Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 126-127

Day 126:

Today was the day of the balloon kendo event we planned on having last class, but it got pushed back to today. We tied a normal balloon on top of the men-gane and then we tried something new. We took one of the long, thin balloons and tied it around the right kote. The objective is to pop a balloon on your opponent. This shows you scored a point and you advance. Obviously, the balloons would not stay in place. They flop and bounce all over, making it hard to strike. The result is that it was a lot of fun, chasing the balloons all over the place. It made a fitting end for the year with a lot of laughter and exploded balloon fragments all over the floor. During one of my matches, my partner whacked me it my right elbow while trying to strike doh. It hurt, but I recovered.

After the balloon tournament, we broke into ji-geiko. My next partner was very enthusiastic. She would wait until I tried to strike men, and then she would launch into a doh counterattack. She was fast enough that she kept closing distance before I did, which means my elbow was struck three more times in the exact same spot. After the last time, I called a halt and stepped out. I had to stop before I got hurt. I spent the rest of class cleaning up the dojo floor of all the debris and helping to close up the hall for the night.

Day 127:

Today was back to normal for Kendo. I showed up on time for advanced class only to find out there was only four people there. I dressed, stretched, and joined the group. We concentrated on kote strikes for the most part today. I found that when I slowed down to take my time in taking center, then I hit more often. We also practiced kiri-kaeshi a few times, both giving and receiving.

After that, we did some practices matches and then received criticism afterwards. It was very helpful to know what we may do wrong when we aren’t thinking about it. We also practiced some new drills to help in matches. These drills would be like tricks or occasional techniques to help sway the flow of combat.

For example, if you are stuck at tsuba-zeriai try to take a step back and knock your opponent’s shinai away. In a continuation of the action, trace a kind of circle in the air to bring your shinai back to center and then down for hiki-man strike all in one fluid motion. It’s more difficult to do than it sounds.

Another trick is how to counter a hiki-men strike against you. Wait until your opponent attempts to move first. He will perform hiki-men and you counter by moving your shinai up like in jo-dan kamae. Immediately after you block the strike, you stride forward, pushing him backwards while you bring your shinai down and strike men. This is a little simpler to do than the other trick, but it takes practice.

We also practiced pressing the advantage by striking men repeatedly over and over while our opponent moves backwards and forwards the whole length of the court. It teaches us to never stop and to never think “I’m done”. You never think that until the shinpan-cho calls you to stop. Once, Sensei placed his shinai above his head in a purely defensive block (holding it horizontal above his head) and placed his kote down on his hip. He was testing to me to see if I would at least try to strike something. Not only did I try, I did strike his lowered kote with a good strike. He praised me for the attempt and even more for the good strike. The secret is not to think about it so much. Yes, you see the target. Yes, you plan for it. Yes, you try it. However, you do not stare at the target. Instead, you establish maai and then “believe” you can hit it. It really works with practice.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 124-125

Day 124:

Today class was cancelled because the organization which owns the dojo property is closed due to inclement weather.

Day 125:

Today was the re-scheduled event of potluck dinner after practice as a holiday tradition of the dojo. I brought in a pasta dish with creamy sauce. But first it was practice.

Sensei actually asked me to lead the class in warm-ups and suburi, even though there was another student much higher-ranking than me. We did a quick, abbreviated warm-up and then all of us higher-ranking students put on full bogu.

We did a kind of mini-advanced class where the higher-ranked people stood on the Dan side and did not rotate. Sensei would call out a drill and the lower-ranking students would rotate through each of us doing whatever drill was called. There was a lot of men strike, kote strike, and doh strike. A few times students would perform kiri-kaeshi. This time the younger students actually did it right instead of two half-runs like they did last time. Everybody is getting better as time goes by.

Afterwards we all shared dinner brought by everyone. Some people brought Japanese food like daifuku, a kind of sweet dessert that’s a rice patty filled with bean paste. Others brought common American food.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 122-123

Day 122:

My wrists are just about totally healed. I’m going to beginner class to just work them into shape before going back to advanced class. Today was just about the easiest class for me ever. After stretches and suburi, I put on full bogu and became the target for the beginner students for the whole class.

Today was all about teaching everyone to maintain maai and look for the opportunity to strike. We did a drill where I would take a single step in any direction I chose. The student would then counter-step to keep maai. We did that for a couple of rotations, and then changed the drill a little. I would take three steps in any direction I chose, and then give an opening for men. The student would have to counter-step with me three times and then strike men.

After a couple of rotations of that, then we shortened it to a single step and then the opening. The final drill was a kind of one-sided keiko where I would give an opening of my choosing, and then the student would attack me according to the opening. After they passed by and used zanshin, I would make another opening. We would do this for thirty seconds and rotate.

At the end of class, I decided not to work my wrists any more to see how they would react. Another of the advanced students taught me a wrist-strengthening exercise to get them back in shape. He suggested doing it rapidly for a hundred times and then rest. Repeat up to four more times in a day to make them stronger. I think I’ll try it.

Day 123:

Today my wrists felt better, but they were stiff. I decided to show up for beginner class and work them into shape. Those wrist strengthening exercises really made them sore, so I should take it easy with them. Maybe once my wrists can handle it, I should use some free weights to do simple wrist strengthening exercises.

Once again, I was the target for the class, along with the other advanced students. Sensei was actually late today, probably because of his job. The sempai today actually asked me if he should go ahead and start the class on time or wait. I told him to start on time, so we did.

He led us in stretches and suburi. He actually chanted in a kind of singing voice that was very pleasant. He should lead the opening more often.

Sesnei did show up and he instructed us to make two lines. The dan side was anyone who had full bogu, including me. The other side was everyone else. We did kiri-kaeshi drills over and over. The students seemed really awkward doing the drills, so I gave them some advice, like keeping their left hand straight up and down instead of letting it drift side to side.

One of the students really seemed to lose her breath quickly in bogu and it reminded me of myself, so I gave her encouragement about pacing herself.

I actually stayed for advanced class afterwards. Instead of the hardcore practice we would normally do, it was just more of the beginner class with more difficult drills. I actually got to strike more often this time, so I could flex my wrists. Afterwards, they seemed almost normal now. I think I’ll keep working them and show up for advanced class from now on. Except for next week. We’re going to have balloon kendo and potluck dinner, show I’ll show up early there, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 120-121

Day 120:

My wrists felt much better, so I went to the beginner class. Sensei was there as his training for his new job was finished. We practiced one-step men and kote-men a lot.

Sensei was teaching us to be smoother when performing such actions instead of in a hurry to impress our opponents. He also reminded us to take center before moving or else we will miss every time.

Day 121:

Today Head Sensei showed up. After our stretches, he oversaw the drills. He was very interested in making us strike kote today. He wanted to see the kote strike done right. Kiai, step into range, take center, strike, then lift the shinai up and to the left, and then pass through with zanshin.

One lesson he taught was that if we lined up properly, then we should not look at the target. If we look at the target, then our aim will drift too low, similar to striking doh. He said we needed to “believe” that we can hit the target without looking at it. When we did as he instructed, it went a lot easier.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 118-119

Day 118:

Today sensei could not attend practice. He got a new job and he told us he would be spending a lot of time training. So, the class was run by a pair of sempai today. They ran the beginner class and the advanced class. Today we practiced men-uchi and kote-uchi today. We did a lot of strikes like you would do for promotional testing. We even worked up into kote-men strikes. The big lesson today was working some oji-waza (like a parry-riposte combo).

We learned to watch our opponent and time our movements correctly so that we deflect their strike and counterattack. For example, we learned to do men-suriage-men. We wait until their shinai is coming down, then we deflect their sword using the right side of our sword, then we strike men. One problem I’ve noticed is that if you take a big step doing this drill, then you run into your opponent while missing the target. It may be best just to not move at all or maybe just a tiny step forward. You also need to swing your shinai very fast to strike your opponent.

