Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little Bit Of Everything

Seems like a while since I've posted on here, even though it really hasn't been that long.  But there's been quite a bit going on in the world of Spokane Kendo.  First off, we had our annual Spokane Kendo Camp last weekend (yay!).  This year we had about twice as many people come out for the weekend, or just for training, and even a few people from the Seattle, WA and Moscow, ID areas.  Good times were had by all and our game of War this year turned into a 3-round battle of battles.  Unfortunately I was only able to make it out for Saturday but I spent the whole day with my Kendo family and had a wonderful time.  Also in Spokane news, on a sad note, our Valley dojo is closing.  Word is that it may resume in the future, but for now the doors will be closed indefinitely.  We had a good run, and learned a lot, but unfortunately life happens and it doesn't always happen the way we want it to, so we're forced to do the best we can with what we have.  It sounds like most of the Valley members will start attending regular practice at our main dojo, though, so we might have gained a few more promising kenshi.

Last night was quite the variety show of drills.  We didn't focus on any one thing for too long; instead Wendy took us through many different waza, including different techniques for striking Men and Kote, and Suriage, Harai, Nuki and Kaeshi Waza.  My night started earlier, though, as I took over the intermediate class and led them through a pretty basic practice, but one with LOTS of hitting.  hitting, hitting, hitting, and refining what they already knew was my focus last night, and I think overall they did pretty well.  I had two students there, so it was easy to focus on each of them and their strengths and weaknesses.  I definitely appreciate the opportunity to teach, as it forces me to really think about what I understand about basics and techniques and the various details that Sensei has taught me through the years.  It's a good reflection of where I'm at as a student when I am put in a position of teaching others what I know and what they need to learn at that time.

Our practice began with warm-ups and Kirikaeshi, and then moved into various Men strikes.  First just straight Men, where I worked on small Men strikes and not only eliminating my wasted movement but also trying to push forward after the cut.  Next up we worked with smother our partner's shinai before striking Men, and then Harai Men.  My Harai movement feels a lot better now, and I try to concentrate on using my wrists and making a small motion but a lot of power as I knock my partner's shinai out of the way.  And also trying to do this all in one step, although sometimes I opt for two steps, like Ando Sensei has taught us, just to get a feel for it and give myself options for striking.

Next up we worked on Suriage Kote, and bringing our shinai down under our partner's shinai and then sweeping their shinai up and to the side to expose their Kote.  We accomplish this by moving our shinai from our partner's right hip up toward their left shoulder.  I was taking this one fairly slow, trying to find the timing and movement that worked for me.  I felt like I didn't have enough movement from my partner, but I guess when I think about it I don't need a drastic change in movement to take the center and create an opportunity.  I'll definitely keep working on this technique as I would love to be able to use it more effectively.

We jumped into some Oji-Waza drills next, going over Nuki Men, Nuki Do and Kaeshi Do.  I did ok with Nuki Men, since I've hammered away on it since last year (right after PNKF when I kept missing Nuki Men because it was too slow).  Nuki Do felt good, but I really had to read and anticipate my partner's movements or else I ended up getting nailed the head over and over.  Doesn't sound like much but it was a tough task because I was dead tired by that point.  Kaeshi Do....yeah.  Let's just say I need more work with it.  I could get the block and movement to strike Do in one motion, but the timing was way off and my Do strike was always way too close.  At least that's how it felt to me.  Oh well, that's what practice is for, right?

After a short break we went into jigeiko to end the night, and I ended up facing a host of people, most of them the Yudansha.  I was exhausted, but I did my best and hung in there until the last couple of drills when I had to call it quits for my own good.  But I think I hung in with the juniors pretty well.  Either that or they were letting me get some hits in there.  Either way I did my best.  Lately I've noticed I've really been playing with distance.  Not only my own but my distance in relation to others.  I can sometime gauge it correctly and take just the slightest step back to make them miss, but this isn't enough.  I need to be able to spring forward afterward with my own attack.  I do this sometimes, but not nearly enough.  I eventually want to be at a point where I have very little wasted movement or opportunities to strike.  So each block is followed up with a counter, each miss by my partner is followed up with my own attack.  It's going to be a grueling task, one that will span many MANY years, but I'm up for it.

