Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to the Dojo

Last night was our first practice downtown in over a week.  The Thanksgiving holiday plus a food drive at the gym we use kept us away from the downtown dojo since last Saturday, and even then a lot of us were off at the Kent Taikai.  We had a practice in the valley last week on Tuesday, which was great because a lot of downtown people showed up for that, but other than that there's been nothing Kendo-related going on.  It felt good getting back in the dojo, kinda like returning home and seeing all the familiar faces and getting that warm, comforting feeling all over.  That's the good side.  The bad side is that I was really busy last week and hardly got a chance to practice at home so I was definitely feeling my week off last night.  I felt really slow and really sloppy with my training, but in the back of my mind I know that it's just my body dusting itself off.  Give me another practice or two and I'll be back in gear and ready to improve.

We had a smaller group last night, maybe about a dozen or so of us there.  It snowed a lot last week, and I'm guessing that this kept a lot of people away.  Driving in the snow is hectic, at best, plus there's always a round or two of sickness that gets people during the cold weather.  After warm-ups, instead of putting our Men and Kote on we jumped into pairs and took a step back to our basics a bit.  We worked on our Men strikes, a lot.  First in place, making full swings and concentrating on eliminating wasted movement and time (we were instructed to make a very quick cut, as quick as we could while keeping good form).  This built up into striking and pressing the shinai forward to make the "second" cut.  He emphasized extending our kiai, which in turn would help extend our cut forward.  We added in a quick step after this, doing fumikomi and then pulling our left leg into place.  This all led into the main focus of the night; pressing with with our shinai before striking. 

This is a concept that I first recall seeing during Stroud Sensei's visit.  The basic idea is to press in with the tip while beginning your right foot into the fumikomi motion before striking.  Sensei pointed out that we should try and direct the kensen towards our partner's neck, or (preferably) right between their eyes.  He demonstrated this a couple of times by stepping forward and poking the Men right in the face, between the eyes.  Good thing we have metal grilles on the front!  after pressing in we then strike.  Not a hard concept to think about, but pretty hard to actually implement and execute.  I think that after a while I was doing it during the kihon drills, but later on it just fell apart unless I totally concentrated on it.  Sensei wanted us to focus on this for the rest of the night, and he made it a point to tell us that we should be constantly trying to improve ourselves and our Kendo and not fall into the trap of repeating the same movements and doing the same thing all the time.  If we do that, we'll never improve.  I can see this as another step in improving my own Kendo.

We worked on Kirikaeshi quite a bit last night, and really worked to use what we had just went over in the Men strikes everywhere else.  The places that this showed up in Kirikaeshi were very apparent.  during the Shomen strikes we can press in before striking.  During the Sayu Men strikes we can be quick and crisp, with no pauses or wasted movement.  I tried my best to remember these points while going through the drills.

We moved into more Men strikes next, and again concentrated on pressing our shinais in on our partners before striking.  We first practiced from uchi ma (hitting distance) and then from to ma (outside of hitting distance, which forced us to step in first and then step and strike).  Sensei made a good point during to ma, saying that if we are able to practice pressing in from uchi ma, it makes the movement from to ma a lot better.  The footwork become more fluid, and the strike becomes easier to execute.  I'll continue to work on this in my own Kendo, because I can tell I'm going to need a lot of work with it.

We did two rounds of jigeiko, which book-ended some time spent going over Debana Kote.  I tried to keep the spirit that I had a couple of weeks ago over the taikai weekend, but I felt so slow and rusty.  I'm hoping that it doesn't last long.  I will say that I had a pretty intense round of jigeiko with Seth, one of our Ikkyu kenshi.  I believe that we were on the same wavelength while fighting, because we ended up striking the same targets at the same time for most of the round. It felt more like a battle of pressure and seme than anything, both of us trying to find or create the right time to strike.  Sensei talked a bit about finding and creating openings, which is a good thing, but that we shouldn't get into a habit and a pattern of doing that all the time.  We must also be dynamic and be able to strike, see another opening, and strike again.  He made an example using the curtains on the shomen side of our dojo.  He said that many people do Kendo as if they are hitting the curtain, and that's fine and has its place.  But he said that we should also work on not just hitting the curtain, but doing so to reveal what's behind the curtain, because there is a lot more behind it.  In the same way we should use our attacks of open up new targets and opportunities to strike again.  I know that this is an issue that I have, being able to create multiple opportunities to strike, so this is another point I'll be working on a lot.

