|Photo courtesy of J. Fugitt|
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 and over. In this way we can keep kata fresh and exciting. If we let our minds become lazy then we will not be able to progress, and kata will become a boring exercise that is only required for shinsa. There is much to be learned through kata, if we only take the time to focus and study.
The same idea can be applied to the rest of our kendo. Same window, different visual. How many times during practice do we perform a men strike? 20? 50? I'm guessing at least a couple of hundred times. Each of those is an opportunity to make our strike better than before and to examine and contemplate our strengths and weaknesses. Yet a lot of times I find myself just going through the motions. Sometimes it's on purpose and I just want to let my technique be what it is and do kendo at that time, but other times I'm blindly doing the drills and my mind isn't on anything in particular. I need to tighten that up a bit and work to always be mindful. In this way, with this kind of focus, I can continue to find new and interesting aspects of my techniques and can better work to fix them.
Lately I've been working a lot on my footwork, trying to keep my feet in a good position so I can attack at any time, and trying to keep myself alert, especially during jigeiko. Sinclair Sensei touched on some points last night about being alert and ready, especially physically. Your posture and balance play into this a lot, and he emphasized the need to turn and be ready after a strike so that you can attack or counter as necessary. We should turn and be ready immediately, which means one step back into kamae while keeping good balance. We should also turn and not lose focus, bringing our shinai around into a good position while keeping our mind open to look for an opening or opportunity to strike. His words, as always, helped me a lot since I'd been doing a little bit of that myself lately, especially the turning and immediately being ready.
I've really felt solid during jigeiko these past few weeks. I don't know if it's from the extra team training I've been doing or my emphasis and bringing everything together and trying to attack with purpose, but whatever it is I feel like it's been working for me. I have a lot more confidence when I fight, and I'm able to pick up on openings a bit better than before. Plus I'm making my own openings, even on people at my own level, which is a great feeling. I hope to continue this and break it down even more so I can see what is the catalyst behind this improvement.
Kata and keiko go hand-in-hand, and each can benefit from the other. If we are willing to put in the time and effort, there's and endless array of things to learn and interpretations to be had from each one. Same window, different visual.