Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Pinch Of Do, And A Dash Of Shiai

What a night last night was!  We had a great practice, which revolved around Do strikes.  After warm-ups we jumped straight into a few drills that concentrated on small Do strikes, with emphasis on:
  • Cut forward with the shinai after you strike, don't let the shinai strike and bounce back off the target.  It should end up striking and sliding forward and/or a bit downward.
  • The kensen should stay in front of the body at all times during the strike, it shouldn't go back behind the head/body.  
  • The small loop/half-heart shape you make with the shinai when you strike Do should all be on the same side as the strike (i.e. Don't let the shinai cross the center line when you move to strike Do.  Bring the kensen straight up and then loop around to the partner's right side to strike).
  • Don't have a lazy strike, don't let the shinai slow down once you move to strike.  The whole thing should be quick and without wasted time.  Think speed!
  • This one is for me - Make a slightly bigger swing, and strike harder.  My strike starting out was a bit too small.
After grabbing our Men and Kote and after a few rounds of kirikaeshi we went into using Do as oji-waza (counter-attacks).  We started with Nuki Do, and were instructed to try and anticipate when our partner was moving in to strike so that we could effectively move to the side, out of the way of the incoming Men strike, and counter with Do. I love this technique, but I need to be able to anticipate my partner a bit better.  When I can do that I can start learning to control my partner and force them into striking Men so I can counter them.

Kaeshi Do was next, and this is a technique that I still need work on.  Sensei said that we should let our partner do most of the work. Since they are coming straight at us with their attacks there's no reason for us to make a big step forward to try and hit.  Also we should anticipate and try to hit the side of the Do, in the correct spot, but for Kaeshi Do it's ok if we catch the front a little and also if the shinai hits a little deeper than normal.  This isn't acceptable for Kote or Men, but for Do you can do it in certain situations.  I definitely need to work on the deflection part of this technique.  I feel like I start my strike too late, so that by the time I strike Do I've hit them as they are almost past me.  I do think it's better than the last time we worked on this, even if only marginally.

We broke out into Kyu/Yudansha groups at this point for waza-geiko.  I was put in with the Yudansha and concentrated on Kote strikes.  Sensei gave me a bit of advice on waza-geiko.  He said that we should practice techniques there in a practical setting, so I don't necessarily have to go from line-to-line when I strike.  We use a gym that has lines painted on the floor for various things, and in kihon drills a lot of times I'll strike and follow-through from one far line to the other, as will a lot of the team training people.  But in waza-geiko I should try to perform the techniques I'm working on in a more practical way.  I'll remember this for next time.

We finished out the night with shiai-geiko, something we haven't done in a while.  We split up into two courts, and I was able to get in four rounds.  I actually surprised myself and did really well, despite fighting a couple Yudansha and an Ikkyu.  I tried to concentrate on looking for openings and taking advantage of them, and for the most part it worked.  I also tried to focus on zanshin and follow-through after my strikes, like Ando Sensei pointed out last time we did shiai-geiko.  All in all, I won two of my matches 2-0, lost one match 0-2, but then tied my last match 1-1 (tied with the guy I fought that beat me 0-2).

When I think of myself and my own Kendo, I'd honestly say that I'm confident, yet lacking.  Lacking in the sense that sometimes I don't feel up to the level I'm at, if that makes sense.  But every once in a while, like tonight, I get a little boost during practice that says to me, "Yeah, I guess I can hang at the level of my fellow kenshi around me."  I feel like I have a solid foundation with my basics, which is something that many other people have pointed out to me, but my techniques are lacking, overall.  I'm working to improve those techniques, and nights like this give me hope that I'm on the right track with my training.

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - I should use my Men strike more in shiai situations.  He says that I have a beautiful Men, and it is very quick.  Even if it doesn't land I should use it and make my opponent afraid of it.  That will help open them up for Kote and/or Do, as well.  Also he says I improved my zanshin a lot since last time, but I should try to not show my back to my opponent for too long.  I should strike, follow-through a little bit, and then turn to face them again while keeping my kiai and that feeling of readiness going.