After some rather grueling endurance drills we lined up, settled in, and ended for the night.  It was great to be back at practice, I missed it a lot, but I do think a week is WAY too long to be without Kendo.

Some thoughts:

Men:  So much to fix here I don't know where to begin.  First off, Sensei pointed out that my wrists were too tense and I wasn't using them during my small Men strike.  I could feel it after a while, too, after he pointed it out.  I need to loosen them up, and they should be the first thing to go back as I lift my shinai up to strike.
Also, and this goes for all of my strikes, I should keep my hands down on my follow-through.  Either my right or left hand should be about face-high.  Sensei told me to imagine punching my partner in the face as I go by them to get an idea of where my hands should be. 
Lastly he said that I was leaping forward a bit on my strikes.  I think this might have been because I was starting my strike from too far out.  I should work on controlling the distance more so I can better gauge how far out I can hit from and still keep good form and technique.

Posture:  Not sure where to put this one, but I need to work on my posture.  I noticed that in the videos from Kent I am leaning forward ever so slightly.  I do this in kamae, when I strike, in tsubazeriai, and it's a bad habit that I need to work on correcting.  Last night, before practice, I concentrated on moving from my center (tanden, if I remember right), and keeping my posture as upright, while being relaxed, as I could.  I don't know what caused this, or if I've always done it, but I'm going to try and correct it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kent Taikai 2010

The annual Kent Taikai took place this past weekend, and I have so much that I could write about.  For the sake of space and not boring anyone that might read this I'll try to keep it as concise as I can while still painting a picture of the events that took place on our trip.

We left Friday from Spokane to make the trip to Seattle for training in Federal Way that night.  Of course along the way we busted into random games of tag, as is tradition.  Training in Federal Way was enlightening, in that it showed me that I have a long, long road ahead of me.  I knew this, and it's something I always consider in the back of my mind, but every once in a while I have a training session that reiterates that truth to me.  Also, Marsten Sensei is pretty cool (Curtis, although I'm sure Jeff is just as cool).  He's a great teacher, and I was grateful to be his punching bag during jigeiko.  The night ended with everyone in the hotel sharing dinner and a few laughs.

Saturday was the day of the taikai.  We cleaned up, ate breakfast, packed and headed to the taikai, which took place at the same venue as PNKF a couple weeks prior.  After changing and warming up we were ready to start.  The rules were about the same as PNKF, if I remember right.  Three minute matches, two points to win.  If the match ends in a tie there are two 1-minute sudden death rounds where first point wins, and judge's decision if there is still a tie after those rounds.  Final matches and team matches had unlimited time for the sudden death round, as I remember.

I competed in the 0-4 Kyu division again, and as I was preparing for the match I was mentally preparing myself as well.  I kept a positive attitude throughout the whole time, and I think this helped me immensely.  I also watched the matches and watched everyone to try and get a feeling for what to expect if I had to fight them later.

My first match was with a girl by the name of Yu from Bellevue.  The match began and after a few exchanges I scored a Kote on her to get my first point of the match.  She didn't seem too shaken, as she quickly went on the offensive and ended up scoring a Kote of her own to tie the match.  I came back with an offensive of my own afterward, and stayed on her with regular waza and hiki waza.  I finally scored the final point when she went for Kote and I struck it down with Uchiotoshi Men to win the match.

