Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Two Paths, Same Destination

This whole week Sinclair Sensei and his family, as well as a few dojo members, are gone on vacation so it's been left to the yudansha to help run the show while they're away.  I've been tasked with leading and teaching the intermediate classes.  This is something I'm used to and do often, but when I'm left to myself with no clear lesson plan it's always a challenge.  I have to take a look at the students and where they're at in their development, and try to put together a class that is appropriate for them.  Also trying to introduce the basics of new ideas, but not overwhelming them, is interesting.  If anyone has led a class, I'm sure they know what I mean.  Being that I'm only shodan, I definitely have a lifetime worth of kendo knowledge and technique left to learn, but I do the best with what I have and what I've been taught. 

Ando Sensei took over teaching our main class last night, and he led a very good, and exhausting, practice.  I've always marveled at the way that he and Sinclair Sensei have two entirely different ways of teaching, but they are both conveying the same information.  For example, the way they explain a small men strike is vastly different from each other, but I can see that the mechanics of both of them are exactly the same in practice.  I wonder if this is what others experience from sensei at their dojo.  It reminds me of how people learn in different ways.  Some learn by reading, some by doing.  Some by repetition, etc.  But no matter the different ways of learning they are all learning the same thing.  This might not be a big, profound idea to a lot of people, but it's always good for me to see the two different teaching styles working together to drive us all to the same goal.

I hurt myself about a week ago, bruised my heel on a wrong step, so I've been taking it pretty easy recently with training and when given the time I've been working on my kaeshi dou strike.  I realized that the main reason I'm so bad at it is my timing is way off.  I not only block/counter too late, but I make two motions instead of just one smooth movement from the block into the counter.  So, to save my foot and let it heal, I've been practicing just the block and strike itself with very little body movement.  This one simple point to focus on has done wonders for my kaeshi dou, and I'm able to strike quickly and more on target than I ever have been able to with this technique.  Once everything is back to 100% with my body I'll start doing full-fledged kaeshi dou drills and see if I can incorporate the strike I've been working on with the body movement.  It also doesn't hurt that Ando Sensei broke down the movement for us to the very, very basics last night, and I hope to use that later on, as well.

Not too much to write about this go-round, but it's been a slow process trying to recover from that one wrong step.  Let this be a lesson to always push forward and never hesitate at the last second!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Four Mental Sicknesses - Hesitation

In my ever-changing and growing kendo life, I come across various ideas and theories and techniques that are all over the spectrum of understanding for me.  A lot of things seem relatively easy to grasp, on the surface, only to reveal their complexity later on down the road.  Some things completely pass me by the first time I hear then, and then as I grow and mature and revisit those ideas they suddenly begin to open up and share their knowledge with me.  The idea of shikai - the four mental sicknesses - was one of those ideas that was way over my head the first time I heard about it, but recently I've had a chance to take another look at it and I'm beginning to understand what it has to teach me.

Shikai, as the meaning implies, are detrimental to our kendo and can hold us back from performing at the best of our abilities.  The sicknesses are kyo-ku-gi-waku, or astonishment (surprise), fear, doubt, and hesitation.  Each one of these I've experienced in varying degrees throughout my training, whether it was at the dojo during jigeiko or in the middle of a taikai match.  I'm definitely no expert in all of their meanings or ways that they can hinder us, but it's good to know I'm starting down the path of understanding.

Kuster Sensei led practice last Saturday, while our juniors were away at Jr. Nationals, and we concentrated on one of the four sicknesses - hesitation.  I won't try to transcribe everything that was taught that day, because I would fail horribly, but I do know what I took away from it and what I'm working on.  One of the things that I realized, or rather, that came to the front of my mind during that training session, was that I hesitate a lot.  I second-guess myself a lot, which leads to holding back and "false starts"  where I will begin an attack and then just stop in the middle of it.  It's a very bad habit of mine and one of my biggest weaknesses, and now that I'm aware of it I can work to overcome it.  That day we worked a lot on making sure that we had our feet set in a proper stance, we had our weight distributed properly, and that we had a properly kamae.  Not only with our swords but also mentally.  We worked on our drills by striking on the whistle, but were instructed that if we started to go prematurely that we should strike without stopping.  It was VERY hard to get myself to stop and wait, or to just go if I started early, but after a while I was able to kind of calm myself down, for lack of a better term, and it helped to greatly minimize the number of false starts that I had.

This is something that I will be working hard to eliminate in my own kendo.  to not second-guess myself when I start a technique, and to blast through when I do start a technique.  As Kuster Sensei told us, we shouldn't be concerned with being countered or blocked, our only concern should be getting to the target so fast that our partner/opponent has no chance to do anything.  I know it's going to be a long road to fully clean this up and overcome it, so I'm not expecting anything drastic anytime soon, but even after that lesson last week I've noticed less hesitation during jigeiko all this week.  I've been making a lot of small changes and improvements like this for a while now, and I'm hoping all the small things can add up to big improvements and cleaner, more precise, and beautiful kendo down the road.