Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spirit and Intensity

Exhaustion is what I felt last night.  But it was good.  So good.  I felt like I had accomplished something.  Taken another step in my Kendo journey.  While I can't say exactly what I did (maybe I didn't do anything in particular) I can say with certainty that I gave my absolute all last night to each one of my partners and I came out better because of it.

We started the night with kata practice, as we have been doing the past couple of months.  I paired up with my friend Billy Joe and we went over 1-4 and I led him through the steps for 5.  We've received a lot of good info on the revisions from the AUSKF on the various Nihon Kata so I've been doing my best to incorporate them into my training.  I've been working, in particular, on making a smaller strike in Nihonme, Shidachi side (as Ando Sensei tells me, my strike is too big).  I've also been focusing on Yonhonme, Shidachi side, and holding a proper Wakigamae by not letting my body turn while stepping in and keeping my sword blade entirely hidden behind me.  Sounds easy but it's actually kind of tricky without a lot of practice.  All in all it was a great kata session, nothing went wrong and I was able to get in some valuable time with each of them.

Our regular practice commenced after warm-ups and suburi and we worked on our basics, going over multiple-strike drills for Men, Kote, and Do, as well as some work with Taiatari and Hiki Waza.  I still notice that I tend to be kind of slow at shifting my momentum when changing directions, so I need to try and work on that a bit more later on.  I think that if I really concentrate on moving from my center (which I've been working on a lot lately) that will help me with this issue, as well.  With the other drills I tried to concentrate on not only moving from my center, but having a strong and synchronized fumikomi with my strikes, and keeping my hands down during Men and pushing forward.  Ando Sensei describes it as punching someone in the face after you strike, so I try to keep either my right or left hand down at about face/mouth height as I push through.

Jigeiko was, in a word, awesome!  I didn't get to practice with everyone (a lot of people showed up last night!) but the partners that I did have I hope that I pushed hard.  I took a lot of hits but I didn't back down at all and I feel like I was at 100% with each and every one of them.  I tried to concentrate on creating openings and taking advantage of any openings that they created themselves.  I've also been watching my distance a lot lately, trying to control that a bit better, too.  So many things to think about!  I try not to overwhelm myself at any one time by trying to do it all, but that in itself is a skill.

We ended the night with kakarigeiko, as we usually do when Ando Sensei is leading.  Lately I've been keeping my spirit really high, even when I'm about to fall over, and last night was no different.  I did a couple rounds of kakarigeiko before going in and being a receiver myself, and even as my body slowed down and started refusing to move when I wanted it, I kept my spirit high and tried to finish each strike strongly.  I hope to continue this trend throughout this year, because it definitely helps me and I really hope that it helps my dojo mates!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Always Forward

Our sensei and his wife attended a Kendo kata seminar last weekend and brought back loads of information for us.  Some of it was new information, or new ways of doing the moves and techniques that we already know.  Some emphasized certain aspects of the kata that, as a whole, we might have been stepping over before.  And some of it was a refresher for what we already knew (refreshers are always good, in my opinion.)  Below are some of the ideas and pieces of advice that I took, and I know that as we continue on with our kata study we will be getting much more information. 

  -The main focus here was to make a cut that keeps the kensen moving forward.  This is achieved by moving the hands up at about 45-degrees from the head and then swinging forward and down, so that the kensen ends up low to the ground (lower than Gedan is how it was described to us).  The initial movement should be soft, but then the cut is swift, with commitment.  It is still done as one movement, as well, not two separate movements.
  -When you strike, lean your body forward but keep proper posture with your neck and head.  Do not lean so far forward that you have to tilt your head back to see your partner.  It should be at an angle similar to when you bow to your partner before and after the kata.  Body leaned forward, eyes on opponent, but head, neck, and spine are still straight.
  -This forward posture is kept as you step back and you only straighten up when you come back to Chudan.  Also the steps back at the end of the kata should be small enough that Shidachi can perform their movements correctly.