Final Score:  2-1 (Ruiz)

My next match was against a kenshi name Kim from University of Washington.  I stepped in and immediately attacked Kote and put the pressure on my opponent, and caught him quickly with a Men strike after he stepped back on Hiki Do.  We reset to our spots and I quickly caught him with another Men strike as he stepped back to strike Hiki Do.  I had been working on being more aggressive ever since PNKF and it really started to show through during this match, and the ones after.  I had set a new personal record, as well.  In my previous two taikais I had never made it past the second round, but this time I was onto the semi-finals.  I felt really good about myself at this point, and felt I had a real shot at winning.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

 My semi-final match was with Cook, from Tacoma.  The match started and I immediately scored a Nuki Men for the first point.  We reset our positions on the lines and went at it for a second time.  I tried to play smart, since I already had a point, and he played pretty aggressively, but we both used a lot of waza, taiatari, and tsubazeriai to try and overcome the other person.  I finally ended the match when he backed up for hiki waza and I immediately sprang forward with a Men strike.  I had made it to the final round, and I could hardly believe it!

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

My opponent had just finished winning his semi-final match, a guy by the name of Dominey from University of Washington.  He opted to take his break before the final match.  I used the time to watch, wait, and focus.  I tried to empty my mind of everything around me.  Winning, losing, everything.  I focused on my soon-to-be opponent.  He finally stepped to the line, we bowed in, and the match was under way.

He came out strong, with a quick Kote to take the first point.  I have to admit, my focus was almost broken at that point, but as I walked back to my line I strengthened myself to try and take the two points that I needed to win.

As the shinpans dropped their flags to continue the match I stepped forward, toward my opponent.  I was determined to do my best to gain back a point to tie, and a point after to win.  Dominey and I both surged forward for Kote strikes, and I went on the offensive, striking forward and backward whenever I thought I had an opportunity.  He did his best to tie me up in tsubazeriai, to which I responded with hiki waza.  Everytime I backed up he followed and tried to finish the match with a quick Men or Kote strike, but I was able to hold him off fairly well while trying to set up my own strikes.  Finally, about a minute and a half into the match, after striking Hiki Men and stepping back I sprang forward and was able to land a Men strike to tie the match.  We reset ourselves back to our lines, and I began to think that I might be able to pull off a win.  I just had to be smart about it and use everything I had. 

Dominey tried to end the match with another Kote strike, but I was able to block it and follow him into tsubazeriai.  After a moment we let each other out gracefully, back into Kamae, back to squaring off with each other.  Dominey tried a couple of fakes, doing fumikomi in place to try and get me to move, but I was holding strong to my Kamae.  He rushed in for another Kote, which is what I was looking for, and I countered with Nuki Men.  I missed, but was quick to turn around and follow him.  As he turned and began to settle back down to Kamae I launched  Men strike at him again.  This one found its mark.  The flags went up.  I had won the match.

I walked off the court and congratulated my opponent.  He had given me everything he had and we both definitely did our best out on the court.  Sinclair Sensei, Jeff, Aaron, and Dillon were there to be the first to congratulate me on a job well done, and on winning my first taikai ever.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)

When everything was all said and done, after the rest of the divisions were done and we lined up for the award ceremony I still couldn't believe that I had achieved victory.  Sure, it was something I was aiming for.  I knew that when I first signed up for the taikai.  But it was taking a back seat to the chance to perform good Kendo; Kendo that would make my dojo proud.  I believe that I also achieved that goal.  They called out the winners for all of the divisions, and I ran up to receive my trophy and a new shinai from Maruyama Bogu, a prize graciously donated by the company for all of the first place kenshi.  After they called all of those, they had another award to give out.  An award that went to two kenshi, a junior and a senior, and was explained to me as awarded by all of the judges to two people that showed the most beautiful Kendo and the best spirit of Kendo at the taikai, with no regard to winning or losing.  I was the recipient of that senior award, the Spirit of the Day Award.

I was shocked.  For a moment I didn't realize what was going on. I couldn't believe that they had called me, out of everyone that competed that day.  I saw some great Kendo and I didn't think my Kendo was anything too special.  After a few moments of shock, and with everyone watching me, I ran up front to receive my award.  I have to be honest, I was also having a hard time keeping my eyes from tearing up.  I have to say that I played a small part in all of that.  I learn from everyone around me, and anything special in my Kendo comes from all of the people at my dojo that helped me and taught me and gave me advice along the way.  So in a way that award was a reflection on our whole dojo, I was just the humble recipient of it.

