Before I get into the meat of the night, at least for myself, I'd like to talk a little more about kata. We started our semi-annual study of kata, and last night I was able to go over Kihon Kata six and seven with the pre-bogu people, as well as learn 7 for myself. If you don't know, Kihon Kata 7 is Debana Kote, and these kata are fairly new and are designed to be directly applicable to your shinai Kendo. From what I've seen so far they are an invaluable teaching and training tool to have. Anyway, back to Nihon Kata.
Billy led us in learning some of the finer points of Ipponme (Kata 1), which has both Uchidachi and Shidachi start in Jodan no Kamae (Upper guard; the sword is held above the head in a ready position). Some of this was review, which is always good, but some of it was also some new information that I hadn't heard lately, and helped put things into a better perspective for me. Here are some of the points that I gained from the instruction
- Uchidachi starts with the left foot forward, and draws up to Jodan no Kamae. This is "left" Jodan, and the bokken is slightly off to Uchidachi's right side. This is accomplished by placing the left hand in a position above the left eye, and the right hand above the right eye. Both hands are about a fist away from the forehead. Billy explained that if we keep the hands in this position the bokken will fall into the correct position automatically.
- When Uchidachi strikes, even though the strike is going all the way through the opponent the power should still stop at their Men. Good tenouchi and follow-through brings the shinai all the way down. This is proper and also safer for the Shidachi. In case they don't move you can still stop the bokken.
- Speaking of striking, Uchidachi does raise their bokken up to strike. As you step forward with the right foot to strike, the hand raise up and also move back to the center line. This part is very important for a clean, correct cut.
- He also talked about the sound the bokken makes while cutting through the air, and demonstrated the difference between the fast, powerful cut and the nice, slow, controlled cut. He said that the slower cut makes a more correct sound, and he was right. The fast cut had a rather hurried "whoosh" to it, while the slow cut had a more even, drawn out "whoosh". I found that really interesting.
- Shidachi start with right foot forward, and raised up to Jodan no Kamae. Unlike Uchidachi, they use "right" Jodan. In this stance the bokken is held with both hands on the center line and with the bokken pointed up and back at around a 45-degree angle. Again, the left hand is about a fist away from the forehead.
- Much like Uchidachi, Shidachi also raises the bokken up when striking. The shinai should go straight up and back as they move their hands up and out of the way. The best way to think of this is if you had a tube around the bokken and raise up into it. The shinai would continue to go straight back and up, not drop down at all.
- When Shidachi steps forward to pressure with Jodan, they raise up into left Jodan, the same position Uchidachi uses when starting the kata.
I've been talking to Sinclair Sensei recently to figure out what I can work on that would be the most effective to help fix the issues that I'm seeing right now. He gave me three specific issues to work on, and said that if I concentrate on them for a solid two weeks that I should be able to fix not only those issues, but other issues that stem from them. Last night I really devoted my time to those issues, and I feel that, at least for a couple of them, I saw a lot of progress. The first issue was my spirit, and keeping my attack alive by keeping my kiai going all the way through my attack and follow-through. I've actually been working on this one for a while now, and I feel that I'm doing a great job with it. Even when I miss a strike I'm trying to remember to keep pushing through and keep my kiai going until I turn and am ready again. Unfortunately, for now, this also tends to make my kiai very loud. While not necessarily a bad thing, I think I can cut it back just a bit once I make it a habit to always push through with my kiai (which I feel is really close to happening).
The second issue I was working on is to snap my left foot up as quickly as I can after I step and strike. For this one I've been reverting back to Billy's lesson a few months ago on having the right mindset. If you think you are faster you can drive yourself to be faster (Check out the original post here). I concentrated most of the night on pushing myself to be faster on my follow-through and I definitely felt a big improvement, despite almost running into the wall on a few occasions. Pulling my left foot up quickly has always been a challenge for me, as I tend to let it trail behind me most of the time when I'm not thinking about it, so I'm putting a lot of emphasis on changing that. "I WILL change it" is the attitude that I have right now, and I know that it will pay off in a few weeks.
As far as drills, there was a new one that we went over last night. We've done variations of this one before, which involves the Kakarite hitting Men and going through and having the Motodachi turn and hit men as they turn back to face each other, but the one we did last night was very, very effective. Instead of Motodachi turning straight around to hit them, they would take a step off to the right so that they were not directly behind Kakarite when they turned. This gave just a split-second more time to set up and strike. From personal experience with my partners, what I would see when I turned is them off in my peripheral vision, and I usually only saw the tail-end of their strike a split second before it landed. Like I said, VERY effective and one that I hope to integrate later on into my Kendo.
After the uchikomi drills we did was Wendy referred to as "Motodachi geiko," in which the Yudansha all lined up and everyone else would line up with the person that we wanted to do jigeiko with. I was able to do jigeiko with Jordan and Ando Sensei last night. Both have a very different fighting style, but both are equally effective with that style. Jordan is kind of like a storm. a big storm. He comes in and completely ravishes my defense and kamae and hits me every which way he can, on top of being the only person that can regularly disarm me. I was able to get in a few hits on him, but wow that kid is quick and accurate! Ando Sensei, on the other hand, is very intimidating. He's fast, he's powerful, and he's precise and calculated. Almost everything he does when you fight him has a purpose, whether it's to draw you out of kamae, pressure you to move where he wants, or counter you when you think you have an opening. I really shouldn't be amazed when I fight him anymore, because I've fought him countless times in jigeiko now, but every time is the same, and I'm left with a half fearful/half wide-eyed feeling afterward. One of these days I'll have Kendo on that level, and beyond.
After a few more rounds of jigeiko amongst our Yudansha/Mudansha groups, and one last Kirikaeshi, we bowed out and ended the night. What a night it was, too! While I didn't feel like I jumped over any major hurdles, I do feel like I made quite a bit of progress with my issues and with my Kendo.
A few thoughts:
Men: I've been practicing Men a lot. Being the most basic strike, and one that I use a lot, it's always good to practice, plus I've been able to use it to work on the three issues that I'm fixing at the moment. Ando Sensei says that my Men strike is very quick and to hold onto it as it will serve me well.
Kote: I keep hearing comments that my Kote strike is getting faster and faster, and I guess it is, but I'm still looking to improve on it. I feel like my hands needs to come up a bit more when I strike, and then I need to have proper zanshin and follow-through. Too many times in jigeiko when I hit Kote I end up in tsubazeriai afterward. I want to try and cut down on this, which means I'll have to either come in and bounce off my partner or change my follow-through so I go around them instead of into them.
Jigeiko: Ando Sensei said that I am coming in and fighting in his maaii, which lets him practice but is not good for me. He said that I should hit when I feel that I have the correct distance, and I shouldn't hesitate. I will try and remember this, and I know it's a bad habit of mine. I've been trying to not just hit without thinking, I try to make each strike deliberate, but in doing that I hesitate a lot and I miss a lot of openings.
Suriage: I've been trying it lately, I'd like to try and work on it so I can use it more effectively. I definitely need to work on the timing of the strike. It seems that I can do the movement ok and knock my partner's shinai out of center, but I hit too deep with my own shinai.