Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Layers and Curtains

Kendo is an interesting art.  There's not much to it, physically.  The footwork and attacks are all relatively simple, compared to some other martial arts out there.  There's a handful of different movements and even less targets and attacks, but all is not what it seems.  Kendo is about layers, and curtains.  You peel back one layer, peek behind another curtain, and all of a sudden there's more than you first realized.  A men strike is a men strike is a men strike, but it can mean vastly different things depending on if you are a beginner, upper kyu, or upper dan.  I love this aspect of kendo.  Easy to learn, difficult to master, and when you think you've got one thing down you discover another dimension to it which makes you see it in a whole new light and gives you more to think about and practice.

This mindset comes up to me all the time, as a lot of the advice and instruction I get are things that I've heard before.  Maybe not in the same way, but along the same lines.  It seems, though, that each time I hear it, or practice it, there's more going on.  Or there's something else to add to it to make it stronger.  When I learned to strike men, I focused only on what my hands were doing (for good or bad).  I thought about the correct structure of my swing, about hitting the target correctly and accurately, and about using tenouchi to give it that nice snappy feeling.  When I felt comfortable with that, I began to think about my body and what it was doing.  What are my feet doing when I strike?  What about my upper body?  Am I leaning?  Am I moving from my center or are my arms leading my movement?  So many new things to consider once I got down the actual motion of hitting men!  Now when I strike men, a lot of my thoughts are on my pressure on my opponent, or his/her pressure on me.  Is there an opening to be taken?  Can I create an opening from my current position?  Can I even hit them from here if given the chance, or do I have to adjust my distance?  In my own example here, I can see many, many layers that are being built upon one another to make one single men strike.  I also know that there will be many more layers added upon what I have already built in the years to come.

Layers are not only present in shinai kendo, but they also show up in the kata.  We have been studying kata again lately at the dojo and a lot of what I'm focusing on now involves distancing, timing, and my connection with my partner.  Before my mind was filled with the physical movements themselves and making sure I had those right.  Now that the basic "shape" of the kata are burned into my memory, I'm free to turn my concentration to other aspects and to explore the kata and begin making them more robust.  The kodachi kata, in particular, is where our focus has been, and I'm glad to have this time to bring them up to par with the first seven kata that I have learned and to bring them all, as a whole, up to new levels through this practice and focus on different aspects.

We've also been going over some interesting things at the dojo lately.  Not any one strike or technique in particular, but rather what happens before, during, and after.  We've been breaking these three pieces down and building them back up, and I've found that I definitely need to work on the "after" part of my attacks.  This seems to be my weakest link, due to footwork breaking down, or my kiai ending too early, etc.  I'll try and remember this in the coming weeks so I can really focus on it.  Next up, I would say that my "during" needs some work, as I'm not always as accurate as I'd like to be.  Also I still need to work on relaxing and using strength right at the very end, like Stroud Sensei has shown me a couple times now.  I've done a lot to build up my kamae, and the "before" my attack, so I feel like at this point that is my strongest area.  At least for now, for where I'm at in my training.  I'm looking forward to breaking it down and building it up again once I get to that next layer, or when I pull back that next curtain to reveal what's waiting behind it.

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