I hope to be able to use this experience to further myself and my Kendo, and to improve even more in the future.  I'm hungry to get back to the dojo, and not to relax, but to train even harder and push myself even further.  Sensei says that when you win you should put more effort into your training, as if you had lost every match, and I intend to do the best I can with that mentality.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


By the time class ended last night I was broken and exhausted.  Not only did I train hard the night before in the valley, but I trained with the Yudansha last night, which is always a good lesson in endurance.  I also injured myself, a couple days before the next taikai.  We were performing Men-Nuki Men and when I went to hit my partner I brought my left hand right down on the tip of his shinai.  Let me tell you, at full speed that does NOT feel good!  I had to step out and let my hand recover a bit because every time I would strike after that incident the fingers on my left hand would start to throb and hurt bad.  That would have been bad enough if that were the only issue I ran into last night, but about the time we started jigeiko I got a bad ache in my side.  I had to basically remain stationary for the first couple rounds because anytime I moved too much the pain shot up my side.  I'm glad that only lasted a little while, but it sure didn't help me last night when I was already injured and tired.

So where do raindrops fit into all of this?  When we bow in and out we have a time called mokuso that is used to clear our minds and concentrate on our rhythmic breathing.  At the beginning of training it's a good time to clear your mind of everything that's happened throughout the day so that you can concentrate on Kendo, and at the end of training it's used to help calm your body down from the (hopefully) exhausting practice you just finished.  I usually concentrate on my breathing during these times, but every once in a while my mind will wander while sitting there with my eyes closed.  Last night I couldn't help but notice the sound of the rain on our building.  Rain always has such a calming effect, at least the sound of it does, and I started to think about how many other kenshi have been in this same spot before me.  In mokuso, after a hard training session, listening to the raindrops...

Like I stated at the beginning, I already had a pretty hard practice the night before out at the valley dojo, so I was already tired coming into last night's practice.  The whole practice turned into somewhat of a lesson in endurance for me, as I pushed myself way past what I am normally capable of in class.  We interspersed our Kirikeashi drills with our kihon drills, doing regular Kirikaeshi as well as Do and Kote variations, between our regular Men, Kote, and Do drills.  I had to step out a couple of times because I first had to help a fellow kenshi with his splintered shinai, and then I had to fix my own splintered shinai.  My poor shinai, it's been through so much and I keep rebuilding it with new bamboo staves, but I think it's on its last legs...again.

After kihon drills we went into some more advanced stuff.  Sensei was really centering on keeping a focus with our partner during our drills, and one of them focused on this in a big way.  Kakarite would hit Men and push through, and Motodachi was supposed to follow them and hit them as they turned, trying to catch them when they were at around a forty-five degree angle to Motodachi.  I had varying degrees of success with this, but was thrown off when my partner would turn sooner rather than later.  Some people had quite a pattern to their follow-through and turn and were easy to catch at that forty-five degree mark, but others (like Billy) were nearly impossible to catch at the right time, and I constantly found myself hitting too late.  It doesn't help that he's WAY faster than I am, but I'm working on it, every single practice.

I like the fact that we've been doing a lot of oji waza lately, as I feel that a lot of those techniques I'm pretty weak with.  We went over some Nuki waza drills last night, including Men-Nuki Men and Kote-Nuki Men.  I only got to practice Men-Nuki Men, as I injured myself and had to step out for the Kote variation, but I was quick to step back in for Ai-Men.  The purpose of this drill is to strike before your partner does.  A lot of times it looks like both people strike at the same time, but there's a lot more that goes into it than that.  In my very, VERY limited experience with it, I can see a few key points (at least, key to me).  One is that the kenshi who is able to take the center has the best shot at landing their strike.  Also speed comes into play a lot.  If you are slower than your partner, you'll want to try and take the initiative to strike first, or else you will never beat them to the target.  Sensei wanted us to play around with it last night, too, and not just strike, turn around, and strike again.  Through this I found that if I was able to draw someone in to stepping into my hitting distance (uchi ma) then I had a better chance of landing my Men strike before they did.  Probably because I can set up while they are still stepping forward and strike before they are able to fully settle into their position.  Of course these are my own observations, and my own thoughts, and they could and probably will change in the future.

