This week has been a good Kendo week so far. I've had practice Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night, and I pushed myself hard in each one. Although now I'm glad for a short break to rest and relax tonight, I'm happy I was able to push myself through each and every one of those practices (including two practices with the beginners/intermediate people where I was not only Motodachi for them but also able to work on basics).
Last night started out normal enough, with warm-ups and suburi, and then Sensei had us put our shinai down for a bit and we went over the clap drill that we did a couple weeks ago. He has used this drill a couple times to emphasize connection to your partner and the group, anticipation of their movements, and also as a lesson in following instructions. Afterward we broke into partners and worked on keeping that connection and anticipating our partner's movements. When they would step, we would step, trying to stay as close to their movement as possible. Easier said than done, as a few times I caught myself stepping left when they went right, etc. Sensei really drove this point home when he related these movements to dancing, and said that if your partner in dance thinks about what they are going to do the entire time, each step they are going to take then they would be stepping all over the place, but if they have a clear mind and just go with the movements, they flow freely with you, the leader. He demonstrated this by, well, dancing with his wife! Right in the middle of our practice. It was impressive to watch how she was able to move with each of Sensei's movements without missing a beat or a step. He said that this is the same kind of movement we should have with our partners, acting as their mirror, or shadow, instead of waiting and moving after they have already moved. Don't think about each movement, just keep your connection with your partner and go with it.
All three nights of Kendo we've focused on the three different levels of Kirikaeshi, starting out slow and precise, moving into precise and continuous movement, and finally ending with going as fast as we can through the drill. I'm not very fast with it, but I'm getting there. Sensei told me on Monday that I was taking too big of steps backwards when I tried to go faster, and that was hindering my speed, so last night I tried to have short, quick steps. A tiring drill, but it was a good kinda of tired. Men drills were next, and Sensei had us focus on quick movements, no wasted movement with our shinai, and a mindset that said we were faster. The mindset is what I'm mainly focusing on. I'm trusting that my arms and legs know what to do at this point, how to move me somewhat properly, and concentrating on making each strike, in my mind, as fast as possible so that it translates into physical speed. It's definitely a hard, draining exercise, but necessary if I want to improve myself. I tried to take my time to set up each strike, as Sensei advised, and to make sure each one was the best, fastest strike I could muster.
We went over a few oji-waza drills after that, with Debana Kote, Kote-Nuki Men, and Men-Suriage Men (as a hiki waza). Each one required that we not only think of ourselves as faster, but also anticipated that speed in our partners. Here's where the clap drill and the earlier drills came into play. We had to have a good connection with our partners, and had to anticipate when they were going to strike, especially with Debana Kote, to be able to successfully land our own strike. I went up against some of the faster people during this time, including Jordan, and I definitely had to stay alert and follow each of their movements carefully. The other night Sensei pointed out that a few of my strikes were too deep, so I tried to either start back further if I could, or shorten up my fumikomi step so that I didn't bury my shinai in their arm.
I, myself, think that I have a pretty effective Nuki Men. After missing it a few times at PNKF I worked on it a lot and I've been pretty successful with it ever since then, but all of this emphasis on faster shinai work, and my own emphasis on faster shinai work and a renewed mindset has really helped and paid off with this technique. I tried to translate that into the Suriage Men drills we did, and I think I might have been a bit more successful with it tonight than I have been before. I tried to time my counter movement with their shinai coming down, so that they would hit and slide off to the side, leaving me the center and an opportunity to strike Men. Since we were doing it as hiki waza it gave me that extra layer of difficulty, having to time my strike with my fumikomi going backwards. We combined this drill with a sort of pursuit drill after a few rounds, and it was the Motodachi's job to try and find a second opening after their first is countered, while Kakarite was to try and not only strike a successful counter-attack, but also block the incoming second attack. I did not have so much luck with this, on either side, although I got in a couple good Men strikes on my second try.
We had a short time for waza-geiko, and I concentrated on doing Kote strikes. I've been trying to eliminate that lean that I have seen in my videos, and strike with a straight back and posture. I've also been working on snapping my left leg up after my fumikomi (as best as I can right now, with my injury). I feel that it's getting better, especially since Sensei pointed out that I was over-rotating my heel, and I've really been concentrating on that and trying to keep my feet straight, and not using the outside edge of my left foot when I fumikomi. I can feel my leg getting better, slowly but surely.
We ended out the night with a few rounds of jigeiko and then some kakarigeiko. I haven't done kakarigeiko for a while, and the chance to do it was great, despite the fact that I was dead tired at that point already. But I mustered up the rest of my energy and spirit and threw myself into the attacks. I tried to make each one count while still going as fast as I could push myself to go.
All in all, a great training night, and I haven't even hardly mentioned the other nights! I'm looking forward to more training this weekend.
A few thought:
Ando Sensei: Ando Sensei pointed out to me that sometimes when I fight shorter people my Men strike is not at their level, and I stop my shinai slightly over their head. I need to remember to always strike at the height of the person I'm fighting, whether they're taller or shorter than me. I need to be more mindful of adjusting for them.
Wendy Sinclair Sensei: If I have an opponent that holds a strong kamae I should try mixing up my small strikes with bigger strikes, especially when doing hiki waza. If I try to do small strikes with them all the time I'll get my shinai caught up and hooked by theirs, but if I do a bigger swing I can get up and over their shinai which gives me an opportunity to strike.
Sinclair Sensei: He says that my footwork has improved a lot since he told me about over-rotating my heel out, and that my leg is snapping up more quickly now. I can feel the change, and I'm continuing to really work on this and drill it into my muscle memory. The faster I can get my left leg back into place after I strike, the faster I can set up another strike.