Photo by W. Sinclair

Last night we had a few visitors.  A class of girls from the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute came to visit and see what Kendo is all about, and also to participate with us.  There were just over a dozen girls that came and they mixed in with our group for warm-ups and some kihon drills which consisted of Men, Kote, and Do strikes.  At first we had them strike just our shinai, and then later we put on our full bogu and came back out to let them strike us again.  They were all great, really energetic, and made an awesome effort to do their best, despite never having done Kendo before.  We had a lot of fun and laughs with them during the drills, and I hope it was as good an experience for them as it was for us.

Afterwards the girls all took a seat and we went into the rest of our practice.  we briefly covered a few kihon drills, including Men, Kote, Do, Kote-Men, and Hiki-Men.  I tried to keep a mindset of going faster the entire time.  Mental work and concentration is almost as tiring or even more so than physical work!  But I did my best and I hope that as I continue to train in this mindset I'll see some good improvements.

We got into a few more complicated drills, including Hiki-Men, Kote from tsubazeriai.  Sensei explained that there should be no pause between the Men strike and the Kote.  The Men strike is being used here as a diversion, a way to pull your partner out of the center so they open up for the Kote strike, and the Kote strike should be the main emphasis of the drill.  I think I had the shinai speed there, striking Men and then immediately dropping down to strike Kote, but I don't think my feet were keeping up with me.  It felt like as I struck Kote, my right foot was still in the air and not landing my fumikomi step.  I'll definitely work on this as I develop that technique, trying to make sure everything lands at the same time.

During our waza-geiko session I worked on Kote and Debana Kote.  Sensei pointed out that I'm still bringing both of my hands over to my left side after I strike Debana Kote and turn, and this is not a habit I want to develop.  I concentrated on leaving my left hand in the center and only bringing my right hand up and back to direct the shinai over my shoulder.  Just like anything else I'm working on, when I think about it I can do it just fine, but once I stop thinking about it I forget about it.  For now.  I'll continue to work to make it a habit.

Jigeiko was fun, but I had to step out during the very last rotation because my leg was feeling a bit sore and fatigued.  I'm still dealing with my leg injury, but I am going to be talking with Sensei about some exercises I can do to help get it back up to normal.  It feels ok for most of the practice, as long as I don't strain it too much.  Despite that, though, I was able to get in about seven rounds of jigeiko with the Yudansha.  I've been trying to pick my strikes a bit more.  Stop throwing just anything out there and actually try and make meaningful strikes.  Sensei also talked a bit about sutemi, and fully committing to the attack.  This is something I've touched briefly on before, but he really made it a point tonight.  Don't hesitate, don't doubt, if you go in for an attack see it through to the end, no matter what.  He said that even if you miss, as long as you have the mindset of "Go!" it will help immensely with your overall spirit while attacking.  This is one of my issues, especially again people with more experience.  I tend to hesitate a lot, but I'm slowly trying to get rid of that.  Jigeiko with Ando Sensei helps a lot, because I know that he can destroy me at any minute if he wants, and I usually don't land a single hit on him.  I try, though, and that's what important.

We ended class a bit early to leave some time for pictures with our new friends and to chat with them a bit.  It was a great practice, and made even better by our guests that came to see our Kendo and train with us!

A few thoughts:

Sinclair Sensei:  I need to relax more during kirikaeshi, especially when going faster.  I tense up too much and it makes some of my movements really jerky.  Relax and just let myself go.

