Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mini-Post: Just In Time For The Taikai...

Well, this week has not started off on a good note.  Friday, as I was doing some suburi at home, I suddenly felt all my energy leave me.  When I started to get up (I was sitting in seiza), I felt super dizzy, and things went downhill from there.  Turns out I had a bout with the flu, which lasted all through the weekend and through yesterday.  I was not able to make it to practice last night, and I was also informed that there will be no practice on Wednesday.  With the UW Taikai on Saturday, the only other time I'll be able to practice will be Friday night in Bellevue when we head over to the coast.  For me, this is both good and bad.  Bad because I feel like I'm going into this weekend without being properly warmed-up.  Good, though, because it gives my leg and muscles a little extra time to heal up.  If anyone caught my post last week, you know that I pulled the muscle in my left leg, and was not able to fumikomi properly the rest of the practice.  But since then it's healed up quite a bit.  When I lunge forward too far I can still feel the soreness, but for normal everyday movements and running there's no pain.  So I think that as long as I don't overdo anything I should be fine this weekend.

So, in the absence of proper practice this week I'll be doing more home suburi, as well as my normal core exercising and other things I do when I'm not at the dojo.  I feel ready for this weekend, but I just want that little extra push to give me that confidence in myself I'm looking for.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Over-Extending Myself

Oh boy.  Just one week before the UW Taikai I end up pulling my leg muscle.  I don't think it's anything serious, but I'm definitely in some pain today.  Sensei advised me to get some good ol' R&R and let it mend itself naturally.  This is one time that I'm kind of glad that I don't have practice again until Monday, so I have a few days to let my leg recover.  Also, come next week, I might take it easy and not push myself too hard so that I can be as close to 100% for the taikai as possible.  The funny this is that I wasn't doing anything extreme when it happened, either.  I was just going through one of the drills, and I was concentrating on snapping my left leg up quickly after my fumikomi.  Things happen, and it definitely could've been worse.

Despite my injury, which took place early on in the night, I pushed myself as hard as I could.  I had to modify my fumikomi so it was basically in place, and also take baby steps on my follow-through, but I made it through and was able to spend some time with some kihon drills and with Kaeshi Do, which I definitely need some work on.  Both my Kaeshi and Suriaga waza seem to put me too close to my partner, and I end up hitting too deep with the shinai.  I think I'll talk to Sensei about this sometime and see what advice he has for correcting this issue.

I was able to practice a lot of Men strikes last night, specifically pressing in before the hit.  Pressuring towards the Tsuki, as if I'm going to stab my partner right in the throat, and then lifting up for small Men at the last minute.  This is definitely what I want my Men to become.  I also observed  Sean (McNally Sensei) a lot, as he was back in town and came out to train with us last night.  His Men strike is very fast and powerful, and I noticed that it goes forward as one motion, instead of the up/back swing and then down and forward.  I've been working on this myself lately, trying to move more forward and not bounce up and down with my center, and also to eliminate the wasted movement in my small Men strike that I've seen in videos lately.

We divided up towards the end of class and did motodachi-geiko, with the Yudansha standing in as motodachi.  I had matches with almost all of the Yudansha, but by that point I was pretty much reduced to standing in place and striking with non-existent fumikomi.  Every once in a while I bounded forward with a strike, but I tried to stay very light on my feet so that I wouldn't injure myself even more.  Even with that I had to step out a few times to stretch and rest.  The night ended for me after we had split into Yudansha/Mudansha groups to continue jigeiko.  I had a few rounds there and decided that I should quit while I'm ahead and not injure myself further by over-extending myself.  I'm ok with giving up some practice time now to ensure that I'm good for the taikai next weekend.

Some thoughts:

Jigeiko:  Ando Sensei said that he noticed that sometimes I will make up my mind to strike, and then about halfway through the motion I'll stop myself.  He says that I shouldn't do this, that I should make my decision and follow-through with it (he used the "closing the eyes" example again, saying I should make up my mind and just close my eyes and strike with everything I have).  He also said that my Men is becoming stronger, and that Ai-Men is something I should shoot for.  I have a strong Men and can keep the center and win in Ai-Men if I keep working on it.

