Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Train Like You Fight..."

We have a motto in our dojo, which I'm sure that some of you have heard in one form or another.  Our motto is "Train like you fight, fight like you train," and basically means that you should always gives 100% no matter what you are doing.  If you train and give it your all every time then you will always be ready to go out and do your best.  But if you are lazy and don't train as hard as you can or hold yourself back for some reason then that can also come out when you are in a match and you can end up being lazy there, as well.  I try to remember this motto each time I'm out there, not only for myself but for the people that I train with.  If I give my all there are obvious improvements that come from that for me, but if I give my all to everyone that I train with each time then they also benefit from that. 

I believe that this was the theme of last night's practice, which Billy led us through.  We didn't do too much in terms of variety, but he made sure to let us know the importance of not being a "lazy receiver" and always putting forth our best effort for our partners, and for ourselves.  He said that when we are the Motodachi that we shouldn't be lazy about it but that we should have the mindset of "I'm going to shut this person down each and every time in this drill" and then go out and try to do just that.  If I am, as Motodachi, instructed to strike Men and the Kakarite is instructed to counter with Hiki Men then it's my duty to try and hit his/her Men every time that we go.  Does it always happen?  No, I don't always get my hit in.  I don't even think that half of the time I get my hit in, but the point is that I'm giving my all to them and making them work on that drill, just as I am working.  He illustrated this point by saying that if we are in a real match we should never expect to run into someone that is going to be lazy about hitting.  They usually aren't going to throw nice slow hits and move around sluggishly because they are actively trying to hit you and take a point for themselves.  This also applies to people that don't do tournaments.  We should always give our best so that we can improve our own Kendo and the Kendo of our partners.  If we go through each drill, as both attacker and receiver, with a lazy attitude and approach then how are we ever going to improve? 

With that said, we focused on Hiki Waza last night.  We were instructed to use nice, big swings as well as body movement so that we not only moved out of the way of the strike but we got our Kote up and out of the way as well.  If we try to do this with a smaller strike a lot of times a more experienced partner/opponent will easily pick off our Kote.  So we had to get our hands all the way up above our heads, as well as using an angled body movement to strike and move backwards (we were working on using it as Hiki Waza).  The advantage of using it like this, as explained to us, is that we can equalize the difference between ourselves and a much faster opponent and it gives us that extra fraction of a second to avoid and counter their incoming strike. 

Other than those points we went over some mostly basic strikes and drills.  I tried to focus on moving from a standstill and eliminating any kind of "tell" that I have before striking.  I've been informed that there are a couple of different things I do that show that I'm about to strike so my focus at the moment is eliminating those issues so that I can strike without warning to my partner.  It might take a while but I do plan to conquer this issue.

We also started our kata study that we do twice a year.  Our dojo has normally taken about 2 months, twice a year, to study and practice kata.  Since we acquired our new dojo, though, we've opened up Friday nights for kata, so I've been enjoying that time to refine my kata lately.  I worked with Seth on kata four and five (Yonhonme and Gohonme).  Yonhonme, especially, has some interesting kamae that we don't usually see in our daily practice, so learning the small details of these has been a good experience for me.  I don't think they're too bad right now, but I know that I'll benefit greatly from smoothing out all the little details. 

I am really looking forward to this next year of training.  We're starting out with a load of new people in the pre-bogu class, so they'll be joining our class and interacting and training with us starting next week.  I'm also looking forward to (hopefully) testing for Shodan sometime next year, and continuing to grow and improve through regular practice taikai participation, and teaching the beginning and intermediate classes when given the opportunity.  To anyone out there reading this, I wish you a Happy New Year and I hope that you can also continue to grow and improve, in your lives and in your Kendo!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Greetings To A New Decade

This past Wednesday, December 14th was my birthday.  I am now out of my twenties and taking my first steps into my thirties.  While this was, at first, a scary thought to me and actually kind of stressed me out quite a bit, I woke up on Wednesday morning and thought about it for a while.  And I decided to push all of that doubt and depression and everything that was trying to affect me out of my head and out of my life.  I made a decision that day that I was not going to go into my thirties with that kind of attitude.  I was going to have a positive outlook and go in on a high note and work to make this next decade even better than the last.  I have to admit that my twenties had their ups and downs, not unlike a rollercoaster.  I had a lot of big "life events" happen, some good and some bad, but despite all of that I've kept on.  I've stumbled and fallen and picked myself up, sometimes on my own and sometimes with the help of friends and family.  I have always tried to learn from those mistakes, as well.  To not just look at them in a negative way but to try and take from them the lessons that they were trying to teach me so that I could continue to improve myself.  I think, for the most part, that I've been successful with it.  I know I still have a lot to learn and I will continue to make mistakes every day, but I hope to continue to see those mistakes as stepping stones to a better me.

I'm really glad that I decided to take up Kendo again.  I know that I've mentioned it before, but I first started Kendo about six years ago.  I went through the beginning class with a lot of motivation, but then when I got into the intermediate class I kind of fizzled out and eventually quit due to time and being out of town with a new job.  I always wanted to pick it up again but I never did, until finally one day back in 2009 when I decided to get serious about it and emailed my old sensei again.  Turns out I had excellent timing, as they had just started another beginning class the week before.  So I grabbed my old bokken and started back up, a fresh new beginner once again.  That was back in May of that year.

Ever since then I've stuck to Kendo pretty faithfully.  I've had my moments where I would pull away and make excuses to not go, but they never lasted long and I was always able to come back and jump straight into it again.  When I got my bogu I decided that yeah, I really want to be serious about this, and I decided that I wanted much more from Kendo than just a hobby that I like to do in my spare time.  I started devoting more and more time to practice and learning not only the physical aspects of Kendo but other areas, as well.  I think much of that devotion has shown through not only in taikai and shinsa, but also at practice.  I try to give my all every time I'm there, for myself and for everyone else that shows up that day.  I expect the best from them, and I want to give my best in return.  I don't always live up to that goal, I'll admit, but I do try to make it a part of my practice each and every time I'm there. 

Over the past year I've gotten more involved with teaching at our dojo, as well.  I'm usually available and happy to take a class if need be, but I know that I am not the best at teaching.  I think I tend to ramble on when I explain, which also shows up here in my posts sometimes :-).   But I do my best and I hope that anyone who has ever been a part of a class I have taught has walked away with a little bit more understanding of whatever I went over that day.  I hope to continue to improve this part of my Kendo, as well, because I know that it helps immensely with my own understanding when I am put in a position where I have to teach it to others. 

A question was brought up here at work, and it was "What goals do you have for the next year? 5 years? 10 years?"  As far as Kendo goes I think I have good goals in mind, although the path to these goals is always being worked on with the help of my Sensei and others at my dojo.  in this next year I want to take and pass my Shodan test so that I can become a Yudansha and finally begin my Kendo journey properly.  The way I look at it is that Shodan means that I now understand the basics of Kendo so I am ready to finally learn what it is to practice Kendo.  I am not at the top at that point, I am back to the bottom and will be hungry and willing to learn from my seniors.  In the next five years I hope to add Nidan and Sandan ranks, as well as try out for our regional Kendo team.  I might be on the older end of the guys that will try out next time (in 2014) but I think that with lots of training and dedication I can make a good run for the team and possibly qualify to be on the team.  As far as a ten-year goal, I want to try and achieve Yondan, if not Godan.  Godan might be stretching a bit far, as I would have to take and pass every shinsa as soon as I was eligible.  But if I work hard between now and then it's a definite possibility.  Also, all throughout I want to continue to participate in taikais around our area.  I enjoy the experience.  A day full of great Kendo.  Being able to see my friends from around the region.  Getting to enjoy matches with new and old acquaintances.  And cheering on my friends and dojo mates that are competing.  Winning is definitely fun, but I love the experience more than actually placing.  I also enjoy being able to go and do the best Kendo that I can as I feel that not only helps myself but also helps our dojo and my sensei and everyone else I practice with.

To close I would like to apologize for the lack of normal content in this post, but I do thank any and all that chose to finish.  I'll be back to form next week.  I enjoy sharing my very limited knowledge and experience, both in the dojo and here.  Even though this blog is mainly for myself, if I am helping out anyone else out there in the world with my posts then that makes me happy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tsuki

I had a short break from practice on Monday, taking the night off to get some errands done and recharge a bit.  So when I went to practice last night I was definitely ready to go and give it my all.  I think I succeeded in that aspect.  The night started off with me teaching the intermediate class.  I went over some kirikaeshi, kihon drills, and hiki waza drills with them, and also tried to talk a little about keeping a connection with our partner while training.  Especially when we go through the drills and turn to face them again.  I tried to relay the importance of turning and being ready at that second, and I hope I got the point across.  Wendy said she touched on it with them on Monday and I tried to continue that theme last night, instructing them that when they turn they want to come back to kamae and have a good stance as soon as they turn, not after turning and shuffling backwards or turning and dropping their shinai down and then coming back to kamae.  All of this, as I see it, is wasted movement and during jigeiko or a taikai can lead to an observant opponent taking advantage of the lack of focus and connection.

