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Kent Taikai 2013 - Jazz Hands Everywhere!

A couple weekends ago our dojo traveled to Seattle to participate in the 17th Annual Kent Taikai, and there was definitely no shortage of great kendo to be had!  This tournament is interesting in that it's only for sandan and below, so to me it feels like the competition is a bit closer and heated amongst the participating individuals and dojos.  I say this because, in the team matches especially, there is no chance that I'll randomly be paired against a godan or rokudan, although on the other hand a lower kyu that gets paired against a sandan in a team match is probably feeling that sting that I'm talking about a bit more.  This time out I wasn't in charge of any of the courts so I had free reign to cheer on my friends and fellow dojo mates (and help out when necessary, of course!).  I was also able to visit with some of my kendo buddies, including my friend Mia.  She was the inspiration for the post title, because when I saw her she threw up her hands and waved them…

PNKF Taikai 2013

Guess what?  It was that time again!  Time for the 39th Annual Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation Taikai.  I heard that the competitors this year were up into the 300s, although I don't have an exact number, and represented several states and countries.  Some great kendo went down last weekend, as well as some surprises.  Everything that's needed for a good tournament could be found at the Kent Commons and I'm glad I was able to be a part of it.

Our trip was a bit different this year.  Most of the six people that we took to compete had engagements that needed to be worked around, so we all opted to leave later in the day which meant we missed out on practice at Bellevue Dojo that night.  We arrived to the hotel pretty late, had a quick bite to eat and then headed to bed.  The next day came early, not only due to the late night but also due to us helping set up the courts this year.  We arrived bright and early and got to work helping set everything up.  I also had a new r…

The Red Line

This week of training has had its ups and downs.  Monday I got to the dojo and felt ok, albeit a little tired.  Once training started, though, I realized that my legs were sore.  Super sore.  It made for a very tough practice, as we worked on footwork quite a bit at the beginning before going into the rest of our class.  Since we only had six people, myself included, practicing that night we had a little different format and took things a bit slower.  It definitely helped me make it all the way through, but even then at the end of class I felt like my legs were going to fall off.  I can't imagine how I would have fared if we had done a more intense practice.  During jigeiko I really focused on not backing up and not crumbling when facing my partners.  I tried to keep an "always forward" attitude and feel to my technique that night.

Last night we didn't have an extremely large class.  I think there were ten of us altogether, but seven of us were yudansha so we kicke…

A Return To Form

Ok, I will be the first to admit that I've been slacking on my posting.  Two months is WAY too long to go without a post of some sort.  I will be working on carving out my time better to keep up on this.  This blog is an invaluable tool to myself, and being that's publicly available for anyone in the world I have a feeling that it's at least entertaining others out there that like to read about my kendo happenings.

For the past few months I've been plagued with physical issues.  Some of them were oldies that just won't go away (my hip pain) but some of them were new.  I had quite a sore muscle in my right leg that held on for about a month and caused me to have to slow down and miss some practices.  Sinclair Sensei was kind enough to offer some help and gave me some stretches and exercises to do, which seemed to do the trick.  For about a week now I haven't had any pain in that muscle, and I pray that it doesn't return.  I'm finding that even though I…

Same Window, Different Visual

Well, I hadn't realized it had been so long since I posted.  To anyone that is a regular reader, I am sorry for the delay.  July proved to be a very busy month in my personal life.  But hopefully I'll get back on my regularly scheduled updates.  I had no lack of training, though!

We're just about to finish up our semi-annual kata study, and I've learned quite a bit.  Nothing that I didn't already know about, but I learned a lot about the way I approach it.  The feeling behind the kata.  The subtle changes in tempo, rhythm and movements.  Kata is becoming less of a step-by-step guide and more of an actual dance.  I'm able to concentrate on things beyond the physical movements, because I have practiced the movements themselves for years and years.  Now I can make kata personal.  Wendy made a good point last week, stating that we must always try to learn something new when we do kata, or find news ways to look at it, even though it's the same movements over a…

Best of The Best

Sinclair Sensei and Wendy have been out of town all week for the women's seminar being held all this week in Seattle, WA, so we've been left in charge at the dojo.  My buddy Aaron and I have been running the intermediate classes and Kuster Sensei has been taking our advanced class.  The intermediates have been doing an awesome job and we've been laying out some refinements with distancing, footwork and sword work/final sword positions.  I explained to them last night that when they think about and focus on certain parts they do really well with those parts and that we're going to be combining everything together so that they feet and swords and hands and everything start working simultaneously.  There's a lot of promise there, and if they keep improving like they are right now they'll be joining our advanced class in no time!