I also spent a lot of time being the target for a student who does not have bogu. Even though I was mostly out of breath by the end of class, I volunteered to give him lots of practice so he doesn’t feel like he’s wasting his money. Besides, even though I follow his movements and give openings, I can catch my breath while helping him.

Day 119--

I decided to skip class today because my wrists were hurting again. Maybe I pushed myself too hard in the last class. I did notice that my center was drifting as I got tired.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 116-117

Day 116:

Today, we just practiced some basics. Kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and one-step kote. We did mix in a little doh and tai-atari, but it was just men and kiri-kaeshi the whole time.

There was a visitor today, although he did not have a zekken. He had to be a dan from the way he moved and struck crisply.

I learned that my doh strike does not start right. My left fist should raise up center and come down center. I have been waving both fists to the right . Maybe this will make my doh strike easier.

Day 117:

Today was a day of hard work. We did seemingly endless bouts of kiri-kaeshi and one-step men. There was only Sensei and three of us, so we rotated quickly.

I was shown over and over that I tend to lose focus as thus do not always take center. This is why I often miss when trying to strike kote. We also did a lot of doh practice. I think my doh strike is okay, but getting a better maai will improve it.

One of the beginner students was with us and I wound up spending a lot of time coaching her in striking me as well as a one-sided keiko. I would say a target and she would strike it. I noticed that she also tended to not take center very often, and I commented on it. She was grateful and did as I asked. When she did, she struck much better.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 114-115

Day 114:

I am going back to class again even though my wrists bothered me all weekend. I’m trying to not push myself too hard but I’m also trying to not let them grow stiff. I took some medicine to help with the pain and then I just went to beginner class.

It actually happened! I always like to be prepared, so I often think ‘what would happen if…’ and then plan it out. However, I really wasn’t expecting to be the highest-ranking student present. Sensei had some things to take care of and then put bogu on, so he asked me to lead the class in warm-ups.

I stood in the place that is customarily taken by Sempai (whoever is leading) and I gave the orders to warm up. I led the class in the simple opening ceremony, I warmed up the class with stretches, and then I led them in practice swinging. I nearly forgot more stretches and swinging but I powered through. The routine that I had tucked away in my mind for just this occasion failed to be pulled up from my mind. So, I did the best I could and it was good enough.

After warm-ups, I led the class in a formal rei-hou. With the way we do things now, I’m not sure if I did it perfectly, but I did it with respect. I did it seiretsu, seiza, moksuo, shomen, and sensei. It seemed to be good enough for Sensei.

After we finished, Sensei led us in some exercises about striking kote. He told us to keep looking him in the eyes and we will hit the target. Then he had us practice doh, still looking in the eyes. He altered the drill a little so that we strike kote and doh just as he moves his shinai just a little. I was slow, but I kept practicing.

At the end of class, I decided to go home. No sense in pushing my luck with my wrists. I have plenty of time to heal before the next tournament.

Day 115:

Sensei was not here tonight as he had private business to attend to that could not be put off for another time. Instead, he asked Sempai to teach the class. We started with warm-ups and then had a very standard class full of basic strikes. He was teaching the beginners to work up to a proper one-step strike for men, kote, and doh. It was good practice for me to sharpen my skills.

I was gratified when Sempai would use me as a target dummy to illustrate his examples. It makes me feel useful when I help out, even in small ways. After the end of class, I had to leave to prepare for an early shift at work the next morning.

My wrists seem mostly healed now. Maybe I should go back to advanced class to prepare for the next tournament next month.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 112-113

Day 112:

No class since I am injured. Sprained wrists again.

Day 113:

Today I am back to class. I decided to go to the beginner class to work my wrists back into shape before going back to the advanced class. While the advanced students were putting on bogu, Sensei had us practice kote strikes. We would kiai, strike, pass through, and repeat for a total of three times. I felt good doing such a simple drill. I really flew in my movement and I was very loud in my kiai. Sensei even made a point of using me as an example of kiai.

After that drill, he asked me to put kote on. He used me as a partner in explaining kote strikes and debana strikes. I was glad to help, even though the speed of Sensei’s shinai made me look very slow. After that, the advanced students came out and we did kiri-kaeshi for the rest of class. I was trying to catch my breath but I was not completely out of breath. During the drill, Sempai instructed me that during kiri-kaeshi, I should move my opponent not with my arms but with my body. My arms should be loose and ready to strike.

I continued to use the wide swings that the visiting Sensei instructed me to use. It looks flashier and it really does work well in striking sayu-men. I just need to keep practicing and get my targeting down well. I also need to keep flexing my wrists slowly but surely to get back into shape. It was good that I rested, but now I should be exercising them and not let them get stiff.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 110-111

Day 110:

No class since I am injured. Sprained wrists again.

Day 111:

No class since I am injured. Sprained wrists again.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 108-109

Day 108:

Today Head Sensei was here and did he ever work us hard. We seemed to do endless iterations of kiri-kaeshi to get it right. After that, it was a series of drills that were variations on the theme of menouchi. We would do five men strikes and then let our partner do five men strikes. We would sometimes have it where the lesser-ranking partner would do five men strikes and then both would do five times aiouchi-men. Over and over we did this.

Eventually, Head Sensei would teach us “attacking kote” strikes. A “defensive kote” strike would be hiki-kote. Here, we would learn the forward-motion kote. We learned to make a smaller up-and-down motion to clear our opponent’s shinai and then we keep a forward motion while striking kote. We then step into our opponent to close the distance and keep them from counter-attacking us. We pull our shinai and arms to the left and back a little when we come in to stand face-to-face with our opponent.

I finally lost the last of my breath and had to sit down. I drank some water from my water bottle and relaxed for a bit. After a few minutes, I put my men and kote back on and got back into line. Then we would mix up what we did in line. Sometimes we would strike men and pass through. Sometimes we would strike kote. Sometimes we would strike kote-debana-men. When I got back to sensei in line, he told me that I was not flexing my right wrist as much as I should. If my right wrist is too stiff then I rob myself of reach. I started flexing it and got a little more reach for men strike. He had me do multiple kote strikes and men strikes to practice flexing and one-step charging into my opponent.

After that, I was exhausted again with no breath. I had to stop. I took off men and kote and just sat out the rest of class. My endurance must be improving because my heart does not hurt when I push myself. Still, having no breath makes my kendo sloppy and my shinai drift off-center. The class did keiko for a while and then Head Sensei showed us something new. It was called “kakari-geiko”. The teacher would give a slight opening and the student would immediately attack the opening with no counterattacking from the teacher. Once the student attacked, he either passed by or charged into the teacher and retreated. Immediately the teacher gives another opening and the student immediately attacks again. This goes on over and over very fast until the student is completely exhausted. This is meant to teach the student to strike any suki he sees without thinking and push the limits of his endurance. It looks like fun, but I’d want to be rested before I would try it.

Day 109:

Today was a lot of men strikes. We were practicing our one-step men hits for most of the class. Head Sensei reminded us that we attack with our spirits first by doing kiai. Second, we attack with our bodies by stepping forward. Finally, we attack with our swords by swinging.

We did a lot of drills where the dans would line up on one side of the dojo and the kyus would go from line to line, forming a two-person deep waiting line if need be and just keep going. Very efficient.

Today a few students from another dojo came to practice with us, including my former sempai. During a kiri-kaeshi drill, she reminded me that when performing kiri-kaeshi, each men strike should be “pretty” like it was the only men strike you should do. I think she was telling me to slow down and get the strikes right first before speeding up.

