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 should be smooth, quick and snappy, and there should be a lot of small steps instead of a few large steps, if that makes sense. While these have been a killer on my hips, I can see progress being made and improvement when I'm doing other drills. Also, the hips don't seem to be keeping me out for long these days. I do have to step out every once in a while to stretch them, especially after our intense footwork drills lately, but I'm usually ready to go again a rotation or two later. As long as I keep on top of them at the dojo and at home I hope to get rid of all the pain and soreness one of these days, just like I did with my shins.
Technique-wise, I'm still ironing out my kote, as well as working on some new oji waza. I'd like to take some of those techniques that I'm not good at and shy away from and turn them into strengths. I definitely don't have a shortage of techniques to work on, either! Along with the footwork and techniques, I've also been working on being more explosive, especially when I strike and move past my partners. I was recently given a bit of insight by one of my dojo mates, and have been using it to give my follow-through a completely different feel. It's hard work, but it will be worth it when I can start doing it without even thinking.
I was able to talk to my sensei a couple weeks ago about what it means to be nidan in our dojo, and some ideas on where to take my kendo at this point. One of the points that came up again was my endurance and conditioning, especially my joint health (see hips, above). While still a weak point for me, I've been working to improve it by running and exercising outside of the dojo, as well as changing my eating habits a few months ago (still hit or miss on that one, but it's better these days). I was also given some suggestions on how to help my breathing in practice, because I have noticed for a while now that my breathing is very inefficient and definitely detracts from my performance at practice. It's nice to have all these things to work on and keep me busy!
Our next tournament, the UW Taikai, is just over a week away. I don't know if I'll have anything shocking and head-turning under my belt by that time, but I can feel the improvements in myself. Little by little, step by step, that's how this lifelong journey will go, and someday I'll look back and realize that I just climbed a mountain with all those little steps.