Jigeiko was fun last night, as I got to practice against the Yudansha (I had been in the Yudansha group since we started Nuki waza).  Fighting against them always keeps me on my toes, even when I'm tired out of my mind, and I think that I got to do jigeiko with all of the Yudansha last night, including Ando Sensei.  He is definitely a wall when he wants to be.  A fast, powerful, accurate wall.  Even though I can never get a hit on him it's great to practice with him.  If I keep practicing, maybe one day (decades from now) I'll be able to move as swiftly and powerfully.

The night was not without it's fair share of advice, though.  During the drill where we chased down and hit our partner, Sensei let me know that I need to turn and move with them faster so that I'm in a good spot to hit them when they turn around.  I kept coming in too late on some people, and as I worked on it, it slowly improved, even if my aim didn't.  Wendy also gave me a good piece of advice for this kind of situation.  She said that if I step around my partner a little more, instead of coming straight at them, that it will give me an extra split second to set up and strike, and from more of an angle that my partner/opponent might be ready for.  This split second can give me just enough time to get in a good Men, Kote, or Do strike.  Also during our Nuki waza drills Billy said that when I hit and push through I'll want to keep my hands from lifting up.  Not only is this a bad habit but it also hinders the kakarite from striking properly because my hands are in the way.  I wasn't trying to do this on purpose, but this was also during the time that I was suffering from my hand injury, so I ended up stepping out right after this because I couldn't hold my shinai properly.  Live and learn and grow.

A few thoughts:

Nuki Waza:  I've been practicing lifting my hands up out of the way and feel that I'm ok at it now, considering my very short time in Kendo.  I need to work on being more accurate with the Men strike, though (if Men is what I'm aiming for).  Also, when up against a faster partner, it's ok to do Hiki Men, and I pulled off a really good one on Justin last night (before I smashed my hand into his shinai, that is).

Debana Kote:  Just reiterating what I've already written about this, but be sure to catch the opponent at the moment they move, not after.  Being the motodachi last night I saw a lot of this, and I was able to hit people's Men before they could make it to my Kote for a successful Debana strike.  Also little to no step forward is required, fumikomi in place is ok, and after hitting straight on you turn your body to the side and keep your zanshin going as you move back.

A great practice last night, I was thoroughly exhausted.  Our next stop is going to be in the Seattle area on Friday night, and then the Kent Taikai on Saturday!  I'll have a lot to write about and more pictures next week.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


You would think that after having a weekend full of Kendo I would be tired of it and want a break.  I don't.  I thoroughly enjoyed our practice last night, even though I had to step out a few times due to coughing.  It appears that my throat is not 100% healthy yet, and I forgot my water bottle, so each time I stepped out I had to take my Men off to get some water to try and calm down my coughing fits.  Still I did all I could and knew when to push and when to back off a bit.

I actually started my night by teaching the intermediate class.  Not only that, but my brother is now in the intermediate class so he was able to participate in one of my classes.  I kept things simple, going over kihon drills, kirikaeshi, and then getting into a bit of hiki waza at the end, which was new for him and the other new intermediate student.  I tried to break it down and explain as best I could, and I think I did a decent job since everyone was looking really good with their footwork and form.  With teaching, I take baby steps.

Before we started class we were each given a chance to give our own report of the taikai and to talk a bit about our favorite match of the day.  I said that my favorite match was the one in which I lost.  Sounds odd, I know, but I learned so much from that match that I am itching to apply to my own Kendo.  I'm hoping that when I go back for the Kent taikai in a couple of weeks that I will have improved, even just a bit, because of that match I had and the areas it gave me to work on.  Ando Sensei also talked a bit about our Kendo, and how proud he was of all of us for doing "beautiful" Kendo.  He said that a lot of people get into doing tournament Kendo, and even can win matches it's very ugly, in his words.  He said that he, and everyone else, notices our dojo for its good, clean Kendo.  I'm very proud to be a part of that.

