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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.

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