It started with hiki waza. I'll be the first to admit, my hiki waza is not great, and I definitely need to work on it. This last week or so I've been focusing on hiki waza as much as I can. Something occurred to me, though, as I would strike and fly back, only to reset and do it again. Most of my strikes were not hitting the target, and even when they did they were sloppy. Too shallow, too soft, no snap to them. It was like I was just flinging my shinai out there and hoping it would hit. I finally figured out what I was doing that was so wrong. I was going too fast.
Now, I'm of the belief that there is no such thing as too fast in kendo, but on the flip side of that the speed that's generated needs to be natural. It needs to be effortless, and that only comes through training and training and training (in my opinion). What I was doing was trying to force "unnatural" speed into my technique, which was totally wrecking it. I was setting myself up for failure from the beginning without even realizing it. I then stepped back up and focused on just doing proper technique without any unnatural speed injected into it and I was able to hit the target, and hit it well, the majority of attempts. The strike was still plenty quick enough, but it was the natural speed that I had built into it by practicing it for all of these years. So, in addition to the things that I'm currently focusing on, I have a renewed focus on not trying to produce artificial speed and just let the natural speed that I've created carry my techniques through. This doesn't mean that I don't think there's a time and place for pushing myself and trying to be as fast and quick as possible; there definitely is, and it's always good to push those boundaries occasionally to see how far I've progressed. My main focus will be on the techniques themselves and not on the speed, and try to be more conscious of it going forward. Again, funny how things that I've heard and known about choose to hit me right in the face when I am ready to acknowledge them!
In other kendo news, we've been doing a lot of shinpan practice at our dojo lately. It's a nice shift and good to refresh what I know about being a shinpan and also cover some new ground with it. Also I'm glad for the practice, because my shinpan skills are lacking at the moment. It's definitely a new world! Not only do I have to move as a unit with other people, but I have to pay attention to the commands and my body posture and how I use the flags and, oh yeah, there are competitors on the floor that I'm watching, too! Some advice that we've gotten that's really helped me is to put ourselves in the match, with the competitors. This helps immensely when I'm trying to keep and eye on both participants and watch for points and issues that arise. One thing that I've tried to stay consistent at, personally, is making a decision. If I am going to fail, I want to fail with confidence. This is definitely something I need more practice at, but I feel good about the base I've developed so far, however basic it may be.
So, in closing, being a shinpan is hard! There are so many new things to think about and consider and learn, on top of actually having to call the points and penalties fairly and accurately. As far as my kendo goes, the unnatural speed is wrecking my technique in a lot of ways. Whether I'm doing it on purpose or unintentionally, it's something that I'll need to eliminate in order to let my best shine through. There is a time and place for going all out and trying to push the speed limit, but in everyday practice I'll try and build that speed naturally from now on so that it's as much as a comfortable part of the technique as everything else.