Fumikomi:  McNally Sensei said that I should try pressuring forward with my foot first, and then doing fumikomi at the last minute.  He said this might help with bringing my left foot up quickly, and will help make my strikes faster and my fumikomi smaller and more efficient.  I will keep this advice for later on when I am feeling better with everything.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Your Feet Are On The Ground

I'd like to start out this post with a little info about the disaster that struck Japan this weekend.  By now I'm sure we all know what happened, between the earthquake and the tsunami that struck Japan.  I'm praying for all of my friends that have friends and family over there, as I know quite a few of them.  I'm guessing that we all know someone that has been affected by this tragedy, and I hope that we all do what we can for our friends and family that have been affected.

For more information or to donate, please visit:

If you are looking for someone that might have been in the area at that time of the disaster, please visit:

I hope that anyone reading this, kenshi or not, finds support and comfort in this time.

The past couple of weeks have been full of Kendo goodness, with the shinsa and the taikai on back-to-back weekends.  I posted a couple of different times about it recently, but in short they both went extremely well.  I passed my Nikyu test, going from Yonkyu straight to Nikyu, and I also took third place at the taikai.  Right now I'm riding pretty high on my Kendo!  But, I also know that I have a lot to work on, and I was able to see a few of those points very clearly over the last couple of weeks.  I've already begun taking steps to fix them, but I know it'll be a while before I can build those improvements into new habits.

Last night Wendy took the reins of the advanced class (after I helped her out with the beginning class).  We did a lot of kihon drills, and also continued our work on Kote, specifically Debana Kote.  This has been tremendously useful to me, since my Kote strike is one of the points I'm working on at the moment.  I have a tendency to lean into the strike, letting my upper body travel in front of my hips, which gives me a bad habit, bad posture, and an unstable position when striking.  I've been trying to make my footwork quicker on this one, snapping the left foot up faster, trying to use my fumikomi step to move me further, and stretching out instead of leaning for the distance.

We've been working on a two-step footwork for the strike.  First step and strike Debana Kote, and then turn your body on the next step to face your partner again.  I'm getting more and more used to this footwork, but Sensei (on Saturday) suggested that I push my center forward more, or even slightly down, while doing fumikomi.  This will make me a lot faster and keep me from raising up and then down like I have been known to do.  So much to work on!!  At least my timing is getting better with catching my partner's Kote as they begin their swing, sometimes even just as their arms starts to raise slightly.  It helps that I've been working to get rid of the wasted movement in my Kote swing, as well.

One of my favorite drills from last night was Men-Taiatari-Hiki Do-Men.  Sounds complicated?  It kinda was.  There were any numbers of timings done last night, depending on who was doing them.  What I focused on was hitting a good Men strike on the way in and on the way through.  I tried to use the Do strike as more of a way to get my partner to move out of center, at which point I would launch forward again at their unguarded head.  I feel in the past few months I've been a lot better about changing direction quickly, and shifting my weight from going backward to going forward again. This was a big problem for me when I first got into the advanced class, but now I can do it with some semblance of ease.

After a short break, we jumped into Motodachi-geiko with the Nidan+ kenshi.  There were five of them, but I was only able to get in matches with three of them last night; Ando Sensei, Harvey, and Wendy.  Harvey fights in Nito, so I had to fight him with a little different mindset.  I tried to work on being aggressive, staying on top of him, keeping my kensen pointed at his left Kote, and trying to utilize my Suriage Waza effectively.  He beat me up, by I got in a few good strikes on him, and I think I did a good job of staying on him.

My match with Ando Sensei was probably my favorite of that night, and he gave me some really good advice after practice.  He said that his sensei, a Hachidan in Japan, told him one day something that was very mysterious and didn't make much sense.  He told Ando Sensei, "Your kamae is bad."  When Ando Sensei asked him why, his sensei replied, "Because both of your feet are on the ground."  What?  Ando Sensei gave me this same advice, and he said what it means is that I should "float" over the ground.  Keep my weight on the balls of my feet and slide, glide, and float along as I move, and he said when I strike I should try to slide my right foot forward, and then fumikomi at the last second.  He says that I have a very strong Men strike, and that if I can try this footwork he's sure my Kendo will become much, much faster.  Sounds good to me!

Courtney (Haney Sensei) also pointed out that I looked really good when I was up against Ando Sensei, but that I was still doing the "hopping" fumikomi (which is what Ando Sensei pointed out, too).  She thinks that I might have just been tired, because she hadn't noticed me doing it until that time, and I admit I was pretty tired by the end of class when I fought Ando Sensei.  But sitll, that is no excuse for poor fumikomi, and I'll work to improve it, even when I'm dying of exhaustion.  In fact, that should be the point where I do it the best, since I should be working out all of my wasted movement at that point in the practice.

