For some reason I feel like I haven't been on here in a while. I know it's only been a little over a week, but still. I took time off from Monday's class to rest up and let my leg heal up a bit more. It's still sore, but it's getting better. After last night's practice it felt pretty good, and it honestly didn't really bother me much at all last night. I had to step out once, and that was due to the exhaustion, not the leg. So I'm happy for that, but on the flip-side I'm still working on my endurance. I'm constantly working on my endurance...
Last night's practice was pretty fun, to say the least. Wendy was leading us and we ended up doing a lot of kirikaeshi to start things off. First slow and controlled and precise, and then as fast as we could while maintaining control, and then we backed it down for a few rounds of quite-not-so-fast kirikaeshi.
Next we moved into some kihon drills with Men and Kote. Wendy wanted us to focus on pressing in with each hit, and starting our footwork before our sword work. This helped to not telegraph our intentions to our partners, and also helped with ki-ken-tai-ichi (spirit, sword, and body striking at once, to put it in simple terms). For Kote, she wanted us to press in and pressure, as if we were going to strike Men, and then strike kote as we came up and over our partner's shinai. I did my best to start my strike with my footwork, and to hurry through on my follow-through steps as best I could. I felt the old me returning, since I wasn't dealing with that soreness in my leg during practice, and I felt like I was gliding through more than lumbering through as I've been doing recently. It's still affecting snapping my left leg into place, but I'm not going to push that until my leg is all healed up again. I'd rather take a couple weeks of not pushing it than try and go as hard as I can and re-injure myself.
We moved into doing Ai-Men drills next. Ai-Men is a technique where you and your partner both strike Men at seemingly the same time. The "winner" is decided mainly by who takes and maintains center, and from my very limited experience it usually ends with one person getting the strike while the other person's shinai is deflected off to the side. We went through many, many rounds of this, and I had varied results with my partners. Ando Sensei, not surprisingly, had the strongest Ai-Men and center, and he ended up getting me the majority of the time. The very last strike, however I was able to get first. I stepped in to just outside of my distance, and then I went to step again. Only I started my strike as I did so. He began his strike and closed the distance between us, which gave me the ability to land a solid Men strike as he came in. It felt great, even though I don't know if he actually gave me that one or not. But that's subject for another post, well in the future. Ando Sensei also pointed out a very effective way of training that helps us to take and keep the center during Ai-Men. He had us strike Men, and then crash into each other's Do. Not hard, mind you, but a good bump after the strike. This kept our focus on the center, and taking and driving through the center, instead of trying to be sneaky and hit from the side (which never seems to work, from what I've seen).
After a short break, Wendy had us divide into groups and we used the rest of the class time to do some shiai-geiko. these are practice matches, much like we would do when we entered a tournament. We did 2-minute, single-point rounds, and I was divided into the Yudansha group. I had time to fight three rounds, and each round was against our young, fast Shodan guys. My first opponent was Jordan, who knocked my shinai around quite a bit during the match. At one point he nearly knocked it out of my hand and then landed a Hiki Men, which fortunately for me did not score. I gave him a good fight, and we lasted quite a while, but he finally landed a Kote strike to take the round.
My next round was against Aaron, and again I gave him a good fight. Many times as he backed out of tsubazeriai I would block and counter his strike with my own, but I wasn't able to get any points on him. Again, he was able to end the match with a Kote strike.
The last Shodan I faced was Seth. I really admire his Kendo, it's very strong, and I knew I was in for a fight. We fought hard, each of us landing some good hits but none good enough for a point. I actually almost lasted the whole 2 minutes, but during the last few seconds he was able to score a Kote to take the round. See a pattern here?
Even though I got beat in each of my matches, I think I did fairly well. I was able to hold my own for most of the match on each of the matches, and my opponents definitely had to work for their points against me. I was also able to see where my strengths and weaknesses lie, and I'll definitely be working to be able to block and counter incoming Kote strike more effectively.
After class I went and talked to Ando Sensei, and he gave me some good advice. He said, first of all, that he was deliberately being harsh with the points, and that if I had been in a real taikai I would have taken a lot of points with my strikes. He wanted to see more zanshin, and in a specific way, from everyone. He explained to me that he wanted to see good ki-ken-tai-ichi from each of us at the moment of our strike (good kiai, fumikomi, and sword strike all at the same time), to see it continue through and past the opponent, and then when we were outside of our hitting distance (to-ma) to turn and set back into kamae. I'll definitely try to work on this, I know that I have a bad habit of hitting and then running into my opponent without trying to go past them, and it's something I've noticed before, as well.
One last thought that I had was that all during practice last night I tried to keep a mental purpose. What I mean is I wanted to have a reason I was doing what I was doing. I know that I go through practice working on various issues, but last night I tried to make it a point to mentally focus on what I was doing. for example, during each drill we did in warm-ups, I focused on striking and counting at the same time, even if this meant I had to speed up or slow down my own swing to match the leader's swing. In hayasuburi, especially, I tried to add that pause and make each strike count. This is something that Billy pointed on on Saturday, to not just let our shinai move continuously through the motions without thinking about it, but to add a slight pause at the end of our strike to help us focus on the strike itself. Instead of one drill with numerous swings, I concentrated on making each swing it's own entity, if you will. Also during our drills and the shiai-geiko at the end I tried to visualize each strike as a strike I would try to do in taikai or shinsa. This means I worked extra hard on having a fast swing, snappy ending with my wrists, and making sure my footwork, swing, and kiai all came together at the same time. Overall I'm happy with the mindset I had all last night, and I'm going to work on continuing this into each of my practices.