Billy:  He noticed that I'm still leaning into my strikes, and says that I seem to be leading with my shoulders and not my hips.  I should try to lead with my hips and my center more.  Also when fighting Jodan, go for what's open, and don't fall into a pattern of strikes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Speed Isn't Everything, But It's Important

Compared to the last couple of practices, I felt really good last night.  Saturday and Monday I was really off my game and exhausted so I didn't feel that I practiced up to the level I normally do.  I made sure to get a lot of sleep the night before last, though, so that when I went to practice last night I could get back into my normal groove.  I think I did well.  Plus my leg felt a lot better so I felt like I could move a bit more, but I also didn't want to push it too much so I played it safe and took a break later on in the practice to rest and stretch it out a bit before jumping back in. 

After our usual warm-ups last night we did a striking drill that emphasized a few points for faster strike.  The four points that were mentioned were: relaxation, no wasted time, no wasted movement, and anticipation of speed.  All of these things were brought together through this drill to culminate in a strike that was quick and efficient, whether we launched from a standstill or took a step forward and then launched our strike (we practiced both).  The theme of the night was keeping this feeling all throughout the rest of practice.  Relaxed shoulders and bodies, no wasted time or movement with our shinai swings, and anticipation of speed.  Think faster, be faster.

During kirikaeshi I tried to remember to be quick and snappy with each of my strikes, and to not let my shinai lag behind on the swings.  For the most part I did ok with this, but by the end of the drills I was pretty tired.  We've been concentrating on doing three different levels with our kirikaeshi lately, and by the end we are always going as fast as we can.  I admit I need to be faster, and Sensei gave me some good advice on this.  He pointed out that my steps backwards are too big, and also that my steps forward have a kind of stop-and-go feel to them, and I need to make them smoother.

Our only kihon drill that we really focused on last night were Men strikes, first from one-step out to our target, in our normal hitting distance, and then from to-maai.  Again, the emphasis was on speed and the drill that we had done at the beginning, but also on keeping the shinai in the kamae position until the very last moment.  This was especially true when striking from to-maai.  We had to take one step in to get into our proper striking distance, and then launch our attack.  I need to work on keping my shinai in kamae until that very last step, as I was told that I raise my shinai a bit early.

We had a bit of waza-geiko before going into jigeiko.  I used the time to work on Kote strikes, as I have been doing for the past week or so whenever I've had a chance.  There are a lot of things I want to fix with that strike, and I think I'm making some progress with it.  We'll see next time I'm able to get video of myself.  I had quite a time in jigeiko, fighting all kinds of people and learning a lot.  I am still hesitating when I go in to hit, and I'm thinking too much.  My two biggest mental faults at this point, I think.  On the other hand, I believe I'm learning to use my Do strike more effectively, by drawing people out of kamae and then using it.  Also I've been trying to develop Harai Waza a bit.  It's a slow process but I can see the value in having a really good Harai Men or Kote.  I'll definitely keep working on it.

We ended the night with kakarigeiko.  A lot of kakarigeiko.  Despite the fact that I was exhausted and ready to fall over at this point, I kept going, and going, and going.  I honestly don't know how many rounds we did, but I didn't give up and I kept going and giving my best.  It's true that your best Kendo comes out when you're exhausted, because I noticed that most of my hits were landing spot on, especially my Do strikes.  I also tried to remember to push through on the hits and finish with strong zanshin and to not drop my shinai down after striking.  All good points that my buddy Billy advised me to do before.

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei:  Ando Sensei pointed out that I am hesitating during jigeiko, saying that he can see a lot of energy inside of me, but sometimes it seems to just stop, and at those moments he finds it easy to strike me once or even twice in a row.  I've noticed this myself and will work to eliminate it.  I need to remember, no matter my partner, to give it my all and not let up and keep my high intensity and energy throughout practice.  He also told me that sometimes my hits are too light and to try striking all the way down to the nose, or middle of the face, to help create a solid hit.

Sinclair Sensei:  Since I'm still nursing my leg until it's fully healed, Sensei advised me to shorten up my striking distance a bit.  I know he's told me this before, but it's always good to hear again and to have as a reminder to help me with my recovery.  I'll be sure to try and work on this until my leg is fully healed.