we focused on.  Last night we focused a lot on our kiai and spirit, but there was another topic that I almost named this post after, and I'd like to share a bit of it here. 

Warm-ups are a big part of our Kendo training.  Sensei pointed out, and I'm sure everyone would agree, that warm-ups are integral to being able to release our full potential for training sooner.  If we properly warm up, we're able to push ourselves early on, instead of using half of the class to get warmed up, as he put it.  I'm not sure how other clubs do it, but we have a three-stage process with our exercises.  We do exercises with the wrists and upper extremities, the legs and lower extremities, and the spine, and we do three levels of each which increase in intensity.  The physical exercise is only half of what we're doing, though, and this is a point that I haven't thought about too much.  He said that as we increase the physical intensity, we should also be increasing our mental intensity, and our spirit.  It should become more and more intense and focused (but not necessarily louder) as we move through each level of the exercises, and our hunger, our craving, to pick up our swords should also be increasing.  By the time we're done with our exercises we should be eager to pick up our swords and start doing suburi or hitting drills.  I have always had the mindset to be really focused on each drill, but I don't know if I've necessarily been increasing that focus as we move through each exercise or not.  It's definitely something for me to think about.

Like I mentioned earlier, we focused a lot on our kiai and spirit last night, especially on keeping it going through our hits and into our follow-through.  Sensei mentioned that if we keep our kiai going, even after our strikes, we keep our mental focus on our opponent, show them that we're serious, and it can often lead to creating openings in a weaker opponent.  Imagine if you were fighting an opponent and they showed no spirit and ended their kiai right after each hit.  I would say they're not very intimidating.  Now imagine an opponent that is full of spirit and energy, has a strong kiai, and is constantly pressing in on you with it even after the strike.  Much, much more intimidating, in my opinion.

We took this mindset into many of our drills last night, and did some different variations on our normal drills to focus on our kiai.  The first one was a Men drill, and we made two big lines at one end of the dojo, with two people as Motodachi (one for each line).  The rest of us would strike Men and push through, making our feet faster and our kiai stronger as we went, until we reached the other end of the dojo.  I, unfortunately, was distracted a few times watching the others hit and go through, but I was quick to set myself and go through.  Another Men drill we did to focus on our kiai involved hitting Men in place twice, and on the third strike pushing through to the other side of the dojo (with our partner, one-on-one again).  Both of these drills dovetailed nicely with the work I've been doing on making my follow-through steps faster, so it felt great to bring my shinai work, footwork, and kiai/spirit together.

The next set of drills we performed involved Kote and Taiatari.  After doing some kihon Kote drills (in which I actually didn't hit the top of anyone's shinai, yay!), we moved into Kote-Taitari, with the emphasis on keeping our kiai going even after crashing into our partner.  It did feel a bit awkward, as I've never practiced this way before, but it was pretty easy to pick up after a few rotations.  The hard part was keeping the kiai going, but when I did I could almost feel a physical difference in my focus on my partner.  This led us into Kote-Taiatari-Hiki Men, which was performed as a fast drill.  What I mean is that we would strike, Taiatari, and then immediately bounce back and do Hiki Men.  The next drill was Kote-Taiatari-Hiki Waza.  Two things changed in this drill.  We were told to stay in Tsubazeriai (the position with our partner after Taiatari, in which our shinai tsubas and our right fists are locked together), keep our kiai going, and then after a few seconds strike any target that was open.  I didn't do too bad on this drill, but Courtney had some good advice for me.  She said that when I fumikomi forward that my toes are slightly popping up, but that when doing Hiki Waza they stay down on the ground.  I'll have to be mindful of this and work on it.  She also said that my little "cheater step" is starting to go away, and she hardly noticed me doing it last night, so it's good to hear that I was able to quickly jump on that issue and work to overcome it.

During my time with waza-geiko I worked on Men (refining it and trying to get rid of that cheater step some more), Do (Not something I've done a lot of lately and it was nice to hear that satisfying "Thwack!" that comes with an on-target strike), and Debana Kote.  I neglected Debana Kote for a bit because I thought it was "good enough" for the time being, but after our previous lesson on Debana Waza I've been wanting to work on it more.  I really concentrated on trying to read my opponent and see the exact moment that they were going to strike, and I think that I was pretty successful at it last night.  Mark pointed out that I was "frustratingly fast" with the strike, which is nice to hear.  I also concentrated on doing a short fumikomi, since my partner is flying in at me and I don't need to go forward really at all.  There was also another piece of advice given to us, as a group, a few practices ago from Wendy. She said that if we strike and move to the right (our partner's left) to be sure to strike Kote straight on, and then step off to the side.  We should avoid stepping to the side as we hit, even though it's very tempting to do, so I was trying to work on this as well when I would step to my right side after the Kote strike.  I would say that I wasn't too shabby with it, and it's definitely improving.

