Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Little Something Extra

Oh how I love new ideas.  Or going over old ideas again in a new light.  Or applying those ideas to techniques that I already know to give them a bit of a different focus.  Know what I mean?  Last night was all about spirit.  Spirit in our kiai.  Spirit in our strikes.  Spirit in our follow-through and zanshin.  Billy led the group and wanted us to focus on this sometimes overlooked but VERY important part of Kendo training.

After warm-ups and Kirikaeshi we jumped into Men strikes, which we focused on for most of the night.  Not only just the basic strikes (Hit and go through, repeat), but also on Ai-Men and on Debana Men.  Billy brought up a couple of terms that he says are often used when talking about someone's technique (please excuse me if these are misspelled).  The terms were Umae and Tsuyo.  Umae, as I understood it, was used to refer to someone with a lot of technical prowess; someone who knows lot of different techniques and is very skilled with them.  Tsuyo, on the other hand, is someone who is strong; they might not have a dictionary full of techniques, but what they know they use effectively.  If they strike Men and continue forward they will go through you if you don't move.  He pointed out that both of these types have their advantages, but what happens if two people come up against each other and are evenly matched?  If they can go a whole match and neither can get the upper hand because the both know the same techniques and can execute them with equal effectiveness?  How does one person triumph then?

The answer was with their spirit.  With that little extra "something."  That was the focus on all of our drills.  To put that extra into our setup, into our strikes, into our follow-through, and into our zanshin.  He wanted us to feel as if we were in the final team match of a big tournament and this was the final point and we had to bring home the victory for our team.  Would we approach this situation timidly, or would we step up and overwhelm our partner with not only our technique but our spirit, as well?  I chose to try and put more into everything I did that night, and I hope that it showed.

After some jigeiko practice, we broke the floor into two courts and had shiai-geiko (practice tournament-style matches).  We did this on Monday, as well, and I have to say that I haven't done too bad at all.  Monday I faced off against a host of the Yudansha.  I lost a few matches, but I won a few, as well, and pulled off a couple of techniques that I have been working on that made my night that night.  Last night I also fought a few of the Yudansha, as well as some of the Mudansha, and did fairly well with all of them.  I think my favorite match of the night was with Ando Sensei.  He beat me, which wasn't a surprise, but I was able to get a good Men strike on him to score my own point.  I tried to remember what he said to me on Monday about not letting my attack die after I struck the target, so when I went in for that Men strike against him I struck and pushed through and kept my spirit high.  This is how I should strike each and every time, I think.

It's been a fun week, and I'm looking forward to these next couple of weeks leading up to the PNKF Taikai.  I'll continue to do my best and work my hardest to refine and improve what I have right now.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Student And Teacher

I believe that I will always be a Kendo student.  There's always going to be someone that can teach me more about my chosen art.  But lately I've also been fulfilling the role of teacher to the newer members that we have.  Not that I haven't ever done this before, but it's been more frequent lately.  If I'm not helping out with the beginning or intermediate classes I'm filling in for Sensei or Wendy while they attend to other responsibilities that they have.  I am always willing to help in this way as I enjoy exploring the teaching side of Kendo, and it's a great way for me to see how much I know and don't know.  How much I understand and how many questions I still have.  And also how effective I am at relaying what I have learned to others in a way that makes sense.  I'm definitely at that stage where I teach what I know and how I was taught.  I don't try to put my own spin on things, I just try to remember how I was taught and the general feel of class when Wendy or Sinclair Sensei is teaching and go with that.  I hope that I am able to get the points across, even on a more basic level than they do, and that I'm an adequate substitute to everyone that is fairly new to Kendo.  So with each class that I take to lead, I learn more myself and I hopefully become a better, more efficient teacher because of it.

