Friday, April 27, 2012

Spokane Japan Week 2012

Photo by C. Parsons

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 were going to fit that many people into our dojo and still have floor room enough to do the demos, but when I arrived on Friday to help out I saw that Sensei already had that taken care of with the tables and the layout.  I would have to say that even though this was our first attempt at something like this, and despite a few minor hiccups, everything came together pretty smoothly.  Dinner was catered by one of our local sushi restaurants and was delicious, and taiko drumming and flute playing carried on throughout dinner.  Spokane Taiko performed wonderfully and set the tone for the rest of the evening, which included demos for karate (Doshinkan), iaido, and kendo.

We took our turn on the floor last, and after kata and a few drills to show the basic strikes and some more advanced drills we broke up for jigeiko.  I had the pleasure of fighting against a nito kenshi and did my best to put on the best show I could for the crowd.  I got hit a lot, it felt like, but I also landed a couple of great strikes, including a do strike early on.  We finished up, bowed out, and changed to help with clean-up.  Again, I believe that our dinner went off pretty smoothly and I look forward to hopefully doing it again next year!

Saturday brought with it the opening ceremony for Japan Week, at the mall.  This year I was part of the walk-in, which included people from all of the various events that would be going on.  Afterward I had a chance to sit back and watch the other demonstrations, which included more taiko, karate, dancing, iaido, and probably a few others that are slipping my mind at the moment.  When it was our time we stepped into the circle and went over pretty much the same format as we did the night before, with a few subtle changes.  This time we had more people, including some friends from Mukogawa, and some people that weren't in armor.  I think that we had a good mix of younger and older, male and female in our group this year and from what I saw things went pretty smoothly.  We all did our best and I hope that the crowd enjoyed our kendo.  I know that I made some new friends, saw some old friends, and put my best kendo on display for all to see, and I look forward to being able to come back next year!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

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 and explosive movement, I need to think of myself as faster and more explosive.  He said to imagine myself as a "small, wiry guy."  For me that is going to be a chore, as I am anything but small and wiry, but after trying to keep that focus the last week I can see a slight hint at improvement already.  So there's step one down, as long as I can continue to keep that mindset.

I've been doing a lot more running lately, since it's warming up outside, and I've also been staying on top of my at-home exercises, doing them just about every other day.  Over time I've noticed an improvement so I'll continue to do those.  Sensei gave me some new variations to work on, as well, so I'll change up my routine and start using those.  I also have some new footwork drills to work on to help with creating more power in my fumikomi and my follow-through.  I just received the new drills last night so I'm excited to try them out.  I just need to remember to start out small and build up to more reps with each one.

Another point that Sensei made was that my shinai speed is already pretty fast.  I shouldn't concentrate on that so much at the moment, and instead shift my focus to proper distance and timing.  Again I will take this to heart and begin to make it my focus.  It's going to take some time, and a lot of practice, but I'll do my best to keep on these two points, as well.

What will all of this add up to?  A stronger, faster, better me!  I not only want to be healthier (with all the exercise and running) but I want to be able to always give 100% every time I train and compete.  As long as I'm doing that I feel that I'll never have a regret concerning my kendo.  I also want to be able to give my best to each of my dojo mates, and to push them and encourage them all to improve, as well.  I have a strong desire to help our dojo be the best it can be, and I can do that through my continued support and help when needed, and also through my willingness to give everything I have for each of my partners during training.

Hopefully over the next few months I'll be able to really focus on these points during my training and begin to transform my kendo into something more than it is now.  I feel that I have a good foundation to work with and now it's time to begin shaping my kendo into what I want it to be, and what I want is beautiful, powerful kendo.

Monday, April 9, 2012

UW Invitational Taikai 2012

**After a crazy month or so, with our dojo maintenance and visitors and the taikai this past weekend, I think I might actually be able to get back on schedule with my posts.  For anyone out there that reads these on a regular basis I'll be back to my normal weekly posts next week.

This past weekend our dojo attended the 36th annual invitation taikai at the University of Washington.  We had a small group this time; only six of us went to compete.  We were also all in the same division, competing in the 1-2 Dan category, so the taikai was already shaping up to be an interesting one.  We decided to not train the Friday night prior to the taikai, as we usually do, and instead opted for a more leisurely trip to Seattle and a bit of relaxation at the hotel that evening.  After a night of fellowship and rest we were ready for the taikai on Saturday morning.

We arrived, warmed up...and then waited until after lunch.  The way they had the schedule set up our group was not fighting until around 1pm (the tournament started at 10a.m.) so we all had a few hours to prepare and I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the yondan and up matches.  Looking over the brackets I noticed that our category was the biggest one of the day, taking up all three courts and hosting dozens of competitors.  We had people from all around our federation and also visitors from Canada that came to compete.  This would also be my first time fighting in the yudansha ranks so I was curious to see how I would do.