During our class we had quite the mixed bag of drills that we went over, starting out with a few receivers in a line and doing continuous Men strikes and then Kote-Men strikes.  I concentrated on keeping my kiai going, strong and level, and also a strong fumikomi and snap of my left foot back into place.  I believe that I'm getting better at it but I'll continue to work on it so that I can snap my feet up lightning fast to be ready to strike again.

One of the drills that we did last night was Ai-Men, a drill where both partners try to strike Men at the same time.  The point, at least as I see it, is to take control by taking center and strike first.  When I do this drill I try to take into account my partner and their distance and speed and go from there.  If they are shorter then I try to use the distance to my advantage by striking as they step into my hitting range.  If they are taller I try to pressure in and start my swing first so that I catch them as they enter into my range with their own strike.  No matter what I do, though, I always try to have a strong strike that takes and keeps the center.  Sometimes I lose at this and get hit first.  Sometimes I face someone that has the same focus and we usually end up bouncing each other's shinai off to the side with no one hitting the target.  But sometimes I am able to deflect their shinai while keeping mine in the center for the strike.  Ando Sensei has talked to me about this before, about having a nice, strong Men strike and he constantly reminds me to keep using it because it's one of my strong points.  Wendy also reminded us to not turn our hips when we strike.  Sometimes people have a tendency to hit while turning their hips to the side, to try and avoid crashing into someone and to try and get around them.  She said that we should concentrate on striking with our hips squared and facing forward, with the idea that we're going to run right through our partner.  After the strike occurs then we can step around them, but for that moment up to and during the strike we should focus on moving straight ahead only.

We also got to work on Tsuki a bit last night.  I haven't had much practice with Tsuki because it's not a technique that we concentrate on so it's always nice to have some practice on it.  She explained that when we thrust forward into the Tsuki-Dare (the protective flap on the Men that is the target for Tsuki, it hangs down in front of our throat), that we should not have a feeling of pushing the hands up because this can be dangerous.  Instead it should feel almost as if we are pressing the shinai down/straight ahead as we strike.  We went over the basic Tsuki strike and also Tsuki-Men, where we were instructed to hit either Tsuki or Munezuki, which is a thrust to the upper portion of the Do (the Mune).  The Tsuki is used to disrupt our partner, with the follow-up strike on their Men.  I actually felt pretty good with this technique, although I was going pretty slow so as not to miss the target.  I definitely need a LOT more practice with Tsuki before I can even think of using it effectively, but again it's nice to be able to have some exposure to it now so that later on down the road I know the fundamentals of it.

We went over a few oji waza drills next, focusing on Debana Kote, Nuki Men and Nuki Do.  Nuki Do, in particular, felt really good last night.  I was able to do a good job of reading my opponent and striking before they were able to so that I was well out of the way of their shinai, and I also felt pretty good about my accuracy.  More often than not I heard the satisfying "CRACK!" of my shinai on their Do while going through these drills.  I also tried to make the drill a bit more realistic by pressuring in a bit and giving an opening to my partner to strike for.  I hope to be able to use Do more in the future, as I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable with it.

We finished out the night with jigeiko, as we usually do, and I was able to go with most of the juniors that were there.  I used to almost dread fighting the juniors because they are so good and really fast, but now I actually look forward to it.  It forces me to step up my own Kendo, because if I don't they're just going to leave me in the dust in our rounds.  They all still do a great job of thoroughly beating me up, but these days I feel like I can keep up with them fairly well.  I'm able to move and counter and strike more effectively and every once in a while I'm able to get in that Men or Kote or Do strike that I was looking for, which makes me feel great.  Once again I tried to focus on continuously pressuring forward and not moving back when I didn't have to.  It was a little more challenging this time than last week, but I still feel like I did a pretty good job with it.

All in all, it was a great night.  A good variety of drills and things to consider, and great jigeiko sessions with everyone I went with.  I'm looking forward to more training on Saturday!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Immovable Mind

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday (Everyone that celebrates Thanksgiving, at least).  We had no official classes last week due to the holiday, but that didn't stop us from having some super intense "unofficial" classes.  Thank you to Ando Sensei for running us through some drills and giving us all some good, long jigeiko sessions!

Last night I had a bit of a revelation.  An epiphany, if you will.  One of those "Aha!" moments.  And it was just more proof that sometimes when we are taught certain things or given certain lessons they won't always make sense to us until much, much later down the road.  What, exactly, am I talking about?

Fudoshin is a Japanese term that means "Immovable mind."  This idea was explained to me probably about a year ago by my sensei and at the time I didn't do much with it.  Whether I didn't fully understand it or I was focusing on other issues that I had in Kendo I cannot say, but it was a concept that stayed in the back of my mind until last night.  For a bit of background on how it came about, read on.

During my lunch break yesterday I was watching some videos online of Takanabe Sensei and his visit to one of the dojos here in the PNKF region.  Takanabe Sensei, if you don't know, recently won this year's All Japan Kendo Championship, which is a tournament of the best kenshi that Japan has to offer.  During the video he went through explaining various ideas and techniques, and that all was invaluable enough, but what really caught my attention was watching him during jigeiko.  I noticed that he hardly ever backed up.  Ever.  He always pressured forward, pressured forward, until that pressure came to a point where either he or his partner would explode into a technique.  Something in my head clicked while I watching this.  I said to myself, "Self, there are a lot of things going on here that are over your head.  But this one thing, never backing up, why are you not doing this?"  Sounds kind of silly, but it's true.  I have a bad habit of backing up during jigeiko, and one that I've been told about many times.  What came rushing up as a response was "I can't fight like that..." which then formed itself into "I'm not fighting like that.."  Which finally turned into "I'm going to try fighting like that."

So my focus last night, especially during jigeiko, was to not step back.  While doing that I think I made a bit of a breakthrough.  I would step in with a strong kamae and instead of backing up as I would normally do, I either stepped forward or to the side, and I always kept my strong kamae and imagined keeping that pressure on my partners.  I imagined myself as a wall bearing down on them, and there was nothing they could do to stop me.  When that breaking point came I would either strike or if they struck first I tried to counter as best as I could.  Did I get hit?  Yes, a lot.  Did I get countered?  Again, a lot.  But I continued into my techniques, doing my best not to hesitate just because I felt or saw their attacks something.  And I think to succeeded in that focus of always moving forward and never backing down last night.

I'm not sure if outwardly I appeared to fight any differently, but that's ok.  Inside, in my head, I felt different.  I hope to keep that feeling going.  I know that there is so much more to the concept of Fudoshin than I experienced last night, but I think that I took a step in the right direction.  I've really been searching for something that I couldn't quite put my finger on recently in my training.  I think this might have been it.

To end, I would like to say thank you to everyone that was at practice last night.  I had a great practice with everyone and you all are the reason that I push myself as much as I do.  I get the best from you so I want to always give my best right back.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kent Taikai 2011

(All photos courtesy of T. Patana - Sno-King)

This past weekend our dojo made its way over the mountains and across the state to attend the 15th Annual Kent Taikai.  This time around we didn't train on Friday night, instead opting to have a relaxed trip over and an evening of hanging out at the hotel and relaxing so we were all fresh and ready for the tournament on Saturday.


Saturday arrived and I felt pretty good.  I tried to remember to have a relaxed, carefree attitude about the day's events, instead just focusing on doing my best throughout the day.  I was able to compete not only in the individual matches in the 1-3 Kyu division, but Sinclair Sensei also decided to put me on the Spokane A team for the Senior Team division.  That not only meant more matches for me, but also matches against people that could range from 0 Kyu up to 3 Dan (I believe 3 Dan was the highest we had people competing at that tournament).  The juniors and junior teams came and went and I got to see some amazing, spirited Kendo throughout the morning, and a few hours after the opening ceremony my division was ready to start.

