Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pre-Taikai Thoughts

Tomorrow we head out for the Rose City Taikai in Portland, OR.  This will be the third year I've competed in this taikai.  This is also a special time for me.  Three years ago, at this very taikai, was my first experience competing in kendo.  I've never really competed in many things in my life before I started kendo.  A couple of local skating competitions when I was a teenager.  A spelling bee here and there for school.  But other than that not much.  I wasn't big into sports growing up so I never had the opportunity for competition. 

The one thing I've noticed, in my own experience, is that it's not about winning and losing to me.  Don't get me wrong, winning is nice and it feels good to come out on top, but to me that's always just icing on top of the delicious cake that makes up the taikai experience.  I enjoy seeing my friends that I've made throughout the area, ones that I don't get to see or hear from much because we live in different parts of the state.  I enjoy the atmosphere and all of the wonderful matches and great kendo that goes on.  And I love putting myself against others to see where my strengths and weaknesses are.  I always learn so much about myself after a taikai; that aspect alone is worth the trip.  And I always come back to my dojo a rejuvenated man.  I believe that this year will be no different.

This year is going to be a tough one, though, because about 90% of the people going from our dojo will be in the same division.  Despite that I feel ready, and I feel confident in myself.  I know that they'll be giving everything they've got, and I plan to do the same.  I will give everything to each one of my opponents this weekend, and win or lose I know that we'll both come out of it improved in some way.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Behind The Curtain

I've had a pretty solid, and tiring, couple of weeks of training since my last post, and I have to say that working on the little issues that I have is tough!  I've put a lot of focus into those things, and I've tried to keep that focus throughout practice...with varied success.  It's definitely an exhausting, and humbling, experience.  Plus the last week I've been fighting a sore throat and the onset of allergies so I haven't felt like I've been quite at 100%.  Anyway, time to dig into a bit of content from the last week!

On Monday things started off regularly, but after kirikaeshi and a few kihon drills we focused on hiki waza a bit.  During this time Sensei explained a bit about hitting the left kote, as well as when it is considered a valid target.  So, more for completeness sake rather than practical application, we did some work on hiki kote and striking the left kote.  What a weird feeling that was!  I'm so used to going for the right kote that it's my first reaction, so I really had to force myself to hit the other one.  I don't think I did that well with it, but I tried my best.  Being on the receiving end of this drill made me realize just how much of a tolerance to pain my right forearm has built up, because every little strike to the left side was pretty harsh.  I toughed it out, though, although I now have a nice bruise on my left forearm.

Sinclair Sensei talked to us a bit about multiple strikes on Monday, as well.  Not just kote-men or kote-do or strikes like that.  What he talked to us about were the openings BEHIND the initial attack.  Being able to see those openings that we create and capitalize on them.  The example he gave was a curtain that has been blown open briefly.  At first all you see is the curtain itself, but for the brief instant that the curtain moves you can see what's beyond it.  Likewise, with our kendo we should be able to attack and immediately recognize the next opening and attack again.  This is definitely a weak point for me, as I'm used to seeing the first opening and taking that one.  I've also noticed that this is a big difference between myself and the nidans in our dojo.  They tend to attack and then immediately follow-up afterward with another attack.  Try as I might during jigeiko that night, I was pretty unsuccessful with trying to see and attack the opening that I created.  But I'll continue to work on it.

Last night's practice was a lot of fun, although it seems that everyone was pretty tired out by the end.  We warmed up a bit, went through kirikaeshi and a few kihon drills, and then immediately went into jigeiko for the rest of the time, which amounted to about a full hour of jigeiko. I was able to practice with most of my dojo mates at least two or three times, and as I went I really tried to focus on what Sensei told us about the curtain.  Again I was not that successful but practice  makes perfect, right?

As far as work outside the dojo, I've been doing a lot of running and core exercise to build up my stamina and endurance.  I've also been focusing heavily on the footwork drills that I was given to help improve my explosiveness.  It's a long road, but I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable using both of my legs during fumikomi, instead of just one like I had a tendency to do before.  While this is all definitely beneficial for me, I'm also usually pretty tired afterward.  But it seems that, little by little, I'm able to push myself a little farther each time.  I'll hold onto this and use it as my motivation to keep going strong!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Little Things

Lately I've been shifting my attention to try and focus on the little things that need improvement in my kendo.  Not necessarily any big things like trying to master new techniques, but small changes in my current techniques, and also in my body carriage and footwork.  While the improvements may not be as noticeable by themselves, together they will make for better, stronger kendo.

In the footwork department I've noticed (and been told) that I not only carry my back heel a bit high, but also a bit too far out.  So I've taken steps to correct this issue, including turning my foot in a bit during drills and keeping my heel down low.  I try to make it a habit to "feel" where the floor is as I step into the correct stance, so that I don't get in the habit of raising my heel too high.  After I get used to knowing how far down to keep my back heel I'll be able to step into it naturally.  While these changes are fairly easy to implement during drills, I still have a tough time with them during jigeiko and end up falling back on bad habits.  I'll continue to work on it, though, so that it becomes habit to keep my heel lower and my foot a bit straighter.

With my body I've really been focusing on keeping my upper body straight and leading with my center instead of my arms and shoulders.  I've had to shorten up my fumikomi to work on this properly, but after I get into the habit of moving and striking from my center I'll be able to expand my fumikomi out again.  Sensei also has me working on more explosive movement, as was my request from him a few weeks ago, so I'm doing some specialized drills on my days off and before practice to help with that.   The process is, honestly, very tiring because I end up engaging both of my legs more than I was before, but it's starting to feel a bit better compared to when I first started, so that tells me that improvement is being made (slowly but surely!). 

With my kamae and sword work I've been working on keeping a good center, no matter what my partners/opponents do.  This one is tough, as a lot of times I end up giving up center prematurely which leads to me getting hit a lot.  But it's still a work in progress.  I've also been trying to eliminate the wasted movement in my swings, which is an ongoing focus, and also to work on various multiple hits, including kote-men and kote-do, and trying to make them as smooth and quick as I can while still keeping my proper technique.  And with my spirit I've been trying to not only keep my spirit high throughout training, but to also remember to carry my kiai as part of zanshin as I follow-through after an attack, and trying to work on keeping that mental alertness that follows an attack, so that I can attack or counter as necessary afterward.  Again, very much a work in progress.

So that's me right now in a nutshell.  Submitted to the wide world of my blog as both a mile marker and a source of motivation to improve these issues.  I'm constantly tweaking and trying to improve my kendo, and with it out in the open for me to see (and anyone else that reads through here), I'm able to better visualize where I'm at and what still needs work. 

On a side note, our dojo welcomed a host of new people into our advance/pre-bogu class on Wednesday night.  We had about 8-10 people that moved up into our class from the intermediate class, and it was so good to see such a large class stick with practice and join us.  I've had the privilege of helping out and even leading their classes quite a bit through the past few months, and I hope that they all continue to practice hard so that they can all be ready for bogu in the (hopefully near) future.  From personal experience it can be quite a shock in our dojo to jump up, because there's so much going on and so many new techniques thrown at them, so I'll be sure to make myself as available as I can for them, and I know that the other dojo members are just as eager to help as I am.  I'm definitely excited to see their progress and their contributions to our dojo over the course of training.