Ando Sensei actually led class last night, and put us through a lot of endurance drills, having us do kirikaeshi at the end of almost every drill.  Also he had us move in and strike from to maai a lot, as well.  This is a distance outside of the ideal striking distance (issoku itto no maai), which forced us to take a big step in before striking.  I tried to concentrate on swift movement, small strikes, and good follow-through while keeping my kiai going all throughout.  I think I did ok, but I was a bit hindered by the constant coughing and dry throat.  Hopefully next week I'll be better.

Ando Sensei had us go through some drills afterward in which he would blow a whistle and have us either strike a target given by our partner once, twice, or perform ai-men with our partner.  Very interesting drills, and I could see in some others the speed that they possess to see an opening, process it in their mind, and strike (Dan in particular).  Ai-Men was also fun, and I think I'm getting faster with my strike, although I need to watch out for how far up I raise my shinai.

Our jigeiko session lasted for quite a while last night, and I really worked on being more aggressive overall.  It definitely felt that way to me, and from some of the others I asked later on it seemed that a few of them noticed, as well.  I tried to stay on my partners a bit more, watch their movements, follow them, and try to strike as I saw opportunities.  I also tried to create more opportunities by using some off-timing and other techniques.  I have one technique in particular I would really like to work on, although I didn't get a chance to do so last night.  Sadly I had to step out of the kakari-geiko we did to finish the night, but I definitely cheered my heart (and voice) out for everyone else that went.

After class Ando Sensei told me that my Men strike was very beautiful and fast, and that if I keep practicing it will be my specialty.  I was very glad to hear this from him, who has been beating me senseless in jigeiko for the past few months with Ai-Men.  I'll take his advice and continue to work on my Men strikes.

A few thoughts:

Jigeiko:  I should definitely keep trying to turn my dial up a bit on jigeiko.  I know I have a little bit of skill, and I think I can handle working a bit harder and keeping on people like I did last night.  One of the reasons the guy at the taikai beat me was because he kept the pressure on me, so I want to be able to develop that in my own Kendo.  Seme.

Nuki Men:  I have to work on my accuracy with this technique.  I have the speed and timing, I just need the accuracy.

Fumikomi:  I think I need to work on a little longer fumikomi.  I saw some of the pictures and the video of myself and realized that I have a good fumikomi, but it could be longer in some cases.  I should be able to do short, medium, and long fumikomi, so I can have versatility with my strikes and movement.

All in all, a great practice to have after coming back from a weekend of Kendo.  I look forward to tomorrow night!

Monday, November 8, 2010

PNKF 2010 - Patience

It's Monday, and I'm reflecting on this weekend's events.  What a great weekend!  It was full of training and good friends and bonding with the team and lots and lots of Kendo!  Not much happened during our training in Bellevue on Friday since it was open floor training.  A group of us were selected to be receivers for the beginning class, which was fun.  They have a lot of kids that practice with them, so it was interesting to see some young people up and coming in their training.  During open floor I was able to get in a few jigeiko matches with some of the Bellevue locals, but I think the highlight was when Takado Sensei showed up and I was able to jigeiko with her.  She hit me, a lot, but I still enjoyed myself and enjoyed the time to practice with her.  Afterward we went back to the hotel to have dinner, clean up, and rest up for Saturday's taikai.

Saturday came pretty quickly, and I felt like I had no sleep at all.  But sleep or no sleep I was determined to do my best that day.  We headed out and arrived at the taikai around 8a.m. to help with court setup.  After getting everything in order we all got dressed and did a bit of suburi, kihon drills, and jigeiko for warmup, then headed back for opening ceremonies around 9:30.  I wish I had a picture of the opening ceremonies, as we had a lot of kenshi participating that day, including people from as far as Alaska.  Four courts had been set up for the day, and they were all used thoroughly.  My matches weren't for a while; they began after the 13-15 year boys and the 3-1 Kyu categories.  Out of those categories we did have some winners.  Dan took first place in the 13-15 category, with his brother Andy taking 3rd (both of them are Sinclair Sensei's boys).  Marek also took 3rd in the 3-1 Kyu category.

