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).