Kuster Sensei brought up a good point last night, and one that I tried to hang onto throughout the remainder of class.  He told us to im…

Small Class, Big Spirit

Wednesday night an odd thing happened.  Due to various circumstances (injuries, plans, etc) I found myself as the only yudansha at training, among a class of about 10 people.  Wendy Sinclair Sensei was there, but she was busy teaching class and making sure we were all doing what we were supposed to so she didn't have an opportunity to jump in with us.  Even though we didn't have that many people, we more than made up for it with the amount of spirit and energy we had.  I felt a duty to lead by example, and so with each and every person I gave 100%, even while nursing a couple of injuries of my own.  That didn't slow m down or stop me, although at one point at the end of class it did make me do fumikomi in place when I would strike.

We took a bit of time during class to work on how to properly perform taiatari.  "Taiatari" translates to "body crash" and is a technique that is usually performed after a strike.  The two kenshi will literally crash into e…

Rose City Taikai 2013

This past weekend was the Rose City Taikai in Portland, OR, hosted by the Obukan Kendo Club.  We took thirteen people down in the kendo van, with 12 of us competing across all divisions.  Once again the bulk of our competitors were entered into the 1-2 Dan division, my division, so I knew it would be a tough fight to the top.  Our weekend of kendo actually started that Friday because after a nine hour road trip we went straight to two hours of training with Obukan.  I was definitely feeling the exhaustion of the day and hoped that it wouldn't leak over into the tournament the next day.

Saturday arrived and we packed, ate and then headed out.  My division wasn't until right before the team matches, later in the day, so I had time to prepare and watch my teammates do their best.  My friend and dojo mate Yarrow pulled out a spectular win in the 1-2 Kyu division to take 1st place, and I got to see a lot of good matches from our people in the 3 Kyu and Below and Women's Open d…

Prepared Body, Prepared Mind

Last night felt great.  Better than great!  For the first time in a while I was able to practice without anything slowing me down.  No pain or injuries or anything.  The only thing that was bothering me was the heat, but that's typical during this time of the year and it's something that I'll get used to, like I have every other year.  I also, for once, felt like a true nidan at practice, which tied in well with what Sinclair Sensei focused on throughout the evening.  About halfway through practice he brought us all together and talked a bit about being not only physically prepared, but mentally prepared.  
Sensei brought up a lot of good points and gave us all really good advice, and I am going to take it to heart and really focus on it.  Basically he said that we can be physically talented in kendo, having done hours and hours and hours of training to develop our technique, but if we are not mentally ready and confident then all that training will be for nothing.  Our b…

Japan Week 2013

Japan Week is a yearly even that goes on in our little town; a celebration of Japanese culture throughout the city.  Naturally our dojo is a big part of this event, and the past couple of years we've organized a dinner to celebrate and introduce people to a bit of the culture first-hand.  We used last year as a template and set out to improve upon that dinner, and I'd say that we succeeded.  I hope that our guests felt the same way!

The Wave, a local Japanese restaurant/sushi bar catered the event again, and once again the food was outstanding.  This year we decided to get some servers to help with the food, which made a huge difference. Everyone got their fill, even their seconds and thirds, and we still had plenty of food left over.  During the dinner Spokane Taiko performed and they sounded amazing.  I also think they picked up a few new recruits.  The iaido group also put on a demo, showing the crowd the elegance and grace of drawing, cutting, and sheathing a sword.

Aft…

UW Invitational Taikai 2013

The 37th Annual UW Invitational Taikai was held this past weekend, and what a memorable event it was.  Not only for the taikai itself, which brought together kenshi from all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada (even a couple of competitors from Hawaii), but also for some of the "natural disasters" that occurred during the tournament.  I'll get to those later.

We headed over on Friday and the first noticeable thing to me was the absence of Sinclair Sensei.  He was in Boise for karate training and unfortunately could not be with us at this tournament.  But Wendy Sinclair Sensei did a great job of taking care of us and making sure everything was taken care of before, during, and after the trip.  Ten of us headed over to compete, and we spanned the 1-3 kyu, 1-2 dan, and 3 dan divisions.  We were also able to field two teams for the team division.  I found myself on the A team, and was placed as sempo (1st position).  While not a normal position for me I was ready to take …

Cornerstones

I heard a saying a while ago, and I've talked about it here before, but it's something that deserves bringing up every now and again.  "Kendo is eighty percent footwork, and twenty percent swordwork."  Along with basics, this has always been a key focus for me and even though I don't have the prettiest footwork or body carriage right now I do my best to work on it and make it the best that I can.  I hold onto the belief that you can have the most beautiful and effective sword strikes in the world, but if you don't have the footwork to get you to the target then it won't mean a thing.