I tried being a bit more aggressive in jigeiko last night, since we have our tournaments coming up next month, and I think for the most part I did ok with it.  I tried to look for openings or create openings, tried baiting my partners a bit, and worked on Kote-Men or off-timing with some other techniques, all with varying degrees of success.  The thing that worked the most for me was taking the center and just doing straight techniques, which involved mostly Kote and Men strikes (or maybe entirely Kote and Men...).  One thing I do need to work on is attacking from Tsubazeriai, either Hiki Waza or countering and attacking while my opponent is backing up.  I'll try to work on these over the next couple of practices before we head to PNKF.

All in all, a great practice.  I worked hard, gave it my all, and came out with some more things to work on and a bit of improvement.  Looking forward to next time!

A few thoughts:

Kote:  I think I'm getting better at stepping to the side and lining my right foot up with my partner's right foot as I strike.  I haven't slammed down on top of anyone else's shinai in a while.  I need to see if I'm making too big of a motion with my strike, though.

Fumikomi:  Keep my toes down!  I think I need to focus on this a bit here in the next week and I should be able to correct it fairly quickly, like I did with the cheater step.

Kiai:  I should start incorporating our extended kiai practice from last night into all of my training, to help keep my focus and mental state in the right place.

Taiatari:  Since we've been working on this a little bit more lately (last night and Tuesday night out in the valley) I need to remember to use my whole body for the "crash," not just my arms.  I don't think I'm using only my arms, but it's something to be mindful of.

Ashi sabaki:  Sensei said that my follow-through steps were too heavy, so I need to work on being lighter on my feet.  This is actually something I noticed the other day out in the valley, it felt like I was stomping with each step instead of sliding forward quickly.  Like many things, when I concentrated on it I could fix it, so I need to do concentrate on it until it becomes second nature.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Setting the Trap

I practiced on a Wednesday this week!  Not something that I have done for a while since I've been taking Wednesdays off as my self-appointed "rest day from Kendo," but last night I decided to go, and I'm really glad I did.  I only caught about half the class (I was helping out a kenshi with their brand new uniform), but that last hour was pretty intense.  They kept our group mixed the whole time, so I was able to practice with the higher Mudansha and Yudansha the whole time, including jigeiko at the end with a few of them.  There were some good times, some bad times, and I definitely pushed with all I had.

I jumped into the last hour of class, after helpiing out my fellow kenshi, so I didn't get a chance to do warm-ups or suburi. I'm not sure if this helped or hindered me, as I still felt just as exhausted after class as I do on any other day.  We were already in full swing with the training, and Ando Sensei was teaching.  He went over a lot of drills that had to do with distancing and oji waza.  The drills included hitting from issoku itto no maai (one step from your ideal striking distance) and chika ma (close distance), as well as stepping between them.  We also covered many various oji waza, including Debana Men, Suriage Men (from both sides of the shinai), Kaeshi Men, and Nuki Men.With each drill the motodachi didn't just step in and strike and the kakarite countered with their own technique, though.  The kakarite had to bait them into hitting a bit.  This was done by making a small step in, and moving the kensen into various positions (i.e. lowering the kensen to make the Men look open, or raising it up to give the impression of the Kote being open).  When the motodachi would take the bait the kakarite would launch their attack.  It seems to me that the most important part of each of these is the timing.  If you're too early you can miss and end up getting hit yourself.  If you're too late your partner/opponent will be either in your face or long gone past you.

We did many variations on each waza, so I'll try to document my thoughts on each one here.  We started with Men-Kaeshi Men and Kote-Kaeshi Men.  With Men-Kaeshi Men we practiced blocking close to our faces as well as further out.  I definitely favored blocking further out, since I felt like I had more time and was able to hit my opponent correctly.  When blocking closer to my face I felt like I buried my tsuba into my opponent, instead of hitting with the kensen.  Will have to work on this.  Timing and faster shinai speed, I think.  With Kote-Kaeshi Men I was a bit more successful.  I actually was able to block and whip my shinai around fairly well, but hitting my opponent was, again, an issue.  With faster opponents they were already almost on me, so I had to do a lot of Hiki Men to hit them, but with others I was able to get a decent Men strike, although it needs polishing.

Men-Suriage Men was next, and we performed this from the right and left side of the opponent's sword.  I had more success with this one than with the kaeshi waza, but still felt that with faster opponents I had to perform Hiki Men instead of hitting and going forward.  I wonder if it's something I'm doing wrong?  I'm sure it is, but I'll have to ask Sensei or someone else later.  I haven't done any suriage waza in a while, so I was VERY rusty with it.  I felt better performing it from the right side (the omote side, in this case), than I did from the left (ura side), but I will work on mixing it up in the future, when I start trying to incorporate suriage waza into my jigeiko.

