Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Train Like You Fight..."

We have a motto in our dojo, which I'm sure that some of you have heard in one form or another.  Our motto is "Train like you fight, fight like you train," and basically means that you should always gives 100% no matter what you are doing.  If you train and give it your all every time then you will always be ready to go out and do your best.  But if you are lazy and don't train as hard as you can or hold yourself back for some reason then that can also come out when you are in a match and you can end up being lazy there, as well.  I try to remember this motto each time I'm out there, not only for myself but for the people that I train with.  If I give my all there are obvious improvements that come from that for me, but if I give my all to everyone that I train with each time then they also benefit from that. 

I believe that this was the theme of last night's practice, which Billy led us through.  We didn't do too much in terms of variety, but he made sure to let us know the importance of not being a "lazy receiver" and always putting forth our best effort for our partners, and for ourselves.  He said that when we are the Motodachi that we shouldn't be lazy about it but that we should have the mindset of "I'm going to shut this person down each and every time in this drill" and then go out and try to do just that.  If I am, as Motodachi, instructed to strike Men and the Kakarite is instructed to counter with Hiki Men then it's my duty to try and hit his/her Men every time that we go.  Does it always happen?  No, I don't always get my hit in.  I don't even think that half of the time I get my hit in, but the point is that I'm giving my all to them and making them work on that drill, just as I am working.  He illustrated this point by saying that if we are in a real match we should never expect to run into someone that is going to be lazy about hitting.  They usually aren't going to throw nice slow hits and move around sluggishly because they are actively trying to hit you and take a point for themselves.  This also applies to people that don't do tournaments.  We should always give our best so that we can improve our own Kendo and the Kendo of our partners.  If we go through each drill, as both attacker and receiver, with a lazy attitude and approach then how are we ever going to improve? 

With that said, we focused on Hiki Waza last night.  We were instructed to use nice, big swings as well as body movement so that we not only moved out of the way of the strike but we got our Kote up and out of the way as well.  If we try to do this with a smaller strike a lot of times a more experienced partner/opponent will easily pick off our Kote.  So we had to get our hands all the way up above our heads, as well as using an angled body movement to strike and move backwards (we were working on using it as Hiki Waza).  The advantage of using it like this, as explained to us, is that we can equalize the difference between ourselves and a much faster opponent and it gives us that extra fraction of a second to avoid and counter their incoming strike. 

Other than those points we went over some mostly basic strikes and drills.  I tried to focus on moving from a standstill and eliminating any kind of "tell" that I have before striking.  I've been informed that there are a couple of different things I do that show that I'm about to strike so my focus at the moment is eliminating those issues so that I can strike without warning to my partner.  It might take a while but I do plan to conquer this issue.

We also started our kata study that we do twice a year.  Our dojo has normally taken about 2 months, twice a year, to study and practice kata.  Since we acquired our new dojo, though, we've opened up Friday nights for kata, so I've been enjoying that time to refine my kata lately.  I worked with Seth on kata four and five (Yonhonme and Gohonme).  Yonhonme, especially, has some interesting kamae that we don't usually see in our daily practice, so learning the small details of these has been a good experience for me.  I don't think they're too bad right now, but I know that I'll benefit greatly from smoothing out all the little details. 

I am really looking forward to this next year of training.  We're starting out with a load of new people in the pre-bogu class, so they'll be joining our class and interacting and training with us starting next week.  I'm also looking forward to (hopefully) testing for Shodan sometime next year, and continuing to grow and improve through regular practice taikai participation, and teaching the beginning and intermediate classes when given the opportunity.  To anyone out there reading this, I wish you a Happy New Year and I hope that you can also continue to grow and improve, in your lives and in your Kendo!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Greetings To A New Decade