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - He noticed that my left hand is too weak sometimes during Men strikes, and it causes my shinai and hands to fly up too far after striking.  He advised me to have more strength in that left hand when I strike, and to strike down to right between his eyes.  I will practice this more in the future.

Billy - I am still striking with too much vertical movement when I hit Kote on Billy (who does Jodan).  He has advised me to hit on a more diagonal axis, almost as if I were to bring the shinai tip back over my shoulder.  Even though it's a small strike I should have this image in my head and my shinai tip should follow that path.  Because I'm not doing this very well I end up hitting tsuba or fist, not the actual Kote.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Homecoming

Last night marked the return of our members that competed at the AUSKF National Championships, which are held every three years.  This year we had five guys from Spokane that went and competed. Results can be found here, butt they definitely don't tell the whole story.  I heard that our guys, and PNKF as a whole, fought with a lot of energy and courage, and definitely turned some heads and made people take notice.  I'm proud to be a part of such a strong area and I plan on doing everything I can to make it to the next championship tournament, in 2014.

The energy was high in the dojo, and I think everyone could tell.  The team guys were on fire and were getting everyone else pumped up during practice, and I really felt the Kendo bar raise last night.  After warm-ups we worked a bit on Kote, specifically on striking on different "planes."  Instead of striking Kote by coming straight up and down and moving our bodies into position, we worked on stepping straight forward and striking on a diagonal plane.  Sensei warned us to be careful with practicing this technique as most of us aren't used to moving our wrists like that, so he advised us to start out slow so that we get the correct movement and muscle memory going and then after a while (when we're used to it and our wrists are used to it) striking with the speed and snap needed for a good strike.  After just a few drills with it I can tell that I'm going to like it...

We moved on into full bogu and set out with Kirikaeshi and then Men strikes.  On my Men drills I practiced coming up only high enough so that I could get a good down/forward motion and snap to the hit and then pushing forward with the cut.  Next up was Kote, and we practiced striking on that diagonal plane we had done earlier and then closing the distance (not following all the way past).  I did an ok job with it after I stopped hit all of my partner's tsuba, but with Billy I wasn't able to close the distance fast enough and he would end up doing Hiki Men on me to show me that I need to be faster.

Sensei had us do a few Do drills next, which was a welcome change.  I haven't done much with Do lately, and I've been trying to get the wrist movement down so I can really strike with speed after bringing my shinai around.  I've also been striking to strike going forward, with the shinai in front of me before stepping to the side.  Hard to explain in words, but it's coming along.

Our practice was a bit short tonight, as we finished out the night with some extended jigeiko.  I had a chance to fight a couple of the team guys, as well as some other Yudansh and Mudansha, since we kept the group mixed.  I had a great time fighting both Seth and Dan (both of whom fought at nationals last weekend).  Even though they beat me up pretty well I felt like I was able to somewhat keep up with them, as well as pick out and strike at openings easier than I ever have.  I carried this into my other matches and really felt like I was able to see those openings better.  Ever since I got back from the shinsa I have felt different.  Better.  I feel like I improved a bit over that weekend and instead of relaxing in my new rank I'm pushing even harder to get ready for the next rank, as well as to get myself ready and into a position where I can put up a good fight for the PNKF team in a few years.