The last oji waza we worked on was nuki waza, in this case Men-Nuki Men.  Ando Sensei demonstrated that you should take a slight step back and then you can hit either going forward (preferred) or back.  the movement is the same as the movement in Nihon Kata one (Ipponme), in which you step back and raise your hands up to get them out of the way of the Uchidachi's sword.  I had the distinct pleasure of practicing nuki waza with Dan and Jordan.  They are, in my opinion, two of the faster juniors that we have at our dojo.  The first few attempts at Nuki Men on them ended in failure, but after a while I started improving just a little bit on the timing.  Still not anything I would attempt on them outside of jigeiko, but with proper practice it could be VERY useful.

I continued to try and look for more openings in jigeiko, and found a few of them.  It's a slow, steady process for me, and even though I only made a little progress it felt really good to be able to fight against the higher Mudansha and the Yudansha, which I don't get to do that often.  I made sure to stay in for each round of jigeiko, so that I could get the most out of it,. and by the end I was thoroughly exhausted.  Thank you to Ando Sensei for such a great class!

Some thoughts:

Kamae:  On all of the drills, I need to give clear openings (well, not too clear, but enough for my partner to feel like they can hit me), as well as step in to a distance where they can hit from.  Billy pointed this out to me, to make my step clear and far enough that my partner/opponent feels like they will be able to strike me cleanly.  Ando Sensei spoke about moving the shinai and kensen to offer up your Kote/Men as an offering to them, and then at the last moment performing your counter technique.  I need to work on both, since my movements feel a bit too subtle.

Oji Waza:  I definitely need to work on my timing with everything, especially Kaeshi Men and Suriage Men.

All in all a great practice, even if I only caught half of it.  It was good to mix things up a bit, and I'm always thankful for any training that I get between all of our Sensei.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tighten Your Men Himo

Sensei talked a bit about the Tacoma taikai before class started, and the fact that everyone that went over did so well.  I'm sure that if you look around you can find results, and most of the people from our dojo that read this already know the results, but we did pretty well, to put it lightly.  In light of that fact, he wanted to remind everyone that we shouldn't relax at all because we won.  We should strive to work even harder, and those that competed should have a mindset as if they had lost each and every match.  He mentioned a saying that goes, "When you win, tighten your men himo."  So we should all be pushing even harder after a victory, not relaxing, and putting everything that we can into our practice.  On the flip side of that, though, he also wanted to advise us about pacing ourselves throughout practice.  We should always work hard and put everything we have into our training, but we should also be able to stretch ourselves out over the entire time, instead of having to step out midway through because we pushed too hard and ran out of energy for the last half.  Pacing is something I've been working on, with some measure of success, and it was nice to hear it re-iterated for everyone's benefit.

We jumped into things fairly quickly last night, grabbing our Men and Kote right after warm-ups, and proceeded into some extended Kirikaeshi drills.  We worked on going slow, then fast, then we threw in some Do and Kote versions for good measure.  Considering I haven't done these two in a while it was a welcome addition to our line-up.  Sensei pointed out to me again today that when I try to do faster Kirikaeshi I am still stopping while going forward, which is breaking my rhythm.  He says that I have the right rhythm going backwards, but I definitely need to work on it going forward.  I've been practicing this at home and I seem to cover a HUGE distance while trying to go faster, so this might also be part of my problem.  I'll continue to work on it.

I began noticing a rather odd issue lately, and my suspicions were reinforced last night.  Courtney pointed out that sometimes during Kote, and especially during Men drills, my right foot would sneak forward a bit before I did fumikomi.  I noticed it about a week ago, so it's nice (and not nice) to hear that is what's really happening.  I'll definitely have to work on that.  She said that when I was more tired it wasn't happening, and the reason that I can think of for this is because it's wasted movement....something I've been trying to get rid of.  But at least I was able to catch it early so hopefully I'll be able to take steps to get rid of it before long.  While I'm getting into some of my faults last night, let me mention that Billy let me know that on Men, while trying to go faster I was hitting harder, which was actually causing me to slow down.  Sensei went over this a bit last night, as well.  He said that when you want to hit harder, you don't necessarily have to put more force into the strike.  You just have to cut deeper.  Instead of stopping at the top of the head, he said to try and cut down to the eyes.  This will make your cuts harder, more firm, and not sacrifice speed or technique.  I'll work to incorporate this into my own technique.