After getting my Men and Kote on I waited patiently for my match.  I wasn't overly nervous, but I had a healthy bit of the shakes going on.  A few matches into the 0-4 Kyu category and I was finally up.

My first opponent was a Yonkyu from University of Washington named Stern.  I came right off the line with a fake to Men followed by Kote.  my opponent reacted exactly how I thought he would, by raising his hands to block Men, but unfortunately for me he stepped back when he did it, and I didn't fumikomi far enough to hit his Kote, so my beautiful setup was all for naught because of my bad distancing.  I'll definitely work on this in the future.  We exchanged blows for a while, both of us doing some great Kendo, and about halfway through the match I finally scored a clean Kote for the first point.

We went back to our starting positions for the second point, and after fighting him off for ALMOST the rest of the match I got careless and my opponent ended up getting a Men to tie things up a few seconds before the match ended, thus forcing the first overtime (encho).

The first encho came and went without either of us scoring a single point, although my opponent got close as he hit Men just a hair after the flags went up to end the round.  This forced us into a second encho.  The rules for this taikai stated that if we were still at a tie after two encho rounds that it would be judge's decision for the winner, and I didn't want to go to that.  About ten seconds into our final round I stepped forward with a Kote-Men to taiatari.  I stepped to the side and then knocked my opponent's shinai away and I hit Hiki Sayu Men on his other side to score the winning point.  After the match Sensei came up and congratulated me on my win and my good Kendo, but he also gave me advice about keeping my point.  He said that when I have a point I should work to keep it and not be overly aggressive, like I was out there.  I should have patience and play with my distance and move in and out of tsubazeriai, or even stay there if my opponents wants to.  I shouldn't be greedy for that last point because that's what almost cost me the match.  I'll be sure to take this advice to heart next time.

Final Score: 1-1 (Ruiz in double encho)

Second round and my opponent was a guy from Steveston by the name of Leung.  I could tell from the start that he was very, very good.  I hardly had time or room to setup properly because he was all over me in the match.  Partway into the match he went for Kote.  I had guessed he would so I pulled back for Nuki Men.  I had the timing down but my Men strike was just off target, so it ended up sliding off to the side.  He recovered very quickly and hit Men to score the first point.

After resetting we traded blows a little more.  I ended up in tsubazeriai with him at one point, and noticed that his hands were just a bit high.  I stepped back for fumikomi and his hands went up to block Men, but I had other plans.  I threw a Hiki Do at him, and when it connected (CRACK), all three flags went up.  I felt really good about this one, because I had been working on it, so it was great to see that I was able to pull it off in a match against someone else.

We reset one more time.  The score was tied, and this was the final point.  I stepped in and circled a bit, and had plans to try and set up my opponent for another strike.  I knocked his shinai out of the way to see what he would do, and backed up for a second.  When I stepped in again he flew at me with a Men strike, which caught me completely wide-open.  When the flags went up I knew I had lost the match.  But losing was alright with me, as he was definitely a very experienced kenshi.  I didn't step out of bounds or drop my sword, or incur any other penalty against me, so he beat me on pure skill.

Final Score: 2-1 (Leung)

With my matches I gained valuable insight on my own Kendo.  I can see some strengths shining through, and see that some of the issues I've been working on have started to disappear.  I've also seen what I need to work on to continue growing and maturing in my Kendo.  The rest of the day passed, and I was able to witness, photograph, and record some truly great Kendo and matches (Seth vs. Tanimura Sensei, Sean vs. Jeffy, and too many others to list here).  I am thankful for this experience, the whole trip was a great time for me, and I hope that my teammates feel the same way.  I'm looking forward to the Kent Taikai in a couple more weeks, and to coming back next year to see how well I do again.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Body and Mind

So life blessed me with sickness at the beginning of this week, proving once again that Murphy's Laws do exist.  One of these days that Murphy guy is going to get what's coming to him.  I am, however, recovering smoothly, and should be back to 100% by Saturday, just in time for the PNKF taikai.  I've been looking forward to this one for a while, and I'm am going to relish the opportunity to demonstrate good quality Kendo (hopefully, in my opinion it is) with others from around our region.  I'll be sure to keep notes so I can give a good playback of what went on when I return.  But for now, onward!

