Everyone lined up promptly to start class. Seiza. We all shift down to our seated positions. Mokuso. Quietude. I'm thinking of what I want to make of this night of practice, clearing my mind of everything but the training to come. Bows to the front and to each other before taking our weapons and readying for warmups. It's akin to waiting on the starting blocks for the big race to start. Outwardly people are relaxed. Inside, though...
We're suited up, ready to go after warmups and suburi. Bow to the front, bow to each other. Everyone takes their place in sonkyo. Swords drawn, bodies and minds focused. Hajime! We start with kirikaeshi and a familiar sound pierces the halls as he lifts his swords up to kamae. Up to jodan. A familiar site for a lot of us, but a new one for some others. He might not have had his bogu and nafuda, but the kiai, the stance, the movement was unmistakable. Kuster Sensei was in the dojo.
One of my best and oldest kendo friends, he moved to Japan a little over a year ago to continue his life after school and start some new chapters. he taught me a lot when I first started at the dojo, between the time that we spent on the floor and the times outside of training. I carry that advice and feedback and training that he gave me in everything I do now and since he left I've been working to cultivate and grow it into even more.
We didn't do much as far as variety of drills, but it didn't matter. Everyone gave their all and then some, and it was amazing to be in that environment. Even when people started getting tired, all of the energy they were receiving from their partners pushed them to go harder, to give a little more and to stay on the floor a bit longer. It was a pleasure to square off with him in jigeiko and then later in shiai geiko. I'm still rubbish at striking his kote, but I stepped in and went for it with more confidence than I used to have. I got pretty close, too, but never quite there. I still have to work on that. He seemed more grounded than before. Scarier. He was actively analyzing me as we fought and using it to his advantage. This was great to fight against during jigeiko, where I would try and use that to stay a step or two ahead (it didn't work, but it was fun!), but it was scary to go against during shiai geiko when one misstep on my part would give him just the opening he needed. We fought to a tie but I'm sure if we'd been going in regular shiai he would have easily won had it come down to hantei (judge's decision).
I'll do my best to take the night of training and work on it going forward. It was a pleasure to see Kuster Sensei again, have some training and relax afterward with him and some other friends, and it gave me some new ideas on what to work on for myself and for looking forward through this year to my upcoming test for 4 dan next year. I'll also be working on keeping that spirit going. I know it's easy to ride that high spirit after big events, such as a taikai or a seminar, but it's just as easy to burn out after a short while. I'll try and do my best to have that spirit at each and every practice, to push myself and my partners just a bit more and to hopefully receive that in return. I'm confident that when Kuster Sensei returns again we'll blow the roof off of the dojo once more!