With each ending, though, there is also a new beginning. Ours came in the form of my buddy Matt. He came back to practice after a brief hiatus, and we're all looking forward to having him back in our Kendo family. It was great practicing with him, as I did both kata and regular practice with him. During kata practice we decided to go over Ipponme, Nihonme, and Sanbonme (1-3). I mainly concentrated on my timing and my distancing. I have a bad habit of slowly drifting to one side or another, and I think it's due to some of my steps being too small. Matt and I worked on it for quite a while and it seemed that when I took bigger steps during the kata (not on the steps in or out) that we ended up in the center, especially while I was Uchidachi. After we finished Sensei gave us some advice on using the correct distance and, for lack of a better term, intensity while we are Uchidachi. We should always strive to use the correct distance and be in close enough that when we strike if the Shidachi does not move then we will hit them. Our strike as Uchidachi should force Shidachi to move, and hopefully it prompts them to move correctly. If not we should be able to control our strike to stop it if necessary so that Shidachi can correct themselves and continue on. It was a brief bit of advice but it was very good and important, as I'd never thought about it quite the way that Sensei presented it.
After grabbing our Men and Kote we did a few rounds of kirikaeshi and then a few rounds of basic strikes on Men, Kote, and Do. It felt good to hit Do, since I haven't been concentrating on it much in a while. I've really been trying to use it more in jigeiko, but have been concentrating on other aspects during waza-geiko. I actually felt pretty accurate with it last night, and pretty quick. I know I can always use more improvement, but for the time being it felt pretty good.
We moved onto more Men drills, specifically the smothering drills we've been practicing lately. I really like this technique and I hope to improve it so that I can start using it effectively. I did try it in jigeiko a few times, with mixed results, but I was very happy when I actually got it to work a couple of times. Coming in and over my partner's shinai and then pressuring them down and to the side just enough to take the center without them noticing before I launched my attack. It felt good those couple of times I was able to connect the strike! But, as with all new ideas and techniques, I'll need more work on it before it becomes a habit.
One of the hardest parts of the drill for me is pressuring in before I strike Men. I always want to move my shinai way too early instead of waiting until the last minute to flick it up and then flick the tip down for the Men strike. If I don't move early enough I feel that my fumikomi and my strike are way off. Again, more practice!
After some waza-geiko, in which I practiced (surprise surprise) Kote-Men, we moved into jigeiko to end the night. I had a chance to practice with many people, including a last practice with Ando Sensei before he comes back, and honestly I felt pretty good throughout. Sometimes I feel really bad with trying to create openings or reacting to others. Sometimes I feel exhausted and unable to do anything. But last night I felt pretty good. I took some hits, and I gave some hits. I was tired but not overly so. I was able to create a few legitimate openings which made me happy. So last night felt like a victory for me, and I'll hopefully be able to expand upon that in the coming weeks.
After class we said goodbye to the Ando family. There were lots of pictures and hugs and smiles and tears had by all, and I'm confident that we'll see them all again. Hopefully sooner than later!
A few thoughts:
Ando Sensei: Ando Sensei left me with a piece of advice for when I fight him next time. He said that I should try and come at him with a strong, committed Men strike. He said not to worry about what else might happen, but if I have the opportunity to push forward with a Men strike. He says it's a lot like how boxers tap their gloves together before a fight. I will remember this and look forward to practicing with him again next month.