My first match was against a kenshi from University of Washington named Tagami, whom I had fought before at the UW Taikai in March.  As I stepped out onto the court I felt good, ready for the day and when the match started I stood up and steppin in with confidence, and also patience.  Patience seemed to be an ongoing theme for me that day, and it all started here in the first match.  I waited and watched to try and find an opening or a weakness, and after a few exchanges I was able to land a Men strike after he barely missed my Kote.  We reset and started again, both pressuring each other and exchanging blows before I was finally able to land a Kote and take the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I had won my first match and I felt good going into my second match, which was against another kenshi that I have fought before named Wilkins, from Everett Dojo.   He has solid Kendo so I knew I had quite a match ahead of me.  We started out and again I waited and watched and tried to find a good opening.  He attacked first, and we exchanged strikes for a while until I caught him with a Debana Kote as he moved in to strike.  After we reset and stepped in again a funny thing happened.  He attacked my Kote, and I countered with Nuki Men.  I didn't get the point, but when I pressed forward he lost control of his shinai and caught it by the blade and was now in tsubazeriai with me while holding the "blade" of his shinai.  I immediately struck Hiki-Men since I hadn't heard the judges call a stop to the match.  They stopped the match after I had struck, called a short conference (Gogi) and decided to give him a penalty for losing control of his shinai (I was unclear whether they gave him the penalty for "dropping his sword" or for touching the blade portion of it.).  We resumed the fight again and after a short while I launched a Men strike as he stepped back out of tsubazeriai to take the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I had made it to the semi-finals once again.  Just a couple more matches until the end.  But my opponent in this match was another kenshi from UW named Christianson, who had won the PNKF Taikai just a couple weeks prior and who I knew to be really good.  I have never faced him, but I knew of him and I knew that he consistently placed in the top 3 of any tournament that he was at.  I think out of all the matches that match was the most exhausting.  We started out and I stepped in and immediately struck for Kote, which was blocked, but I tried to keep the pressure up from there.  He would step back and I would follow and strike and keep him tied up.  I was able to take the first point with a Nuki Men as we moved in to hit Kote.  We reset and after a while he got me with a Kote strike to tie up the match.  We reset for the final time and again I kept the pressure up but I felt myself wearing out fast.  I didn't give up, though, and I finally landed a Men strike as he backed up to take the match.  One more match would decide the outcome of our division.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)

Once again I found myself in the finals.  Once again I found myself fighting a fellow Spokane member.  And once again that member was my buddy Matt.  We had fought before, at Highline in the quarter-finals there, and I had come out victorious.  Could I pull off another win against him?  We were about to find out.  The match started and we both stepped in, each pressuring the other and trying to find or create that opening where we could attack without being countered.  I have to admit I could feel a ton of pressure in that match, and afterward I heard that he did, too.  It makes me think of that scene in Big Trouble in Little China when the old good guy and the main bad guy fight and they use their magic to clash with each other, neither of them able to come out the winner.  Yeah, that's exactly how it was for us!

Each strike was calculated, as was each counter.  Any time we found ourselves in tsubazeriai neither of us wanted to back out because we both knew the other would chase us down.  This went on for most of the match, until with about ten seconds left I pressured in and struck his Kote to take the first point.  We reset and I played it smart and safe, not rushing in for that last point.  Time was called, the match ended and I found myself victorious once again, taking first place in the 1-3 Kyu division!

Final Score: Ruiz (1-0)

It almost didn't seem real that I had won.  As I sat and ate my lunch I felt odd, a mixture of nerves and adrenaline that made me feel like I was floating and not entirely in control of myself.   I ate and focused, though, because I still had my team matches ahead of me.

The team matches were an entirely different feeling than individuals.  Now not only was I fighting for myself but I also had to take in the entirety of the team and what had happened before and after my match.  I was placed on the Spokane A team in the third position (Chuken), each match being 5 versus 5.  Even though I was facing tougher opponents (I fought against one Nidan and the rest were Sandan), I actually felt more focused, more relaxed than I had been in my individual matches.  I think that this helped a lot because I was able to go into each match with a good head on my shoulders and not get impatient and try to go for points when I didn't need to.  My first two matches I ended up tying, fighting opponents from Kent's B team and from Highline.  We were able to pull out wins there overall, with all of our members either tying or winning their matches.  In the semi-final match against Bellevue I actually won my match against the Sandan I faced with a Nuki Men (I won 1-0).  Our team went on to take that match and make it into the finals against Kent's A team.  Everything looked good at the beginning, with our first two members taking their matches 2-0, but during my match I gave up a point and was not able to get it back, losing the match 0-1.  We ended up losing that match 2 wins to 3 losses, taking second place in the Senior Team division.  In the end I can say that I gave it my all and put my best effort forward.  I stood against people with years and years more experience than me and was able to hold my own and for that I can be proud

The weekend, overall, was a huge success for our dojo.  A lot of my fellow teammates took home trophies, many of them taking first or second place in their divisions, and we all were able to participate in and watch some great Kendo throughout the day.  I know that I learned a lot from my experiences and I will work to improve on the areas that I need to and to strengthen the areas that are working well for me.  I'm happy that I won in my division, but above that I'm happy that I did my best and gave everything I had to each of my opponents, and I hope that we are all able to take that from each other and continue to improve our Kendo!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Time To Reflect

Recently I had a short hiatus from Kendo practice.  I had real-world things to take care of (errands, etc) that needed to get done, but during that time I was able to take a step back to reflect on my current standing with Kendo.  One thing I realized is that sometimes I push myself too far.  I try to do too much too often and it wears me out.  Not only physically but mentally, as well, and when I'm in that kind of position it's impossible to practice at full spirit and energy.  I started practicing Kendo, and continue to do so, because I love Kendo.  I love the physical and mental aspects.  I love the people, both at my home dojo and the friends that I've made abroad.  I love the culture and heritage and I love that the more I practice the more those qualities from Kendo that I learn start to reflect in my everyday life.  I need to remember these points and keep them at the forefront of my mind, and I think sometimes a break is good for me, maybe even necessary, so that I can step back, take a breather and collect myself again and return stronger and better.  So we'll see.  I'll continue to work on this aspect and find out what works best for me.

On that thought I returned to practice last night.  Our last one before we leave this weekend for the Kent Taikai.  It felt good to be back in the dojo, kind of like coming home from a vacation, and it was great to see all my friends again.  I felt good during warm-ups and the first few drills, but I did feel a hint of rust in my technique.  Maybe it was in my head.  Most likely it was in my head.  Although on the upside my Men strikes felt good.  They felt fast, powerful, and I felt like I was carrying my upper body straight and not leaning into the strike. 

We worked on Nuki Do a lot last night.  On the timing and movement.  I tried to not just be a static attacker.  What I mean by this is I tried to not just stand there and react to the Motodachi trying to hit.  I tried to actively press in a bit and cause the Motodachi to start his attack.  This is the kind of Kendo I need to be practicing, being active instead of reactive.  Even though we were just doing drills there are still things I can change to help develop this.  As far as my Do strike itself it does feel more accurate the more I use it, and I feel like I can reach the target a lot faster nowadays.  I guess that makes sense with the amount of practice that I do, but Do has never been a big strong point for me so it's not a technique that I devote a lot of time to.  One of these days when I feel like my Men and Kote are at least adequate for the time being I'll dive into the mechanics of Do a little more.

We also worked a bit on Kote-Men, specifically using it to neutralize and counter our partner when they step in for Kote.  Sensei's advice on this technique was to not necessarily strike at our partner's Kote itself, but rather to strike for the tsuba of their shinai so that we disrupt them and knock them out of center, and then bring our shinai up quickly to strike Men.  This can be done as either a forward movement or a backward movement, depending on how fast our partner moves in, but the Kote strike itself we would do in place.  About 90% of the time I was able to strike going forward, but when paired with some of the younger, faster guys I was forced to do a Hiki Men strike and move backwards after neutralizing their Kote strike.  My personal belief is that it's important to be able to do both so that I can use one or the other to match the situation I'm in.

Jigeiko was a lot of fun and we continued our scenarios in which Sensei would give us one minute.  One side had a point and needed to focus on keeping their point, and the other side had to try and get a point themselves before time ran out.  Playing out both sides of this type of jigeiko is great for me since I tend to have a problem holding a point if I have one.  I always think to myself, "I think I can get that last point and finish this match," and a few times it's gotten me in trouble.  But recently I've been a little better at it.  I've had more patience when I'm up a point and have been better about trying to find a good opening to strike instead of moving in and not thinking.  I hope to continue and improve on this.