This past Wednesday, December 14th was my birthday.  I am now out of my twenties and taking my first steps into my thirties.  While this was, at first, a scary thought to me and actually kind of stressed me out quite a bit, I woke up on Wednesday morning and thought about it for a while.  And I decided to push all of that doubt and depression and everything that was trying to affect me out of my head and out of my life.  I made a decision that day that I was not going to go into my thirties with that kind of attitude.  I was going to have a positive outlook and go in on a high note and work to make this next decade even better than the last.  I have to admit that my twenties had their ups and downs, not unlike a rollercoaster.  I had a lot of big "life events" happen, some good and some bad, but despite all of that I've kept on.  I've stumbled and fallen and picked myself up, sometimes on my own and sometimes with the help of friends and family.  I have always tried to learn from those mistakes, as well.  To not just look at them in a negative way but to try and take from them the lessons that they were trying to teach me so that I could continue to improve myself.  I think, for the most part, that I've been successful with it.  I know I still have a lot to learn and I will continue to make mistakes every day, but I hope to continue to see those mistakes as stepping stones to a better me.

I'm really glad that I decided to take up Kendo again.  I know that I've mentioned it before, but I first started Kendo about six years ago.  I went through the beginning class with a lot of motivation, but then when I got into the intermediate class I kind of fizzled out and eventually quit due to time and being out of town with a new job.  I always wanted to pick it up again but I never did, until finally one day back in 2009 when I decided to get serious about it and emailed my old sensei again.  Turns out I had excellent timing, as they had just started another beginning class the week before.  So I grabbed my old bokken and started back up, a fresh new beginner once again.  That was back in May of that year.

Ever since then I've stuck to Kendo pretty faithfully.  I've had my moments where I would pull away and make excuses to not go, but they never lasted long and I was always able to come back and jump straight into it again.  When I got my bogu I decided that yeah, I really want to be serious about this, and I decided that I wanted much more from Kendo than just a hobby that I like to do in my spare time.  I started devoting more and more time to practice and learning not only the physical aspects of Kendo but other areas, as well.  I think much of that devotion has shown through not only in taikai and shinsa, but also at practice.  I try to give my all every time I'm there, for myself and for everyone else that shows up that day.  I expect the best from them, and I want to give my best in return.  I don't always live up to that goal, I'll admit, but I do try to make it a part of my practice each and every time I'm there. 

Over the past year I've gotten more involved with teaching at our dojo, as well.  I'm usually available and happy to take a class if need be, but I know that I am not the best at teaching.  I think I tend to ramble on when I explain, which also shows up here in my posts sometimes :-).   But I do my best and I hope that anyone who has ever been a part of a class I have taught has walked away with a little bit more understanding of whatever I went over that day.  I hope to continue to improve this part of my Kendo, as well, because I know that it helps immensely with my own understanding when I am put in a position where I have to teach it to others. 

A question was brought up here at work, and it was "What goals do you have for the next year? 5 years? 10 years?"  As far as Kendo goes I think I have good goals in mind, although the path to these goals is always being worked on with the help of my Sensei and others at my dojo.  in this next year I want to take and pass my Shodan test so that I can become a Yudansha and finally begin my Kendo journey properly.  The way I look at it is that Shodan means that I now understand the basics of Kendo so I am ready to finally learn what it is to practice Kendo.  I am not at the top at that point, I am back to the bottom and will be hungry and willing to learn from my seniors.  In the next five years I hope to add Nidan and Sandan ranks, as well as try out for our regional Kendo team.  I might be on the older end of the guys that will try out next time (in 2014) but I think that with lots of training and dedication I can make a good run for the team and possibly qualify to be on the team.  As far as a ten-year goal, I want to try and achieve Yondan, if not Godan.  Godan might be stretching a bit far, as I would have to take and pass every shinsa as soon as I was eligible.  But if I work hard between now and then it's a definite possibility.  Also, all throughout I want to continue to participate in taikais around our area.  I enjoy the experience.  A day full of great Kendo.  Being able to see my friends from around the region.  Getting to enjoy matches with new and old acquaintances.  And cheering on my friends and dojo mates that are competing.  Winning is definitely fun, but I love the experience more than actually placing.  I also enjoy being able to go and do the best Kendo that I can as I feel that not only helps myself but also helps our dojo and my sensei and everyone else I practice with.

