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.