Thursday, January 31, 2013

"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 or unsettled.  This is a great lesson from kata that can be taken directly into shinai kendo, and it's one that I want to try and work on more.

I have not always been so mindful of my own kamae.  Sure, I know how to place my feet into a proper stance and keep my body upright in a good posture and how to hold my sword correctly, but after that I've had a nasty habit of forgetting about it and letting my muscle memory take over.  Kamae is not only a physical position or stance, but also a mental one, and I need to remember this and improve it so that I am always ready to attack an opening or counter-attack when someone moves in to strike.  Also being more mindful will help me to keep my kamae from collapsing while also making it stronger and more effective.  I need to have that heaviness translate into all of my drills and jigeiko.  I believe if I can do this I'll see a lot of improvement in my own kendo.

I might have mentioned that recently I've felt pretty good at practice.  It feels like things are finally coming together and clicking, and that techniques I use are working better and better every day.  I'm on the edge of a breakthrough and just need to keep pushing myself to get there.  My posture feels a lot better these days, as does snapping up my back foot after fumikomi.  They still need work, but I can tell I've made improvements recently.  I'm also still working to eliminate the excess movement in my strikes, especially my men strike, and again it still needs work but it's coming along nicely.  As far as actual techniques I've been working on kote-men a lot lately, trying to polish it up and make it not only usable but effective.  We'll see if I get a chance to use it later on down the road.

Just over a month until I test for nidan.  I'm definitely super-excited for that opportunity, and I hope I do a good job on that day.  If I keep practicing and pushing myself like I have been I'm sure things will turn out well for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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 is determination.  I'm very good at pushing myself even when I don't necessarily feel like doing kendo or going to class, and (for good and bad) I'm able to keep telling myself "just one more drill, just one more round, just one more..." even at times when I'm physically drained and exhausted.  I believe that part of me, coupled with the great dojo that I'm a part of, is what has brought me to where I am today, and what will take me to even greater heights in the future.

As far as actual practice goes, we've been working a lot on kodachi kata 1, breaking it down to its basic movements while also getting used to handling the kodachi.  It's a very awkward feeling for me, going from my bokuto down to the kodachi.  The way you hold it, the footwork and kamae all feel weird to me right now, but on the other hand I'll have plenty of time to practice and improve!  This bit of time with the kodachi has been the main focus of our practices lately (for the yudansha, at least).  I love learning new things, especially when they're related to kendo.  The rest of practice has been a mix of kirikaeshi, uchikomi, jigeiko, and endurance drills.  One of the main things we've been told to focus on there is making our practice count.  In other words, make our uchikomi drills feel like our hits in jigeiko, or in shiai-geiko.  They should, ultimately be one in the same, which goes along with our motto of "Train like you fight, fight like you train." 

Ever since I got the news that I can test I've been trying to actively step it up at practice.  I don't know why this would have been the catalyst to start me on my way, but something inside me said "Ok Chris, this is starting to get serious," and since then I've been trying to keep that a focus as I'm out on the floor.  What I want is to bring together what I know at this point so that it all works together, and keep building from there.  This goes along with my goals of refinement and beauty that I set for myself at the beginning of this year.  So far I feel like the quality of my practice has improved and I'm not only doing better with the drills and with jigeiko, but I'm also pushing myself to improve, even if it's just a little bit each practice.  It's definitely an exciting feeling.  I still mess up all the time, but the focus is there, and so is the determination.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Spokane Kendo 2013 - Refinement and Beauty

Photo by G. Hoover
2012 was a great year for our dojo, and for me and my kendo training.  I had some bumps along the way but I feel like I accomplished so much throughout the year.  I earned my shodan rank!  I pushed myself more and more in my training and began refining and improving my kendo even more.  I was able to take part in some truly epic matches in various tournaments throughout the year, with some very good people that pushed me to my limits.  I also made a bunch of new friends along the way, and many lasting memories that will stay with me long into my life.

We had our last practice of the year last night.  A short, sweet practice that was open to all members in all of our classes.  It ended up mostly being the advanced guys (and girls) but we had a couple of kids from the intermediate class join us. They show so much potential it's unbelievable!  When I see them train it makes me wish I had the opportunity to start that young, but at the same time it also pushed me to do the best I can.  What I lack in years of experience and practice on the floor I try to make up with strategy, good basics, and good technique.  It's served me well so far!  Even though we had a short practice, it was brutal.  We were pushed hard by Sinclair Sensei to throw everything we had left into that 90 minutes and end the year on a high note, and did we ever do that!  By the end of practice I was exhausted, aching, and ready to lie down and die.  But I made it through, sore knee and all!

As we transition into the new year, I feel that the overall focus I want my kendo to have is one of refinement and beauty.  Refinement through continuous training, and through breaking down and building up my techniques, better and better each time.  Much like the hardening and tempering of a blade to make it tough, durable and deadly.  I've always had an attitude of wanting to improve by any means that I can, and now that I've been around for some years I've had some very efficient training techniques given to me which I hope to use more this year.  By the end of 2013 I want to look back and see a dramatic difference in the quality and efficiency of my techniques.

With refinement comes my second goal - beauty.  I have always been told that I have pretty nice form when I strike or move, and I want to continue to keep that and improve it as I train.  There are some things I do, some attacks or techniques, that are still rough around the edges and pretty "ugly" but hopefully this year I will make a significant dent and start to form even those techniques into things of beauty.  Part of this will come from using my hips and center more to drive my body.  How I move when I step, how I move when I attack, and not letting my upper body take over, which causes me to lean and wrecks my posture.  Other than that I want to continue eliminating the wasted movement in my strikes.

I truly believe that I can achieve these goals, if I continue to work with my same motivation and desire to improve, along with the training techniques that Sinclair Sensei has taught me.  A few of my other goals for this year, kendo-wise, include passing my nidan test sometime during the year, and also continuing to exercise and improve my body and my endurance.  I did a great job with it last year, I think, and now that Sensei has helped me with my eating habits I feel like the improvement is going to be even more this year.  It just take discipline and determination.  I will see these goals through to the end, and 2013 is going to be a great year of improvement!