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.