Thursday, February 28, 2013

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 encouraging words when needed.  And I have to thank my sensei for their instruction and for bringing out the best I have to offer. I wouldn't be where I am now without them.

Last night's practice was a bit different.  We started off with a local shinsa, in which a lot of our newer members were able to test.  We had both kids and adults, men and women, testing for ranks from 10 kyu up to 5 kyu.  Kyu, for anyone that might not know, are ranks below the black belt level (dan ranks).  One big thing that I noticed is that everyone had great spirit and kiai, and all of them did great with the basics.  Full swings, keeping the left hand in the center, etc.  Even the kids were doing great with these points, which was awesome to see.  Oh, and I also got to be on the judging panel, which was new for me.  I noticed as we went up through the ranks that the level of kendo presented rose.  Timing became more synchronized.  Swings were faster, cuts were sharper, footwork was a bit more refined.  Again, very refreshing to see, and great job to everyone last night because they all ended up passing.

After the shinsa we had open floor, and we used the time for jigeiko.  We grabbed partners and did over an hour of jigeiko, and in that time I had many great rounds with my friends and partners, and learned a lot during that time.  I tried to just focus on doing the best kendo that I had, because that's what I'm planning on doing at the shinsa on Saturday.  I worked on making my own strikes sharp and defined, and making my timing as perfect as I could, and keeping my footwork crisp and snappy.  I had a few good hits, and a few misses, but all throughout I never gave up and kept my focus.  I still have a ton to work on, but for now I feel good about where I'm at with my training. 

I can feel the sun setting on this chapter of my kendo journey.  I had a great year at shodan, but the end of this chapter marks the beginning of a new one.  I am hopeful and positive and will work to make this new chapter the best that I can.  I'm looking forward for what's in store for me in the future.

Friday, February 15, 2013

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 where I just haven't been into it, and it's been physically noticeable a few times, but these days I do try to be mindful of it.  I try to keep my own spirit high because it not only helps me to overcome any "blah" feelings I might have at the time, but it also helps all of my training partners throughout the night.

To touch back on what I mentioned earlier, spirit is not only shown through our kiai, but in our movements and attacks.  I try to make each drill as real as I can, because I know this is the best way for my partners to practice.  If they are not used to people coming at them will full force and speed in practice, how will they be used to it when they face someone in a match?  Or at testing?  I do understand that training with people way below my rank and experience requires a bit of finesse and slowing down on my part, but even then I still try to keep it someone challenging for them without being impossible (a skill unto its own!).

One of the simple joys that I find at practice is when the lower kyus, especially the younger children that I train with, actually kiai back with full force and push me to improve.  So not only does my spirit benefit people below me in rank and age, but their spirit actually helps to lift me up and perform better, as well!  If we can continue to focus on this, I think training as a whole will vastly improve for everyone that shows up.

On a different note, I have been thinking a lot about one of my big goals, which is to put forth my best effort to make the regional team that goes to the US national kendo tournament next year.  I've had a chance to take another step in making this a reality.  I decided to start team training at our dojo.  This will not only be an extra training session for me every week, but a commitment to do my best and go above and beyond where I'm at right now with my kendo.  I know it will be very difficult, and I might even hate it at times, but deep down I also know that if I really want to have a chance at making the PNKF team, this is where to start.  Through team training I hope to improve my kendo above what I might even be expecting out of myself, and to learn a lot more about training and discipline that I can apply to the rest of my life.  It will be hard work, but I'm excited to see where this training will take me.