We started out with a bit of kata practice. We usually take a couple months, twice a year, and really study and practice kata. This year we're introducing the Kihon Kata into our practice, as well as the traditional Nihon Kata. Wendy had us pick one Nihon Kata that we wanted to work on and focus on that. I was paired with Aika and I decided to go over Sanbonme, while she focused on Nihonme. We had a nice time, and I really tried to focus on the distance and timing of the steps and strikes. I'm to a point where I know the steps and the order of each kata, but that is only the beginning. That is only the gateway into the bigger world that is kata, and now I'm trying to dive a bit deeper into them to find the other benefits that they provide, including connection with my partner, correct distance, correct timing, and the "feeling" that each side represents. Not much more to add physically, but mentally it is a big step.
After some brief suburi for warmup we went into full practice mode, starting with Kirikaeshi. We've been breaking it into three levels, which I think I've mentioned before. The first is a nice slow pace with breaks at each strike. The second is still a relaxed pace but with no pauses between each step and each strike. And the third is all-out, forget about everything and go as fast as you can speed. I've been trying to work on shortening up my steps on the second and third levels, as Sensei has pointed out that this is keeping me from speeding up my strikes.
Next we jumped into Men, and various ways of using seme and harai-type movements to open our partner up for the strike. Wendy pointed out that when we pressure in, to move the shinai tip toward their face and then raise up to strike at the last minute. When I practice this, I almost feel like I'm suspended in the air as I bring my tip towards their face, so it feels really slow to me. But like anything new it takes time to develop, and I'm willing to put in the time! Another drill we did involved smothering our partner's shinai with our own. We would bring our shinai up over the top and pressure down towards their Kote, and then strike Men. This would move them out of center and if we were fast enough we could strike before the recovered. Finally, Harai Men. This is a technique that I have been playing with in jigeiko recently, not only Harai Men but other Harai waza, so it was good to be able to do a few drills with it. Billy and Wendy pointed out the importance of giving a sharp strike to our partner's shinai to move them out of center, and Wendy said that the further down their shinai we are able to hit, the less force is needed to get a bigger reaction. Does that make sense? For example, she hit her partner's shinai out on the end, between the nakayui and the tip of the shinai (about the top 1/4 of the sword). She had to use quite a bit of force but barely moved them. Then she did the same thing, but struck their shinai down by the tsuba. Same amount of force, but it moved their shinai clean out of center. Definitely a powerful technique if I can develop it for myself.
Next we did some Kote drills, and again started out by pressuring towards our partner's face, as we did in the Men drills, and then dropping down to strike Kote. The purpose being that if we make our strikes all look the same, and pressure in with them, then our partners will be hard-pressed to figure out exactly where we're striking. After a few rotations we changed up the drill a bit and would strike Kote after knocking our partner's shinai out of center. This was accomplished by dropping our shinai tip down toward their right knee, and then snapping it up toward their left shoulder. This would knock their shinai up and out of the way, opening their Kote in the process. The closest definition I could find of this in the Japanese-English Kendo Dictionary was Harai-ageru, which is "Creating an opening to strike one's opponent by deflecting their shinai upwards." Yep, sounds about right. We also practiced this movement while striking Men. All I can say is that I need practice with it. I felt like my timing was way off, and I would either step and then strike, or strike and then step. Or if I had both correct I wouldn't have enough force to knock my partner out of center. The Kote strike, especially, is a technique I'd like to develop, so I'll keep working on it.
After a short break we did several rounds of Motodachi-geiko, followed by jigeiko. I was able to fight a wide variety of people, since I was put into the Mudansha group for jigeiko. I haven't fought with the Mudansha for a while so I used the opportunity to work on pressuring in and using Oji Waza effectively. It was hit or miss but it's feeling a lot better to me. I'm able to pull out the techniques a bit better to match the situation, even if I'm not 100% on my accuracy or timing yet.
The final drill that we did was called Pig in a Pen. It's a game, of sorts, where we all get in a big circle. Two people go in and they had one minute to score a point. First person to score a point wins that round, and they face the next person in the circle. If no one scored a point in a minute both were out and two new people jumped in to fight. It was very fun, very fast-paced, and was a good change of pace for the night. I, myself, didn't do too bad. I won three of my matches, lost two, and tied one. I think the highlight of the night, though, was watching Billy fight against Ando Sensei. Billy fights in Jodan, and Ando Sensei seems to be a wall. A wall that can hit you at will. The match ended with no points scored, but for that minute the intensity level was through the roof!
Again, a great night of training and I'm glad I was able to make it. Not only for myself, but for everyone else there. The beginners and intermediate people I help out with. My fellow dojo mates that come to practice and learn and grow, like me. I gave them my best, physically and mentally, and I came out exhausted and appreciative!
A few thoughts:
Ando Sensei: Ando Sensei commented on my kata, saying that my strikes were still too big. I'm not sure where my problem lies, but I have an idea that maybe I'm swinging too fast. I tense up at the last minute, and swing fast, which causes me to swing too big. I need to work on relaxing and swinging smoothly without dropping the tip down behind me. He also pointed out that my Kote strike is very nice, and if I want to use it effectively I should strike more Men and Do. This will keep my partner guessing and cause them to open themselves in all sorts of ways, which will allow me to get that Kote strike in on them.