Also, my current sempai (who just got promoted to nidan this past weekend) did a trick where he would offensively flinch multiple ways to throw me off guard. It worked. My brain locked up and I went defensive. He explained to me that if someone does that, I should just attack because they are wide open.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 106-107.5

Day 106:

Today was the day we train hard for the tournament. We started off by doing kiri-kaeshi and one-step waza drills. We also added a lot of drills where we start off together at issoku-no-maai. One side would start a strike and the other side would try to strike debana against them. For example, my partner would try to strike men, but I would be expected to strike kote-debana-men against her. It was a good drill.

We put on a free-form tournament where we would arrange fights between various people that sensei would put together. We also formed a four-person team match. It was good to see everyone’s fighting style and fight against several other people.

We also took turns being shinpan. It will be a long time before we will need to learn to be shinpan, but the early training is good. We even learned how to rotate positions. We really dug in to learn about how to put on a tournament.

Day 107:

Today sensei wanted to have an easy day in preparation for the tournament. He says that he used to train extra hard right before a tournament, but then he would be too tired to do his best.

So today we did kiri-kaeshi and then just a few waza. We actually filled half of the class doing kata. I practiced the first three kata over and over, trying to get it perfect. I still make mistakes and my movements are jerky and blocky, but I am learning.

We had a part where everybody would pair off and would do kata as if they were doing the promotional test. It was called so sudden that I was taken off-guard. I had my bokken in the wrong hand and I messed up the opening stance for the first kata because I did not know which part I would play. Overall, I looked very foolish but nobody laughed. When it was over I watched others pair up and do kata, including a pair that did seven kata together.

Day 107.5:

Today is the day of the regional championships. Our dojo and another one are the ones running it. My part was to carry some boxes of tournament supplies to the building and then help set them up. There were approximately 250 kendoka there competing. That does not even count the number of supporters and family present. It was huge. Everybody was assigned to a court to help run it. There were six courts all running matches simultaneously. It was a good thing that we were inside a huge indoor track building with a clear middle area that housed over four basketball courts.

First, we put on the youth division A, B, and C. Also, we put on the women’s division A and B. I was helping court C with the youth division. I was recruited to learn how to keep score. At first I messed up tallying the score since I added up the points vertically. You should always add up points horizontally since that’s how it’s set up to be done.

When that was done, it was time for mudansha division, which is mine. I stayed to help for a little while, but then it was time for me to get ready. Someone filled in for me while I put on men and kote.

When it was time for me to fight, I made sure to step in like I was taught. Many people just don’t seem to take the bowing-in or bowing-out ceremony very seriously. I’m not sure how the shinpan view this, if at all. When I started, I decided to try kote-debana-men against my opponent, who seemed full of energy. He seemed to have his strategy, which was to fake step forward and flash an opening. He wanted me to strike it while he would try to debana my attack. I tried to play his game back on him and make him open his men. Many times I would try to strike his men, but he retreated too fast for me. For all his speed, he was awkward and clumsy. His strikes would not be good until he got a lucky kote strike against me. We went until time ran out and then the judges gave him the victory 1-0. I suppose I have only myself to blame for not trying something different the entire match.

After that, there was an interruption as they decided to play a match that had been delayed before. After that, I stepped in for my second match but my opponent did not show up. I was given a zero-point victory. I don’t feel good about that, but I have no room for argument.

After that, I was eliminated since someone in my bracket had two victories. In fact, it was the one who defeated me who wound up winning the entire mudansha division. That’s becoming a habit with me to lose to the champion. I wonder if the universe is telling me something.

Once mudansha was finished, it was time for lunch. Lunch wasn’t very good this time. It was a good ham sandwich wrap, but the tomatoes tasted off and there was mayo on it. Well, I had a good apple and bag of chips. The sports drink was free so I have nothing to complain about.

I stayed at my court to help out some more as we put on the shodan/nidan division and then the sandan and above divisions. This time I was the one to loudly proclaim the current match and upcoming match. I would call out names and colors of ribbons to be put on them.

When the sandan and above circuit was finished for court C, I went and collected my equipment to be ready for the team match. When we got our team together, our sempai assigned ranks. I got taisho again, which made me smile. She didn’t want taisho even thought she is ikkyu. She took the fourth position.

When we started, we found out quickly that our opposing team was the ‘A’ team and we were the ‘B’ team. My own opponent was very, very good. I don’t know his rank but if he was less than shodan I would be surprised. We all got ‘killed’ with a score of 2-0 against us, every one. It was not fun at all, but the other team won fair and square. After that, I volunteered to go from court to court helping out with impromptu sessions and there were many, many teams. I went from timekeeper to tying on ribbons to calling out matches. It was chaos. However, we got it all done and on time to clear out of the building on our deadline.

After a brief bowing out ceremony, I changed and took my stuff out to my car. I also came back in to help gather up our leftover stuff and take the boxes that I brought in back with me home. I’ll give them back to sensei next practice.

Overall, it was not my best effort. I did try my best, but I’m sure that if I just did my Kendo more calmly then I would have done better. I’m still not happy with my only win as the result of a forfeit.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 104-105

Day 104:

This lesson was all about the center. Consider a vertical line that splits your opponent in half. This is the center line. Before you attack, you must always take the center line. Because two opponents always face each other, their center lines match up. This means that only one kendoka can have their shinai in the center line. The other is pushed out of the way. The one who has the center line is the one who will strike the target if they attack. We spent some time performing kiri-kaeshi and then we practiced pushing each other’s shinai out of the way to strike kote. Kote is much easier to hit if you take the center for yourself.

During the center line drills, I cut my toe on an exposed nail in the floor. I mentioned it to the group and Sensei made mental plans to speak to the people responsible for maintaining the building. They will have to drive in the nail and cover it up to avoid anyone else getting more seriously injured than I was.

Sensei had to leave class after it was mostly over to conduct the club’s business. One of the senior students ran the class. We practiced some men strikes and then did keiko. After the keiko, we paired up and did kata. I specifically chose my partner because he did not yet own a bokken and he had not really studied kata before. I took my shinai and taught him the first two kata, both uchidachi and shidachi. It was enjoyable to teach another person what I knew. He will definitely learn the kata well with practice.

Day 105:

Today the Guest Sensei showed up again. We practiced more with taking the center and striking. Most of the time I would be paired with a student who was not in bogu, so I had to be the target. Often the student would be rushing and miss the target, whether it be men or kote. I had to tell them to slow down and take center before moving in. The advice worked.

Occasionally, our rotations would get out of sequence and I would spar with others. When I would practice with Guest Sensei, I would strike him and then pass by and strike while retreating. I was enjoying practicing hiki-men and hiki-doh. He told me to not rely so much on multiple strikes. To impress the shinpan, I only needed to strike once and pass through. I guess he’s right. I should only use hiki strikes when my initial strike fails.

There was a segment where we did keiko after keiko. I did two in a row and began getting really tired. Then I was scheduled to keiko with Guest Sensei. I did not want to show him that I was a quitter. So even when I was breathing hard, I did keiko with him. After time passed, I felt weak and ready to pass out. Still, I pushed forward and kept fighting. After it was over, I bowed out and left the floor to sit and rest near the equipment bags.

After a while of watching more keiko, it was time for kata. I paired up with someone who would be testing for ikkyu, so we did the first three kata over and over. I learned to refine my second kata by making sure to take a diagonal step back rather than take a sideways step back if I am shidachi. I wasn’t aware I was taking a side step, but it would explain why I automatically swing the bokken a little circular style (to avoid hitting my partner’s shinai).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 102-103

Day 102:

Today we practiced getting our men strikes and kote strikes for perfectly. It was important to judge our distance and timing correctly. It led up to the drill for kote-men to show it all coming together. Whenever I would be teamed up with a student who was not in bogu, I would be the target always while they did the drill twice.

