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!
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.