Ever since I passed sandan last year, I've been thinking "what's next?" I'm always trying to look forward and see what I have to improve, what I have to do, to get to the next level. I believe that kendo is a lifelong journey; one that never ends. So I try to reflect that in my training. I can find small victories in breakthroughs I make, or fixing problems that I had, but I always want to keep looking forward and looking how to improve even more. My thoughts since the sandan shinsa have revolved around "what do I need for yondan," or, more specifically, "What do I need to be the best yondan I can be, so that when the time comes to test again I can show everyone that I'm already there." It's never too early to start preparing for the future, right?
After talking with Sinclair Sensei, I've received more insight on my hip/shoulder dip issue, so now I'm going back to the drawing board with my footwork. I have a tendency have too narrow a stance, and that is causing my hips to turn, which then puts more pressure on them as I move and which then leads to me turning/dipping my shoulder. So, all of these issues are stemming from that one point and I know I'll definitely need to fix that for the test (immediate goal) and for the rest of my kendo training (long-term goal). A beautiful stance and posture is important to me so I've been taking extra time when I can to work on this, almost going back to the basics with my footwork and concentrating on widening out my stance and squaring my hips. It's slow-going but I'm starting to feel a little more comfy with the wide stance. I should clarify, though, that "wide" doesn't mean uncomfortably so. I have very broad shoulders and so my stance has to adjust to match that.
Another thing I've been working on, and this was actually even before my sandan test, was moving and striking with purpose. I've never been one to attack without thinking about it, as I've mentioned before, but I really want to refine that and make sure that everything I'm doing has a purpose. This is a another step in me eliminating wasted movement in my technique. Why should I move or strike if there was nothing behind it? If someone were to ask me why I stepped to the side, or why I pressed in, or why I went for men/kote/etc, I should have an immediate answer for them. I'm not there yet, not even close, but this is often my focus during training. During drills I always try and think about what I'm doing and try to do it to the best of my ability, and make sure each strike "counts" during multiple strike drills. Likewise in jigeiko. This has led to me being struck more often than before, but that's ok. If my partner hits me twelve times and I only hit them once or twice because I was focusing on this skill I'm ok with that. That's why we practice, right?
As far as actual techniques, I've been trying to take some of the strikes and movements and techniques that I'm terrible at right now and purposely practice them more. I'm hoping to take some of those weaknesses I have and, in time, turn them into strengths. I've always believed in being well-rounded and to do that I need to be comfortable using a variety of techniques at a moment's notice. I've also been talking with Ando Sensei about some specifics which, for now, I'll keep to myself. I have to have some secrets.
So, while nothing life-changing or awe-inspiring has been happening lately, its ok. I understand that the grind is part of the process, and hopefully sooner or later others will start seeing the fruits of my grinding labor. And, honestly, if you can't learn to love the grind then you are going to have a bad time with whatever it is you pursue.