   -The Kote strike should end with the kensen slightly lower than parallel to the floor.  This makes for complete commitment to the strike.
  -When stepping back to Chudan, keep the kensen down.  As you settle into place bring the kensen back up to Chudan.  This keeps the kensen from bumping into Shidachi's kensen.

  -When stepping back to counter, emphasis should be on stepping more back and just a little to the side.  This puts Shidachi in a position to make a good step forward for Kote.
  -When stepping back to Chudan, the kensen should remain where it is or come slightly forward as you step.  Hard to explain in words, but it involves stepping more to the side and not back when coming to Chudan.

-Big emphasis was placed on mental pressure for both sides in this kata. There should be a feeling of it throughout.  The way I interpreted this was to not rush each step, but also don't be lazy with them.  Step in firmly, strike and/or counter firmly.  Step back to Chudan with assertion.  This is something I'll definitely be working on.

-With any of the kata there was an emphasis on the feeling between partners and looking at more than just the physical steps.  This was apparent the most when stepping in to start each kata.  Sensei noted that we should step in "firmly" but not rushed.  There should be an energy and connection between Uchidachi and Shidachi, not just two people going through the steps of kata together.  Again, hard to explain in words but I will be working on this.

After our kata time we broke into our regular training, which was led by Ando Sensei.  I won't go into much detail, but it was a fulfilling and exhausting training.  I pushed hard and I also tried to keep my spirit high, for myself and for my dojo mates that were there.  Ando Sensei pointed out that my Harai Men was very strong and said that I should continue to develop that because it will be very valuable to me.  He said that if I have a strong Harai movement and can move my partner out of center like that then it will be easier when I use more subtle movements to move my partner out of center. 

I'm definitely looking forward to more kata practice tonight and regular practice tomorrow.  All this new information is exciting to go over!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slow And Steady

Last night wasn't a super-notable night as far as training went, but there was one great thing that happened - Ando Sensei returned!  He had been in Japan over the holidays with his family and last night was his first practice back.  I definitely appreciate his instruction and spirit in our dojo so I was glad to see his return.  I didn't get to do jigeiko with him, unfortunately, but I did get in a few drills with him.

Last week we had our new pre-bogu students join us, and we have a couple of them that have been showing up pretty regularly.  I'm hoping that the rest of the pre-bogu students are able to come and join us, as well.  I always enjoy new students.  The potential that they bring and the added spirit is always interesting and encouraging.  They've had their own group that they rotate around in, but Sensei has a couple of the experienced members in bogu rotate in so that they can be receivers on each drill, which has been working out pretty well.  They get a chance to do drills with different people and actually get used to hitting people in bogu, and we get to be good receivers for them.

As far as our training went, we had a pretty basic class as far as drills went.  The first half of class was dedicated to kata, and Sinclair Sensei brought our group to the side (mostly Kyus working on Kata 1-5) and went over some fine points of kata 3 (Sanbonme).  He showed us that each movement that we do (the Tsuki from both Uchidachi and Shidachi, the pressure forward by Shidachi, and the blocking by Uchidachi while backing up) are all variants of Chudan Kamae.  The left hand shouldn't leave the center during any of these movement, especialling while blocking on Uchidachi's side.  Now that I read that to myself I see it's kinda of tricky to explain in writing, but when I saw the movements and explanation in person it made sense.   He also explained that when stepping back and blocking on either side of Shidachi's bokken, Uchidachi's bokken should be pointed just outside of the shoulder so that if we were to step forward we would slide the blade along our partner's shoulder and "cut" them with it.  Next time I practice this kata I will be sure to check and see if I am doing this.

After warm-ups and suiting up in full bogu we went over Kirikaeshi, Men drills, and then Nuki Dou, which took up most of the rest of our time.  Personally I have been working on moving from my center lately and not leaning into the strike.  Using more leg and hip to move me forward and keeping my body straight and upright.  Sensei did note that he saw me lean a couple of times during Nuki Dou but I caught it pretty fast and then smoothed it out again.  To me, it's starting to feel more natural, like what I'm trying to do is finally starting to click into place.  I'll keep working on it but for now I feel like I'm on the right track.  I also noted to Sensei that I am working on keeping my shoulders down and relaxed and getting rid of the tension that I'm holding.  I'm not only trying to do this at Kendo but everywhere, whenever I notice it.