To close I would like to apologize for the lack of normal content in this post, but I do thank any and all that chose to finish.  I'll be back to form next week.  I enjoy sharing my very limited knowledge and experience, both in the dojo and here.  Even though this blog is mainly for myself, if I am helping out anyone else out there in the world with my posts then that makes me happy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tsuki

I had a short break from practice on Monday, taking the night off to get some errands done and recharge a bit.  So when I went to practice last night I was definitely ready to go and give it my all.  I think I succeeded in that aspect.  The night started off with me teaching the intermediate class.  I went over some kirikaeshi, kihon drills, and hiki waza drills with them, and also tried to talk a little about keeping a connection with our partner while training.  Especially when we go through the drills and turn to face them again.  I tried to relay the importance of turning and being ready at that second, and I hope I got the point across.  Wendy said she touched on it with them on Monday and I tried to continue that theme last night, instructing them that when they turn they want to come back to kamae and have a good stance as soon as they turn, not after turning and shuffling backwards or turning and dropping their shinai down and then coming back to kamae.  All of this, as I see it, is wasted movement and during jigeiko or a taikai can lead to an observant opponent taking advantage of the lack of focus and connection.

During our class we had quite the mixed bag of drills that we went over, starting out with a few receivers in a line and doing continuous Men strikes and then Kote-Men strikes.  I concentrated on keeping my kiai going, strong and level, and also a strong fumikomi and snap of my left foot back into place.  I believe that I'm getting better at it but I'll continue to work on it so that I can snap my feet up lightning fast to be ready to strike again.

One of the drills that we did last night was Ai-Men, a drill where both partners try to strike Men at the same time.  The point, at least as I see it, is to take control by taking center and strike first.  When I do this drill I try to take into account my partner and their distance and speed and go from there.  If they are shorter then I try to use the distance to my advantage by striking as they step into my hitting range.  If they are taller I try to pressure in and start my swing first so that I catch them as they enter into my range with their own strike.  No matter what I do, though, I always try to have a strong strike that takes and keeps the center.  Sometimes I lose at this and get hit first.  Sometimes I face someone that has the same focus and we usually end up bouncing each other's shinai off to the side with no one hitting the target.  But sometimes I am able to deflect their shinai while keeping mine in the center for the strike.  Ando Sensei has talked to me about this before, about having a nice, strong Men strike and he constantly reminds me to keep using it because it's one of my strong points.  Wendy also reminded us to not turn our hips when we strike.  Sometimes people have a tendency to hit while turning their hips to the side, to try and avoid crashing into someone and to try and get around them.  She said that we should concentrate on striking with our hips squared and facing forward, with the idea that we're going to run right through our partner.  After the strike occurs then we can step around them, but for that moment up to and during the strike we should focus on moving straight ahead only.

We also got to work on Tsuki a bit last night.  I haven't had much practice with Tsuki because it's not a technique that we concentrate on so it's always nice to have some practice on it.  She explained that when we thrust forward into the Tsuki-Dare (the protective flap on the Men that is the target for Tsuki, it hangs down in front of our throat), that we should not have a feeling of pushing the hands up because this can be dangerous.  Instead it should feel almost as if we are pressing the shinai down/straight ahead as we strike.  We went over the basic Tsuki strike and also Tsuki-Men, where we were instructed to hit either Tsuki or Munezuki, which is a thrust to the upper portion of the Do (the Mune).  The Tsuki is used to disrupt our partner, with the follow-up strike on their Men.  I actually felt pretty good with this technique, although I was going pretty slow so as not to miss the target.  I definitely need a LOT more practice with Tsuki before I can even think of using it effectively, but again it's nice to be able to have some exposure to it now so that later on down the road I know the fundamentals of it.

We went over a few oji waza drills next, focusing on Debana Kote, Nuki Men and Nuki Do.  Nuki Do, in particular, felt really good last night.  I was able to do a good job of reading my opponent and striking before they were able to so that I was well out of the way of their shinai, and I also felt pretty good about my accuracy.  More often than not I heard the satisfying "CRACK!" of my shinai on their Do while going through these drills.  I also tried to make the drill a bit more realistic by pressuring in a bit and giving an opening to my partner to strike for.  I hope to be able to use Do more in the future, as I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable with it.

