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Kent Taikai 2012

This weekend our dojo competed in the 16th Annual Kent Taikai.  We had quite a full group this time, too, with seventeen members heading over to compete in divisions all across the board.  My division was the 1-3 Dan, and it was by far the largest division with well over half of the competitors. 

After arriving at the taikai on Saturday morning and warming up, we got things under way.  Our division wasn't fighting until right before the team matches, so I had quite a few hours to wait.  I passed the time by helping out on the scoring table for one of the courts, catching up with some friends, and getting as much video of our guys in action as possible.  I was able to watch some great matches that my dojo mates took part in, as well as feel the energy building up for our division later in the day.

The time finally came, and I suited up and got ready for my matches.  I had a bye in the first round, and got to watch my first opponent in action.  I took some mental notes and prepare…

Solid Foundation, Solid Building

After a short hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm back.  I also feel like my focus is returning to me.  For the last couple of weeks I've felt a bit off.  I don't think it was anything with my training or my technique, but still the feeling was there.  It very well could have all been in my head.  After this weekend and last night's practice I'm feeling the focus returning, though, and I'm feeling ready to tackle the Kent Taikai this weekend.

Our sensei and his wife had the pleasure of spending the weekend at a seminar with Nakata Sensei, hanshi hachidan from Tokyo, and brought back all kinds of valuable information and advice to share with our dojo.  As such, we started out class last night in a most peculiar, and good, way.  We began class without our bogo or shinai/bokken.  After bowing in Sensei began to share a bit about what they learned about kendo, showing us that everything was connected, like links in a chain, and how we were going to build upon…

PNKF Taikai 2012

This past weekend our dojo participated in the 38th annual Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation Taikai.  This year we had over 200 competitors from all over North America.  Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Calfiornia, Hawaii, even Texas and Alaska were represented there, as well as Canada and Mexico.  We had twelve competitors ourselves, Ranging in ages from 16-40+, and all yudansha.  What took place over the weekend was one of the best taikai and kendo trips that I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

We headed out on Friday, as per our usual routine, so that we could make practice at Bellevue that night.  One big difference we had on this trip was the absence of Sinclair Sensei.  He had been in Hawaii all weekend for Doshinkan Karate training (lucky!).  He was definitely with us in spirit, though, and we were able to talk to him a bit that night at the hotel.  He told a fun kendo story and then wished us all well the next day.  I was actually surprised that night to hear that I wo…

Learning to Fly

These past couple weeks have been pretty rough.  Not in a bad way, but in a very good way.  I've been pushing myself hard at practice and I think it's starting to show.  I'm still dealing with my sore hips, but I'm working with Sinclair Sensei to resolve that issue.  As far as technique goes, I feel like all of the little improvements I've been working on are starting to come together pretty nicely.  I'm feeling things start to "click" for me.  I'm pushing through to that next level and it's an awesome feeling, if somewhat difficult. 

We've been working a lot on footwork lately.  Building speed, starting with an explosive movement that happens all at once, and making that movement continue through with our follow-through.  I, personally, have also been working on some more aggressive footwork and being to able to set my left foot when I move and launch immediately, so putting all that together has put more stress on my hips.  Also the fa…

2012 PNKF Shinpan Seminar

This past week our dojo has been focused on shiai-geiko.  Not for the sake of getting practice in the matches, which was fun, but so that our yudansha could learn about and get some experience being shinpan.  For anyone that doesn't know, a shinpan is a court judge in a kendo match.  There are three of them on the court.  Two judges (fukushin) and one head judge (shushin).  Together they call points and penalties and generally ensure that everything goes well and smoothly during each match.  We focused on this aspect of kendo this whole week, leading up to the PNKF shinpan seminar that took place in Seattle, WA this past weekend.

Last week Sinclair Sensei took some time at the end of a couple classes to go over the basics of being a shinpan.  We learned the commands, how to use the flags to signal each one, and some other information about how to stand, how to move with the flags, etc.  Monday and Wednesday we were able to put these ideas into practice by judging matches between …

Efficient Improvement

Lately I've been talking a lot about working on and making improvements, not only in my own conditioning and endurance, but also with techniques such as kaeshi do.  I had a somewhat specific plan of action when I decided to work on kaeshi do, and it's a plan that covers any technique that I want to learn, and it was taught to me by Sinclair Sensei.  Now, granted, I'm sure I took some small shortcuts here and there, but the basic foundation is the same, and it's a way of tearing down each technique and to their core movements and then building them back together to build a strong technique with strong basics.  It really mimics the style of teaching and training that we use, and something that I've been exposed to since day one in the dojo.  It's also been an emphasis in the dojo for the past couple of weeks.  Sensei has been taking time to go over the process with us in detail.  It's something I've heard many times before, but I'm always grateful to…

Conditioning

This past week has been pretty good, as far as kendo goes.  I'm finally starting to get all healed up and my foot isn't as fragile as it has been for the past couple weeks.  I am still kinda taking it easy on it but it's nice to be able to somewhat do fumikomi correctly without having pain shoot up through my heel.  Now I just have to get my hips in proper order, which right now they're out of whack due to my sleeping situation recently, but that also got straightened out so it should only be a matter of time for them to start behaving, as well.