Head Sensei was here today, although he was not in uniform. Instead, he would lecture us and correct us during our drills. He even came up with a drill that is “one side act as if this next one kote strike is for promotional, the other side receive”. The side he pointed out would perform the drill once and then he would tell everyone if they passed or failed and why. Most of the time, we failed. He explained that we failed because we would not kiai loud enough or that we rushed without seeing or making an opening. We had to be smooth in our execution and that includes not looking rushed or harried. We did this for men and kote strikes.

Afterwards, we did a lot of kata. Sensei was trying to get everyone who was testing to be ready for the kata test. Most people were testing for shodan or higher, so I was teamed up with someone who was practicing the first five kata.

I have been looking for a treadmill for a while now and I finally got one. It’s used and cheap, but it still works fine. I need to oil the rollers and then work up some kind of schedule to exercise on it regularly to build up my endurance.

Day 103:

Today we had a special guest. He was a sensei from another dojo that we are friends with in another county. He came over to practice with us. This reminds me of a philosophy that I read in the Definitive Kendo book Sensei recommended. I forget what it is called but it is reminiscent of the practice of travelling to kenjutsu dojos across Japan in the feudal period to see how other schools practiced the art of swordsmanship. Nowadays sensei and students often ask permission to attend a class or two in a different dojo out of friendship and learning with the understanding that they may be expected to reciprocate.

I learned a lot from Guest Sensei today. He was very vocal about doing things the proper way the first time no matter how low-ranking you were. Normally, I do kiri-kaeshi almost vertically with slight sideways deviation to the men on the downstrike. Instead, he told me to exaggerate the motion to it comes in at 45 degrees all the way. It took me a couple of tries to get it right but I started doing a much wider and clearer sayu-men motion. He even held his shinai out to bock me if I did not widen my arc of strike until I got it right.

Guest Sensei also taught me how to finish the motion for hiki-men and hiki-kote properly. When you perform hiki-men, you raise your arms up as if in jodan while backing up. This protects your kote as you retreat. When you perform hiki-kote, you pull your arms back towards your body and off to the left as you retreat. I think this protects kote and part of your men as you back up. You also kiai as you retreat so you can call attention to your strike so the shinpan may award you a point in a match.

The fourth kata is difficult for the shidachi. When you parry the tsuki, you must simultaneously move the opponent’s blade aside as well as rotate the bokken upside down. Your left arm actually goes higher than your head. In one fluid motion, you also ‘windmill’ the sword to strike your opponent’s men in the center. You also take a diagonal step left and forward to take the proper distance.

I notice that I wasn’t completely out of breath during class and I didn’t need to have to stop. I came close once after training with Guest Sensei, but after it was over I had enough time to recover before sparring with Sensei. I think all these weeks of Kendo training after the seminar are paying off. Now if I can get in the habit of walking on that treadmill regularly, maybe I can increase it further.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 100-101.5

Day 100:

Today we practiced an abbreviated opening ceremony in the advanced class. After that, we lined up to practice kiri-kaeshi over and over, trying to get it right. One of the beginner students stayed for the advanced class. Because there were four of us, plus sensei, I wound up paired with him over and over. He would perform men strikes multiple times to practice getting them right.

As the night went on, we practiced kata. I love kata. I was teamed up with someone close to my rank and we practiced the first three kata. I was really rusty since I was on vacation. I had to practice the third kata over and over to get the footwork right. When you are uchidachi, your recovery footwork after the tsuki seems opposite to when you are shidachi. The uchidachi must move right-left-right while the shidachi must move left-right-left-right-left. (I hope I got that right, it’s still confusing.)

Day 101:

We did the full opening ceremony today. I like the opening ceremony. It’s simple, yet profound. This time we did a little kiri-kaeshi and then aiuchi-men. We were trying to practice reacting to our opponent’s movement. After that, we would do a little ji-geiko for practice.

After that, it was more kata. I love kata. Although, today was different for choice of partners. Everyone was going to test for shodan, nidan, or ikkyu. I was far behind them and they had to practice several kata for testing. Eventually, sensei told me to rotate in with the two people who were testing for ikkyu. I watched them do the first five kata and then I rotated in for each of them to practice the same.

The one who I would displace would tutor me in their role. I did the first two kata just fine and needed a little instruction on the third. Then I needed full instruction on the fourth and fifth.

The fourth kata is a very intense one where sensei says you can really have “fire in your eyes”. The uchidachi goes into hasso and shidachi goes into waki-game. Both bokken clash overhead and are brought down to eye-level. The uchidachi attempts to tsuki and the shidachi rotates the bokken like a windmill and takes a diagonal step leftward to strike shomen.

The fifth one is thankfully a simple one that is a refinement of the first kata. The shidachi uses a different chudan to perform men-suriage-men on the uchidachi’s bokken. Each of my partners were practicing hard to pass their promotional later this month.

Sensei says they should be ready to test. A little refinement and they will do well.

Day 101.5:

Today we actually hosted a demonstration of Kendo and Iaido at my local firehouse. Today was the 75th anniversary of the firehouse’s founding. There were clubs and social groups from all over the town and surrounding areas as well as our club and another bare-handed martial arts dojo. We only had 20 minutes to show off both Kendo and Iaido to the crowd.

We had some of the beginner students show men strikes and doh strikes in a line just like in class. One of the advanced students would perform kote and men strikes on sensei who had on no bogu (he blocked with his shinai). Myself and another advanced student would demonstrate kiri-kaeshi and a short ji-geiko for 30 seconds. I didn’t use my full assertiveness and let him strike me a few times. The purpose was to make both of us look good while showing the onlookers what good spirit we had. We even did the proper bowing in and bowing out ceremony for the match, which really pleased the crowd.

Sensei says we will be giving another demonstration to another place in town. I can’t wait to show up and ji-geiko again for a crowd.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 96-99

Day 96:

My wrists seem to be healed nicely from the seminar. I think I’m just about ready to go back to the advanced class. I think I’ll finish this week in the beginner class sharpening my waza and then go on my vacation. Today I spent the entire class assisting sensei as he taught the beginners how to do one-step strikes leading up to kiri-kaeshi. I skipped warm-ups to put on full bogu.

Sensei took a brief opportunity during warm-ups to delegate the warm-ups to one of the sempai. Instead, Sensei showed me the basics of debana strikes and let me practice kote-debana-men and men-debana-men on him. I think this was his way of filling in some instruction my way since he knew he would use me all class to help others train instead of getting more training for just myself. The class would take turns striking men on me and then striking kote on me. Eventually, sensei would lead up to having the class practice one round of kiri-kaeshi on me (instead of the normal two rounds for a full drill).

The Head Sensei showed up close to the end of class and gave me the advice that if people were not hitting too hard then I should skip the step where I would block their strikes with my sword. I can understand this as it lets them get used to striking sayu-men on target. He even performed an example of kiri-kaeshi at his full speed, which was blindingly fast. I could just barely keep up. I did remain calm, however. I think that was the important part. However, at the end of class I felt the beginnings of such a headache. I can appreciate my teachers taking those same lumps for me, letting me learn at their expense.

Day 97:

This class was fully delegated to the sempai from last class. I think he is a shodan and getting ready to test for nidan. I think Sensei delegated the entire class to him as training to get him ready to be able to teach a class himself one day. That’s a great idea. Sempai led us in warm-ups and then started in with waza. He suited up in full bogu and we took turns doing simple one-step strikes on him.

Eventually we went up to kote-men strikes by the end of class. It was a good class. Now I think I’m ready to go back to advanced classes after my vacation. I really need to rest after the horribly hectic work schedule in the past few weeks.

