Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, Fresh Beginning

The new year is upon us!  I hope that anyone reading this had a wonderful new year and holiday season, and I hope that this year treats you even better than the last. 

I haven't ever really had the habit of making resolutions, but last year I made a couple that I was able to follow-through with.  They were to 1) Do more Kendo than the year before, and 2) acquire my bogu.  I accomplished both so I decided to make another one this year.  My resolution, my goal this year is to achieve Nikyu (2 Kyu) rank by the end of the year.  If I work hard and push myself I know I can do it. 

I set out with a goal for this first practice of the year.  I wanted to do the best I could, put my all into it and set a high standard, and then to see if I can break that standard, push my limits, little by little each practice (or possibly each week?).  I will try to have this focus in the back of my mind throughout this year.  I know that even last night, during practice when it seemed that I needed to step out for a minute I pushed myself just a little further instead.  I actually ended up just stepping out to fix the tape that was on my foot, so I missed a couple of rotations there.  All in all I was proud of myself, and I think I accomplished what I set out to do for that practice in that regard.

Twice a year our dojo goes over kata, and I thoroughly enjoy the time we get to spend with it.  These aren't the Kihon Kata that we've been learning lately, these are the traditional Nihon Kata.  I appreciate the time that we have to go over these as a dojo because I always learn something new about kata.  To steal a line from a rather popular movie, kata has layers.  Many, many layers.  On the surface are the movements themselves, but to know the movement is only the beginning, not the end.  The movements are the start of everything else, and once you have the movements and the order down you are then able to begin the journey of kata.

We went over the traditional opening to kata, the formal bow-in.  That's it.  Sounds boring, right?  But in that are many aspects and jewels of information and insight that we can take if we are looking for them.  Sinclair Sensei had us practice this part many times last night, each time focusing on the points that he gave us, which are:
  • Start and keep a connection with your partner throughout the kata.  This should be done by making eye contact with your partner, and then taking a step in to the spot where you bow in at.   This is a very deliberate action and shows your partner that you are ready to begin kata.  The connection is the first part of the kata, and should be created before stepping in.
  • Uchidachi leads, Shidachi follows.  It is Uchidachi's job to set the pace, which means that he/she has to be sensitive to the level of Shidachi and the speed at which they move.  It is Shidachi's job to be their shadow.  They should be following, but it should appear on the outside as if they are moving at the same time, ideally.  As you can imagine this takes a lot of focus between partners.
  • When drawing the sword, on the last step, the tsuka (handle/grip) should be pushed out with the right hand, not pulled out.  Subtle, but it makes a world of difference in the hand/arm placement and the movement itself.  
  • After pushing out halfway, release the bokuto with the left hand (left hand moves to rest on the hip).  Right hand should bring the sword out and up and stop around face-height.  At this point the sword is being supported by the right thumb and index finger, hand at an angle on the tsuka, and right small finger wrapped around the tsuka.  This part is VERY important.
  • Using the webbing on the right hand as a pivot point, pull the sword around and forward with the right small finger.  The sword should swing up and cut forward, at an angle that is parallel to the angle of the keikogi (where the opening for the neck is, about a 30-degree angle down and to the right towards the floor).  The final position for this movement should have the sword drawn, kensen at eye level, and the right hand should be in front of the right shoulder (sorry, hard to explain in text).
  • After drawing the sword out and cutting forward, move the sword to center and bring up your left hand into position on the tsuka.  You should end up in a good, strong kamae position.
  • The sword drawing and cutting are done while the last step forward and the beginning of sonkyo is going.  Bringing the sword to kamae should be done at the very end of sonkyo so that you are finishing the cut/kamae at the same time that you finish sonkyo.
As you can see the formal opening has a lot more going on then we think of at first.  When we first look at it, we see "Bow, walk forward, draw the sword, sonkyo," but if we remember the layers analogy, we can see that there is much more going on then just what's on the surface.  I'm very excited for this season of kata practice, and I look forward to learning even more and adding to my understanding of the various Nihon Kata.

2 comments:

  1. I seem to be in a replying mood. Oh well, I guess it can't be too bad as long as I get to sleep when I need to.

    Those are some good goals you have going there. It's quite common to have goals where one wants to do X amount of suburi per day or something, but most likely doesn't have much of a plan beyond that, such as the method of suburi and what they plan on getting out of it. The goals you have posted are most certainly possible and I hope you're able to achieve them.

    For the kata, I personally thought that they were kind of boring to learn, but then I took Iaido and now I see them in a totally different light. To add some things that your sensei said:

    - Each kata is representing a sort of scenario in which you are really trying to cut down the other person. Trying to perform based on the stories that y'all create for yourselves is key to adding life to your kata beyond just going through the motions.

    - Another thing about the introduction is that you aren't just ready for kata, but you're trying to make sure that the other person is on the up and up. Anything can happen and it's best to keep an eye on the person to make sure they don't do any funny stuff (though that would never happen while doing kata). The other person has a sword too so you can't let him/her out of your sight.

    We usually tend to only do kata right before exams, but then we do want to try to do them more. The plan is to do kata once a week so we can work on improving them and such and not have to worry when exam time comes up. What I would like to do is bring some Iaido-type thinking into the mix, but that way of thinking for Kendo kata is pretty new to me.

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  2. Thank you for the kind words, and yes I definitely think I can achieve my goals for the year if I train hard the way I have been this last year.

    Thank you for the advice on kata, as well. I have heard that each kata represents certain scenarios and situations, as well as the first three showing three different levels of "compassion" or lack of towards the opponent. I would love to dig further into this because not only do I enjoy the physical aspect of Kendo, but I enjoy the mental aspect, in and out of the dojo.

    Kata is one thing I like to try and take very seriously, and I make my actions very deliberate (or I try to). When I learn something new about kata I try and work it into what I already know so that I can start practicing with the new piece of the puzzle in place. I'll be sure to keep your ideas on the mindset of kata!

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