What I really need to work on right now, inside and outside of the dojo, is my endurance.  I know that this has always been the one biggest weakness that I have, and so far my willingness to correct it has been sporadic.  I will dive headlong into fixing it for a while (weeks, even months sometimes) but then I let the daily grind get to me.  I get "busy" and I "don't have time" to properly run or work o…

Two Paths, Same Destination

This whole week Sinclair Sensei and his family, as well as a few dojo members, are gone on vacation so it's been left to the yudansha to help run the show while they're away.  I've been tasked with leading and teaching the intermediate classes.  This is something I'm used to and do often, but when I'm left to myself with no clear lesson plan it's always a challenge.  I have to take a look at the students and where they're at in their development, and try to put together a class that is appropriate for them.  Also trying to introduce the basics of new ideas, but not overwhelming them, is interesting.  If anyone has led a class, I'm sure they know what I mean.  Being that I'm only shodan, I definitely have a lifetime worth of kendo knowledge and technique left to learn, but I do the best with what I have and what I've been taught. 

Ando Sensei took over teaching our main class last night, and he led a very good, and exhausting, practice.  I'…

The Four Mental Sicknesses - Hesitation

In my ever-changing and growing kendo life, I come across various ideas and theories and techniques that are all over the spectrum of understanding for me.  A lot of things seem relatively easy to grasp, on the surface, only to reveal their complexity later on down the road.  Some things completely pass me by the first time I hear then, and then as I grow and mature and revisit those ideas they suddenly begin to open up and share their knowledge with me.  The idea of shikai - the four mental sicknesses - was one of those ideas that was way over my head the first time I heard about it, but recently I've had a chance to take another look at it and I'm beginning to understand what it has to teach me.

Shikai, as the meaning implies, are detrimental to our kendo and can hold us back from performing at the best of our abilities.  The sicknesses are kyo-ku-gi-waku, or astonishment (surprise), fear, doubt, and hesitation.  Each one of these I've experienced in varying degrees thr…

Shiai-Geiko

Recently our dojo has been focusing a lot on shiai-geiko (practice matches), mainly to get the juniors ready for the AUSKF Junior Nationals taking place this weekend in Seattle, WA.  This isn't something that we usually focus on, so the change of pace at practice has been both interesting and welcome.  While treating these matches as "real" matches, I've also tried to focus on a few things throughout.

First off, I tried to make a connection with each of my partners.  Mirroring their movements and keeping that connection through the beginning and end of each match.  I believe this is to be an integral part of kendo and one that I constantly strive to improve.  If I'm able to make and keep that connection then I tend to notice when they lose focus and am in a position to take advantage of that opening.  This is still being developed in me, and I look forward to improving on it in the future.

Each time a match started I would rise from sonkyo, step forward, and imm…

Ipponme And Maai

We've recently started our in-depth study of kata that we do twice a year, and we've started with ipponme.  No matter how many times I study these kata, I'm always introduced to new things, new ways of looking at what I'm doing, and differently mentalities and mindsets to focus on.  One new idea had to do with maai, or spatial distance.  Billy introduced us to a new concept concerning ipponme that will greatly improve the rest of my kendo.  Or maybe, an old concept that I am just now ready to understand.

Those that are familiar with the kata know that both sides take up jodan-no-kamae.  Nothing new there.  But one thing I didn't realize, or didn't consciously realize, is that when you do that it takes away your "measuring stick."  You no longer have your shinai or your partner's shinai in front of you to judge distance, and I realized that I do that all the time without even thinking about it.  But with both sides raising their swords up it force…

Sutemi

The Japanese-English Kendo dictionary, located at www.kendo-usa.org, defines sutemi as:

"Sute-mi  (n.)  1.  Concentration and effort with all one’s might, even at the risk of death.  2.  Concentration of all one’s effort into one strike, even at the risk of defeat."

Ok, so risking everything at the risk of defeat or death.  But how does that apply to our own training?  Fighting to the death is a very foreign concept to many of us, but I believe that we can all understand fighting at the risk of defeat.  This is a concept that we've started examining in more detail at our dojo lately, and one that I believe can be learned at any stage of practice that you're at.

To put it simply, Sensei explained that sutemi is putting 100% effort into a strike.  Holding nothing back and leaving all cares and worries behind so that you can give all of yourself over to that strike.  it sounds like a complicated idea, and it is, but just like all things in kendo I believe that it has man…

Going Out In Style

Yesterday was a special time for the members of my dojo.  For the past school year we've had a nidan from Japan training with us.  He came over as part of an exchange program for school, and yesterday was his last practice with us before he heads home this week.  The energy and emotional levels were high, and we all did our best to give him a proper send-off.  I'm sure that he'll return home with some lasting memories, and I'm glad I got to be a part of all of it.