Day 98-99:

No class because I am on vacation.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 94-95

Day 94:

No class as it is a holiday.

Day 95:

Today sensei did not show up. He had some business of his own to take care of. Normally, some schools would not have class but in Kendo, we train to all eventually take over the role of instructor. One of the sempai naturally filled in and taught the class. She led us through warm-ups, footwork drills, and then waza.

Even after the beginner class was over, there were three advanced students who stayed for the advanced class. They just naturally moved into a logical pattern of rotating positions to train with each other to maximize efficiency. One of the great things about Kendo is that we all learn to move like a machine. This speeds up training and makes sure everyone has a chance to practice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 92-93

Day 92:

Today I attended the basic class and was reminded about how I am not in the best of shape. Warm-ups caused my breath to leave me and my heart to pound loudly. Still, it was a good workout.

We concentrated on footwork this time. We did a lot of basic footwork to work up to a full haya-suburi to teach proper stance. We then practiced men strike over and over while charging across the floor. We practiced kote strike while charging across the floor. Then we practiced kote-men while charging across the floor. All of this was leading up to the class practicing men, kote, kote-men drills to finish the class.

It was a good practice and a good workout. I decided not to push myself too hard for the advanced class and I went home. I may need the workout, but previous doctors have told me that pushing your heart too hard too often is not a good thing. So I decided to pace myself. I want to make shodan, not hurt myself.

Day 93:

No class as I am working late at my job.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 90-91

Day 90:

I went back to class today, fearful of my wrists. Today they are sore but not “hurting”, so I think it’s time to go to class. I have trouble sorting out the difference between “sprained and needs rest” and the condition of “healed and needs flexing”. Granted they both sting like crazy but the latter condition is the one we all hope for with good wishes. Today I was not wrong. It was the right time to go back to class.

At the beginning of class, I was the only advanced student present. After warm-ups, sensei asked me to put on men and kote. For the entire class, I was the training target. The students would line up and take turns practicing any drill sensei asked them. The students would strike men or kote, or maybe a kote-men and pass through multiple times before their turn was up. Occasionally, sensei would show us an advanced technique that he would perform. It showed us how well we could do if we kept practicing. He also gave me the occasional opportunity to practice the class’s drills on him so I would not feel left out. Sensei would also practice some incorrect strikes, including ones that were too hard. He made sure to let me prepare to receive those extra-hard strikes correctly to avoid getting hurt. The difference was obvious to the students, who tried to not hit too hard. I really like how sensei treats everyone with respect. It really keeps the attitude of the dojo light and positive.

Eventually, advanced students came filtering in one by one. They would naturally line up with the others. The difference between them and the beginner students was that many of the advanced students did not need me to give them an opening. They were also taller and I needed to keep my head up to avoid getting hit too hard. Once the beginner class was dismissed, we lined up and did the bowing out ceremony. I decided that was enough exercise to my wrists for one day. Perhaps if they get stronger quickly, I will show up at the advanced class sooner.

Day 91:

No class as I am working late at my job.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 88-89

Day 88:

I chose not to go to class today since my wrists were sprained. Last class seems to have aggravated them. I’m going to rest and then get back to it after they heal.

Day 89:

No class as I am working late at my job.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 86-87

Day 86:

Today was one of the hottest days of the year. Sensei decided to only have a little bit of full practice with shinai and bogu for fear that many would overheat. Instead, we did lots of kiri-kaeshi and then some one-step men strikes. After that, it was time for keiko. I started with my partner doing a few men strikes and kote strikes to try to get past his defenses. My partner is much better than me, so I was not completely successful. He did leave some openings for me to exploit, which I am grateful.

However, in my excitement, my Kendo footwork became sloppy. Somehow, some way I struck the fleshy part of my inside left ankle against a bony part of my right ankle. IT HURT! I thought I could go on, but I had to stop and bow out. My ankle was throbbing for several minutes and I feared I had sprained it. I took off my bogu and just flexed my ankle slowly to test it. By the time keiko was over, my ankle was much better. Sensei then called for kata. I love kata, even if it can be difficult at times. I partnered with two people who were testing for a Dan rank later this year. I actually learned the basics of kata 4 and kata 5, then we polished kata 3.

Kata 4 involves a flashy move to deflect a forward thrust while spinning the bokken around to strike shomen on your opponent. Sensei says that in this kata requires you to show “fire” in your eyes as you attempt to strike shomen. It is easy to see how this would work. It is a very impressive move. The shidachi also needs to assume the stance that requires you to hide your bokken behind your back. This requires awkward footwork and lots of space behind yourself or else you may strike something, like I kept striking a railing behind me. The blade of the bokken must dip lower than your waist, so it can be awkward.

Kata 5 is a refinement of kata 1. Instead of just stepping back, you swing your bokken up and lightly make contact with your partner’s bokken as his comes down. It shows the suriage technique, which in this case opens the men for attack. The tricky part is during the initial stance, the shidachi must angle their bokken not in a stance, but just to be ready to slice the exposed kote of the partner.

Refining kata 3 is all about the timing. The tricky part is to count out the footsteps 1-2, then 1-2-3. Counting five steps becomes confusing and will mess you up.

Day 87:

My wrists feel like they are mildly sprained, so I am not going to class. I am going to wear the braces for a bit and see if they heal faster. My wrists seem to sprain easy and heal slow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 84-85

Day 84:

Today I am very sore in the legs from the seminar. So instead of jumping right back in, I showed up to the beginner class to ease my way back into it. Today we incorporated that new suburi into the warm-up routine and it was a little bit easier this time. I still don’t know what it is called.

We went back to practicing the “one-step” strikes to get them down. In fact, we were trying to work on increasing the distance of our men strikes. It turns out that I do not even need the saki-gawa to cross the other saki-gawa in order to strike men. I can start moving from about half an inch or so distance between the saki-gawa and strike men. I still must move forward a large step in order to do this and reach to my maximum arm length.

I was very quick on my feet, which gratified me. I was worried that performing Kendo on the hard gymnasium floor would sprain my left ankle. I was a little winded by the end of practice, but not enough to bother me. Perhaps I am gaining a little more stamina as I keep training. My wrists were starting to get sore by the end of practice, so I decided not to stay for the advanced class. I will rest them during the week and see how they feel next week.

Day 85:

No class as I am working late at my job.

A Beginner's Point of View 74-83.5

Day 72-83:

These weeks went by fairly quickly. We were training extra hard to get ready for the seminar that we will be hosting soon. There will be sensei from all over our division coming to our dojo to teach a seminar on proper Kendo form and how to pass a promotional exam.

The most important thing we trained on was the “one-step men”, with some practice for “one-step kote” and “one-step doh”. The idea of “one-step” is just what the name suggests. We must establish our maai not only for the shinai, but for our footwork. We must be able to judge how far we must step to set ourselves up for a perfect strike. If we don’t step properly first, then no amount of swinging will compensate for that.

If you imagine the position of the saki-gawa if it were to drop straight onto the floor, then that would be the “one-step” position for men strike. About half of that would be the “one-step” position for a kote strike. The “one-step” position for a doh strike is more nebulous than this measurement. It is something you will have to judge for yourself and practice.

Throughout every practice, I would train hard. Still, around halfway through each practice, I would get very tired and start to lose my breath. I would try to pace myself and push my endurance. Still, I cannot make it all the way through class without stopping to rest. I’m sure others must get as breathless as myself, but I cannot keep the energy to stay working. Sometimes if I push myself so hard that my heart pounds painfully in my chest. I don’t have a heart condition, it’s just that I’m working too hard.

