Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feeling Old

Last night's practice was tough.  Not necessarily because the drills were tough or we did a lot of endurance stuff, but because I was fighting with myself last night.  As hard as it is to fight against the younger, faster guys in the dojo, my biggest challenge last night was my own body.  I was definitely feeling like an old man, and I'm only 29!  I was dealing with a sore right shoulder going into class, and partway through my hips, especially the right side, began hurting and getting sore.  Also about partway through class I started getting heartburn and that was not helping anything.  So I did have to step out for a couple rounds to stretch my legs and let my hip rest a bit, but I jumped back in as soon as I felt ready and finished out as strong as I could.

We started out with warm-ups, which I led, and then immediately grabbed our bogu and went into rounds of kirikaeshi, both the first rhythm (stopping with each strike), and the second rhythm (continuous motion while keeping good form).  I'm happy to say that it seems that all my work on snapping my left foot is paying off; I noticed that I hardly even thought about it last night, but when I did it was snapping into place after my fumikomi step.

We moved on to Men strikes (pressure in towards the Tsuki area as the right foot pushes in, then raise up and strike Men quickly), Kote (strike Kote and then move in to close the distance), and Do, and then went into some drills that focused on hiki waza.  Again I was reminded of how much work I need to hiki waza.  We started with Hiki Men from tsubazeriai, trying to create an opening to strike, and then moved into striking Men or Kote while moving into taiatari and then doing Hiki Men or Kote coming back out.  I really need to work on changing directions so that I can do this technique more smoothly.  I have a habit of putting too much force into going forward and I have an awful lot of dead time when I go to change directions.

After a few other Hiki Waza drills we moved into Debana Kote, where I had a hard time hitting the actual target.  For some reason I kept wanting to hit my partners' knuckles, instead of the actual Kote area.  We finished out the drills with waza geiko, where I worked on Kote-Men.  I'm still working on making the two strikes as close together as possible, but I do think I'm making some progress on it.  I feel more comfortable with it these days, but I also don't want to get into a pattern that people can read, so I also try to mix this up when I use it in jigeiko.

I was able to have the first jigeiko round with our visitor, a guy by the name of Yuma that came from EWU to practice with us.  He is Nidan and has been practicing for about ten years, if I remember right.  He was very quiet, but his Kendo spoke volumes.  He had one of the fastest Men strikes I've seen, and I was barely able to move, let alone try to counter, when I saw it coming.  It was definitely inspiring to see, and I hope to reach that level someday in my training.  I just have to keep at it.  As for the rest of my jigeiko rounds, I didn't do too bad at all, all things considered.  I got hit a lot, but I also tried to really commit to my strikes and to follow up if my initial attack didn't land.  I was also in with the Yudansha group last night, so I had an uphill battle with each of my partners.  I get beat up a lot, but I also learn a lot which I'll hopefully be able to apply it to my own Kendo.  We then ended the night out on 5x5s, after some confusion with a prior endurance drill.

Definitely not the best night of training for me, but I understand that it can't all be sunshine and rainbows.  There are hard days, just like there are good days, and you have to take both during the course of your training.  This weekend I'll be out of town so I won't be able to practice, and hopefully this will give me a chance to heal up and recuperate for next week.

A few thoughts:

Billy - Make sure that I come straight in at my partner when that is what the drill calls for.  I've had a tendency to try and move to the side at the last moment, which I need to fix.

Ando Sensei - He says that I have a beautiful kamae and beautiful, powerful Men strike, but that I still hesitate sometimes in jigeiko.  I need to trust in myself and my techniques and attack without question or hesitation.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And Now For A Different Angle

This last week we have really be practicing a lot on using various angles to strike.  First we started out with just Kote, about a month or two ago, and now we have included Men into the equation.  We've been taking about half an hour at the beginning of each class (after warm-ups) to go over striking the left and right Kote and Men on an angled plane.  First warm-ups to loosen up our wrists and get our arms used to the motions, and then controlled strikes, usually on a count, to the target of the current drill.  Sensei explained to us that they are very valid targets but that we usually don't use them or even think of them because most of our time has been spent striking straight down the center.  But being able to strike a good straight Men or Kote is the basis of being able to do the other variations that we have been practicing, so there's no overlooking their importance.  Just like our basics, they form a solid foundation from which the rest of our practice has built upon.  Without that foundation, our advanced techniques would quickly fail.