We moved into a few Kote-Men drills, and then onto many variations of Do.  I'd like to point out a couple of issues I had with Kote-Men, as well.  Sensei noticed that I was striking a little from the left and not bringing my shinai straight down.  He said that I should bring the shinai straight up and straight down, and that my body should be moving.  It seems to happen on Kote-Men more than anywhere else I use Kote, though.  Wendy also pointed out that I should not raise my kensen up too high, because it's wasted movement.  She said that my strikes are really good and firm, but that I just need to shorten them up a bit.  On the plus side, I played around with striking in place.  What I mean by that is my initial Kote strike is done with fumikomi in place, and then launching forward (short fumikomi) to strike Men.  I feel a little better with it, and feel it's something that will serve me well when I polish it.  I would say that if I had a strong technique, it would be Kote-Men, so I'd like to refine it as much as possible.

We spent quite a bit of time working on Do drills last night.  In the recent months I've been getting a lot better with Do.  I've been placing my hands in the center, striking more accurately, and getting over the mental block that comes with Do, so it was nice to focus on it for an extended amount of time.  after kihon Do drills we went over a couple of oji waza (counter techniques) involving Do.  The first was Nuki Do, the second Kaeshi Do.  Two techniques that are very similar and connected, as Sensei showed us.  Nuki Do is performed by stepping out of the way and striking Do as your opponent tries to strike, the point being that you are not physically at the place that they strike.  Kaeshi Do is performed by blocking the opponent's strike and using that energy to strike Do.  In both cases it's good to remember that fumikomi needs to be shortened up, or to the side (as is the case with Kaeshi Do).  Since the opponent is moving in at a high rate of speed it's very easy to bury your shinai into their side if you try to step forward, as well.  Sensei had a couple of the juniors perform Kaeshi Do for us, one of which had a lightning fast strike.  He said that the key to having a fast Kaeshi Do is to have a fast Nuki Do, and the hardest part of Kaeshi Do is the timing.  Each individual piece is fairly easy to perform, but putting them all together with the right timing is the trick.  I think, for my part, I was a tad more successful than not with both techniques, although I did notice the soft thud that accompanies a missed Do here and there.  I need to remember to bring my left hand back to center after I block, though.  I'm not sure if I was doing that last night, as I was concentrating on other things, but in the future I'll try to be mindful of it to see if it's an issue or not.


We had some time for waza-geiko before we jumped into jigeiko, and I used the time to continue to work on Nuki Do.  A few months ago Sensei told me that if I developed that technique he thought it would be a great technique for me, so I've always kept that rolling around in the back of my mind.  Again, I think I'm getting better at it, at least little by little each time, except next time I'll remember to not try to perform Nuki Do against Billy (who fights in Jodan).  I'm definitely not fast enough to make it connect before he hits me, so maybe I can work on Kaeshi Do with him if I ever run into that situation again.

During jigeiko I really felt like I saw a few openings and capitalized on them.  Not all of them, not even close to all of them, but there were a handful of times when I saw my opponent's guard drop, or saw their shinai wander away and I took the opportunity to strike.  It felt great when I was actually able to get a good hit in after seeing the opportunity.  I'll keep working on that, and also on creating openings.  I'm horrible at that.  I have been getting more aggressive with my strikes and attacking first, but I need to figure out good ways to create openings.  I have been trying to not hang out in tsubazeriai as much, as well, but when I'm there I should remember to work on hiki waza.  I'm still kind of terrible at that, so any practice I can sneak in is beneficial.  But overall I felt great with jigeiko last night.  Everyone got some really good hits on me, but I was able to give out quite a few myself.  Kote, Men, and I even had some good Do strikes in there.

A few thoughts:

Men:  This one goes for all of them, but don't hit as hard.  Don't put so much force into the hit.  As Billy told me, it slows me down.  Instead work on cutting deeper, like Sensei talked about.

Kote-Men:  Make sure that my shinai is coming straight down on the Kote strike, instead of from the side.  Also shorten up my Kote, if I am doing a small Kote strike.

Kaeshi Do:  Sensei broke down Kaeshi Do for a us a bit, and said that the block should be performed with our bodies facing forward, and then turning at an angle to fumikomi and for the strike.  The fumikomi can be a short step forward or to the side, if our opponent is really fast.  Afterward pull the shinai through and follow-through.

Fumikomi:  Get rid of that small step forward that I take with my left foot during Men and Kote.  I'll have to keep my focus on this for a while.

I'm looking forward to more training on Wednesday!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Inspiration...

I've been thinking of what to write all day.  Not that writing a technical post is hard, I could do that in my sleep.  But I like to put a little more feeling into my writing.  A little more pizazz, if you will, so I found a little inspiration while talking to my friends, both today and earlier this week.

