Wednesday, April 23, 2014

UW Taikai 2014: Fighting Fire With Fire

This past weekend our club participated in the University of Washington 38th Annual Invitational Kendo Taikai, and all throughout the day we managed to show strong kendo.  This year we had the smallest group from our club that I think I've ever seen; only four of us went to compete.  We ended up having to borrow a fifth person to complete our team, and he turned out to be a great asset.  I would like to say thank you to S. DeBlieck from Sno-King for fighting with us this weekend!

We started out with our usual tradition of driving over on Friday, and were in time for a bit of training at Bellevue with the locals there.  They have such a large group at their dojo, it was wonderful to practice with so many new faces!  This time I came away with fewer bruises and injuries than the last time I practiced there, so I was grateful for that.  After a late night of Telemundo with my dojo mates, I finally got some rest in.

We awoke early on Saturday, ate, and then headed to the college.  As usual, opening ceremonies were early but my division didn't start until well into the afternoon so I had a few hours to kill. I was able to witness some great matches in the Women's Open division, and the Sandan division, watching and rooting for a couple of my dojo mates that were fighting there.  Time came and went, and finally I was up for my division.

I actually got moved around a bit due to some drops, so I ended up facing a guy in my first round that I'd fought previously at PNKF.  Last time I fought him, we went into encho at 1-1, where I finally scored on his kote.  This time I was going to do my best and hopefully not push it to the edge like that.  The match started and we exchanged some blows.  He was fast, but I felt like I controlled the distance pretty well.  My first point came when I missed on a kote and he lifted to block his men, at which point I slammed his kote once more.  We reset and fought again, with him very nearly landing a men on me partway through, but I was able to come out victorious with another kote, although I didn't hear the call and continued to fight until they stopped us.  My first match was in the bag, and my nerves were starting to calm down a bit.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

My next match, funny enough, was with another guy I fought from PNKF.  Unfortunately our last match did not have a happy ending for me, as I lost 1-0 to a quick men that he hit off the line.  I knew what to expect so I was a bit better prepared,but he was still fast and very good so I definitely had my hands full.  The match started and he came at me with a quick kote-men.  I tried to take his kote but came down on the wrong side of his shinai and he pressed forward, so a quick step to the side kept me out of harm's way of his attack.  He continued to press his attacks, and I pressed my own, but at one point he was able to take a point against me after I failed to take his kote.  We reset, but the rest of the battle was downhill for me.  I tried, hard, to take that point back, but he was too quick with his blocks and counters, neutralizing everything I threw at him.  The match ended, and unfortunately so did my run in the division.

Final Score: 1-0 (A. Lee)

Well, I lost.  Losing isn't so bad, though.  I received some valuable advice from Stroud Sensei, who was the shimpan of my match with Lee.  I'll definitely be using it to fix some issues that he saw in my technique.  I was able to catch some great matches in the 1-2 Dan division, as well as the 4 Dan+ division, before the team matches started. A bit of lunch refreshment, and renewed focus, and I was ready for some team action!

I was placed as senpo (1st out) on my team, and our first match was against Cascade.  I hate to say it, but I never caught the name of my opponent, but she was a small, fast sandan from Tokyo that was fighting for Cascade's team.  I resolved myself to come out strong for my team and set the bar in spirit and energy so that the rest of my team could follow suit.  We bowed in, and the match started.  She came in attacking, but I think I did a pretty good job of getting in and out as best I could, while also keeping my own attacks up and keeping her on alert.  We fought for a while before I was able to land a debana kote to take the first point.  We reset and almost immediately I parried her kote strike with a kote-men of my own to take the point and the match.  The rest of my team fought very well, as well, and in the end we came out victorious.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz
Team Score: 3-1 (Spokane)

Our next opponents were a strong team from Highline, and we all knew we definitely had our work cut out for us.  But we are also a a tough team, in our own right, and have a great team dynamic and level of spirit.  Hopefully this would help overcome the pure technical skill and experience we were about to face in the Highline team.  We bowed in, and I found myself starting a match with an opponent that I've never fought before - one of the DeJong girls.  I knew that she came from a kendo family, with all of them being extremely strong, as well as smart, fighters.  I might have been physically stronger, and had a bit of reach advantage, but this was not going to be a walk in the park.  the match started and we sized each other up for a bit before unleashing our attacks against each other.  I had to stay on my toes, because every little opening that she thought she saw, she went for.  This led to many close calls and raised flags on her part, but I did my best to fend her off while trying to deliver attacks of my own.  The first point came about halfway through the match, when I waved off her kote and delivered a strike to her men.  We reset, and for me the next 90 seconds felt like an eternity.  I did my best to try and take the second point, or at least hold onto my lead without giving it up, although she didn't make that task easy at all.  When the time was finally called, I let out a huge mental sigh of relief as I walked back to the line to bow out.  The rest of my teammates did an awesome job of fending off their opponents, and in the end we came out on top.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 3-0 (Spokane)