We've been focusing a lot on footwork lately, doing some old and new drills and even doing some ladder drills, which have proven to be interesting and very entertaining.  The main focus has been on short, quick steps.  We're not trying to cover a long distance with each step and getting from one end of the dojo to the other the fastest isn't the point.  Each step…

Highline Taikai 2013 - Introspection

This weekend our dojo sent five competitors to the 36th Annual Highline Taikai in Seattle, WA.  The trip over was awesome, as always, and the training the night before was both information and fun, as we were able to take part in the shinpan seminar that Jeff Marsten Sensei was holding at his Bellevue dojo.  Afterward he invited us to open floor to practice with whomever we wished.  I got to do jigeiko with my friend James, and after a good few minutes of sparring with him I was instantly approached by another Bellevue kenshi to have another round of jigeiko.  After we were done I looked back and noticed that a queue had formed up for me, which remained 4-5 deep the whole night.  Long story short, I was able to fight with a lot of people that night!  Pizza and fellowship followed at the hotel before we all got some rest for the next day.

This year they added a new division to the tournament.  In years prior it had always been a mudansha tournament (below black belt), but this year th…

PNKF Winter Shinsa 2013 - Nidan

This weekend I headed to Seattle with four of my dojo mates and our sensei to participate in the PNKF Winter shinsa.  I was testing for the highest this rank this time around, shooting for nidan.  What happened over the weekend amounted to a lot of good fellowship with my friends, laughing and joking with my Seattle friends that I don't see too often, and a lot of good kendo.

Since I was the highest ranked person on the trip, I felt a little sense of responsibility for our group so I did my best to make sure that everyone had their stuff in order (bogu, uniforms, etc) and that everyone was ready to go when we needed to, and to offer encouragement and advice when needed.  I jokingly wrote to someone that I was handing out pep talks like they were candy over the weekend :).  We all arrived on Saturday morning with plenty of time to get ready and get situated before the test started.  My group wasn't going to be up for a couple of hours so I enjoyed watching my dojo mates during…

The Sun Sets...

A thought occurred to me last night during training;  a thought that made me both happy and a little sad.  I realized that, if all goes well this weekend, last night was my last training as a shodan.  I will be testing for nidan this weekend at the PNKF shinsa.  I feel ready for it, and everyone else says that I'm ready.  I just need to relax and not be nervous, and let my body do what it's been trained to do.  I'm glad to have this opportunity, though.  Sometimes I feel like it's too soon since I've only been training for just under four years.  In fact, it will be four years in May.  I feel like I've accomplished a lot in such a short time, but compared to this entire journey that I've set myself on it's only a drop in the bucket.  I definitely have my dojo, and the members, to thank for getting me where I am right now.  They all push me hard, right to the limit, but they also encourage me and will be the first ones to lend me a helping hand or encou…

Encouraging Spirit

A point was brought up Monday night by Kuster Sensei, and I've been thinking about it ever since.  The point being that we should always have high spirit, both directly in our kiai and also in our movements.  I've always heard, and experienced, that when you are tired the thing that can keep your going and push you to do more is spirit.  It can also mean the difference in a match between winning and losing.  When pitted against an opponent that is of the same skill as yourself, the person with the most spirit will usually win out.

When we practice we should always try to have a high spirit, not only for our own benefit but the benefit of everyone in the dojo.  These days I can definitely tell the difference between someone that has a high spirit and someone that does not.  The person with the high spirit is like a trampoline that boosts me up even higher, or even like a friend reaching over an edge to help me up to their level.  I know that I've had my fair share of times …

"Heavy" Kamae

Recently we've been learning the steps and the details of the kodachi kata, and during that study the term "heavy" has come up a lot.  It's been explained by Sinclair Sensei that our movements between striking and taking kamae should not be slow, but should not be a quick snap.  They should be done at a good pace but feel heavy while doing it, and we should have a feeling of still pushing forward with the kamae even when we do not have the sword directly in front of us.  One thing jumped into the forefront of my mind when I heard this, and that was "seme".  The way that I've been interpreting this is to mean that within the kata themselves there should always be an almost physical pressure emanating from your center and from your sword, no matter which kamae you take.  Even when you aren't moving forward or physically pressing forward, your partner should feel as though you are, and when tested your kamae should be strong and not easily collapsed o…

Determination

I received some really good news last week, which pertains to one of my goals for this year.  I have been recommended to test for nidan at the next regional shinsa, which will be in March.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity and I feel that all of the training and instruction I've received from my sensei and my dojo mates has prepared me for it.  It also made me stop and think about where my kendo was, is, and where it's going.  I started kendo in May of 2009 and four years later I'm here, standing on the edge of nidan.  It's been a wild ride, for sure, and I've put in countless hours of practice, both inside and outside of the dojo.  I don't think I've done anything spectacular, though.  Quite the opposite.  I think most of what I have now is from my sensei and his instruction and encouragement, and from the other dojo members pushing me to do my best, even when I didn't know exactly what my best was.  The one thing I will admit to having a lot of …