I love my friends and their inputs and opinions on subjects, and this week I heard two different opinions on the same subject, this subject being my posts here on my blog.  I've been trying to step up my Kendo lately, in part because there are a couple of upcoming taikais next month and I want to be able to be the best I can when the time comes.  One of my friends mentioned that potential opponents who've read my posts here would know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and could use them against me.  This is a very true statement.  My response to this was along the lines of, "That's ok.  As long as they've learned something from reading that's all I am looking for."  Today I was discussing this with another friend, and he made a very good point, one that I knew in my mind but couldn't quite put into words.  He said that he enjoys when others know his weaknesses, because it pushes him to work to correct them even harder.  I agree with that whole-heartedly.  I put myself out for the world to see in each of these posts, and I don't sugar-coat my own mistakes at all.  The more aware of them that I am the better, because I will have the knowledge to correct them, and knowing that anyone in the world could read this at any moment gives me incentive to push harder to correct them.

Even though we had a taikai this weekend, we had a good turnout for Saturday's practice.  There were about 14 of us there in all, and Harvey led the way through training.  His biggest focus was on short fumikomi, and snapping the trailing foot up as fast as possible.  This was a nice topic to cover, since our focus throughout the past couple months has been on faster shinai speed and footwork.  Harvey pointed out that snapping that foot up will get us back into a ready position faster, so that we can move and change according to what our opponent is doing.  If they block the first strike but let their guard down afterward, having our feet back in the proper position will give us the opportunity to launch forward again.  If our first strike is successful, we can pull our back foot up and continue on with our follow-through steps while displaying proper zanshin.  Being able to pull that back foot up as quick as we can is integral to higher-level Kendo.

We started off with Men, Kote, and Kote-Men drills, first in place (one step forward), and then adding in the second step to bring our back foot up to our front foot in a good stance.  The focus of these wasn't on the strike itself, but on a short fumikomi step forward, and then the snapping of the back foot up to position.  Harvey pointed out that our goal with fumikomi shouldn't be to stomp on the ground, but to get that foot out as fast as possible.  The stomping sound that is an unofficial signature of the fumikomi should be a by-product of the weight transferring onto that front foot.  I worked on performing fumikomi as short as I could to reach the target, and on keeping my foot low to the ground so I didn't get in a habit of lifting my toes up later on.

After putting the rest of our bogu on, we went through some fairly basic drills, all with the focus being on our footwork; timing our strikes with the shorter fumikomi, such as in Kote-Men and Kote-Kote-Men, snapping the left foot up, and following through as fast as we could.  The Kote-Kote-Men drill especially helped me snap that foot up, since we had to go fast, but within reason.  I feel that my strikes are a lot faster these days, so a couple of times my fumikomi on Kote was actually in place, and then I would follow up by stepping forward for the Men strike and following through.  I've been trying to work on doing my initial fumikomi either in place or shortened to make the whole technique faster, so this was a wonderful opportunity to practice that. I definitely still need to work on it, though.

Harvey had us a do an interesting drill next.  The first strike was Kote, but the other two were openings that Motodachi would give and kakarite would have to strike.  It could be either Kote, Men, or Do for the next two.  This really put the pressure on and forced us to use that short fumikomi and to bring the back foot up quickly so that we were ready for whatever the next target was.  I think my strikes were ok on this drill.  I still had a little pause as I adjusted to what the next target was, but my kiai was definitely a bit off on a few of them (such as shouting "Men!!" and I went to hit Kote...).  I hope that we do this drill again in the future.

After a short break we jumped in waza-geiko, and I practiced Nuki Men.  I felt that all the time working on faster shinai speed worked, because I don't think that any of my partners hit my Kote while I was attempting this technique.  One person even commented that they had hit nothing but air the entire time.  I just need to work on bringing my shinai back to strike faster, since a few times I felt like my strike was a bit too deep.  Jigeiko followed after a few rounds, and this carried us to the end of class.  I was able to fight Harvey in Nito, which was awesome.  I think that I've only fought Nito one other time, so it was good practice.  He definitely wiped the floor with me, but after a while I was able to get in a few solid hits.  The main thing I had to think about was getting around that small sword (shoto), since he used to it to defend and to sweep my shinai out of the way a lot.  I also started trying to be a bit more aggressive as time went on, and this seemed to help out too.  Against others, I wasn't so successful.  Jeff was like an iron-clad wall of defense, and I wasn't able to get in a single good hit (in my opinion).  I'll keep working on my part to get past his defenses.  I think if I figure that one out I'll be able to get in some good hits.  I also was able to do jigeiko with my buddy Matt, whom I haven't seen at practice in a while.  We had a really good match, with both of us able to land some really good strikes.  I definitely like the chance to practice against people at a higher rank than myself.  I think I've mentioned before, but it makes me think, act, and react faster.  Gets me out of my "cruise control" that sometimes happens, although not as often these days as before. 

All in all, a great practice, and I always enjoy receiving instructions from new sources and people.  I look forward to Monday!