We finished out the night with jigeiko, as we usually do, and I was able to go with most of the juniors that were there.  I used to almost dread fighting the juniors because they are so good and really fast, but now I actually look forward to it.  It forces me to step up my own Kendo, because if I don't they're just going to leave me in the dust in our rounds.  They all still do a great job of thoroughly beating me up, but these days I feel like I can keep up with them fairly well.  I'm able to move and counter and strike more effectively and every once in a while I'm able to get in that Men or Kote or Do strike that I was looking for, which makes me feel great.  Once again I tried to focus on continuously pressuring forward and not moving back when I didn't have to.  It was a little more challenging this time than last week, but I still feel like I did a pretty good job with it.

All in all, it was a great night.  A good variety of drills and things to consider, and great jigeiko sessions with everyone I went with.  I'm looking forward to more training on Saturday!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Immovable Mind

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday (Everyone that celebrates Thanksgiving, at least).  We had no official classes last week due to the holiday, but that didn't stop us from having some super intense "unofficial" classes.  Thank you to Ando Sensei for running us through some drills and giving us all some good, long jigeiko sessions!

Last night I had a bit of a revelation.  An epiphany, if you will.  One of those "Aha!" moments.  And it was just more proof that sometimes when we are taught certain things or given certain lessons they won't always make sense to us until much, much later down the road.  What, exactly, am I talking about?

Fudoshin is a Japanese term that means "Immovable mind."  This idea was explained to me probably about a year ago by my sensei and at the time I didn't do much with it.  Whether I didn't fully understand it or I was focusing on other issues that I had in Kendo I cannot say, but it was a concept that stayed in the back of my mind until last night.  For a bit of background on how it came about, read on.

During my lunch break yesterday I was watching some videos online of Takanabe Sensei and his visit to one of the dojos here in the PNKF region.  Takanabe Sensei, if you don't know, recently won this year's All Japan Kendo Championship, which is a tournament of the best kenshi that Japan has to offer.  During the video he went through explaining various ideas and techniques, and that all was invaluable enough, but what really caught my attention was watching him during jigeiko.  I noticed that he hardly ever backed up.  Ever.  He always pressured forward, pressured forward, until that pressure came to a point where either he or his partner would explode into a technique.  Something in my head clicked while I watching this.  I said to myself, "Self, there are a lot of things going on here that are over your head.  But this one thing, never backing up, why are you not doing this?"  Sounds kind of silly, but it's true.  I have a bad habit of backing up during jigeiko, and one that I've been told about many times.  What came rushing up as a response was "I can't fight like that..." which then formed itself into "I'm not fighting like that.."  Which finally turned into "I'm going to try fighting like that."

So my focus last night, especially during jigeiko, was to not step back.  While doing that I think I made a bit of a breakthrough.  I would step in with a strong kamae and instead of backing up as I would normally do, I either stepped forward or to the side, and I always kept my strong kamae and imagined keeping that pressure on my partners.  I imagined myself as a wall bearing down on them, and there was nothing they could do to stop me.  When that breaking point came I would either strike or if they struck first I tried to counter as best as I could.  Did I get hit?  Yes, a lot.  Did I get countered?  Again, a lot.  But I continued into my techniques, doing my best not to hesitate just because I felt or saw their attacks something.  And I think to succeeded in that focus of always moving forward and never backing down last night.

I'm not sure if outwardly I appeared to fight any differently, but that's ok.  Inside, in my head, I felt different.  I hope to keep that feeling going.  I know that there is so much more to the concept of Fudoshin than I experienced last night, but I think that I took a step in the right direction.  I've really been searching for something that I couldn't quite put my finger on recently in my training.  I think this might have been it.

To end, I would like to say thank you to everyone that was at practice last night.  I had a great practice with everyone and you all are the reason that I push myself as much as I do.  I get the best from you so I want to always give my best right back.