Sunday, October 21, 2012

Learning to Fly

Photo by G. Hoover
 These past couple weeks have been pretty rough.  Not in a bad way, but in a very good way.  I've been pushing myself hard at practice and I think it's starting to show.  I'm still dealing with my sore hips, but I'm working with Sinclair Sensei to resolve that issue.  As far as technique goes, I feel like all of the little improvements I've been working on are starting to come together pretty nicely.  I'm feeling things start to "click" for me.  I'm pushing through to that next level and it's an awesome feeling, if somewhat difficult. 

We've been working a lot on footwork lately.  Building speed, starting with an explosive movement that happens all at once, and making that movement continue through with our follow-through.  I, personally, have also been working on some more aggressive footwork and being to able to set my left foot when I move and launch immediately, so putting all that together has put more stress on my hips.  Also the fact that I've been turning my hips as I strike has caused some pain and soreness.  This is a new issue that I wasn't aware of before, so I've been taking small steps to try and fix it, and also being more mindful of it during practice so I can catch it early and eliminate it quickly. 

I went to the dojo on Friday night to work with Billy on some different footwork drills and what not, and afterward I stayed and watched the team training.  Sinclair Sensei brought up some points that go along with his motto of  "Train like you fight, fight like you train."  The points that he brought up I've heard before, but they were good to hear again because they really resounded with me.  So Saturday before class I tried working on them on my own.  I have to say that they helped, a lot!  I might not have made any major leaps in skill or technique that day, but I did make a chance in my mindset that I feel showed on the floor during the rest of practice that day.  One of the main things I did was to treat each strike in our drills as a real situation, and to make each strike count.  It helped get me out of the "practice" and "drill" mentality and into a more serious mentality.  Not that I don't take practice seriously, but even making that small change in the way I was thinking about things changed the way I moved, the way I attacked, even the way I did my kiai.  I tried to make each strike count on its own, not only during jigeiko but during each of our drills. 

In addition to the footwork and the new mindset, I've also been working on making my kote better.  It's pretty quick as is, but there is still wasted movement in there, so Billy went over some things I can do to change that and make my kote strike more efficient.  I don't want to necessarily build more speed, I just want to be more accurate and eliminate the wasted movement, so when I have time to work on that I've been breaking it down into it's pieces and going from there.  I'm hoping that here in a few weeks I'll have shown some real improvement with it.  The few times I was able to strike the way Billy showed me it definitely felt better.  Practice practice practice!

All in all, a great couple of weeks.  And even greater because we're leading up to our big PNKF taikai in a couple more weeks.  I hope that I do well since I'll be in the 1-2 Dan division this year, but even more so I hope to continue to show beautiful kendo.  I'm sure that the changes I'm making and I'm seeing develop with my technique will accomplish that goal for me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

2012 PNKF Shinpan Seminar

This past week our dojo has been focused on shiai-geiko.  Not for the sake of getting practice in the matches, which was fun, but so that our yudansha could learn about and get some experience being shinpan.  For anyone that doesn't know, a shinpan is a court judge in a kendo match.  There are three of them on the court.  Two judges (fukushin) and one head judge (shushin).  Together they call points and penalties and generally ensure that everything goes well and smoothly during each match.  We focused on this aspect of kendo this whole week, leading up to the PNKF shinpan seminar that took place in Seattle, WA this past weekend.

Last week Sinclair Sensei took some time at the end of a couple classes to go over the basics of being a shinpan.  We learned the commands, how to use the flags to signal each one, and some other information about how to stand, how to move with the flags, etc.  Monday and Wednesday we were able to put these ideas into practice by judging matches between our fellow dojo members.  I have to admit, it's a whole different world being a shinpan!  The first thing I noticed is that I couldn't just relax and watch the match.  I had to focus, a lot, on not only one person but on two people that were fighting.  Plus I had to focus on my fellow shinpan to see where they were moving and what they were doing.  It was all so mentally draining!  I can see now why it's so important to keep the shinpan fresh by rotating them out regularly, and I also have a much better appreciation for what they do.  Not that I didn't appreciate them before, but after having been in their shoes, even for our practice matches, I can see what pressure they have on them during each and every match!

I heard Billy say that we are not just judges on the court, but to be truly effective we need to be part of the match with the two competitors.  This was echoed at the seminar itself by Elliott Sensei.  What that means to me is in order to truly excel at being a shinpan I have to be able to mentally fight with each of the competitors on the court.  And I have to be able to have this kind of attention and focus while also paying attention to my fellow shinpan.  We'll see how well I do with it as time goes by.

One of the main things I noticed about myself was that I had no trouble calling the commands. I felt like I was loud and clear with each command, from starting the matches to calling the points to handling out penalties when needed.  One thing I need to work on is actual flag positioning.  Specifically keeping my palms down when I call points.  I tend to let my palms face forward when I bring the flag up so I'll have to keep that in mind next time.  Another thing I need to work on (and this is a biggie) is handing out points too generously.  I tend to give points when sometimes I should be more reserved.  Along this note it was good to hear Marsten Sensei tell us that if we call a point early and then change our minds we can always wave off our own point.  I hope to be able to work on this so that I don't have to wave off my own points too often, but I feel like being able to see and call a good point is something that will get easier with time.  Just like when I was first learning to do a correct men strike, now I am learning how to JUDGE a correct men strike.

All in all we had a great weekend at the seminar (which I just now realized I didn't write about much).  One thing that I remember is some parting advice that Dejong Sensei gave us.  He said to "make your own mistakes."  What he meant was to take what we learn from others and then go out and try to always improve that.  Note other shinpan's mistakes and learn from them, and if we do make a mistake fix it next time.  That way we are always working towards improvement.  In addition to this piece of advice, I gained so much new knowledge about being a shinpan and had plenty of matches to run through to work on my own skills.  I feel like this is really a step in having "complete" kendo and it's a duty that I want to take seriously and improve as much as I can.  Just like everything else, though, practice makes perfect.