I feel bad when I have to stop and rest for the rest of class. Some dark part of my mind feels ashamed that the others are still working hard while I must rest. Still another part of my mind feels it is right to stop working and rest. I will not improve my Kendo if bring on a heart attack.

Even though we practiced mostly on “one-step” maai, we also practiced running a tournament match. This was good exposure for the students to know how to enter and exit the court, fight, obey shinpan, and experience real fighting as opposed to the drills. It was also very good practice for future shinpan as well.

Day 83.5:

Today was my first seminar. I remember people telling me that it’s a lot like an extra-long class. I was part of the group that showed up the previous day to lay out the gymnasium to be ready for the seminar. We spent a lot of time laying out the courts with colored tape that would be easy to pull up again when we are finished. We also set up the tables and arranged the flags and papers needed to run a tournament. Lastly, we hung up the American and Japanese flags to have a shomen.

On the day of the seminar, I showed up early and changed quickly. Last-minute details were taken care of and then people started to show up. There were five sensei from different dojos all around our division of the Kendo Federation. Some of them have traveled a very long way just to instruct us. We all started with a nice speech by the highest-ranking sensei. He was greeting us and encouraging us to show good spirit and good form. Even the other invited sensei seemed to defer to him.

Next, we all got together in a big circle and performed warm-ups. We stretched our muscles and flexed our joints for a while, all counting in unison in Japanese. You could feel the camaraderie in the air as more than just a figment of your imagination. We also did the type of stance when we would shinai-ote where instead of sonkyo we would kneel down with the left knee touching. This act shows respect for the shinai because it is our sword. I remember reading an article online about how the kenshi’s sword is treated like a modern soldier treats his rifle. It is more than just a weapon, it is “yourself”. How you treat it is how you treat yourself and your group of fellow soldiers. In fact, the article said that the kenshi’s sword is the kenshi’s “soul”. This is where most of our manners come from and it is a good lesson to learn.

Then we performed suburi. We started off doing okii-suburi and then moved into shomen suburi. While we were doing shomen suburi, the various sensei who were not leading us would walk around and correct us if we did not have perfect form. I was once told that sometimes in seminars that one sensei would move my shinai a little bit one way and then another sensei would step in and move it back. I thought that was an exaggeration, but it actually happened to me! It was really confusing until I decided to just do the suburi the way that the last sensei told me and keep doing it until I was corrected again.

We added a new suburi which I have only seen in pictures. It was one whose name I did not learn. You stand with your feet directly under your shoulders and then turn your feet outward at approximately 45 degrees. You turn your feet to whatever angle is most comfortable if you need to change then. You then hold your shinai in Jodan and then you perform two actions at once. The first action is a shomen cut straight downward until the blade is horizontal at the waist. The second action is that you crouch downward (with straight vertical backbone) until your hips are at the same level as your knees. At the end of the dual actions, you shout “MEN”! We did this many times over and over. It seemed like the group must have done 50 of them. I had to stop in the middle and rest my knees as they become a little wobbly from effort. That was a very good, yet very tough, exercise.

After some more suburi, it was time to line up. We all lined up in front of the invited sensei. Even my own sensei lined up in front of them in the student line. This day he was a student, too. We performed the opening ceremony and heard some more kind words from the highest-ranking sensei. We then put on our bogu and lined up in two very long lines. We would take turns performing various drills. Once we had finished, we would rotate. Since each line rotated, this means we would practice with every other person. Eventually, we would practice simple standing men strikes and then add in one-step drills. Eventually we worked up to performing kiri-kaeshi in full.

We took a break and then high-ranking people lined up to perform ji-geiko. Lots of people lined up to spar with the invited sensei, eager for the opportunity to test against them in this rare event. The lines were very long and I was starting to feel a tad winded. I took a short break and then lined up in short lines. I sparred with a couple of people, learning about my shortcomings. I even sparred with a younger kendoka, who was very ferocious against me. When she was frustrated, she would start swinging wildly, wasting her energy. I tried to show her some good form and she got a few good doh strikes on me. (She also deeply bruised my elbow, but that is another story.) I also sparred with my own Head Sensei, who taught me to use a better kiai. I sparred with a person I had met at my first tournament but have never fought. She is the first teacher who has ever told me to wait and study my opponent before attacking. Making an opening is good but you should never fight on your opponent’s terms. Wait until they have lapsed in their defenses and then make an opening.

We took an hour-long lunch break, which turned out to be sports drinks and sandwiches. I felt somewhat weak while eating. I felt very run down and my mood began to sink while digesting. I did not think much of it at first. After lunch it was back to ji-geiko. I felt very exhausted and was worrying about the promotional test later in the day. I knew that I was always easily winded and low in energy in class, so I did not want to appear to be weak for the test. After several minutes of being indecisive, I decided to ji-geiko at least once with a high-ranking sensei. I did not recognize half of them when they were in bogu, so I found a new line that opened and waited patiently. After the end of a long sparring match, both fighters left! This was embarrassing, so I found another line to stand in. After an extra-long sparring match, both fighters left again! My mood began to crash.

I know that negative thoughts are poison to a kenshi’s mind, but I could not help it. I felt overheated, tired, winded, and alone. I will even admit to entertaining thoughts of quitting Kendo all together. I felt very badly in general and about everything. Suddenly, I saw a line that only had one other person standing in it and a person I recognized. I decided to take the chance and waited. I did get to spar and even learned a few things about reaching for men strikes. Afterwards, I did not feel quite as bad. I decided to sit down and rest to gather energy for later. One of my classmates told me to drink some sports drink. Suddenly, I recognized how thirsty I was. So, I picked one that looked good and drank it. I drank the entire bottle in a few seconds and still felt a little bit thirsty. I didn’t want to make myself sick, so I decided to wait a bit until it was absorbed fully.

The highest-ranking sensei called an end to ji-geiko. Everyone began milling around and talking to each other. The highest-ranking sensei then called out, “It is the end of class, what are you doing?” Suddenly, everyone realized that we forgot to line up. So everyone lined up and we performed the ending ceremony. Afterwards, the various sensei would give speeches about all of the components of good Kendo. We then set up for the shinpan training. A mock tournament was started up with a few fighters on each court. The invited sensei would sometimes call a stop wherever the fighters happened to be and give the shinpan instructions. The on my court, seven fighters were chosen with myself being the seventh. This was a mistake as only six fighters would make three pairs. However, the officials at my court found a way to rotate me in.

Once the shinpan were trained, we actually put on a real mini-tournament to show how well the shinpan had learned. There was a court for the lower-ranking people and one for the higher-ranking people. In my court, we each fought in two matches against different opponents. I won my first match 2-1 by stepping in quick and striking shomen. I lost my second match 2-1 because I tried to do the same thing. My opponent saw what I was doing and laid a trap by doing men-suriage-men. My second opponent went on to win our mini-tournament. All the time, I tried to control the match. I would step quickly, tap the opposing shinai aside, and charge in. I would pass through, show zanshin, and turn around before my opponent could counterattack with my side exposed. It was a lot of fun.

Afterwards, I decided to drink another sports drink. I gulped it down in seconds again, but longer than the previous one. I felt my mood very much improved afterwards and not just due to the matches. I think that when I am too dehydrated I begin to lose a lot of my focus and positive attitude. I should try to remember to drink fluids when practicing. Still, that won’t help much if I work hard enough to make my heart pound painfully hard. Fortunately that did not happen at all today.