A few things to note:

Fumikomi:  This should be true in all situations, but especially with the shorter fumikomi step I need to bring my foot up as fast as possible.  I felt like I was doing a good job of this on Saturday, but it's always good to note for my own benefit.  Also since I have such a reach, on techniques such as Kote-Men I can do the first fumikomi in place and then launch forward for the second step.

Men, Kote:  Continue to work on proper hand placement for the small Men strike, and Kote strike.  For Men my left hand should be coming up to my face (Sensei tells us to cover the target with our left fist), and for Kote it should be chest high (later on high enough for my kensen to clear my opponent's shinai). 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Wasted Movement

I love when I come home and my Men (helmet) is soaked.  Physically, it's kinda gross, but it means that I worked hard.  I pushed myself on and on, and last night I actually didn't step out, not even once.  Little battle like this are as big a part of my training as the bigger ones (like learning a new technique or fixing a long-established issue).

We have a taikai coming up this weekend in Tacoma, and our training was geared a bit more towards techniques and advice that we will need for it (for those of us that are going, I'm sitting this one out).  The focus of the night was on small Men and Kote, using the same teachings that we'd been going over lately, which are no wasted movement and no wasted time.  Sensei went over, in detail, the mechanics of striking small Kote and small Men.  Here are a few highlights that I pulled from each:

Kote
  • Left hand chest high
  • Use the wrists and shoulders, DON'T bend the elbows
  • Drive the left hand down and snap the wrists forward
Men
  • Use the left hand to drive the shinai up and back down
  • Don't hesitate on the strike (no wasted time).  The swing should be one motion, up then down, without a pause at the top
  • Left hand should be face-high, and Sensei suggested "covering" the target with the hand.
  • Strike should land as the left hand pulls the shinai down, not while driving it up
  • Snap the wrists.  Use the shoulders and wrists for power, and again DON'T use the elbow
After getting some practice with these, Sinclair Sensei lined up two receivers fairly close to each other and had the rest of us perform Men strikes on each of their shinai.  Each time the line had gone through, he would add another receiver and we'd have another target to hit.  He did this until we finally had eight receivers, and were performing eight Men strikes in a row, as fast as we could go.  During this time Sensei gave me some advice.  Relax my shoulders, relax my wrists, and snap my wrists more on the strikes.  I have a bad habit of keeping my wrists in one position, either bent back or pushed forward, so I need to snap them more to generate more speed and power.  After a few passes I'd started getting it, so I know that the potential is inside me.

I'm still working on doing Kirikaeshi faster, and Sensei pointed out that I tense up when I start going really fast.  I was getting better at relaxing on my strikes, but new techniques and drills bring out old, bad habits in me that I'll have to fix again.  I think I'm doing better with the breathing, as long as I remember to do it properly.  I've been trying to make it a main focus during Kirikaeshi, since it has so many other benefits that I can use in other areas of Kendo.  But it's definitely hard, and definitely a learning process. 

We continued our practice of small Men and Kote after we put on our bogu with some Men, Kote, and Kote-Men drills.  One of the drills we did for Men, in which we struck small Men twice in a row, was designed to help us learn to bring our left hand up and strike down with it each time.  Sensei pointed out that if you are used to tapping the Men while your left hand is driving up that you will have a hard time doing this drill, since both strikes are done in quick succession and are done with the left hand coming down.  Even though I've been practicing these a lot lately, I still have trouble bringing my left hand up high enough, especially on Kote.  It's my tendency to just bend my wrists back and snap them forward to strike, but I need to make my left hand move up.  It's a small movement but still a necessary movement.

The last half hour of practice was dedicated to shiai-geiko matches.  They were 1-point matches, and I was able to fit in three of them.  I actually won all three of my matches, One on a Debana Kote and two with Kote-Men.  They were both really good opponents (I fought one of them twice).  Very fast, very lively during the match, and I was surprised that I actually won those three points (one of which was against one of my senseis).  While I know that Shiai and Taikai are not the focus that I have on my Kendo, it is a nice gauge of progress.  Win or lose it's a great teaching tool and I gained a lot of info from those matches.  Striking distances, zanshin, sutemi, seme, taking and controlling the center, and many more.

The last drill was one that we've done a few times recently.  We have one person in the middle and two lines of people on either side of them.  Then each line attacks, one after the other, while the person in the middle counters.  In this case we were doing Ai-Men, so the person in the middle would strike, turn to face the person behind them, and immediately strike again.  Over the course of time that I've spent on this drill, I noticed that I was a bit better tonight than I have been before.  I was able to strike before some of my opponents, and actually strike what I would consider a good Ai-Men.  But that's just my opinion.

A few things to note:

Kirikaeshi:  Keep focusing on breathing patterns, and work on being faster, especially on the forward Sayu-Men strikes.  Don't tense up!