Sensei really emphasized having sharp footwork and sword work yesterday, and we spent much of our warm-up time working on these aspects.  Stepping forward and back, side-to-side while snapping our trailing foot into place quickly, as well as making our strikes all one quick motion, instead of two motions (bringing the sword up, pausing, and then swinging forward to strike).  Personally I feel like my swing is ok, it can always use more work, but the footwork is something that I can definitely pick up the pace…

Rose City Taikai 2012

This weekend our friends at the Obukan Kendo Club hosted their annual Rose City Taikai in Portland, Oregon.  We traveled down Friday with 14 people, 11 of whom were competing.  This year we also took a couple of our pre-bogu members so that they could be part of the taikai and kendo trip experience.  Overall I think it's safe to say that everyone had an amazing time.

Friday we showed up a bit late to the Obukan dojo, so we went straight from the van to the changing room to the floor as quickly as possibly to get in on a few drills and a whole lot of jigeiko.  I felt a bit off, a bit slow, but that could have been due to the eight hour van ride we just had prior to training.  Still I gave it my best and was able to get in a few rounds of jigeiko with a lot of the Obukan members, including their head instructor, Hancock Sensei.  I could definitely feel the difference in humidity between their dojo and ours, though, as it had me sweating buckets by about the fourth rotation!  It'…

Pre-Taikai Thoughts

Tomorrow we head out for the Rose City Taikai in Portland, OR.  This will be the third year I've competed in this taikai.  This is also a special time for me.  Three years ago, at this very taikai, was my first experience competing in kendo.  I've never really competed in many things in my life before I started kendo.  A couple of local skating competitions when I was a teenager.  A spelling bee here and there for school.  But other than that not much.  I wasn't big into sports growing up so I never had the opportunity for competition. 

The one thing I've noticed, in my own experience, is that it's not about winning and losing to me.  Don't get me wrong, winning is nice and it feels good to come out on top, but to me that's always just icing on top of the delicious cake that makes up the taikai experience.  I enjoy seeing my friends that I've made throughout the area, ones that I don't get to see or hear from much because we live in different parts…

Behind The Curtain

I've had a pretty solid, and tiring, couple of weeks of training since my last post, and I have to say that working on the little issues that I have is tough!  I've put a lot of focus into those things, and I've tried to keep that focus throughout practice...with varied success.  It's definitely an exhausting, and humbling, experience.  Plus the last week I've been fighting a sore throat and the onset of allergies so I haven't felt like I've been quite at 100%.  Anyway, time to dig into a bit of content from the last week!

On Monday things started off regularly, but after kirikaeshi and a few kihon drills we focused on hiki waza a bit.  During this time Sensei explained a bit about hitting the left kote, as well as when it is considered a valid target.  So, more for completeness sake rather than practical application, we did some work on hiki kote and striking the left kote.  What a weird feeling that was!  I'm so used to going for the right kote that …

Little Things

Lately I've been shifting my attention to try and focus on the little things that need improvement in my kendo.  Not necessarily any big things like trying to master new techniques, but small changes in my current techniques, and also in my body carriage and footwork.  While the improvements may not be as noticeable by themselves, together they will make for better, stronger kendo.

In the footwork department I've noticed (and been told) that I not only carry my back heel a bit high, but also a bit too far out.  So I've taken steps to correct this issue, including turning my foot in a bit during drills and keeping my heel down low.  I try to make it a habit to "feel" where the floor is as I step into the correct stance, so that I don't get in the habit of raising my heel too high.  After I get used to knowing how far down to keep my back heel I'll be able to step into it naturally.  While these changes are fairly easy to implement during drills, I still h…

Spokane Japan Week 2012

Last weekend was the opening ceremony of our annual Japan Week here in Spokane.  All week there are fun things going on all over town for people to participate in and learn more about all things Japanese.  This year our dojo shook things up a bit by hosting a dinner at our dojo the night before the opening ceremony, as a kind of "grand opening" of our new location.

The fun with dinner kicked off a week prior, when we were told that there were about sixty people signed up for dinner (not including kendo members).  We were all pretty happy hearing that, but in a couple of days that number doubled to around 120, and then finally when the day came we were sitting at 200 people and counting!  I think we exceeded any goals that we had for dinner.  We had planned not only a dinner but various martial arts and taiko demonstrations during the time, as well as some other fun things such as door prizes and a movie afterward for anyone that wanted to stay.

My biggest concern was how we…

Stepping Up

Ever since the shinsa back in February, I've been thinking of ways to improve and step up my training.  I want to be the best that I can be, and I know that there's always room for me to improve.  But how do I do that?  I had a nice talk with my sensei about it last week and after getting some advice and guidance I have a lot of new ideas.


The main things that I want to work on (and am working on) right now are moving from my center and being more explosive.  I believe that I'll have to put in a lot of work to move with my whole body before I can start making it faster, but that's ok.  I want to be able to strike with everything, not just my hands and upper body, and I want to be able to do it in a split-second.  To go from relaxed and pressuring in to striking and flying through all at once.  The first step in doing that is to change my mindset.  Sinclair Sensei put a big emphasis on changing my mindset to begin to improve the rest of my body.  If I want more speed a…