So, all in all it was a great practice.  I was thoroughly worn out by the end but that's to be expected.  And it was a great way to lead into this weekend where I will do my absolute best at the tournament!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

PNKF Taikai 2011

This weekend we had our annual PNKF Taikai in Seattle, WA.  For us Spokane member is meant not only the tournament itself, but a full weekend of travel and Kendo.  We left Friday afternoon from Spokane and arrived in time for practice with our friends at the Bellevue dojo.  Jeff Marsten Sensei gave us the time for open floor that night and I was able to do jigeiko with some old friends as well as some new friends.  We also had a special treat; the Hawaiian team joined us all at Bellevue, as well.  They were impressive, to say the least, and all had very fast, very strong Kendo.  Seeing skill like that in person is always inspiring and gives me goals to shoot for in my own development.  Afterward we all headed back to our hotel for a night of rest and relaxation (and dinner!).

The next day was tournament time.  We headed out and arrived early to the site so that we could change and warm-up before everything started.  This year was my first time in the 3-1 Kyu division at this taikai, but I had been training a lot and was hoping for some good results and good Kendo.  My first match was against a gentleman named Kuniyasu, from Cascade.  I'm not sure what had happened previously, but when they called his name for the match he was still putting on his Men.  My guess is that he might have misread the match line-up, which also happened to one of our teammates earlier.  In any case I had a few moments to focus and prepare myself.  We finally stepped onto the court and started the match.  I started out nice and slow, sizing him up and changing the distance to see how he would react.  I finally pressured in and exploded forward for a Men strike, which connected to give me the first point.  After resetting our positions I stepped in for a Kote, which missed, and then stepped back out to get back to my distance.  After a few more moments, and tapping his shinai out of center a few times, I shot forward for another attempt at Kote, which landed.  We bowed out and stepped off the court to thank each other.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

My next match was against a fellow named Richards, from Simon Fraser University in Canada.  This is what I had been training for.  I knew that the Canadians had good Kendo and were very aggressive, and I wanted to see if I could overcome that this year.  Last year I had lost in the second round to a kenshi from Steveston dojo, and I was itching to try my hand at fighting another Canadian opponent.  The match started and he immediately sprang forward at my Kote, which missed.  Unfortunately this set the tone for the entire match, and he was able to control the match and the distance almost the entire time.  After a few exchanges he landed a solid Debana Kote as I stepped in for Men to take the first point.  Things went pretty downhill from there, as after a couple of Hiki Kote attempts he finally landed one to take the point and the match.  I will admit, I was a little disappointed in the match, but not against my opponent.  He fought well and it was a pleasure to face him.  But I know that I could have done better and I succumbed to my nervousness and doubt.  But the best thing I can do, and what I AM doing, is analyzing what happened and using it to improve myself.  There's not use dwelling on it in a negative way, and I will use that defeat to improve my own Kendo and come back stronger next time.

Final Score: 2-0 (Richards)

The rest of the day I was free to watch my teammates' matches and take plenty of video for them.  There were some outstanding matches, and I think the ones that stood out in my mind most were my buddy Billy's matches.  He was fighting in the 1-2 Dan division and was also fighting in Jodan.  He was one of the few at the taikai fighting in Jodan and I'm pretty sure that he was the lowest ranked person doing it.  Anyway, most of his matches ended up going into Encho (overtime; first point wins) but each time he was able to pull off the win with his skills and determination.  He ended up making it to the final round where he was beat in Encho by a kenshi from Oakland, CA.  It was a very exciting match, though, and he definitely gave it his all.

Another match that was the highlight of the day was the final team match between Hawaii and Vancouver.  Each side fought well and in the end it came down to a tie-breaker match between Fujimoto Sensei (Hawaii) and Yamada Sensei (Vancouver).  I'm not sure how long that match was, I would guess around thirty minutes.  They each fought with everything they had and pulled out some very interesting combinations of moves and techniques.   In the end Yamada finally took the match, and first place for his team, with a Kote strike.

I not only witnessed but took part in some awesome Kendo this weekend, and I know that the experience and lessons that I learned will stay with me and help shape my Kendo future.  Even as I write this I'm itching to get back to the dojo so I can continue to grow and improve and refine my own Kendo.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Small But Effective

We had a small, intimate class last night, with only 8 of us training, but having small classes can be advantageous for those of us that are able to attend.  A lot of times we're able to do different drills, or focus on different things that we wouldn't normally focus on, or even get different instruction on different area of Kendo or techniques or things of that nature.  Last night we were able to do a whole mixed bag of drills that focused mainly on breathing correctly while striking and on keeping our centers underneath us and moving from there. 

After warm-ups and Kirikaeshi we got into Men drills, with the emphasis on breathing.  Ideally we should be able to take a big breath in and then let it out slowly before we attack so that we don't get into a habit of "Breathe in, lift shinai.  Breathe out, strike."  This is very inefficient and slow, so we should work to take a big breath in and then slowly let it out so that we always have that breath to strike with.  We tried to focus on this kind of breathing exercise throughout all of the drills last night.

We also went over Kote-Men, Kote-Men-Men, and Men-Men-Men, performing each strike in rapid succession while keeping our center underneath us and not leaning forward.  I did pretty well with this up until our Ai-Men drills, when I started to slightly lean forward while striking.  After I was advised about this I was able to immediately correct it, but I need to remember to always keep a good center when I strike no matter what technique I'm doing.

We got into a few pursuit drills next, in which the Motodachi would strike Men and the Kakarite would follow and either strike Men or Kote as soon as they turned around.  The idea here was to try and catch them at the 45-degree angle where they are open and able to be hit but before they are able to react and block or counter.  I had mixed results with this, but for the most part I was happy with the results.  Especially when I went for Kote, I was able to come in and strike quickly and accurately for the most part.  If I can work on this and make it part of my "style" then I know it can be a valuable tool for me.  A lot of times people, myself included, are not the most aware at that moment that they turn around.  And I know that personally I've been caught by someone that was focused and followed me after I would strike and follow through.  So being able to do this technique well AND be aware of it being performed against me are both very valuable.

After a few more drills we cleared the floor for some shiai-geiko matches.  Billy was our Shinpan and we all took turns fighting each other in 3-minute matches.  Everyone looked really well out there and personally I felt like I did a great job.  I was able to fight against some people that had a lot more experience than me and also against some that didn't have quite as much experience but had a lot of energy and spirit and really pressured me to do my best.  I fought against both Chudan and Nito opponents and got to explore a bit of a new approach by purposely being aggressive and a bit "pushy" in one of my matches (I was told to, by the way).  While I wouldn't normally fight like this with no reason, it did show me that I can be a bit more aggressive than I am right now and still be able to do good, clean Kendo.  I think as it is I'm a bit too nice in matches.  I don't get too physical with any of my opponents and instead let them do all the pushing and moving around most of the time.  But, that aside, it was a great night of training with a solid group of people and I look forward to another training on Wednesday before we leave for the PNKF Taikai this weekend.  I'll definitely do my best to bring out that spirit and focus not only this coming weekend but during our practices, as well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Little Something Extra

Oh how I love new ideas.  Or going over old ideas again in a new light.  Or applying those ideas to techniques that I already know to give them a bit of a different focus.  Know what I mean?  Last night was all about spirit.  Spirit in our kiai.  Spirit in our strikes.  Spirit in our follow-through and zanshin.  Billy led the group and wanted us to focus on this sometimes overlooked but VERY important part of Kendo training.

After warm-ups and Kirikaeshi we jumped into Men strikes, which we focused on for most of the night.  Not only just the basic strikes (Hit and go through, repeat), but also on Ai-Men and on Debana Men.  Billy brought up a couple of terms that he says are often used when talking about someone's technique (please excuse me if these are misspelled).  The terms were Umae and Tsuyo.  Umae, as I understood it, was used to refer to someone with a lot of technical prowess; someone who knows lot of different techniques and is very skilled with them.  Tsuyo, on the other hand, is someone who is strong; they might not have a dictionary full of techniques, but what they know they use effectively.  If they strike Men and continue forward they will go through you if you don't move.  He pointed out that both of these types have their advantages, but what happens if two people come up against each other and are evenly matched?  If they can go a whole match and neither can get the upper hand because the both know the same techniques and can execute them with equal effectiveness?  How does one person triumph then?

The answer was with their spirit.  With that little extra "something."  That was the focus on all of our drills.  To put that extra into our setup, into our strikes, into our follow-through, and into our zanshin.  He wanted us to feel as if we were in the final team match of a big tournament and this was the final point and we had to bring home the victory for our team.  Would we approach this situation timidly, or would we step up and overwhelm our partner with not only our technique but our spirit, as well?  I chose to try and put more into everything I did that night, and I hope that it showed.