The final part of the seminar was the testing. We went over our normal time limit for use of the gymnasium, so we had to speed up the testing. Each kendoka would fight in keiko against two different people in their testing bracket. I was #2, so I got all of my testing out of the way early. I feel lucky about that. After my testing, I felt a little winded again so I just stood by and rested. After the test, the results were posted. I had passed! I asked for 3-Kyu and had received it. Afterwards, I was encouraged to ask the highest-ranking sensei for his impression of my performance. He said that he enjoyed my efforts very much and there was very little I did wrong. He suggested that I keep doing what I did in the test and I would do well. He also said that my coordination between my footwork and swinging needed to be a little more synchronized and that I should take one less step when passing through after a strike. I think I will try to do as he says.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 72-73

Day 72:

No class as I am working late at my job.

Day 73:

Today’s class was better than usual. We actually did a full stretching before class, including suburi. It’s getting to the point where I like the suburi better than keiko. After that, we did the bowing-in ceremony and put on men and kote. Head Sensei set up lines where we would rotate in and out performing the various drills. We did kiri-kaeshi several times and then men strikes.

After a few rotations, Head Sensei would stop us, then give an explanation of various good points of Kendo. He would explain proper distance. He would explain good posture. He explained many things that seem like little things, but they all add up to something bigger. We then set up to do drills where we would strike kote and move into tai-atari, then we would strike men and go into tai-atari. We did this over and over until the last strike, where we would pass through. Against Head Sensei, he preferred we strike him kote, men, and then doh. He wanted to see us try to strike doh well. I need to learn to reach more when striking kote, but at least I would reach when striking men.

Finally, we did keiko. In my first keiko, after a few strikes, my shinai got caught inside my partner’s shinai. It was surreal the way his bamboo staves parted to allow my whole shinai end through them. When we pulled them free, we checked our shinais over carefully. Nothing seemed to be broken, but I had tons of splinters in mine. Ever since the last tournament, I’ve started carrying sandpaper in my bogu bag. I felt very smart today for having it. I sanded out most of the splinters, just enough to be good enough for practice. However, right at that time, practice ended. During class, Sempai had told me that I was turning my left foot outward again. If I had pushed off for a fast step, I could twist my ankle painfully. I hate the Kendo walk. I can honestly see the logic behind standing in such a manner as it gives you stability and quick power, but it feels so unnatural. I’ll just have to deal with it.

Class ended with kata again. My partner and I only knew katas 1 and 2, while most everyone else also knew 3. So, we did them over and over until we were more practiced. Head Sensei gave me a pointer that said as uchidachi in the first kata, I need to lean over while striking downward for power. After all of the classes where everyone would correct me by saying not to lean over, now I have to lean over. How ironic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 70-71

Day 70:

Today was a hard day of trying to perfect men strikes. We kept learning to move our bodies before moving our swords. We also learned more about maai. When you couple motion and distance, then it all comes down to timing. Head Sensei says, “It’s all about timing. You do things in sequence. First, move the spirit by kiai. Then you move the body to the proper place to step. Finally, you move the shinai to your target. If you have good spacing, then your timing will be perfect. If you are too close or too far away, then your timing is off and it will not be a good strike.” We performed the drill where you attack men, and then follow up with a body check. On the last repetition, your partner steps aside and you pass on through. It’s still supposed to be “One Kendo”, however. You act the same in both cases.

Today I also found it difficult to adapt to different people’s way of speaking. Usually when we practice, if Sensei calls out to “form two lines”, then we all move to form two lines of equal length as closely as possible. Apparantly, when Head Sensei says to “form two lines”, he will sometimes mean that only Dans will be on one side, especially if he points out specific people. This means more often than not that the lines will not be of equal length. My misunderstanding led me to think I was supposed to fill out the far line when I wasn’t supposed to. Sempai took the time to correct me as she should, but it’s still confusing. I guess in the future I shouldn’t fill out lines unless personally told to.

We also learned some more of the finer points of kata. We learned that you do not tuck your elbows in tightly when in jodan, or else you rob yourself of power. Also, you need to move with your partner in a smooth, flowing manner. If you move in jerking motions, then you are not training your body to recognize the same Kendo as in keiko.

Day 71:

No class today as I am not feeling well.

Sensei has sent out the applications for the seminar and testing that our dojo is hosting in a couple of months. He says it’s about time I took another test. I had originally thought that my next testing would be at the tournament a couple of months past this upcoming seminar, but I’m thinking about testing at the seminar. All I need to do is pass one rank and then I’ll be poised to test again next spring. It’s a compelling idea.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 68-69

Day 68-69:

Tonight was better for Kendo. I had more endurance by a few minutes than before. I think I’m getting more in shape a little each week. Like usual, we formed two lines and did whatever drill Sensei decided. He told us to do kiri-kaeshi for three rotations. After that, we did men strikes to practice “attacking with the body”. It was an extension of the Head Sensei’s lessons on proper maai and sequence. First you semin, which is attacking with the spirit. Next you step forward, which is attacking with the body. Finally, you raise the shinai and strike, which is attacking with the sword. You must do these things in that order, which will lead to a proper strike. If you attack with the shinai first, you will be too far away to strike well. If you attack with the body first, then you may not have a suki to attack. Afterwards, we practiced kata again.

Sensei said that we’re heading towards a chance for promotional in a couple of months and those testing for ikkyu and shodan must be polished in their kata for testing. This time, we mixed it up a little. We paired off in two lines like usual. Then we would perform a kata chosen by Sensei several times. Half of the times one partner would be the uchidachi and the other would be shidachi. For the second half of the drill, the partners would switch roles. Once the drill was complete, we would rotate like in the lines for Kendo waza drills. This let us practice with different partners, which is good for us. Overall, we performed kata one and two over a dozen times each, until we got it down again, then smoothed our technique. I should probably read my book again to memorize the footwork. After the promotional is over, there will be another tournament and promotional a couple of months after this one. Perhaps after that, Sensei will start leading us in learning kata three, which is very complicated to watch and more so to do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 66-67

Day 66:

First day back to advanced class wasn’t as great as I hoped. First, I caught the tail end of the beginner class where we actually practiced the tsuki attack. One of us had an extra pad that lined the throat under the throat guard of the men. In order to perform the tsuki attack, you step in and give a light, firm forward stab to the throat and then take a step back. This was done a couple of times before we bowed out.

For the advanced class, we lined up in two lines on opposite sides of the dojo like always, then we would practice whatever Sensei would decide. The drills were good. We practiced kiri-kaeshi, men-tai-atari, kote, kote-men, and doh strikes. By now, I was winded and my heart was racing. I decided to keep going until I reached the end of the rotation when I would sit out for a shift, being the odd one out. I did this and I felt very good just resting. Too soon it seemed I was back in for the next rotation. After a practice of doh strikes, it was keiko. Our dojo is really too small to have four pairs of kendoka practicing keiko, but we did it. Soon there were pairs rotating around each other and getting in the way of everyone else. I think we have enough room for two pairs, but not four.

In my keiko, I tried to use just men strikes and practice reaching until my right arm was fully extended. I think I did well. I got a few good men strikes because of my extended reach. However, I got winded again and lost energy. I had to stop keiko and sit down. My face felt flushed and my breath was slow to come back. Sempai was walking around, looking for an opportunity to practice, so I gave her my space. By the time I was back to normal, practice was over. It was time to leave, but Sensei wasn’t done yet.

We all practiced kata for a while. I said it before and I’ll say it again. I like kata. All the intensity without getting winded. I was out or practice with kata, but the first and second ones were easy to get back into quickly. My partner and I tried to do the third kata, but we did not succeed. It was frustrating that even after Sensei showed us how to do the third kata we still could not complete it. So, at the end each pair took turns practicing the kata they knew. The lesson was that even during a rote activity like kata, each pair had a little of their own interpretation that was unique to them. It was a good instruction.