After a short break to re-arrange and get suited up again, we found ourselves facing our next opponents - Team Vancouver.  This team included not only a former Canadian national team member, but the winner of the 1-2 Dan division, and a couple others that medaled in their respective divisions, including my previous opponent that I'd lost to that day.  And guess what?  He was going to be my opponent again.  As I walked to the line and bowed in, I prepared myself for another tough match.  One that I would hopefully not lose again.  The match started and I came out firing.  I felt faster, better than I'd fought him previously, but this didn't do me any good.  He nearly turned it up even more on his end, and soon took my kote for the first point.  We reset and I fought hard, again, outdoing myself again, but it was not meant to be.  I pressured in and went for a kote-men, but he was too quick and slammed my kote to take another point and the match.  The rest of my team fought extremely well, but unfortunately this was the end of the line for us.  But, this was also the semi-final match, and we'd placed in the top three for teams that day!

Final Score: 2-0 (A. Lee)
Team Score: 2-0 (Vancouver) 

Vancouver went on to have a stellar match in the finals against Steveston, but they walked off the courts the winners of the day, taking first place.  For myself, I was very proud of how we did, and noted that since I started attending this specific tournament, this is the best we've done as a team.  We all had some great matches, and we all learned a lot.  I definitely learned that I cannot fight fire with fire, as in I can't hope to win against someone that's faster and technically better than me by trying to go faster myself.  I need to learn to fight smarter against people like that, and since that day I've received some good advice and feedback on what I can work on for next time I'm in that situation.  I'm definitely looking forward to putting all of this new advice and observations to good use at practice.  Until next time, UW!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Benefits of Solo Training

I was a little divided on what I should write, because I have a few ideas going through my head.  A lot has been going on lately, much of which has involved me running the main class.  It's been fun, exciting, and kinda challenging on my part, but I think I did well.  I definitely talk a lot.  What little knowledge of kendo and techniques that I possess, I try to pass on when I teach.  It's not much, but I do my best and I think all of the people that were in on my classes had fun and I hope they learned a bit in the process.

Recently, I have been focusing a lot on my "secret lunch training."  These are times when I go to the dojo, during my lunch break from work, and work on things by myself.  I do fully understand that kendo requires tutelage in a dojo setting, but I also believe that time spent practicing on your own is very valuable.  Since my home dynamics have changed and my time in the dojo has been cut down a little bit, I'm finding other ways to try and compensate for that, and that involves taking advice from my sensei and my senpai and putting it to good use, and practice, during my lunch breaks.  I mainly focus on footwork, with suburi thrown in at the end.  It's my goal to improve my footwork and my joint and body health through this, as well as refine what I already know.

I've found that practicing by myself is very relaxing, and can be very rewarding.  I'm free of any distractions that come, and I'm able to go at my own pace and work on whatever I would like, although I've been keeping it in the realm of movements and techniques that blend together, and things that we work on during regular training times.  We have a few dummies, as well, and they provide a nice target for men and do (unfortunately no kote yet, as they don't have forearms).  In particular, with them I've been working on pressuring in and hitting men.  Small men, big men, anything, as well as doing some basic strikes to try and work the proper muscles a bit more. 

One of the big things that I ran across lately, almost by accident, was that my grip was too tight.  I don't know if it was because I was focusing on my footwork and body posture at the time, but a couple of weeks ago I looked down at my hands and noticed that they were holding a very tight grip on the shinai, which was causing my arms and shoulders to tense up.  I played around with the idea of "no sword," in which I put the shinai down and went through all of the motions of striking without it.  I then picked my shinai back up, made sure I was nice and relaxed and had a nice relaxed grip, and then tried to mimic the feeling of striking that I had without the shinai.  I found that when I would strike with that relaxed feeling, as if the shinai weren't there, and then used proper tenouchi at the end, my strikes were more crisp and had a better feel to them than I was doing previously.  Go figure, proper tenouchi helps! 

I'm definitely a proponent of at-home training, and training on your own.  As long as it's done in a way that is best for you.  I would never tell a beginner to go home and practice for thirty minutes, but instead to focus on one piece of class that we went over that day and maybe try it out for five minutes or so, in a slow and controlled manner.  At-home training can consist of whatever is good and proper for the level of experience that you are currently at.  For me, it means heading to the dojo and refining what I already know and what I've been taught and advised to do, and it's definitely beginning to show improvement in my overall kendo.  I can move better, I believe I have a better posture, and I'm more confident with my techniques.  I hope to open the door to even more improvement as time goes on.