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.


  1. Wow Chris i am sorry that you had this pain in your side? its unfortunate that this affected your ability to focus as well as stay in practice. sounds like your practice envelops all your senses and mind. its kinda like standing on a floating bamboo stick trying to stay afloat and level...well maybe not so much like that... Carmen

  2. I think I still hung in there pretty well. It was like those cramps that people sometimes get after running a lot, but I fought it and only had to step out on a couple drills. Thanks for the kind words, though!