Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Recently our dojo has been focusing a lot on shiai-geiko (practice matches), mainly to get the juniors ready for the AUSKF Junior Nationals taking place this weekend in Seattle, WA.  This isn't something that we usually focus on, so the change of pace at practice has been both interesting and welcome.  While treating these matches as "real" matches, I've also tried to focus on a few things throughout.

First off, I tried to make a connection with each of my partners.  Mirroring their movements and keeping that connection through the beginning and end of each match.  I believe this is to be an integral part of kendo and one that I constantly strive to improve.  If I'm able to make and keep that connection then I tend to notice when they lose focus and am in a position to take advantage of that opening.  This is still being developed in me, and I look forward to improving on it in the future.

Each time a match started I would rise from sonkyo, step forward, and immediately kiai with full spirit.  This not only set the pace for the match, but seems that a few times it helped set the pace for others.  It also showed that I was there for business, and not to be taken lightly.  Something that I do, personally, is try to imagine projecting my spirit and energy at my opponent as I kiai.  it might sound silly, but it works for me.

I also tried to be as aggressive as possible, and not let up on my opponents.  This is something that I'm always working to improve, just like keeping a connection, but a valuable skill that has served me well through the years.  In one of my earliest matches I was beat by an opponent that was more or less on the same level as me as far as technique goes, but he was way more aggressive and it was that skill that led him to victory and led me to develop that in myself.  What I mean by this is I tried to not block without a counter, and I was constantly pressuring in and looking for an opening, both physically and mentally.  When someone backed up, I would follow and attack.  When I backed up I tried to find an opening for hiki waza as I did.  Things like that.

Lastly I tried to perform the best kendo and techniques that I could.  I felt that I kept my posture straighter than I ever have before, and I was snapping my left foot up more consistently, instead of letting it fly up behind me.  A few times I felt it happen, but for the most part it felt like my left foot and leg snapped into place fairly quickly.  I also worked on not leaning into my strikes, and instead trying to move from my center.  Again this is something that I've been working on for a while, and will continue to work on all through my kendo life, but it's good to feel change and improvement after so much practice on it.

So, not a lot to comment on over the past few weeks, but it's these little changes and improvements that really help me along.  It seems, for me, that climbing the kendo mountain is a series of small steps that build up over time, instead of huge steps with major, immediate improvements.  I don't think I'd have it any other way, though!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ipponme And Maai

We've recently started our in-depth study of kata that we do twice a year, and we've started with ipponme.  No matter how many times I study these kata, I'm always introduced to new things, new ways of looking at what I'm doing, and differently mentalities and mindsets to focus on.  One new idea had to do with maai, or spatial distance.  Billy introduced us to a new concept concerning ipponme that will greatly improve the rest of my kendo.  Or maybe, an old concept that I am just now ready to understand.

Those that are familiar with the kata know that both sides take up jodan-no-kamae.  Nothing new there.  But one thing I didn't realize, or didn't consciously realize, is that when you do that it takes away your "measuring stick."  You no longer have your shinai or your partner's shinai in front of you to judge distance, and I realized that I do that all the time without even thinking about it.  But with both sides raising their swords up it forces you to judge distance between you and the other person, not just between your shinai.  Billy pointed out that smart players can use this to their advantage, and use the "shinai distance" to trick their opponents into thinking that they are either too close or too far away, so it's very important for us to be able to determine the distance between us and our parnters/opponents without using our shinai as a measuring tool.  Ipponme can teach us that, and I hadn't even realized it until yesterday. 

We used most of our time yesterday working on this point, running through various drills using our bokken and finally leading up to going through the entire kata with our partner.  We then put on our bogu, grabbed our shinai and focused on some practical uses of the distancing points that we went over earlier.  We worked on not only having the proper distance to our partner, but also on following them after they hit and being ready to strike when they turned.  So not only did we need the proper distance, but also to have our body, sword, and mind ready to strike. 

A very valuable lesson, indeed, and one that I hope to focus on in the coming months.  No longer will I have to rely on my shinai to measure distance.  I'll work on not only being able to judge distance to my target, but also work on using that distance to my advantage.  And it's all thanks to a new, different look at a familiar kata.