I had some very encouraging words from Sensei and Billy after class, and I feel so good, so inspired, with my Kendo at this point in time.  I feel like I'm on the right track, and the possibilities for the future are wide open for me to improve. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

PNKF Summer Shinsa 2011

Hey hey everyone!  We had our PNKF summer shinsa this past weekend, and if I had one word to  describe it all it would be "prepared."  Not only myself but all of our guys that went to test.  We had quite a few people in tow on this trip, since the PNKF team members went for their final team training and to head out today for Atlanta and the AUSKF Championships this weekend.  But only five of us were testing; three for Nidan, one for Sankyu, and myself for Ikkyu.

We left on Friday, but due to work and other things we left late in the afternoon so we didn't get into Seattle and our home for the night until late, around 10pm.  Which meant no training for us on Friday night.  But the good thing was that it meant we would all be fresh for the shinsa the next morning.  The team guys left early for their last training, and a couple of us relaxed and prepared before going and arriving around 10:30am to get dressed and ready.  We all signed in, and the Ikkyu and up candidates turned in their essay questions.  From this point on I'll be writing essays for part of my testing, and I think I did a good job on the written portion (although maybe a little long-winded on some explanations.  But too much info is always better than too little, right?)  Dan led the whole group in warm-ups and then we broke into groups to begin everything.

Our group was up first, since we had been put onto the court where the Yudansha were testing.  I was not nervous at all going into that day, but I have to admit that as I stood there in my bogu, waiting for my number to be called for my jigeiko rounds, I felt a bit nervous.  Just a bit.  But it was a good kind of nervous.  They finally called me up and I did two rounds of jigeiko, both a little over one minute long.  I went into both of my rounds with a plan, and it was a plan that came from the advice I got at the last shinsa.  I wanted to show them that I could make really good strikes (I focused on Men strikes) but after I landed a few of those I mixed it up and tried some Kote, Do, and various Oji Waza.  I even threw out a Kote-Men in one of my rounds.  I also tried not to block without countering and tried to not stay in tsubazeriai or concentrate on Hiki Waza, and honestly after my two round I felt good.  I felt like I accomplished the goal I set out for.  I had a couple of wonderful partners that gave it their all, as well, and together we were able to demonstrate good Kendo for our level (in my humble opinion).

After watching the rest of the Yudansha groups go through jigeiko we jumped into the Kata portion of our testing.  Since I was going for Ikkyu I had to perform Nihon Kata 1-3 with my partner.  we paired up and I was given Uchidachi (teacher) side to perform,which meant that it was up to me to lead my partner accurately through each of the kata.  Like a dance, where one leads and one follows, it was my task to know the proper sequence of actions and to perform them to the best of my ability, while keeping my partner and their abilities in mind.  I focused on not being too fast, but be calm and precise, making sure to make each movement deliberate and making sure that my partner followed correctly.  I was so so lucky to have a partner that worked well with me.  She was from Idaho Kendo Club, I believe, and she definitely knew what she was doing.  I don't know her name, but if she happens to run across this I just wanted to say what a pleasure it was performing Kata with her. 

That was it for us.  I felt that I put my best efforts forward to show that I deserved to be promoted, and the only thing left was to wait for the results.  I enjoyed watching the others during this time.  Our Nidan guys performed wonderfully, as did our guy testing for Sankyu.  All of them demonstrated their abilities well, and all of them passed their tests with 100% in each category, so a big congratulations to them!  When the time came I went to check the results, and was very pleased to see that I had also passed with 100%!  So now I am a nice new shiny Ikkyu.  I feel really good about it, and I'm going to do my best to step up my training from here on out.  I'm shooting for Shodan in February, and it sounds like I'm on the right track.  I definitely felt different at practice last night, and I heard that it showed, so that kind of encouragement is always good to hear.

So now our dojo has three awesome new Nidan, one new Ikkyu, and "the world's most dangerous Sankyu" :-).  I really enjoy our Kendo family that we've formed here, and that we continue to develop, and I'm looking forward to even more hard training, sweat, and improvement as we continue on these next few months to the next shinsa.