Men:  This is true for Kote, as well, but I need to have more relaxed wrists, and not lock them into place.  I did it a few times after Sensei pointed it out, but I need to focus on it more during my training.  Also be sure to bring my left hand up high enough for a valid strike.

Kote:  Wendy pointed out that on Kote-Men I should bring my shinai straight up and stright down for the Kote.  It is used more to divert my opponent's attention and knock their shinai out of the way, instead of as a strike itself.  After that I can follow up with a good Men strike to my (hopefully) unguarded opponent.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Breath Control

Last night's practice was a bit bittersweet.  It was good, because I was able to hit a REALLY good Kote during jigeiko, and that made my whole night.  Bad, though, because I was fighting with a terrible pain in my side, so I had to step out a few times.  I think it's because I forgot to drink much water during the weekend...I'll be sure to pick up some more jugs of water at the store tonight.  Anyway, onto Kendo!

It's funny how it seems that sometimes the things that Sensei tells me to work on end up in our training lessons.  Last night we did a bit of extended training with Kirikaeshi, with a couple of points to focus on.  First up was breath control.  I've found, through my very limited experience, that Kirikaeshi can teach us so many good things about Kendo, including connection with our partner, strong kiai, good striking and footwork, proper taiatari, etc, etc.  The list can go on and on.  Breath control is a very...difficult task for me, for some reason.  I tend to start out well, and then lose it during the last set, but I tried my hardest last night to be conscious of it, with better results than I normally have.  Here's a quick list of the different breathing patterns we went over:

  • Seven Breaths - One breath at the beginning for the first Men, one for the forward Sayu-Men, one for the backwards Sayu-Men, rinse, repeat
  • Five Breaths - One breath at the beginning for the first Men, one for the forward Sayu-Men, and then one for the backwards Sayu-Men and the next Men, repeat
  • Three Breaths - One breath at the beginning, and then one breath for all 9 Sayu-Men plus the next Men, repeat
I was able to do three breaths, but I was more comfortable with five.  I tensed up way too much while doing three breaths, because I was trying to go faster without a good rhythm.

The second focus of our Kirikaeshi last night was on speed and the footwork to match it.  Sensei explained it as a "bouncing" step, although he said that we shouldn't be bobbing our head and bodies up and down.  We then did some drills down and back across the dojo floor, first just the footwork and then with Sayu-Men.  I was, in a word, horrible at it.  I was ok when going backwards, while hitting a target, but during these drills where there was no target to hit I fell apart.  This is something I'll definitely have to work on.

With the emphasis we've had on Men lately, we haven't done many Kote or Do drills, but we did a few kihon drills last night, and it was nice to be able to hit a few other targes.  Sensei wanted us to try and make our Kote and Do strikes the same as our Men strikes, as in no wasted movement or time.  Once again, as I have been doing recently, I focused on driving through my partner and pushing my footwork as fast as I could.  My Men strikes actually felt really good last night.  I felt the "POP" that Sensei talks about a lot more than I normally do, which means that I'm getting my shinai up on the right part of the Men.  I will have to watch out with Kote, though, so that I'm not hitting too hard.  Billy mentioned to me, when he was in Jodan, that my Kote strikes were a bit too deep on the shinai, so I'll be sure to work on that next time I'm paired up with him.  Also, with Do these days I seem to be more on target than I used to be.  I still miss, but it seems that more often that not I can land my shinai on the right part of the Do, which is comforting considering a couple months ago I was horrible with Do.  Now it's somewhat passable as a technique for me.

As I mentioned above, I had to step out a few times to deal with the pain in my side, but I jumped back in for the last half hour for jigeiko.  Sensei had us doing 1-minute matches, and wanted us to imagine that we only had a minute left in a shiai and we were down by a point, so it was our job to get two points in 1 minute.  This led to some very, VERY intense jigeiko matches.  I was lucky enough to be able to practice with a lot of higher ranked kenshi again last night, so it forced me to think, act, react, and move faster.  I definitely appreciate these times, and even though I took a lot of hits I was also able to land a few solid hits, one of them being the Kote I mentioned above, so it made the whole night for me in those moments.  I also played more with physically taking and keeping the center, and had a fair amount of challenge doing that with a few people (one of them being Ando Sensei's daughter, who is good at keeping the center).

I love seeing the fruits of my labor, so to speak, and seeing that I am making progress.  Reading back through these blog entries or even able to physically see it, like last night, is a great comfort.

A few thoughts:

Men:  Felt great last night.  I don't have the prettiest or most efficient Men strike, yet, but it's coming along and I felt a noticeable different last night.  Like the strikes that were on target were really ON TARGET, which created that glorious popping sound against the Men.

Kote:  Feels faster, and with that I'll have to be careful of how hard I'm striking, especially against Jodan.  Smaller fumikomi couple with a focus on driving my left hand forward as well as down is helping a lot.