After grabbing all of our bogu we went into Kirikaeshi drills and then Men strikes to the left (hidari) and right (migi) side of center on our partner.  I tried to relax and keep my shoulders square and straight, as I've been having problems with letting my shoulders, specifically my right shoulder, rise up as I step in to strike (especially on Kote).  NOT a good habit to get into, so I'm glad that Sensei caught it early and brought it to my attention.  Also I tried to remember to keep my head from leaning back or to the side, as has been pointed out to me recently.  When I thought about it I corrected it, but it's those times that I'm not thinking about it when I want to be able to do it, as well.  Practice, practice, practice.

We took most of the night and continued to practice striking Kote and Men on an angle, in various situations, before going into waza-geiko for a bit.  I used that time to continue to work on striking Kote and closing the distance, where I strike and move to meet my partner as quickly as possible to not give them time or space to counter.  It went pretty well, although I still catch myself hitting their tsuba or their wrist joint every once in a while.  I've also been trying to get myself out of a "training" mindset.  "Train like you fight, fight like you train," is a wonderful motto that Sensei has passed on to us, and I want to continue to try and have that mindset and make it grow and become personal to me.

We ended the night out with jigeiko and 5x5s (an endurance drill).  I felt really good during jigeiko.  I felt that I was a bit quicker than last time and a bit more keen on spotting openings and creating them.  I think that is one of the toughest things for me, personally, is creating the opening, so I always try to keep an attacking mindset.  One that doesn't just react to what my partner does, but one that is actively searching for and trying to create openings to strike.  Last night felt like a good night for that, but I have other times where I feel like a complete failure at it.  I just have to tell myself to dig in and keep at it.  All of this practice pays off, even if I don't immediately see the changes.

A few thoughts:

Sinclair Sensei - He pointed out to me on Monday that I had a head lean and a should lean when I step in to strike Kote, so last night I really tried to focus on that by keeping my shoulders relaxed and trying to keep them square and my head straight.  He said that he noticed an improvement but that I should continue to work on it to eliminate that "tell" that I have.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Beginning Of The New Dojo

Finally!  We are finally moved in to our new dojo!  I think I speak for everyone when I say what a relief it is to have our own dojo, and also to be back to training regularly.  It's not 100% ready, but it's good enough for us to practice in for now.  We are all excited for the new potential that we have now with our own building and all the space that we have!  But, on to the subject at hand.

Training last night, while very tiring in the 90+ degree weather, was very satisfying and I'm feeling like a lot of things I've been working on over the past few weeks are starting to come together and make sense to me.  My left foot seems to be snapping up better than before.  My shoulders feel more relaxed.  I feel like I'm eliminating a lot of wasted movement in my strikes.  And apparently I'm getting faster, which is always good. 

We started the night with drills designed around small Kote strikes, first against our partner's shinai and then against their Kote directly.  Some of the points that Sensei highlighted, which are points that he's gone over with us before were:

  • Left hand chest high
  • Wrists back and relaxed
  • No bent elbows, they should be "naturally straight"
  • Shinai tip should be in front of you.  If not it's most likely due to bent elbows.
  • When striking the kensen should recoil forward, not up.
We not only work on a straight Kote strike, but took that into our next set of drills, which dealt with hitting Kote against kenshi using Nito and Jodan.  Since their hands are up and at different angles, it takes a little different approach to hitting Kote, but the fundamentals that we went over at first still apply.  After getting warmed up and into the strikes I felt that I was actually starting to hit it correctly.  We'll see if that practice sticks, though, the next few times I fight Billy or our Nito guys.

We grabbed our Men and Kote and after some slow rounds of Kirikaeshi we jumped into Men strikes and then into a few pursuit-style drills.  I used my time to focus on not leaning into my strikes, which I think I've gotten better at, and also snapping my left foot into place as soon as possibly after the strike.  The pursuit drills we did started with two Men strikes (in a row), 3x Men, and finally Men-Kote-Men in and out of tsubazeriai.  Sensei advised me to not pause between each hit and let them flow freely, like one fluid technique.  I tried this out and felt good about it, although I do have to remember to make my swing just a bit bigger.  The Men-Kote-Men drills were fun, as I've never done them before, and I concentrated on really making that last Men strike count.  Even if I missed the first two I tried to drive forward and land that last strike.  Many times it landed; sometimes it didn't.