After some jigeiko practice, we broke the floor into two courts and had shiai-geiko (practice tournament-style matches).  We did this on Monday, as well, and I have to say that I haven't done too bad at all.  Monday I faced off against a host of the Yudansha.  I lost a few matches, but I won a few, as well, and pulled off a couple of techniques that I have been working on that made my night that night.  Last night I also fought a few of the Yudansha, as well as some of the Mudansha, and did fairly well with all of them.  I think my favorite match of the night was with Ando Sensei.  He beat me, which wasn't a surprise, but I was able to get a good Men strike on him to score my own point.  I tried to remember what he said to me on Monday about not letting my attack die after I struck the target, so when I went in for that Men strike against him I struck and pushed through and kept my spirit high.  This is how I should strike each and every time, I think.

It's been a fun week, and I'm looking forward to these next couple of weeks leading up to the PNKF Taikai.  I'll continue to do my best and work my hardest to refine and improve what I have right now.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Student And Teacher

I believe that I will always be a Kendo student.  There's always going to be someone that can teach me more about my chosen art.  But lately I've also been fulfilling the role of teacher to the newer members that we have.  Not that I haven't ever done this before, but it's been more frequent lately.  If I'm not helping out with the beginning or intermediate classes I'm filling in for Sensei or Wendy while they attend to other responsibilities that they have.  I am always willing to help in this way as I enjoy exploring the teaching side of Kendo, and it's a great way for me to see how much I know and don't know.  How much I understand and how many questions I still have.  And also how effective I am at relaying what I have learned to others in a way that makes sense.  I'm definitely at that stage where I teach what I know and how I was taught.  I don't try to put my own spin on things, I just try to remember how I was taught and the general feel of class when Wendy or Sinclair Sensei is teaching and go with that.  I hope that I am able to get the points across, even on a more basic level than they do, and that I'm an adequate substitute to everyone that is fairly new to Kendo.  So with each class that I take to lead, I learn more myself and I hopefully become a better, more efficient teacher because of it.

We had about sixteen people for our advanced class last night, and Ando Sensei took the reins and led us through drills.  I like the variety that learning from different people brings.  On Monday one of our sempai, Harvey, led class for us.  He is a big believer of going from nothing to exploding all at once.  No preemptive movements with the body, arms, or feet.  Everything goes from a complete standstill to exploding into the strike in an instant.  I love this way of thinking and I'm still working to refine that myself.  I still have a few "tells" and movements that appear right before I strike, but I think I'm getting better at getting rid of them.  Likewise Ando Sensei brings some new and interesting drills in that we don't normally do, and also has new ways of exploring some drills and techniques that we do focus on regularly.  Like pairing Kirikaeshi together with the various uchikomi drills that we do (Men, Kote, Do), or using the various distances to strike, or step in and strike. 

One particularly interesting drill we did last night was Katate Men.  I have never actually done this type of strike, and Ando Sensei pointed out that at our level he's "100% sure that we will not get a point with it if we try it in shiai," but nevertheless it is a valuable technique down the road and we got a chance to practice it a bit.  It involved stretching out and striking with our left hand on the end of the tsuka as we step through and fumikomi with our left foot.  Very interesting, very fun, but most all of us were horribly inaccurate with it.  We also went over Harai Men and Suriage Men, which are two techniques that I've been trying to (slowly) introduce into my own personal techniques that I'm familiar with.  I definitely like the feel of Suriage Men when done correctly; it seems that it leaves my partner wide open and helpless when I perform it correctly, but a lot of times I find that my timing and distance are WAY off.  I'll keep working with it.  Last night felt a bit better, so maybe I'm starting to make some breakthroughs and discoveries with it.

Also with Harai Men, when I was practicing it reminded me of something that McNally Sensei told me the last time he was at our dojo.  He said that with techniques like that I should try "not completing the first strike."  I think I understand what he was trying to tell me.  I should start the second strike immediately after disrupting my partner's kamae, before they have a chance to realize what's going on.  The timing should be very fast.  Nice sharp strike to their shinai to disrupt their kamae and before they recover I should already be striking them and pushing through.  I'll continue working on this, as I have been recently.

I've been putting a lot of time into working on Kote-Men, usually during waza-geiko.  Trying to get that timing down so my shinai and footwork are synchronized and also so my left foot is snapping into place so I can continue into my next strike quickly.  I think that it is coming along nicely, judging from some of the feedback I've been getting so here soon I'll try taking that tming into other techniques and strikes (Kote-Do, Kote-Kote-Men, etc).  Sensei pointed out a while ago that it can be a gateway into all kinds of multiple strikes so I'm glad I'm putting in the time now to become familiar with that movement and timing.

I had a good time during jigeiko with my dojo mates.  I tried to focus on clean strikes and finds opportunities to attack, rather than just blindly attacking.  I've also been doing a bit of studying and trying to "read" my opponents better.  Trying to figure out what they do before they strike and how best to approach those situations (which has included using/experimenting with techniques I don't normally use).  I'm also starting to feel better when fighting the Yudansha, especially the new Nidans.  I feel like I'm able to keep up with them better than before and actually able to get in some decent strikes here and there.  It's a good feeling and one that I will continue to work on and improve.  Just because they're almost half my age doesn't mean I can't give them a good run!

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - He gave me an interesting idea to play with concerning my kamae and being more "aggressive" with it.  I'll definitely try exploring that, too, and seeing how well that goes for me.

Billy - Watch my distance when striking.  I wasn't hitting too hard, they were nice and solid, but a few times I was too deep on my Men strikes. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spokane Kendo and SWAT?!

Sometimes the members of Spokane Kendo Club enjoy things other than hitting each other in the head with large bamboo swords.  We get together for barbecues and outings and parties and all kinds of other things that are not Kendo-related.  Including, yesterday, an awesome opportunity to "play" with the Spokane SWAT team!

About a dozen members of our club, including myself, volunteered to be "suspects" so that the new SWAT members could have some real training.  They split us up into two groups and used two different buildings, one of them being our new dojo.  Our group had seven people in it and they hid us in various places throughout different areas of the building and then let the SWAT team come and clear the areas and find all of us.  It was great fun, and when they found us they would detain us (usually with actual handcuffs), possibly interrogate us a bit for information and then escort us out of the building.  We did a few different rounds with them, each time hiding in different areas of the building.  I have to say they were very thorough (they found all of us every time), and we all had a lot of fun.  I'm hoping that we'll be able to join in on any other training activities they might have in the future.  For now, enjoy the pictures! (Sorry for the quality, we only had a camera phone at the time):



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Working Through Sickness

This week I've been sick.  It's been a rollercoaster for the last few days; better at times, worse at others, but I've been able to make practice on Monday and Wednesday night and I'm glad I was able to do it.  It definitely helped me feel better and also accomplished as I was still able to give everything I had at the time.  I had to cut down on some drills, do a little less than I normally do, and take a couple of breaks for water due to my dry/sore throat, but I made it.  One of the good things about practicing while under the weather, though, is that I felt relaxed.  Really relaxed, so even though I had less energy than normal I was able to keep up with everything going on because of it.  I have a bad habit of tensing up but this has helped me to relax and just let me body flow with the drills.

Last night was a good night.  Even though I was tired I felt like I could have gone for another practice.  Or at least half of one.  We started with Kirikaeshi, as we normally do, and then moved into Men strikes.  We were instructed to pressure forward with our kensen and our front foot and the strike at the last second.  I really like this way of striking, and I've been trying to remember to drive the left hand forward, as Billy pointed out one day.  "Passing the microphone," as he put it.  Next we worked on Kote and closing the distance.  Not only closing the distance but using taiatari to take our partner's position and knock them out of place and off-balance.

Next we worked on Hiki Waza for a while, first with Men-Taiatari-Hiki Men and then Kote to taiatari and then either Men or Hiki Men, depending on the distance.  I felt kinda slow with the second one, and I also feel funny just knocking people out of place.  I guess it's something I'll have to get used to, though, as it can be very valuable to be able to disrupt people and move them out of center so I can strike.  But one good thing is that I'm feeling a bit better with Hiki Waza, like I'm actually making some improvements.  I was told during jigeiko by one of m partners that I was able to consistently strike him because right about the time he relaxed and thought I wouldn't hit him, I would do Hiki Men and catch him off-guard.

We did a few Ai-Men drills before jumping in waza-geiko.  I tried to again focus on driving my left hand forward and keeping the center as I struck in Ai-Men, and was able to catch most people or at least neutralize their strike.  For my waza-geiko time I concentrated on Kote-Men, as I have been doing for the past month or so.  I think soon I will try moving into something like Kote-Men-Men or Kote-Kote-Men so I can start expanding on my footwork.

