My buddy Matt and I partnered up for kata at the beginning of class, as we've been going over it in depth for the past couple of months. I've received a lot of good information about kata 1-5, which I'll be tested on this Saturday, and I feel confident in my kata. I know the steps, I know the smaller details and now I just need to concentrate on letting it flow naturally. Sensei had a few last-minute pieces of advice for us. Nothing radical or game-changing, but he just reminded us all to be sure and take our time with each kata, especially if we are Uchidachi. He said to move with purpose but not rushed, and to pause to give Shidachi enough time to move with us and be ready for the next part of the kata. He also gave us some advice about hand placement, especially after bowing out and stepping back. He noted that our hands should be relaxed down on our hip, like they are in seiza. I'll be sure to focus on these small pieces this weekend.
After kata and warm-ups we suited up and jumped into the meat of the our practice. Ando Sensei led us through some drills which included kirikaeshi and uchikomi with Men, Kote and Do, but then he threw in some variations that we don't do too often. We went back over Men, Kote, and Do, but this time we focused on small strikes. Small, quick movements with the shinai and kensen, but still having full force in our strikes. One in particular that he called ura-kara Kote left an impression on me. It is a Kote strike, but the kensen moves underneath the opponent's shinai and then up to strike Kote. He stressed the importance of making the movement as small as possible and still striking with force. The kensen should come only low enough to clear the partner's shinai, and then only about as high as kamae again before striking Kote. After a few rotations to get into the groove with this technique I was able to practice with with Ando Sensei himself, and he was very encouraging towards me. We also practice doing a small Men strike where the tip comes just inches above our partner's Men and a Do strike where the tip doesn't leave the body's silhouette. On this particular one he said to imagine just making a twisting motion to move the shinai into the correct position to strike. I admit, I need practice with that one as my Do was still too big. But I still need practice on a ton of things, so I'll just add it to the list.
Afterward we had time for a few rounds of jigeiko. I ended up fighting with Matt twice, whom is also going for his Shodan test this weekend. I think those two matches were my favorites of the night. We both threw our best into it and were both able to get some really nice hits on each other. Matt is very fast and has great posture and movement, and he told me afterward that I was giving him a lot of pressure during the two matches, which made me feel good. I tried to keep things relatively simple and go for openings instead of just striking blindly. I went for Men and Kote mostly, with a couple of hiki waza thrown in when I felt that the opening was big enough for it. I want to be able to bring that kind of feeling to my jigeiko matches during the test and I believe that if I stay calm and confident that I will be able to.
After practice I talked with Ando Sensei and Wendy and received some more encouragement for this weekend. At this point I'm not nervous. I know I will be once I get my bogu on and am waiting for my turn in front of the judges, but for now I feel confident and I feel ready to take the next step in my Kendo journey. I'm looking forward to uncovering even more layers of understanding and improvement, and also find new challenges to overcome. I'm looking forward to continuing to refine my current level of technique and discovering even more about Kendo. So as long as all goes well this will be the end to my Mudansha era, and the beginning of a brand new and exciting era as a Yudansha.