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Like A Pack Of Wolves

It's been a while since I last posted.  Partly because the site was doing some weird things to me, and partly because last week was a bad week for me as far as Kendo goes.  I was able to make practice on Monday and Tuesday night, and I felt like I was lacking.  I was kind of in a slump over my Kendo and I was really down and hard on myself.  But things picked up over the weekend because I found some inspiration and confidence and was able to bring it out this week, just in time for the Rose City Taikai this weekend!

Last night we trained in the dark.  Literally.  During our warmups a nasty storm blew in, with hail, thunder, and lightning.  While we were doing hayasuburi the lights actually ended up going out.  Did this stop us?  No, not entirely.  There were still a few people that finished out their sets in the (almost) pitch black.  Luckily it only lasted for a couple of minutes, but that's what I love about our dojo.  Even if the lights go out and all is dark we're still going to give our all and do our best!

We ran through our normal kirikaeshi drill fairly quickly and jumped straight into small Men strikes.  We ran through kihon strikes and then some Harai Men strikes before doing a pursuit drill.  This one was kind of fun, although tiring.  The kakarite would strike Men and push forward all the way across the floor.  Motodachi would then turn, follow, and try to strike them as they turned around.  The purpose was for motodachi to try and get around to the side enough that when kakarite would turn to face them, they wouldn't be there and have an advantage.  Billy explained that there are two way to accomplish this.  The first, and what I was doing initially, was to make a big arc that swung out and around kakarite to get in position.  This works, but it takes a lot of energy.  The second way was to pick a point to kakarite's side and after you turn make a straight line to that point and then attack.  This was more efficient and still just as effective.  Like he said, the shortest route between two points is a straight line.

We got into some oji-waza for the remainder of the night.  First up was Debana Kote.  Wendy pointed out that we should anticipate our partner's strike and most straight forward with our Kote strike before turning off to the side.  This takes a lot of commitment, as you have to throw caution to the wind and disregard the fact that you will probably get hit as you perform this action.  But if you are committed enough, and your strike is accurate and fast enough you will beat them to the target.

Nuki Men was next, and we focused on doing big, fast swings with our shinai, and also a couple of strategies to entice our partners in to actually hit Kote.  We can have the prettiest Nuki Men in the world, but if we can't lure our partner in to strike we won't ever get to use it, right?  Wendy showed us a couple of ways to expose the Kote, first by coming up and over our partner's shinai with our own.  If we were in normal kamae, this would mean moving our tip up slightly and then to the left, taking center and smothering our partner's shinai.  This movement exposes the Kote.  The second way she showed us was by stepping in and dropping our shinai tip slightly.  She said that this one is risky because if our partner is fast enough they can take advantage of that move and strike before we can move to counter.  I also found out that against Jodan the movement is the same, even though I have a slightly modified kamae (holding the tip off to point at my partner's left Kote while in Jodan).  Billy explained that I should still snap my hands into center and drive the shinai straight up and back when he moves to strike Kote, and then bring it straight down to strike Men.

After a short break for my leg I stepped back in and jumped into a round of waza-geiko, where I worked on Kote-Men with Harvey.  Harvey fights in Nito and I learned that when I do Kote-Men with him the action should almost be like sweeping the shoto (short sword) out of the way with my Kote strike, and then moving in for Men (or Sayu-Men, to strike off center and get past the daito).  I also did a few Nuki Men drills with Harvey earlier and learned that for Nito I will want to move my shinai up and out of the way before his shoto can catch it.  He uses the shoto to suppress my shinai and then moves in for Kote, so I have to go just a bit earlier than I think so I can raise up and past the shoto.  After I caught onto that part he said I was doing really well with Nuki Men against him!

We finished out the night with jigeiko, and I threw my all into each match, and I ran through partners from our whole spectrum of experience.  From Billy at Nidan down to Nathan at 6 Kyu, I gave each one everything that I had at the time and felt really good afterward.  One of my favorite matches of the night was with Jordan, who is always so quick with his strikes and is really good at creating openings on me.  I feel like I'm starting to catch onto his timing, though, and maybe slowly catching on to how fast he really is.  I felt like I was able to at least avoid a lot of strikes he sent me way, although I need to learn to not just block/dodge his strikes, but follow them up with a counter attack, or use his strikes as part of my oji-waza.  Even though I feel like I was able to nullify a lot of his attacks, he was still able to hit me for most of the match we had and I was only able to get a few Kote strikes in on him.

We had one last drill of the night, which involved Harvey, four other guys, and a lot of kakarigeiko!  It was Harvey's birthday yesterday, and it's tradition in our dojo to do birthday kakarigeiko with a few people.  He gave it his all, and in the end was still standing.  Happy Birthday Harvey!

Wendy had some advice for us after class.  She said that it's been pointed out that one of our biggest strengths as a dojo is our team bond.  We are not only dojo mates, but friends and it shows when we show up to taikai or shinsa.  We stick together, fight hard together, and support each other.  But we are too nice to each other when it comes to shiai (tournament matches).   Wendy used the analogy of our dojo being like a pack of wolves.  We're very fierce and we hunt as a pack, but once we get the kill we need to be equally as fierce with each other to claim it as our own.  Be fierce to get that point, take that spot, get that win, against each other as much as against other people from outside our dojo.  I'll be sure to keep this in mind this weekend when we head down to Portland.  I have a feeling I'll be running into a few of my teammates on the shiai court...

A few thoughts:

Harai Men:  Jordan pointed out that I was doing more of an upward sweep, like a suriage movement, during my Harai Men.  He said that I want to try to do more of a sideways or downward strike to get my partner's shinai out of the way.  Wendy also pointed out that the harai movement and the follow-up strike should be fluid and all-in-one, instead of two separate movements.  It helps tremendously to do them both on one fumikomi, which is what I try to practice.

Jodan:  When I fight against Jodan I need to remember that my strikes should come at an angle.  If I bring my shinai straight up, even on small strikes, it's wasted movement, so I need to let my shinai follow the modified path that it's on and bring it up at an angle, the same angle that I used when pointing the tip towards their left Kote.  Billy always tells me that he gets to cheat when he uses Jodan, so I get to cheat when I hit him in Jodan.


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