We had a long session of jigeiko last night, and I was able to fight most all of the Yudansha twice throughout the time.  I had some good matches, too, and I really worked on keeping my kamae intact while they tried to take me out of center and also on pressuring in on them.  A few people did comment on that, especially one of my buddies that said he could really feel me pressuring in on him when we were matched up.  I've also been trying to mix up my waza and not do the same things over and over.  I want to find new ways to strike Men, like the Yoko-Men drills we have been working on lately, or new ways to strike Kote-Men or pressuring in before striking or pressuring in to make them move where I want and then countering.  There's definitely a lot to think about during these times.  I also tried to keep my stance a bit shorter and closer, because I think I have been letting it get too wide and that is what was causing my hips to become sore and hurt.  We'll see, hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to Sensei about it soon.

A few thoughts:

Billy - Watch my distance when fighting people in Jodan/Nito.  I want to stay at MY distance, not give into theirs, and I also don't want to get in too close before I strike.

Ando Sensei - Ando Sensei said that I have a beautiful kamae and to continue to develop that.  But he also has pointed out that I am still hesitating during jigeiko.  I just need to "Close my eyes and hit Men."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feeling Old

Last night's practice was tough.  Not necessarily because the drills were tough or we did a lot of endurance stuff, but because I was fighting with myself last night.  As hard as it is to fight against the younger, faster guys in the dojo, my biggest challenge last night was my own body.  I was definitely feeling like an old man, and I'm only 29!  I was dealing with a sore right shoulder going into class, and partway through my hips, especially the right side, began hurting and getting sore.  Also about partway through class I started getting heartburn and that was not helping anything.  So I did have to step out for a couple rounds to stretch my legs and let my hip rest a bit, but I jumped back in as soon as I felt ready and finished out as strong as I could.

We started out with warm-ups, which I led, and then immediately grabbed our bogu and went into rounds of kirikaeshi, both the first rhythm (stopping with each strike), and the second rhythm (continuous motion while keeping good form).  I'm happy to say that it seems that all my work on snapping my left foot is paying off; I noticed that I hardly even thought about it last night, but when I did it was snapping into place after my fumikomi step.

We moved on to Men strikes (pressure in towards the Tsuki area as the right foot pushes in, then raise up and strike Men quickly), Kote (strike Kote and then move in to close the distance), and Do, and then went into some drills that focused on hiki waza.  Again I was reminded of how much work I need to hiki waza.  We started with Hiki Men from tsubazeriai, trying to create an opening to strike, and then moved into striking Men or Kote while moving into taiatari and then doing Hiki Men or Kote coming back out.  I really need to work on changing directions so that I can do this technique more smoothly.  I have a habit of putting too much force into going forward and I have an awful lot of dead time when I go to change directions.

After a few other Hiki Waza drills we moved into Debana Kote, where I had a hard time hitting the actual target.  For some reason I kept wanting to hit my partners' knuckles, instead of the actual Kote area.  We finished out the drills with waza geiko, where I worked on Kote-Men.  I'm still working on making the two strikes as close together as possible, but I do think I'm making some progress on it.  I feel more comfortable with it these days, but I also don't want to get into a pattern that people can read, so I also try to mix this up when I use it in jigeiko.

I was able to have the first jigeiko round with our visitor, a guy by the name of Yuma that came from EWU to practice with us.  He is Nidan and has been practicing for about ten years, if I remember right.  He was very quiet, but his Kendo spoke volumes.  He had one of the fastest Men strikes I've seen, and I was barely able to move, let alone try to counter, when I saw it coming.  It was definitely inspiring to see, and I hope to reach that level someday in my training.  I just have to keep at it.  As for the rest of my jigeiko rounds, I didn't do too bad at all, all things considered.  I got hit a lot, but I also tried to really commit to my strikes and to follow up if my initial attack didn't land.  I was also in with the Yudansha group last night, so I had an uphill battle with each of my partners.  I get beat up a lot, but I also learn a lot which I'll hopefully be able to apply it to my own Kendo.  We then ended the night out on 5x5s, after some confusion with a prior endurance drill.

Definitely not the best night of training for me, but I understand that it can't all be sunshine and rainbows.  There are hard days, just like there are good days, and you have to take both during the course of your training.  This weekend I'll be out of town so I won't be able to practice, and hopefully this will give me a chance to heal up and recuperate for next week.

A few thoughts:

Billy - Make sure that I come straight in at my partner when that is what the drill calls for.  I've had a tendency to try and move to the side at the last moment, which I need to fix.

Ando Sensei - He says that I have a beautiful kamae and beautiful, powerful Men strike, but that I still hesitate sometimes in jigeiko.  I need to trust in myself and my techniques and attack without question or hesitation.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And Now For A Different Angle

This last week we have really be practicing a lot on using various angles to strike.  First we started out with just Kote, about a month or two ago, and now we have included Men into the equation.  We've been taking about half an hour at the beginning of each class (after warm-ups) to go over striking the left and right Kote and Men on an angled plane.  First warm-ups to loosen up our wrists and get our arms used to the motions, and then controlled strikes, usually on a count, to the target of the current drill.  Sensei explained to us that they are very valid targets but that we usually don't use them or even think of them because most of our time has been spent striking straight down the center.  But being able to strike a good straight Men or Kote is the basis of being able to do the other variations that we have been practicing, so there's no overlooking their importance.  Just like our basics, they form a solid foundation from which the rest of our practice has built upon.  Without that foundation, our advanced techniques would quickly fail.

After grabbing all of our bogu we went into Kirikaeshi drills and then Men strikes to the left (hidari) and right (migi) side of center on our partner.  I tried to relax and keep my shoulders square and straight, as I've been having problems with letting my shoulders, specifically my right shoulder, rise up as I step in to strike (especially on Kote).  NOT a good habit to get into, so I'm glad that Sensei caught it early and brought it to my attention.  Also I tried to remember to keep my head from leaning back or to the side, as has been pointed out to me recently.  When I thought about it I corrected it, but it's those times that I'm not thinking about it when I want to be able to do it, as well.  Practice, practice, practice.

We took most of the night and continued to practice striking Kote and Men on an angle, in various situations, before going into waza-geiko for a bit.  I used that time to continue to work on striking Kote and closing the distance, where I strike and move to meet my partner as quickly as possible to not give them time or space to counter.  It went pretty well, although I still catch myself hitting their tsuba or their wrist joint every once in a while.  I've also been trying to get myself out of a "training" mindset.  "Train like you fight, fight like you train," is a wonderful motto that Sensei has passed on to us, and I want to continue to try and have that mindset and make it grow and become personal to me.

We ended the night out with jigeiko and 5x5s (an endurance drill).  I felt really good during jigeiko.  I felt that I was a bit quicker than last time and a bit more keen on spotting openings and creating them.  I think that is one of the toughest things for me, personally, is creating the opening, so I always try to keep an attacking mindset.  One that doesn't just react to what my partner does, but one that is actively searching for and trying to create openings to strike.  Last night felt like a good night for that, but I have other times where I feel like a complete failure at it.  I just have to tell myself to dig in and keep at it.  All of this practice pays off, even if I don't immediately see the changes.

A few thoughts:

Sinclair Sensei - He pointed out to me on Monday that I had a head lean and a should lean when I step in to strike Kote, so last night I really tried to focus on that by keeping my shoulders relaxed and trying to keep them square and my head straight.  He said that he noticed an improvement but that I should continue to work on it to eliminate that "tell" that I have.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Beginning Of The New Dojo

Finally!  We are finally moved in to our new dojo!  I think I speak for everyone when I say what a relief it is to have our own dojo, and also to be back to training regularly.  It's not 100% ready, but it's good enough for us to practice in for now.  We are all excited for the new potential that we have now with our own building and all the space that we have!  But, on to the subject at hand.

Training last night, while very tiring in the 90+ degree weather, was very satisfying and I'm feeling like a lot of things I've been working on over the past few weeks are starting to come together and make sense to me.  My left foot seems to be snapping up better than before.  My shoulders feel more relaxed.  I feel like I'm eliminating a lot of wasted movement in my strikes.  And apparently I'm getting faster, which is always good. 

