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!