Do:  Work on minimizing how far to the side I step.  This is wasted movement.  I just need to move enough to step past my partner/opponent.  Also continued focus on driving my hand to the center instead of trying to "aim" the Do strike.  I've been stopping my partners at random and asking if my Do is on target, and most of them say yes, so I'll continue to trust in my ability to place the hit correctly.

Hayasuburi:  Sensei pointed out that my left and right elbows are a little skewed during hayasuburi, which can also show up in other places if I'm not careful.  He said that they should both be equal when swinging my shinai, so I'll have to work to adjust.  Right now my right elbow is coming out properly, but my left elbow stays tucked in too much.  I need to work on getting them both even while striking.

Kirikaeshi:  Don't tense up when doing Kirikaeshi on fewer breaths, work to relax just as I normally do with this drill.  Also work on the faster rhythm so that I'm able to keep a quick pace going forward and backwards.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"The Moment"

I had  Kendo practice yesterday.  That's no surprise.  Anyone who knows me knows the passion I have for it.  What was a surprise, at least to me, was the fact that I felt like I hadn't practiced in a LONG time.  Tuesday was my last practice, in the valley.  Recently I wrote about changing up my practice schedule, so that I could give myself body more time to rest and give myself more time to work on my own weaknesses at home.  This was the first week I was able to implement my new training schedule, which involves not having class on Wednesday nights now.  But just missing that one practice made me feel, mentally, like I hadn't practiced in weeks.  Physically, though, I felt good.  I felt really good.  My body felt great, I wasn't sore or harboring any injuries, so I was definitely ready to get back to the dojo.

Billy led our class again on Saturday, and we had a pretty good turnout, including a few people I haven't seen in a while.  After warm-ups we worked on footwork again, with the fumikomi/ayumi-ashi drills/races that we've been doing recently.  On one of the last attempts I had the unfortunate luck of pulling a muscles in my leg, near my hip, so the rest of class I was struggling with that.  It wasn't too bad, but made that area really sore and hindered my ability to launch easily off my left leg for the rest of practice.  Despite that, though, I still did my best to give 110%, and I was still going with the mindset of "Be Faster."  I honestly can't say enough good things about this new mindset I have, and I feel like I have a renewed vigor for Kendo.  I'm hungry, always hungry for more.

The main lesson of today's practice was Debana Men.  Billy had a short question session in which he asked us to define Debana.  A lot of us knew, physically, what it was, but putting that into words was a bit tricky.  He explained that Debana literally translates into "the moment," and is defined as striking your opponent at the exact moment that they move to execute their own strike.  It should ideally be done when their tip and hands make the slightest movement; any later and it's not technically Debana waza.  We practiced this with a few drills, designed to help us build up to striking before our opponent strikes.  I was so-so with the drills, as I usually am.  Better with some opponents, worse with others.  I think the worst I did was with Ando Sensei's daughter, who seemed to always be able to hit me before I was able to do anything, both when she was attacking and receiving.  Still it was a great lesson and gave me a lot to think about and work on.

The second half of class was devoted to waza-geiko, jigeiko, and one last drill for anyone that wanted to participate.  We split into Mudansha/Yudansha groups, as well.  I used my time to practice Kote.  I read an article over at kendoinfo.net that reinforced some realizations that I was coming to on my own about Kote, namely about the mechanics of making a small Kote strike, so it was good to have an opportunity to put those thoughts into practice.

The final drill we did was one that we've done a couple times before.  We form two lines of people, with kakarite in the middle.  Kakarite then tells each line what target to try and hit, and the turns from one line to the next executing an Oji waza (counter attack) of his/her choosing.  It's meant to be a very fast drill, when done correctly.  On my round I chose to work on Debana Kote.  Since you don't want to make a very big movement after striking, I tried to focus on moving just enough to the side to let the other person go by, and turning my body quickly to face the next person.  A fun drill, but I got a little dizzy from all the turning practically in place.

All in all, another great practice.  Like I said before, I have a lot to think about with Debana waza now.

A few things to note:

Men:  Continue with the faster shinai speed, in drills and in Kirikaeshi.

Kote:  with small Kote, I only need to raise my shinai tip high enough to clear my partner's shinai.  Angle my fumikomi toward their right foot, and when striking try to think of throwing the left hand forward and down, instead of just straight down.  This will help extend my hands out.  Also I don't need to take a huge fumikomi step, either, since Kote is a lot closer than Men is to strike.

Debana Waza:  Work on striking AT THE MOMENT that my partner/opponent starts to move.  Their hands shouldn't be able to get very high before I strike, and I definitely shouldn't wait until they are bringing their hands back down to strike before I hit, as this is not Debana.