Jigeiko was ok.  Nothing special, although I was able to land a lot of good Men strikes.  Well, at least I thought they were good :-).  I've been trying to use my Men strike more so that I can not only improve it (I want to have a terrifying Men strike), but so that I can also use it to open up other targets.  If someone is scared of my Men strike then it will be easier for me to cause a reaction and open up their Kote, or Dou, if I want.  But that's still a long road to walk.  A road full of improvement and refinement.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spokane Kendo 2012 - Beginning Of A Good Year

We've had a couple of practices since the beginning of the year.  Actually this year we didn't take any days off for the New Year holiday, instead sticking to our normal training schedule of Monday, Wednesday, Saturday.  For me this doesn't feel like the start of a new year of Kendo so much, but just a continuation of what we have been working on and where we have been going.  That's not to say that I didn't try to start out with on a high note.  I definitely have been pushing myself hard these past couple of practices.

Monday night I felt a bit funny with my movements.  I've been working on moving more with my center, getting rid of the lean in my strikes, and also getting rid of my "tell" when I strike.  It's a bumpy road thus far but I'm starting to feel slight improvements here and there.  Last night I have to say that I felt a lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed, and a lot faster.  I was absolutely exhausted at the end of class, but it was a good exhaustion because I knew that I had done all I could that night and stepped away satisfied.

We spent the majority of the night working on Nihon Kata, myself working on number four (Yonhonme).  This particular kata includes a couple of kamae that we usually don't see outside of kata - Hasso-no-Kamae and Waki-gamae.  I have to say, in my personal opinion, that Waki-gamae is the hardest kamae to do properly.  Sinclair Sensei helped us throughout our practice time, too, going over a lot of the finer points of Waki-gamae and Yonhonme in general, and that helped immensely.  I found a few things I was doing wrong and also got to review some things that I had been told before but needed to implement to improve my own technique.  We went over all kinds of things, including proper kamae (hand placement, foot placement, etc), timing, distance, pressure, and on and on.  I tried to take each piece of advice to heart but I made sure to write down the finer details to review later on, as well.  Some things that I, myself, found I was doing wrong or needed to improve were my hand placement during Waki-gamae (specifically my right hand), pressure right before the tsuki from Uchidachi (on both sides), and hand placement during the Shidachi strike at the end (bringing my left hand up above my head to strike from there as I step to the side).  I'll definitely focus on these in the future to make sure that I get them down as best I can.

Afterwards we had a little time to go through Kirikaeshi, Kote-Men, and waza-geiko.  I decided to focus on my Men strike, and to work on moving from my center and engaging my hips and legs more than just leaning into the strike, and also on striking from a complete standstill and while moving.  I tried to keep the idea of "dynamite" in my head.  This is an idea that we go over fairly regularly, and the main point is that dynamite does not gradually explode.  It is still one second, and then exploding the next.  We should strive to be like this with our strikes.  Calm and collected one second and exploding into our attack the next, instead of just gradually moving and striking.  I can't say I'm good at it at all yet, but I'm working on improving that for the future.

We ended the night with jigeiko and I had quite a few really good matches with my friends at the dojo.  Each one pushed me to do my best, because I knew they were doing their best for me, and in the end I felt very satisfied that I had pushed and pushed and given my all.  Here I mainly worked on pressuring forward and being patient, not just throwing anything out there for the sake of attacking.  I really wanted to either create the opening or see the opening and take advantage of it, and also to not back up and back down from any of my opponents but to constantly keep the pressure up and on them.

On a different note, we now have a bunch of new students that joined our advanced/pre-bogu class this week, and it's very exciting.  I love seeing new people move up through the classes and into uniforms and ultimately bogu, and I'm excited to be able to train with them and help them develop their own Kendo.  I just hope that we don't scare them too much with our high spirit and kiai :-).