We had about sixteen people for our advanced class last night, and Ando Sensei took the reins and led us through drills.  I like the variety that learning from different people brings.  On Monday one of our sempai, Harvey, led class for us.  He is a big believer of going from nothing to exploding all at once.  No preemptive movements with the body, arms, or feet.  Everything goes from a complete standstill to exploding into the strike in an instant.  I love this way of thinking and I'm still working to refine that myself.  I still have a few "tells" and movements that appear right before I strike, but I think I'm getting better at getting rid of them.  Likewise Ando Sensei brings some new and interesting drills in that we don't normally do, and also has new ways of exploring some drills and techniques that we do focus on regularly.  Like pairing Kirikaeshi together with the various uchikomi drills that we do (Men, Kote, Do), or using the various distances to strike, or step in and strike. 

One particularly interesting drill we did last night was Katate Men.  I have never actually done this type of strike, and Ando Sensei pointed out that at our level he's "100% sure that we will not get a point with it if we try it in shiai," but nevertheless it is a valuable technique down the road and we got a chance to practice it a bit.  It involved stretching out and striking with our left hand on the end of the tsuka as we step through and fumikomi with our left foot.  Very interesting, very fun, but most all of us were horribly inaccurate with it.  We also went over Harai Men and Suriage Men, which are two techniques that I've been trying to (slowly) introduce into my own personal techniques that I'm familiar with.  I definitely like the feel of Suriage Men when done correctly; it seems that it leaves my partner wide open and helpless when I perform it correctly, but a lot of times I find that my timing and distance are WAY off.  I'll keep working with it.  Last night felt a bit better, so maybe I'm starting to make some breakthroughs and discoveries with it.

Also with Harai Men, when I was practicing it reminded me of something that McNally Sensei told me the last time he was at our dojo.  He said that with techniques like that I should try "not completing the first strike."  I think I understand what he was trying to tell me.  I should start the second strike immediately after disrupting my partner's kamae, before they have a chance to realize what's going on.  The timing should be very fast.  Nice sharp strike to their shinai to disrupt their kamae and before they recover I should already be striking them and pushing through.  I'll continue working on this, as I have been recently.

I've been putting a lot of time into working on Kote-Men, usually during waza-geiko.  Trying to get that timing down so my shinai and footwork are synchronized and also so my left foot is snapping into place so I can continue into my next strike quickly.  I think that it is coming along nicely, judging from some of the feedback I've been getting so here soon I'll try taking that tming into other techniques and strikes (Kote-Do, Kote-Kote-Men, etc).  Sensei pointed out a while ago that it can be a gateway into all kinds of multiple strikes so I'm glad I'm putting in the time now to become familiar with that movement and timing.

I had a good time during jigeiko with my dojo mates.  I tried to focus on clean strikes and finds opportunities to attack, rather than just blindly attacking.  I've also been doing a bit of studying and trying to "read" my opponents better.  Trying to figure out what they do before they strike and how best to approach those situations (which has included using/experimenting with techniques I don't normally use).  I'm also starting to feel better when fighting the Yudansha, especially the new Nidans.  I feel like I'm able to keep up with them better than before and actually able to get in some decent strikes here and there.  It's a good feeling and one that I will continue to work on and improve.  Just because they're almost half my age doesn't mean I can't give them a good run!

A few thoughts:

Ando Sensei - He gave me an interesting idea to play with concerning my kamae and being more "aggressive" with it.  I'll definitely try exploring that, too, and seeing how well that goes for me.

Billy - Watch my distance when striking.  I wasn't hitting too hard, they were nice and solid, but a few times I was too deep on my Men strikes. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spokane Kendo and SWAT?!

Sometimes the members of Spokane Kendo Club enjoy things other than hitting each other in the head with large bamboo swords.  We get together for barbecues and outings and parties and all kinds of other things that are not Kendo-related.  Including, yesterday, an awesome opportunity to "play" with the Spokane SWAT team!

