We had a small, intimate class last night, with only 8 of us training, but having small classes can be advantageous for those of us that are able to attend. A lot of times we're able to do different drills, or focus on different things that we wouldn't normally focus on, or even get different instruction on different area of Kendo or techniques or things of that nature. Last night we were able to do a whole mixed bag of drills that focused mainly on breathing correctly while striking and on keeping our centers underneath us and moving from there.
After warm-ups and Kirikaeshi we got into Men drills, with the emphasis on breathing. Ideally we should be able to take a big breath in and then let it out slowly before we attack so that we don't get into a habit of "Breathe in, lift shinai. Breathe out, strike." This is very inefficient and slow, so we should work to take a big breath in and then slowly let it out so that we always have that breath to strike with. We tried to focus on this kind of breathing exercise throughout all of the drills last night.
We also went over Kote-Men, Kote-Men-Men, and Men-Men-Men, performing each strike in rapid succession while keeping our center underneath us and not leaning forward. I did pretty well with this up until our Ai-Men drills, when I started to slightly lean forward while striking. After I was advised about this I was able to immediately correct it, but I need to remember to always keep a good center when I strike no matter what technique I'm doing.
We got into a few pursuit drills next, in which the Motodachi would strike Men and the Kakarite would follow and either strike Men or Kote as soon as they turned around. The idea here was to try and catch them at the 45-degree angle where they are open and able to be hit but before they are able to react and block or counter. I had mixed results with this, but for the most part I was happy with the results. Especially when I went for Kote, I was able to come in and strike quickly and accurately for the most part. If I can work on this and make it part of my "style" then I know it can be a valuable tool for me. A lot of times people, myself included, are not the most aware at that moment that they turn around. And I know that personally I've been caught by someone that was focused and followed me after I would strike and follow through. So being able to do this technique well AND be aware of it being performed against me are both very valuable.
After a few more drills we cleared the floor for some shiai-geiko matches. Billy was our Shinpan and we all took turns fighting each other in 3-minute matches. Everyone looked really well out there and personally I felt like I did a great job. I was able to fight against some people that had a lot more experience than me and also against some that didn't have quite as much experience but had a lot of energy and spirit and really pressured me to do my best. I fought against both Chudan and Nito opponents and got to explore a bit of a new approach by purposely being aggressive and a bit "pushy" in one of my matches (I was told to, by the way). While I wouldn't normally fight like this with no reason, it did show me that I can be a bit more aggressive than I am right now and still be able to do good, clean Kendo. I think as it is I'm a bit too nice in matches. I don't get too physical with any of my opponents and instead let them do all the pushing and moving around most of the time. But, that aside, it was a great night of training with a solid group of people and I look forward to another training on Wednesday before we leave for the PNKF Taikai this weekend. I'll definitely do my best to bring out that spirit and focus not only this coming weekend but during our practices, as well.