We started the night with drills designed around small Kote strikes, first against our partner's shinai and then against their Kote directly.  Some of the points that Sensei highlighted, which are points that he's gone over with us before were:

  • Left hand chest high
  • Wrists back and relaxed
  • No bent elbows, they should be "naturally straight"
  • Shinai tip should be in front of you.  If not it's most likely due to bent elbows.
  • When striking the kensen should recoil forward, not up.
We not only work on a straight Kote strike, but took that into our next set of drills, which dealt with hitting Kote against kenshi using Nito and Jodan.  Since their hands are up and at different angles, it takes a little different approach to hitting Kote, but the fundamentals that we went over at first still apply.  After getting warmed up and into the strikes I felt that I was actually starting to hit it correctly.  We'll see if that practice sticks, though, the next few times I fight Billy or our Nito guys.

We grabbed our Men and Kote and after some slow rounds of Kirikaeshi we jumped into Men strikes and then into a few pursuit-style drills.  I used my time to focus on not leaning into my strikes, which I think I've gotten better at, and also snapping my left foot into place as soon as possibly after the strike.  The pursuit drills we did started with two Men strikes (in a row), 3x Men, and finally Men-Kote-Men in and out of tsubazeriai.  Sensei advised me to not pause between each hit and let them flow freely, like one fluid technique.  I tried this out and felt good about it, although I do have to remember to make my swing just a bit bigger.  The Men-Kote-Men drills were fun, as I've never done them before, and I concentrated on really making that last Men strike count.  Even if I missed the first two I tried to drive forward and land that last strike.  Many times it landed; sometimes it didn't.

We went did some jigeiko before ending things out with some extended Kirikaeshi at the end.  I was put into the Yudansha group and had a good time fighting with each of my partners.  I tried to concentrate on light footwork and on relaxed wrists.  Sometimes I feel like I have a lot of things hidden inside of me that come out at certain times.  Last night was one of those times and some of the ways that I moved or struck a target really surprised even myself.  Now if I can learn how to get myself to do that all the time!

After our Kirikaeshi rounds we got to enjoy some birthday Kakarigeiko (either watching or participating in) with Marek.  He had a birthday recently and our dojo traditionally gives members a "gift" of Kakarigeiko for their birthdays.  He chose to go five rounds with some of the fastest members that we have.  Very brave on his part.

I feel good, really good, about my training right now.  I know I have a lot to work on, and once I figure one things out it opens the door to fix other things, but at this moment I feel good.  And I plan on taking these feelings and using them to push myself to improve even more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Changes Are Coming

This short post is to anyone that stops in and checks on my blog regularly.  This week we have no practice so I won't have any proper posts, but that doesn't mean that good things aren't happening.

The reason that we have no practice this week is because we are in the process of moving into a new dojo and getting it cleaned up and ready for use.  And this new dojo is the biggest one that we've had since I've been training.  It's HUGE!  The floorspace is massive and the floor looks, feels, and sounds great.  We are all very excited to be able to do this and we are all working to get the dojo ready for use as soon as possible.  Right now it looks like our first practice will be this Saturday.

Personally I'm having a bout of Kendo withdrawals.  I've been keeping myself busy at home, but I miss practicing with all my friends and my Kendo family.  It will be a happy day for all when we finally pick up practice again, in our new dojo. 

Hopefully regular posting will resume next week, and I will also hopefully have some pictures of the new place to share.  Until then, wish us luck with our endeavor and know that we are all blessed to be able to make this change!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rollercoaster

Kendo is a funny thing to me sometimes.  It's a constant battle with myself, and I tend to fluctuate wildly with my training.  Some days I'm on top of the world, and other days I'm at the bottom of the barrel.  I think the only consistent piece throughout it all is my ability to keep going.  Last night I didn't have any super highs or lows, but I did have quite a few fluctuations between the start and end of class.  Some things I did great, others not so much, but I kept pressing on and kept giving all that I had.

After helping out with the beginning class we started into our advanced class.  Warm-ups were the usual, and I tried to focus on keeping my connection with the group and making each strike a good strike during suburi as well as during Hayasuburi drills.  After warm-ups, we worked on flexible wrists and took that into work on Kote, specifically hitting from an angle like we've been going over lately.  I can feel the potential with this variation of a regular Kote, and I can also see where it's rooted in being able to do a good basic Kote strike.  I want to continue working on this technique and see where it takes me.

After grabbing the rest of our bogu, we went into hitting drills interspersed with Kirikaeshi.  Men, Kote, and Do.  Again, we focused on striking on an angle and used that when transitioning into our Do drills.  It felt good to do Do strikes, since we haven't done much of them in our drills lately.  Afterward we went into Debana Kote drills.  I have to be careful with this one as I have a tendency to hit too hit and get the knuckles or the wrist instead of the actual Kote target itself.  But when I do hit it I can definitely tell from that satisfying POP that it makes.  Hopefully that means I'm putting a little more power into that strike so it's more forceful and not such a light tap.

We continued on with Waza Geiko, and I took the time to concentrate on Kote-Men.  During this time I tried striking Kote on an angle a few times, to see how it felt and how it would affect the Men strike itself.  I also played around with hitting Sayu-Men a couple of times, with some rather satisfying results.  I want to be able to branch out with that technique so it's not always a straight, predictable strike.  Given enough time I think I can make this a very valuable weapon in my arsenal of techniques.

We ended the night with Jigeiko, and I tried my hardest.  I think my hardest opponent of the night was Finn.  He is an older gentleman, but there is no disadvantage to be had by that.  He is very quick and can spot my openings so easily, it seems, and I also have a hard time getting through his kamae and his defense to attack him.  I think I got a few hits it, but I had to really work for them.

We were also given some good news.  Last night was our last night at our current location; next week we move into our permanent dojo (at least, I think it's permanent).  I, for one, am excited about this new location and the possibilities that it presents for us, and am looking forward to seeing it in person next week!  We have a short break due to the holidays, but we'll be back in full force again next Wednesday!

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - He pointed out that I have a slight bounce before I strike, so he can see very easily when I'm going to attack.  I will work to eliminate this so that I don't have any "tells" about when I'm going to strike. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little Bit Of Everything

Seems like a while since I've posted on here, even though it really hasn't been that long.  But there's been quite a bit going on in the world of Spokane Kendo.  First off, we had our annual Spokane Kendo Camp last weekend (yay!).  This year we had about twice as many people come out for the weekend, or just for training, and even a few people from the Seattle, WA and Moscow, ID areas.  Good times were had by all and our game of War this year turned into a 3-round battle of battles.  Unfortunately I was only able to make it out for Saturday but I spent the whole day with my Kendo family and had a wonderful time.  Also in Spokane news, on a sad note, our Valley dojo is closing.  Word is that it may resume in the future, but for now the doors will be closed indefinitely.  We had a good run, and learned a lot, but unfortunately life happens and it doesn't always happen the way we want it to, so we're forced to do the best we can with what we have.  It sounds like most of the Valley members will start attending regular practice at our main dojo, though, so we might have gained a few more promising kenshi.

Last night was quite the variety show of drills.  We didn't focus on any one thing for too long; instead Wendy took us through many different waza, including different techniques for striking Men and Kote, and Suriage, Harai, Nuki and Kaeshi Waza.  My night started earlier, though, as I took over the intermediate class and led them through a pretty basic practice, but one with LOTS of hitting.  hitting, hitting, hitting, and refining what they already knew was my focus last night, and I think overall they did pretty well.  I had two students there, so it was easy to focus on each of them and their strengths and weaknesses.  I definitely appreciate the opportunity to teach, as it forces me to really think about what I understand about basics and techniques and the various details that Sensei has taught me through the years.  It's a good reflection of where I'm at as a student when I am put in a position of teaching others what I know and what they need to learn at that time.

Our practice began with warm-ups and Kirikaeshi, and then moved into various Men strikes.  First just straight Men, where I worked on small Men strikes and not only eliminating my wasted movement but also trying to push forward after the cut.  Next up we worked with smother our partner's shinai before striking Men, and then Harai Men.  My Harai movement feels a lot better now, and I try to concentrate on using my wrists and making a small motion but a lot of power as I knock my partner's shinai out of the way.  And also trying to do this all in one step, although sometimes I opt for two steps, like Ando Sensei has taught us, just to get a feel for it and give myself options for striking.

Next up we worked on Suriage Kote, and bringing our shinai down under our partner's shinai and then sweeping their shinai up and to the side to expose their Kote.  We accomplish this by moving our shinai from our partner's right hip up toward their left shoulder.  I was taking this one fairly slow, trying to find the timing and movement that worked for me.  I felt like I didn't have enough movement from my partner, but I guess when I think about it I don't need a drastic change in movement to take the center and create an opportunity.  I'll definitely keep working on this technique as I would love to be able to use it more effectively.