And now, a few pictures:





Thursday, August 4, 2011

Money In The Bank

If all goes well this weekend, last night was my last night as a Nikyu.  We head over to Seattle tomorrow and have our shinsa on Saturday, and then I'll have time to show the judges that I deserve to rank up to Ikkyu.  I'm excited for this opportunity, I've been training for it since the last shinsa in February, and I feel confident that I'll do well.  Sensei definitely knows each of our strengths and weaknesses, and what we're ready for, and he wouldn't recommend me for it if he didn't have the confidence that I'll make it.  For that I'm super grateful, and for everything that he and the rest of my Kendo family has done for me to prepare me for this weekend.  Ando Sensei put it into interesting terms for me.  He said that it's like  I made a deposit at a bank.  I gave them something that was mine, it is mine, and now I'm just going to take that deposit back.  It's always been mine, but now is the time to go collect it. 

After our kata practice I led warm-ups, and I did so with that mentality.  The mentality that said, "Time to step it up, Chris."  I felt more assertive, like there was a little more authority in my voice.  These were MY warm-ups, and I was going to lead them with confidence.  Big thinking for a such a somewhat small task, but I believe in giving my all in whatever aspect of Kendo I'm currently doing.

Afterward we jumped into Kirikaeshi for a bit.  I've always thought about my breathing and rhythm during this drill, but again I need to step it up.  I'm pretty good at doing the whole drill on five breaths.  Now I need to dig down and work on doing it in three breaths. 

We did a couple of different Men strikes.  One the basic strike, in which I focused on pressuring forward towards Tsuki and then raising up at the last moment for Men.  I've also been working on making the Men strike smaller, with less wasted movement.  We did a variation in which we stepped into position and then did fumikomi Men.  I did this with a (medium) swing, and honestly it felt better than it has before.  Usually when I do a medium swing while doing fumikomi at the same time it feels funny, but it felt more comfortable today than I remember.  Maybe I'm getting better?

We moved into Kote and Debana Kote.  Lately Sensei has been having us hit Kote and then "close the distance," instead of hitting and passing by.  This feels more advanced and more aggressive, and I try to remember to strike and then keep my left hand in place and use the right hand to bring the shinai back over my shoulder.  Sensei also pointed out that I need to snap the shinai tip up after I strike, just like I snap it down when I strike.  I'm hitting and not bringing it back far enough, or with enough speed, so I'll remember this and be sure to work on it.  With my Debana Kote I should have this feeling as well, except that after I strike (going forward) I turn to the side and continue my kiai and zanshin.  Also Billy pointed out that my Kote strike against Jodan needs to be at an angle, like Sayu-Men.  Right now I'm striking down and that just causes my shinai to slide off of his Kote.  So much to work on...

Hiki waza was next, either Men or Kote, and both sides were looking for an opening.  My goodness...  My hiki waza definitely needs work, and I'm going to talk to Sensei again to see if he has some good advice for me to improve this aspect.  I'm very much a "go forward" type of kenshi, but I take it a bit too far because my hiki waza is pretty weak.  I definitely want to continue the forward mindset, but I also want to have effective hiki waza when the need arises.

We split into groups at this point, with me being thrown in with the Yudansha, and did a few Ai-Men drills before finishing out the night with jigeiko.  I was told that I tend to crouch down before I spring forward, so I should work on getting rid of this habit.  I know I have noticed it when I see videos of myself, so I need to work on exploding forward from a good kamae position, instead of crouching into it and then springing forward.

Jigeiko was good but I did have to step out before the end so that I didn't overdo myself again.  Monday night I pushed hard, a little too hard, and ended up in a very weakened and immobile state by the end of the night.  But tonight I pushed up to my edge, maybe a little further when I had my last jigeiko with Seth, and then said "Yeah, that's enough for tonight," before stepping out.  It was a great night of training, everyone gave it their all despite the heat, and I think we all accomplished a lot.  And hopefully if all goes well we'll return on Monday with some new ranks and a lot of energy to go out and improve even more!