We ended the night by breaking back into Mudansha/Yudansha groups and having some more jigeiko before one final kirikaeshi.  I was able to put the pre-bogu people through some kakarigeiko, and also have a few jigeiko matches with my friend Billy Joe.  He is improving, a lot, and I'm definitely going to have to watch out for him once he gets into my category at any future taikai.  It was a lot of fun, though, and I tried to work on Hiki Waza, since I need some work in that department.

All in all, a great practice last night, and I'm looking forward to more on Wednesday!

A few thoughts:

Fumikomi:  As mentioned earlier, try sliding my right foot forward and then doing fumikomi at the last second.  I think this will also help keep my center from bouncing up and down, and also make my strikes faster.  And remember to snap the left foot up afterward.

Debana Kote:  Keep doing what I'm doing with it.  I have a few pieces of this puzzle that I'm trying to put together at the moment, but I think I'm on the right track, so I'll keep working on those pieces.

Hiki Waza:  While I didn't specifically work on this last night, it did come up recently.  I think the reason I feel a lag between my tsubazeriai and striking hiki waza is because Haney Sensei pointed out that I might be taking too big a step back before I strike.  This causes me to have to shift my weight from forward in tsubazeriai to back for the strike and fumikomi.  If I keep my feet closer together, that's less distance I have to shift my weight.  Kinda hard to explain in words, but it makes sense in my mind.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Highline Kendo Kai Taikai 2011

This past weekend Highline Kendo Kai in Seattle, WA held its 35th Annual Mudansha Taikai, and we had six people going to compete (plus one for moral support).  We headed out of town with a mix of experienced kenshi and some that were going for the first or second taikai experience.  As you can imagine, the excitement level was very high throughout the whole trip.

Friday night we trained with Curtis Marsten Sensei and our friends at Federal Way, and had an intense (although cramped) session that evening.  I was able to do jigeiko with almost everyone, including Marsten Sensei, who once again used me as a human piƱata.  I gave it my all, though, with him and with everyone else, and had a lot of fun seeing some old friends and training with them.  We packed up and headed back to the hotel for some dinner and relaxation that night, in anticipation of the next day.

Saturday came, and with it the taikai.  We got together, as a team, and had breakfast, got ready and packed, and headed out to the taikai.  We arrived around 9a.m., changed, and warmed up a bit before the opening ceremony.  There were over fifty competitors, and the taikai ran VERY smoothly overall, as we were able to get through all of the matches and the closing ceremony in under three hours.

The taikai started off round-robin style, in which we were put into groups of 3-4 people and would have matches with everyone in the group, before moving onto the elimination rounds.  My group wasn't starting until later, so I had time to watch some of my teammates.  Marek and Billy Joe both started our team off strong, with matches ending in 2-0 wins for them.  Besides the normal taikai placings, there was also a team point competition going on, in which all of the points scored for each team were tallied and an overall winner determined at the end of the taikai.  So every point we scored, win or lose, was counted towards our team's total points for the day.

I suited up for my matches, and after a while stepped onto the court for my first match.  My opponent was Park, from Bellevue (I believe).  I started off with a big Men strike right from the start for the first point, and after trading blows for a while, ended up scoring another Men strike to win.  I was off to a good start!

Final Score:  2-0 (Ruiz)

My next match was immediately following my first, and was against Kim, from UW, whom I had fought previously at the Kent Taikai.  The first thing I noticed was that he had improved a lot since I last faced him, so I was preparing myself for a tough match.  We sized each other up a bit, went back and forth, and I ended up scoring the first point of the match, with a Men strike when he backed out of tsubazeriai.  We took our spots again and began our match after the shinpan called "Nihonme!"  A very interesting thing happend at this point in the match.  I was trying to play it safe and protect my point, as Sinclair Sensei always advises us to do, so I was waiting for an opening or a mistake that my opponent might make.  I think he was doing the same thing, as well, because we ended up circling each other for a LONG time.  The shinpan stopped the match, and after a short meeting, gave us both a hansoku (penalty).  The reasoning was that we were both stalling the match and needed to be more active.  They started the match over, and after a while Kim ended up scoring a beautiful Kote strike on me to tie the match.  We lined back up, and started the match for the final point.  The final point came when Kim went for Hiki Do (which I thought was a very good attempt) and I launched a Men strike as he backed up.  Fortunately for me, the judges gave me the Men strike, and I took the match.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)

We finished up the round-robin matches and moved into the elimination rounds.  These were done a bit differently this year, as everyone from the round-robin matches were seeded in the elimination rounds.  My first opponent, for a reason unknown to me, ended up having to drop out of the taikai, so I automatically moved onto the next round.  After a few matches, I was up again.

