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ZNKR Junior Nationals Visit

This past week we were very honored to host some very special guests.  The junior national team from Japan came to visit and practice with us for three days.  In addition to the team, we also hosted the individual boys and girls champion, as well as the kendo speech contest winner.  They were chaperoned by Ota Sensei, hanshi hachidan and co-creator of the boku ni yoru kendo kihon waza keiko ho, Toyomura Sensei, kyoshi hachidan, and Enomoto Sensei, kyoshi nanadan and head coach of the team.  This was a wonderful experience for our dojo and each of us that were able to participate.

Over the three days of training we were able to witness a demonstration of the kihon kata by Ota Sensei and Toyomura Sensei (Thursday night) and also a demonstration of the tradition nihon kata (on Saturday).  Both times I was amazed at how effortlessly they moved and also how they came back to the correct distance each time without any thought.  We also had a chance to perform all nine kihon kata, with instruction from Ota Sensei throughout.  I provided a video of their first demonstration below for anyone that is interested.

Throughout the various practices I was able to do jigeiko with not only all three of the Japanese sensei but also with sensei from Idaho and Seattle that I haven't been able to practice with before.  I definitely learned a lot and had a great time with each of them.  At one point, while practicing with Ota Sensei he stopped me and told me that I had hit a good Kote.  I thanked him and he emphasized "No, nice Kote!!"  This one moment might be my favorite one of the entire weekend.  I was also able to practice with each of the Japanese students and experience their speed and power for myself.  The experience was definitely equal parts humbling and inspiring.

Saturday, when we had all of our guests together for training, we were able to go through various drills that the students showed us, and then received additional advice and points to remember from Ota Sensei as he went through each one with us.  One standing theme that he had for us was "Hidari ashi, hidari koshi, hidari te."  He said to focus on the left leg, left hip, and left hand, and generate the power from there.  This will help with ki-ken-tai-ichi and help us strike with our whole body, not just our hand and arms.  He pointed out that the Japanese students were all doing this in their strikes, and we should work to integrate that into our training and movement.

Each of the practices also included shiai matches between our high school and junior high members and their team.  They definitely showed us why they were the champions, putting on a great show in speed and ferocity.  There were a few surprises here and there but I think things turned out exactly how we thought they would, for the most part.  From my viewpoint, however, those matches weren't about winning and losing.  They were more about the experience, learning from the Japanese students, and forming a bond with them.  A bond that hopefully won't soon be forgotten.

I definitely learned a lot in our short time together.  I learned that I have a long ways to go to practice at their level comfortably.  At the same time I'm inspired to improve.  They all pushed me way past what I thought I was capable of before, and I was able to step everything up a few notches to try and keep up with them.  Instead of backing away from the challenge I was able to embrace it and come through somewhat successfully.  I plan to take this experience into my training from here on out and hopefully it will help evolve my kendo into something greater than it is now.  And I look forward to seeing the students and their sensei again in the future!


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