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.