My first opponent in the elimination rounds was McManus, from Kent.  This was about the first time I'd fought anyone around the same height and size as myself, but I did my best.  Early on in the match he drove me to the edge of the court, and with a good taiatari knocked me out of bounds.  After giving me a penalty, the match restarted, and a few seconds later I landed a Men strike as he backed away from me to score the first point.  We restarted the match, and a few seconds later it was over.  He came in for Men, but I countered with Debana Kote to take the match.

Final Score:  2-0 (Ruiz)

Next up was a guy by the name of Wilkins.  Again, he was about the same height and build as me.  He rattled me towards the beginning, as he very nearly caught me on a turn.  I had hit Kaeshi Do and when I turned I was completely open.  I think the only reason he didn't get the point was because he hit a bit too deep.  But still, that will definitely teach me to keep my guard up when turning.  He fought well, with no perceivable advantage going to either of us.  About halfway through the match I launched a Men strike as he stepped in.  he tried to counter with his own Men strike, but mine was already heading toward its target, and I ended up getting the point.  The next point came when I went for Kote and missed.  He tried to hit Men as I went by, but I was a bit too fast getting past him.  I saw that neither of us got the point, so I switched directions, followed him, and landed a Men strike as he turned to win the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

 I had made it into the quarter-finals, and it was a stroke of coincidence that my opponent ended up being my buddy Matt, also from Spokane.  He had taken about three months off, and had only had one practice with us before coming on the trip.  We had joked about fighting each other the entire weekend, too, and when I saw that I would face him for real I had to laugh.  I'm sure he was laughing, too.  We entered the court, bowed to each other, came to kamae, and the match started.  The first point came after just a few seconds.  Matt stepped in to strike Kote, and I countered with Nuki Men to take the first point.  We restarted and fought each other pretty intensely for the next few seconds.  I don't think, from watching that match, that you could tell we're good friends.  We were both putting our all into the match, and I think it helped build up both of us.  Matt took the next point, with a beautiful Hiki Men from tsubazeriai.  I was not expecting it at all, as Matt is not usually known for doing Hki Waza.  I laughed to myself as I jogged back to my spot in the court.  The match restarted again, and we resumed our fight for the last point.  After a while (and a gravity-defying backwards slide), I ended up getting the last point with a Kote strike.  I was happy that I won, but mostly relieved that Matt didn't waste me out on the floor, as well.

Final Scored: 2-1 (Ruiz)

The semi-finals.  A couple more matches and I would be able to claim victory.  But my opponent in this match was Cheng, from UW, and I quickly found out that he was a very strong kenshi.  All eyes were on us, as well, as they had set up the semi-final and final matches on one court.  After bowing in and coming to kamae, the match started.  I could feel the intensity in the air between us, and after a few tense moments we moved in on each other.  After feeling out the situation in tsubazeriai, we backed out back to kamae.  My first mistake came when in tsubazeriai for a second time, I backed out, thinking that he was backing out, as well.  Instead he sprang forward with Kote-Men to take the first point.  We restarted, and I stepped in again.  After watching the video of the match, I realize that my Kote strike at this point was VERY half-hearted.  I had succumbed to defeat before Cheng scored the last point, which ended up being a nice Do strike as I lifted my hands up.  We bowed out, and I congratulated him on a job well done.

Final Score:  2-0 (Cheng)

Cheng went on to take 1st place in the taikai, and I definitely learned a lot about what to improve from that match, and the previous matches.  Next time I will put forth my best effort to the very end, and not pull and strikes, as I did during the last match.  Still, I feel that I did extremely well, as I took 3rd place overall.  Our team ended up taking 2nd place in points.  The amazing this is that we only had six people competing, compared to some others that had twice as many as us or more.  And all of the first-timers did extremely well in their matches.  Their basics didn't falter and they were able to get some good strikes in.

I'm not sure that I'll compete in this taikai next year, as I will (hopefully) be Shodan this time next year, but for my first showing at this taikai I am happy with how I did, and I'm looking forward to learning more and testing myself again at the next taikai!

Front (L to R): Seth, Matt, Me, Mick.

Back (L to R): Billy Joe, Nathan, Marek, Wendy, Sinclair Sensei, Loren

Here are a few more pictures that were taken by James O'Donnell of Bellevue Dojo: