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:
- Left hand chest high
- Use the wrists and shoulders, DON'T bend the elbows
- Drive the left hand down and snap the wrists forward
- 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
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.