During our warmups Sensei talked about how we should be performing suburi.  The way I understand is that we shouldn't go full force, 100% with each strike.  But we should definitely not be lazy about it, either.  He demonstrated the difference to us.  He was able to strike at the same time as his son, even though he started later. We should have quick, crisp strikes, good footwork, and not be lazy about any of our movements.  This helps us to get into the right mindset for training, as well.  If we are lazy, we'll have a lazy mindset.  I've mentioned this concept before when speaking about mokuso and breathing, and that we use it to calm the body down and the mind will follow.  Same concept for warmups, so we should be active and focused to help us warm up both our bodies and our minds.

After Kirikaeshi and some kihon drills (Men, Kote-Men, Do), our focus shifted to Oji Waza.  We went over Nuki Men and Nuki Do, Kaeshi Do, Debana Kote, and using Kote-Men to neutralize our partner's strike and counter attack.

Nuki Men and Nuku Do both felt pretty good tonight.  I can still work on my timing and my speed, but I felt that I was better at reading my opponent so I could see that moment that they began to move to strike.  Sensei made a point to let us know that with Nuki Men our movements should be fairly big, so we can move our Kote out of the way of our partner's strikes.  Some people try to do a small movement with their hands and end up not getting out of the way in time, so we should be sure to bring our hands above our heads, like we are performing a medium strike (and remember to not let the tip drop, this is wasted movement).  With Nuki Do a small movement is preferred, the small "heart" or "C" shape that Sensei has used as examples before.  Fumikomi should be short, as I've mentioned before, due to the Motodachi closing distance with their strike as well.  Sensei also pointed out that hips and body should be turned to the side as you strike, but your eyes still be on your opponent until you move past them.  Eyes should always be level and not looking down, because this tends to bring the head down and then the body will begin to lean forward.  So much to think about!

I still need to work on my timing for Kaeshi Do, as well.  I can get the block, but bringing my shinai down to strike is a bit awkward still.  Sensei said to catch the other person's shinai early so that you have time to bring your own shinai around for the counter-strike.  Most of my opponents were too fast for me to get the proper strike in after blocking, so I might need to try stepping even further to the side after I block.

We worked a little on Hiki Waza before we went into jigeiko.  One of the drills we did focused on multiple hits.  the Motodachi was instructed to try and not get hit, while the Kakarite was told to try and get a good hit, and try to go for multiple hits to throw the other person off.  I landed a very nice Men strike on one of my opponents after missing with Hiki Men and drawing their shinai down with a Kote strike.  I'd love to put in some good practice time with this sometime in the future, but I was only able to get in a few rotations with it.

Jigeiko was, well, it was jigeiko.  Nothing really special to report on it.  I was doing my best to not push myself too hard so that I could last the entire time, but I did feel like I'm still learning, little by little, to capitalize on openings that I see and/or create.  This will serve me well as I advance in my Kendo life.  I say life, because it's something that I hope to hold onto for the rest of my life.

A few thoughts:

Nuki:  As I stated before, when going for Men make I need to make sure my hands are up and clear of my partner's strike.  With Do I should work on a shorter fumikomi to the side, but still keep my eyes on my opponent.  And don't lean into the hit!

Kaeshi:  Still needs a lot of work. Maybe more shinai speed will help.  I know I was holding back a little bit last night, so next time I'll be sure to put 100% effort into the shinai speed.  Also I can step more to the side to compensate for my opponent closing distance, and turn my hips when I strike.

I can't wait to return from this weekend with pictures, maybe some video, and a nice story to tell!