About a dozen members of our club, including myself, volunteered to be "suspects" so that the new SWAT members could have some real training.  They split us up into two groups and used two different buildings, one of them being our new dojo.  Our group had seven people in it and they hid us in various places throughout different areas of the building and then let the SWAT team come and clear the areas and find all of us.  It was great fun, and when they found us they would detain us (usually with actual handcuffs), possibly interrogate us a bit for information and then escort us out of the building.  We did a few different rounds with them, each time hiding in different areas of the building.  I have to say they were very thorough (they found all of us every time), and we all had a lot of fun.  I'm hoping that we'll be able to join in on any other training activities they might have in the future.  For now, enjoy the pictures! (Sorry for the quality, we only had a camera phone at the time):

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Working Through Sickness

This week I've been sick.  It's been a rollercoaster for the last few days; better at times, worse at others, but I've been able to make practice on Monday and Wednesday night and I'm glad I was able to do it.  It definitely helped me feel better and also accomplished as I was still able to give everything I had at the time.  I had to cut down on some drills, do a little less than I normally do, and take a couple of breaks for water due to my dry/sore throat, but I made it.  One of the good things about practicing while under the weather, though, is that I felt relaxed.  Really relaxed, so even though I had less energy than normal I was able to keep up with everything going on because of it.  I have a bad habit of tensing up but this has helped me to relax and just let me body flow with the drills.

Last night was a good night.  Even though I was tired I felt like I could have gone for another practice.  Or at least half of one.  We started with Kirikaeshi, as we normally do, and then moved into Men strikes.  We were instructed to pressure forward with our kensen and our front foot and the strike at the last second.  I really like this way of striking, and I've been trying to remember to drive the left hand forward, as Billy pointed out one day.  "Passing the microphone," as he put it.  Next we worked on Kote and closing the distance.  Not only closing the distance but using taiatari to take our partner's position and knock them out of place and off-balance.

Next we worked on Hiki Waza for a while, first with Men-Taiatari-Hiki Men and then Kote to taiatari and then either Men or Hiki Men, depending on the distance.  I felt kinda slow with the second one, and I also feel funny just knocking people out of place.  I guess it's something I'll have to get used to, though, as it can be very valuable to be able to disrupt people and move them out of center so I can strike.  But one good thing is that I'm feeling a bit better with Hiki Waza, like I'm actually making some improvements.  I was told during jigeiko by one of m partners that I was able to consistently strike him because right about the time he relaxed and thought I wouldn't hit him, I would do Hiki Men and catch him off-guard.

We did a few Ai-Men drills before jumping in waza-geiko.  I tried to again focus on driving my left hand forward and keeping the center as I struck in Ai-Men, and was able to catch most people or at least neutralize their strike.  For my waza-geiko time I concentrated on Kote-Men, as I have been doing for the past month or so.  I think soon I will try moving into something like Kote-Men-Men or Kote-Kote-Men so I can start expanding on my footwork.

We had a long session of jigeiko last night, and I was able to fight most all of the Yudansha twice throughout the time.  I had some good matches, too, and I really worked on keeping my kamae intact while they tried to take me out of center and also on pressuring in on them.  A few people did comment on that, especially one of my buddies that said he could really feel me pressuring in on him when we were matched up.  I've also been trying to mix up my waza and not do the same things over and over.  I want to find new ways to strike Men, like the Yoko-Men drills we have been working on lately, or new ways to strike Kote-Men or pressuring in before striking or pressuring in to make them move where I want and then countering.  There's definitely a lot to think about during these times.  I also tried to keep my stance a bit shorter and closer, because I think I have been letting it get too wide and that is what was causing my hips to become sore and hurt.  We'll see, hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to Sensei about it soon.

A few thoughts:

Billy - Watch my distance when fighting people in Jodan/Nito.  I want to stay at MY distance, not give into theirs, and I also don't want to get in too close before I strike.

Ando Sensei - Ando Sensei said that I have a beautiful kamae and to continue to develop that.  But he also has pointed out that I am still hesitating during jigeiko.  I just need to "Close my eyes and hit Men."