Our sensei and his wife had the pleasure of spending the weekend at a seminar with Nakata Sensei, hanshi hachidan from Tokyo, and brought back all kinds of valuable information and advice to share with our dojo. As such, we started out class last night in a most peculiar, and good, way. We began class without our bogo or shinai/bokken. After bowing in Sensei began to share a bit about what they learned about kendo, showing us that everything was connected, like links in a chain, and how we were going to build upon that throughout the next few weeks as we begin our winter kata study. We started out with seiza, which might sound odd or too basic for some people, but it was pointed out that everything in kendo is connected, and if there are problems with your seiza and the way you enter and exit it, then there will be problems later on with your footwork and with your fumikomi and with your kendo overall. This definitely goes along with what I've always believed - that basics are the foundation of good kendo, but it went past even what I normally think of as "basics". We then moved into how to do proper rei (bowing), entering and exiting sonkyo, and how to draw your sword when you step into sonkyo. All super basic, but all things that are the way they are for a reason and build upon each other. That's why we should be more mindful of the way that we carry ourselves and perform these seemingly small tasks.
Over the last few weeks I've been working to correct my kote. Maybe "correct" is not the right word to use here. Let's say "improve" my kote. I have a pretty solid kote, for the most part, but there are things about it that I am not happy with and would like to change and improve upon. Billy has been a big help in this area, as he's given me some good advice and suggestions and constructive criticism to push me in the direction that I want to go with it, but I know it's not going to be an overnight change. Through the course of the few short years I've been training I've ingrained a certain way of hitting kote into my muscle memory, so to step back, undue that, and move forward with a new approach is very hard to do. But I'm definitely up for the challenge because I know afterward I will end up with a better, more efficient, more ferocious strike.
After our basics overview we did a very concise warm-up of kirikaeshi and men-uchi before breaking out the courts and doing shiai-geiko. We've been doing this quite a bit over the past few weeks, and I've honestly felt pretty good for the most part. I'm definitely not perfect at all, but I think I've done a good job of keeping my focus on the court and being more aggressive while fighting intelligently (although I can always do with more of both). I've been trying to bring that feeling I had at PNKF into my normal jigeiko and training - that feeling of pressuring my opponents without letting up, for lack of a better explanation. This, again, will be a long, difficult task to carry out.
Since we've been doing a lot of shiai-geiko lately, I've also had a chance to work on my own shinpan skills. Yes, they are skills. A kenshi is not automatically good at being a shinpan just because they have been training for a long time, and being a shinpan is a whole new world of focus and discipline and things to learn and work on. When I'm judging the lower kyu matches it's not too terribly difficult to see when they score a good point or not, and when they do something that they shouldn't or not, but as we move up the ranks the competitors start moving faster and that's where things get more difficult. I know this is a skill that I will just have to continue practicing to improve, so I'm not beating myself up over it...yet. I'll continue to do my best and take any information and advice that is given to me, and I'll do my best to be the best shinpan I can.
We have one last practice before we head out this weekend to the Kent Taikai. There's nothing new I can learn between now and then, as far as my technique goes, so this next practice I will just focus on what I know and work with that and keep my spirit high for myself and for my dojo mates. It's definitely going to be an eventful weekend and I'm looking forward to it very much.