We went did some jigeiko before ending things out with some extended Kirikaeshi at the end.  I was put into the Yudansha group and had a good time fighting with each of my partners.  I tried to concentrate on light footwork and on relaxed wrists.  Sometimes I feel like I have a lot of things hidden inside of me that come out at certain times.  Last night was one of those times and some of the ways that I moved or struck a target really surprised even myself.  Now if I can learn how to get myself to do that all the time!

After our Kirikaeshi rounds we got to enjoy some birthday Kakarigeiko (either watching or participating in) with Marek.  He had a birthday recently and our dojo traditionally gives members a "gift" of Kakarigeiko for their birthdays.  He chose to go five rounds with some of the fastest members that we have.  Very brave on his part.

I feel good, really good, about my training right now.  I know I have a lot to work on, and once I figure one things out it opens the door to fix other things, but at this moment I feel good.  And I plan on taking these feelings and using them to push myself to improve even more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Changes Are Coming

This short post is to anyone that stops in and checks on my blog regularly.  This week we have no practice so I won't have any proper posts, but that doesn't mean that good things aren't happening.

The reason that we have no practice this week is because we are in the process of moving into a new dojo and getting it cleaned up and ready for use.  And this new dojo is the biggest one that we've had since I've been training.  It's HUGE!  The floorspace is massive and the floor looks, feels, and sounds great.  We are all very excited to be able to do this and we are all working to get the dojo ready for use as soon as possible.  Right now it looks like our first practice will be this Saturday.

Personally I'm having a bout of Kendo withdrawals.  I've been keeping myself busy at home, but I miss practicing with all my friends and my Kendo family.  It will be a happy day for all when we finally pick up practice again, in our new dojo. 

Hopefully regular posting will resume next week, and I will also hopefully have some pictures of the new place to share.  Until then, wish us luck with our endeavor and know that we are all blessed to be able to make this change!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rollercoaster

Kendo is a funny thing to me sometimes.  It's a constant battle with myself, and I tend to fluctuate wildly with my training.  Some days I'm on top of the world, and other days I'm at the bottom of the barrel.  I think the only consistent piece throughout it all is my ability to keep going.  Last night I didn't have any super highs or lows, but I did have quite a few fluctuations between the start and end of class.  Some things I did great, others not so much, but I kept pressing on and kept giving all that I had.

After helping out with the beginning class we started into our advanced class.  Warm-ups were the usual, and I tried to focus on keeping my connection with the group and making each strike a good strike during suburi as well as during Hayasuburi drills.  After warm-ups, we worked on flexible wrists and took that into work on Kote, specifically hitting from an angle like we've been going over lately.  I can feel the potential with this variation of a regular Kote, and I can also see where it's rooted in being able to do a good basic Kote strike.  I want to continue working on this technique and see where it takes me.

After grabbing the rest of our bogu, we went into hitting drills interspersed with Kirikaeshi.  Men, Kote, and Do.  Again, we focused on striking on an angle and used that when transitioning into our Do drills.  It felt good to do Do strikes, since we haven't done much of them in our drills lately.  Afterward we went into Debana Kote drills.  I have to be careful with this one as I have a tendency to hit too hit and get the knuckles or the wrist instead of the actual Kote target itself.  But when I do hit it I can definitely tell from that satisfying POP that it makes.  Hopefully that means I'm putting a little more power into that strike so it's more forceful and not such a light tap.

We continued on with Waza Geiko, and I took the time to concentrate on Kote-Men.  During this time I tried striking Kote on an angle a few times, to see how it felt and how it would affect the Men strike itself.  I also played around with hitting Sayu-Men a couple of times, with some rather satisfying results.  I want to be able to branch out with that technique so it's not always a straight, predictable strike.  Given enough time I think I can make this a very valuable weapon in my arsenal of techniques.

We ended the night with Jigeiko, and I tried my hardest.  I think my hardest opponent of the night was Finn.  He is an older gentleman, but there is no disadvantage to be had by that.  He is very quick and can spot my openings so easily, it seems, and I also have a hard time getting through his kamae and his defense to attack him.  I think I got a few hits it, but I had to really work for them.

We were also given some good news.  Last night was our last night at our current location; next week we move into our permanent dojo (at least, I think it's permanent).  I, for one, am excited about this new location and the possibilities that it presents for us, and am looking forward to seeing it in person next week!  We have a short break due to the holidays, but we'll be back in full force again next Wednesday!

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - He pointed out that I have a slight bounce before I strike, so he can see very easily when I'm going to attack.  I will work to eliminate this so that I don't have any "tells" about when I'm going to strike.