My first match finally arrived and I was against a guy from Steveston.  As I've found out before, Canada has a lot of strong kenshi, and this one was no different.  He had really strong kendo, very solid with no apparent weaknesses (at least to me).  I tried my best and performed my best but was not able to land a single strike.  The match lasted quite a while but in the end I lost to a kote and a men strike.  I don't feel too bad, though, because he had really good kendo and I did my best.  I'll definitely take the experience and use it to improve myself.

Final Score:  2-0 (O'Sullivan)

After watching my teammates fight their own battles, and after a few more divisions finished up, we headed into the team matches.  One of our teammates had to step out due to an injury he got in one of his matches, but luckily we were able to substitute in the extra guy that we had.  Our first match was going to be a tough one, too; it was against Steveston B.  and being in the chuken position my fight was against N. Nakano who was very fast, very strong and very aggressive.  He is also ranked a lot higher than me, as he competed in the yondan and up category earlier in the day.  I knew I had quite the fight ahead of me.

The matches started and Jordan set the pace early, winning his match 2-0.  In the next match Aaron did an amazing job and was able to hold off the Women's Open winner, forcing a tie of 0-0.  My match was next and since I was facing such a tough opponent we decided that I should try and go for a tie to keep things in our favor.  As I stepped up to the line I started flushing all thoughts of doubt and fear out of my mind so that I could face him with a clear head.  We stepped in, bowed, and then match began.  We both pressured in and fought for the center for what seemed like forever before anything happened.  Nakano finally exploded at me with a kote, but I was able to counter with a nuki men of my own.  Unfortunately he was WAY faster than me and able to block it with ease.  We went back and forth for almost the entire match in this way, with me playing it smart and trying not to give him anything to work with.  At what seemed like seconds before the end he stepped in and I went for a men strike, which he was expecting.  He punished me with a debana kote, which found its mark to give him the first point.  At this point in the match I should have backed off and kept it at a 1-point lead, but impulses took over and he was able to nail my kote again to give him the win.  Seth was up next and after a tense exchange of points he was able to pull out a win against his opponent, 2-1.  Matt, our final member, was up and he fought beautifully, getting a textbook debana kote to take the match 1-0.  We took the overall win and moved on to the next round.  Even though I lost my match I feel like I did a great job of playing smart against a much tougher opponent, right up until the end.  Lesson learned.

Our next match was against Highline, and the odds were against us again.  They fielded a team of three godans, a yondan, and a newly-minted Shodan...and my match was not against the shodan.  Nope, I drew Elizabeth Marsten, who is, in my opinion, one of the best women in kendo in the nation.  Once again I had a chance to play smart against a much tougher opponent, and this time I was going to keep myself in check so I wouldn't end up in the same position as the last match.  Our first two matches ended up against us, both of our guys fighting bravely but losing 1-0 in each match, so it was up to me to either force a tie or get the win to keep us alive.  We decided to go with the tie and let Seth and Matt try to take the wins and keep us going.  I stepped in, bowed, and we were under way.

The match was such a blur of strikes that I hardly remember exactly what happened.  I would attack, she would counter.  She would attack, I would counter.  At one point she faked me out of my hakama and very nearly took my kote for a point, but two of the judges waved the point off.  I came back later on and almost scored debana kote.  The timing was there but high, landing on her fist instead of on her kote.  I also actively kept myself a bit more reseved than the last time, and fought against my own impulse and impatience.  It paid off at the end, when time ran out and walked away with a tie, keeping our hopes alive a little bit longer.  Seth and Matt both fought bravely, but unfortunately our team was not able to pull off the victory this time around and we bowed out for the remainder of the matches.

As a team it seems that we did a good job.  For the most part we all played our parts very well.  A hiccup from me in the first match but we were able to recover beautifully at the end, and against Highline we managed to hold our own but ultimately lost to a better team.  I believe that we were all able to walk out of those matches with our heads held high, though, because we all did our absolute best during each of our matches.  It was very inspiring to watch and cheer on my team mates and I'm glad I was able to be a part of the team this time around.

The Canadian Women's team ended up beating Steveston A in the final match, bringing it all the way down to the final match and winning by one point there (what a nail-biter!).  From our dojo, Jordan and Dan took third place in the 1-2 Dan category so we were all happy for them.  Personally I had a good experience to take home with me, and I will definitely be stepping up my own training from here on out so that I can do better next time around, but I do think I did a great job.  I didn't come home with any medals or trophies, but I did my best and was able to fight against some great opponents as well as gain valuable experience that I will be able to use to improve myself.  I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to the dojo now!