We jumped into some Oji-Waza drills next, going over Nuki Men, Nuki Do and Kaeshi Do.  I did ok with Nuki Men, since I've hammered away on it since last year (right after PNKF when I kept missing Nuki Men because it was too slow).  Nuki Do felt good, but I really had to read and anticipate my partner's movements or else I ended up getting nailed the head over and over.  Doesn't sound like much but it was a tough task because I was dead tired by that point.  Kaeshi Do....yeah.  Let's just say I need more work with it.  I could get the block and movement to strike Do in one motion, but the timing was way off and my Do strike was always way too close.  At least that's how it felt to me.  Oh well, that's what practice is for, right?

After a short break we went into jigeiko to end the night, and I ended up facing a host of people, most of them the Yudansha.  I was exhausted, but I did my best and hung in there until the last couple of drills when I had to call it quits for my own good.  But I think I hung in with the juniors pretty well.  Either that or they were letting me get some hits in there.  Either way I did my best.  Lately I've noticed I've really been playing with distance.  Not only my own but my distance in relation to others.  I can sometime gauge it correctly and take just the slightest step back to make them miss, but this isn't enough.  I need to be able to spring forward afterward with my own attack.  I do this sometimes, but not nearly enough.  I eventually want to be at a point where I have very little wasted movement or opportunities to strike.  So each block is followed up with a counter, each miss by my partner is followed up with my own attack.  It's going to be a grueling task, one that will span many MANY years, but I'm up for it.

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - He noticed that my left hand is too weak sometimes during Men strikes, and it causes my shinai and hands to fly up too far after striking.  He advised me to have more strength in that left hand when I strike, and to strike down to right between his eyes.  I will practice this more in the future.

Billy - I am still striking with too much vertical movement when I hit Kote on Billy (who does Jodan).  He has advised me to hit on a more diagonal axis, almost as if I were to bring the shinai tip back over my shoulder.  Even though it's a small strike I should have this image in my head and my shinai tip should follow that path.  Because I'm not doing this very well I end up hitting tsuba or fist, not the actual Kote.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Homecoming

Last night marked the return of our members that competed at the AUSKF National Championships, which are held every three years.  This year we had five guys from Spokane that went and competed. Results can be found here, butt they definitely don't tell the whole story.  I heard that our guys, and PNKF as a whole, fought with a lot of energy and courage, and definitely turned some heads and made people take notice.  I'm proud to be a part of such a strong area and I plan on doing everything I can to make it to the next championship tournament, in 2014.

The energy was high in the dojo, and I think everyone could tell.  The team guys were on fire and were getting everyone else pumped up during practice, and I really felt the Kendo bar raise last night.  After warm-ups we worked a bit on Kote, specifically on striking on different "planes."  Instead of striking Kote by coming straight up and down and moving our bodies into position, we worked on stepping straight forward and striking on a diagonal plane.  Sensei warned us to be careful with practicing this technique as most of us aren't used to moving our wrists like that, so he advised us to start out slow so that we get the correct movement and muscle memory going and then after a while (when we're used to it and our wrists are used to it) striking with the speed and snap needed for a good strike.  After just a few drills with it I can tell that I'm going to like it...

We moved on into full bogu and set out with Kirikaeshi and then Men strikes.  On my Men drills I practiced coming up only high enough so that I could get a good down/forward motion and snap to the hit and then pushing forward with the cut.  Next up was Kote, and we practiced striking on that diagonal plane we had done earlier and then closing the distance (not following all the way past).  I did an ok job with it after I stopped hit all of my partner's tsuba, but with Billy I wasn't able to close the distance fast enough and he would end up doing Hiki Men on me to show me that I need to be faster.

Sensei had us do a few Do drills next, which was a welcome change.  I haven't done much with Do lately, and I've been trying to get the wrist movement down so I can really strike with speed after bringing my shinai around.  I've also been striking to strike going forward, with the shinai in front of me before stepping to the side.  Hard to explain in words, but it's coming along.

Our practice was a bit short tonight, as we finished out the night with some extended jigeiko.  I had a chance to fight a couple of the team guys, as well as some other Yudansh and Mudansha, since we kept the group mixed.  I had a great time fighting both Seth and Dan (both of whom fought at nationals last weekend).  Even though they beat me up pretty well I felt like I was able to somewhat keep up with them, as well as pick out and strike at openings easier than I ever have.  I carried this into my other matches and really felt like I was able to see those openings better.  Ever since I got back from the shinsa I have felt different.  Better.  I feel like I improved a bit over that weekend and instead of relaxing in my new rank I'm pushing even harder to get ready for the next rank, as well as to get myself ready and into a position where I can put up a good fight for the PNKF team in a few years.

I had some very encouraging words from Sensei and Billy after class, and I feel so good, so inspired, with my Kendo at this point in time.  I feel like I'm on the right track, and the possibilities for the future are wide open for me to improve. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

PNKF Summer Shinsa 2011

Hey hey everyone!  We had our PNKF summer shinsa this past weekend, and if I had one word to  describe it all it would be "prepared."  Not only myself but all of our guys that went to test.  We had quite a few people in tow on this trip, since the PNKF team members went for their final team training and to head out today for Atlanta and the AUSKF Championships this weekend.  But only five of us were testing; three for Nidan, one for Sankyu, and myself for Ikkyu.

We left on Friday, but due to work and other things we left late in the afternoon so we didn't get into Seattle and our home for the night until late, around 10pm.  Which meant no training for us on Friday night.  But the good thing was that it meant we would all be fresh for the shinsa the next morning.  The team guys left early for their last training, and a couple of us relaxed and prepared before going and arriving around 10:30am to get dressed and ready.  We all signed in, and the Ikkyu and up candidates turned in their essay questions.  From this point on I'll be writing essays for part of my testing, and I think I did a good job on the written portion (although maybe a little long-winded on some explanations.  But too much info is always better than too little, right?)  Dan led the whole group in warm-ups and then we broke into groups to begin everything.

Our group was up first, since we had been put onto the court where the Yudansha were testing.  I was not nervous at all going into that day, but I have to admit that as I stood there in my bogu, waiting for my number to be called for my jigeiko rounds, I felt a bit nervous.  Just a bit.  But it was a good kind of nervous.  They finally called me up and I did two rounds of jigeiko, both a little over one minute long.  I went into both of my rounds with a plan, and it was a plan that came from the advice I got at the last shinsa.  I wanted to show them that I could make really good strikes (I focused on Men strikes) but after I landed a few of those I mixed it up and tried some Kote, Do, and various Oji Waza.  I even threw out a Kote-Men in one of my rounds.  I also tried not to block without countering and tried to not stay in tsubazeriai or concentrate on Hiki Waza, and honestly after my two round I felt good.  I felt like I accomplished the goal I set out for.  I had a couple of wonderful partners that gave it their all, as well, and together we were able to demonstrate good Kendo for our level (in my humble opinion).

After watching the rest of the Yudansha groups go through jigeiko we jumped into the Kata portion of our testing.  Since I was going for Ikkyu I had to perform Nihon Kata 1-3 with my partner.  we paired up and I was given Uchidachi (teacher) side to perform,which meant that it was up to me to lead my partner accurately through each of the kata.  Like a dance, where one leads and one follows, it was my task to know the proper sequence of actions and to perform them to the best of my ability, while keeping my partner and their abilities in mind.  I focused on not being too fast, but be calm and precise, making sure to make each movement deliberate and making sure that my partner followed correctly.  I was so so lucky to have a partner that worked well with me.  She was from Idaho Kendo Club, I believe, and she definitely knew what she was doing.  I don't know her name, but if she happens to run across this I just wanted to say what a pleasure it was performing Kata with her. 

That was it for us.  I felt that I put my best efforts forward to show that I deserved to be promoted, and the only thing left was to wait for the results.  I enjoyed watching the others during this time.  Our Nidan guys performed wonderfully, as did our guy testing for Sankyu.  All of them demonstrated their abilities well, and all of them passed their tests with 100% in each category, so a big congratulations to them!  When the time came I went to check the results, and was very pleased to see that I had also passed with 100%!  So now I am a nice new shiny Ikkyu.  I feel really good about it, and I'm going to do my best to step up my training from here on out.  I'm shooting for Shodan in February, and it sounds like I'm on the right track.  I definitely felt different at practice last night, and I heard that it showed, so that kind of encouragement is always good to hear.

So now our dojo has three awesome new Nidan, one new Ikkyu, and "the world's most dangerous Sankyu" :-).  I really enjoy our Kendo family that we've formed here, and that we continue to develop, and I'm looking forward to even more hard training, sweat, and improvement as we continue on these next few months to the next shinsa.

And now, a few pictures: