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 :-).