Day 67:

Today was a good day of Kendo, and by “good” I mean “hard”. We lined up and began doing kiri-kaeshi over and over and over again. It was good practice for me. Kriri-kaeshi builds good spirits and good physical fitness, which I need more of. We would do kiri-kaeshi back and forth and then we did simple men strikes. Head Sensei was present today and invented a new drill. One partner would strike men and pass through five times. Then both would strike simultaneous men and pass through five times. Then the opposite partner would strike men and pass through five times. This means we wound up on the opposite side of the dojo, but we got in many good strikes for practice.

Head Sensei spent a long time teaching us about the first step in coming forward to strike men. He taught us about the spacing, timing, and even the speed of the right foot in relation to a good men strike. If you step too far or too short, then your strike will not be with the cutting edge of the shinai. If you time your foot movement with your arm movement, then you may miss the target all together as your feet bring your target into acceptable range. The speed at which your footwork moves brings your opponent closer to you. If your speed is too slow, you will give a suki to your opponent before you take their men. The finer points of footwork and men strike take a long time to master. Once you master them, you will appear to be very much a master of men strike. Of course, by the time you master the techniques, you may be a master of men strike anyway. My own problem was pointed out to be the fact that my arms seem to move faster than my feet, especially when I get tired. So, I need to practice on stepping faster when I swing.

After getting some personal instruction from Head Sensei, I kept drilling for a short time until I was out of breath. I had to stop to rest for most of the rest of class. After drilling, we bowed out. Once again, I was asked to lead the bowing out ceremony. I messed up the command to tell everyone to take off men and kote by accidentally telling them to put them on when they already had them on. Oops.

Finally, we closed out class with more kata. It was great instruction. We focused solely on the first kata this time. We learned some of the finer points of holding the bokken and the spacing of the cuts as higher Dans would perform the kata. We also learned to keep the tension fully happening throughout the entire kata. This will show our spirit to the judges. Next practice, we will be focusing on the second kata and the finer points therein.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 64-65

Day 64:

No class because of the holiday.

Day 65:

I don’t know how, but I must have slightly sprained by left foot at the base of the big toe during last class. It’s been stiff for days and I’ve still had to walk on it. It’s been getting better slowly, but I still had to go to class with it stiff.

This should be the last time I have to stick to the beginner class exclusively to get back into the swing of things. I seemed to do fine, although halfway through class I seemed to limp from the pain of working my toe. It’s on the left foot so I use it for propelling myself forward and balancing myself going backward.

We did a lot of drills to strike, then pass on through today. It was men and pass on through, men and pass on through, and kote and pass on through. In the end, we took turns striking an advanced student on his men and passing through. Good drills.

By the end of class, my toe felt better. I guess it needed to be flexed and the lack of class on the holiday let it stiffen up. I should be fine by next week. This weekend, I need to maintain my shinai and rotate the staves.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 54-63

Day 54-61:

No class since I am injured. I feel really guilty about missing class, but I learned my lesson. Never practice Kendo with sprained wrists. Also, most definitely never go to tournament with sprained wrists. Just because you can’t feel the pain immediately does not mean you won’t suffer later.

Day 62:

Today is my first day back from being injured. My wrists have healed since last week, but I gave them an extra week to be sure. My arms are sore, but not for any reason I can figure. Maybe they were just stiff from not exercising. However, when I showed up, only sensei was present. He was performing his Iaido kata by himself. I didn’t figure it out until after I was dressed in my uniform that the other students were off taking final exams for their college degrees. When class started, it was sensei, myself, and one other student from the regular class. The rest were young beginners, not even wearing keikogi or hakama.

Sensei led us through basic warm-ups and then we would practice simple men and kote strikes. Sensei would receive kote strikes using a special wrist guard that was made of a hard plastic shell over his kote. Afterwards, he asked me to put on men and kote and receive strikes from the class. First, they strike men. Then they strike kote. Then they strike kote-men. Eventually, there would be a single, constant line of students striking kote-men over and over. My right wrist developed a slight bruise because of the repeated strikes, but that’s okay. I’m just glad my wrists are no longer sprained.

I’m also glad that class let out after the beginner class was over. I had planned to make excuses to leave the advanced class, but there was no need. I think I’ll show up for the beginner class for this week and next week to get back into the swing of things and then show up for advanced class after that. I do not plan to re-hurt myself before the next event, which should be a Kendo seminar and maybe more.

Day 63:

Sempai was back and running the beginner class. We went through the usual warm-ups and drills. We used the large mirrors so everyone could observe themselves using the Kendo walk across the room and back. We then added swinging to build up to the next drill. Once that was done, we would line up and practice basic strikes of men and kote against one of the other advanced students in full bogu. Some of the beginners were very clumsy and not confident, but that’s okay. I’m sure I was like that at the start. We would strike men and the later strike kote. A few times we struck kote-man to push ourselves further.

The important lesson today was the etiquette of the strikes. By the end of class, Sempai was insisting that we start at taito, then advance three steps, draw the shinai, kiai, strike, pass through, then turn around for chudan, put the shinai away, back up, than bow to the student we struck. This adds a little culture and proper respect to our fellow student who lets us hit them to learn. It was a good lesson.

My wrists were sore before class, so I took some over-the-counter painkiller before class and made sure to stretch out well. By the end of class, my wrists were only a little sore. I expect they will be better soon. Meanwhile, I think I’ll show up for the beginner class for the next week to keep getting back into form. I’m thinking of buying one of those stretchy wrist protectors that fit underneath the right kote to prevent bruising. I’ll do some research and think about it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 53.5

Day 53.5:

Today was the friendly invitational tournament. “Friendly” was a word used to explain that there was no cost to join. The only limitation was that there was no opportunity for testing afterwards. I still need more time to train before I can test again, but anyone else was would have been ready couldn’t test there. The whole point was to bring many different schools together and have fun competing.

Before the tournament started, there was a line to check your shinai to make sure it was safe enough to use. I had splinters that I never knew I had. When I reached into my bag, I found that I had forgot to bring the sandpaper that I planned on bringing. I nearly had to give up my shinai and borrow one from Sensei to compete! That would have really made me disappointed in myself. I was very lucky that someone else had brought along a metal tool to scrape off splinters. I thanked him very much because he did not have to loan it to me. I still had to go back in line multiple times to get all of the splinters out, but I finally got my shinai to pass. They also had these huge stickers with a unique serial code them to tell different kendoka apart. We wrapped them around our side tare flaps. At the end of the day, it felt torn paper and lots of gunk on my tare. I tried using a wet toothbrush and my thumbs to get the gunk off. I only mostly succeeded. I think I’ll need to try over and over to get it all off. I hope I don’t have to resrt to using chemicals to get the gunk off, that might remove the dark-colored dye.

This tournament was a lot of fun. Since there was no testing afterwards, then there was no real pressure. This led to a more relaxed attitude for everyone. What was different in this tournament was that there were two Mudansha divisions. There was a “3-Kyu and Below” division and a separate “1-Kyu to 2-Kyu” division. This is not what happened at the previous tournament, but this new way does seem to make the matches advance much faster.

My first opponent had a skill level equal to my own. He was also very good at hiki-men. He would often wait for me to attack, then he would perform hiki-men very fast and hit me. However, I noticed that he would not hit me with the monouchi, which is the length of the sword from saki-gawa to the naka-yui. Instead, he would hit me with the middle of the shinai, where the bamboo forms the thick knot. That is not a point, so the match would continue. In order to win, I tried using a technique that I did not do very well in class. I would start back from a step before issoku-no-maai and then step a big step forward with my right foot. I raise my shinai up and step fast with my left foot. Then I swing down while stepping with my right foot. Then I follow through with normal Kendo ashi steps while passing by. It took me three times before I landed it well enough for the judges, but when it worked it was what won the match.

My second opponent was much bigger than I was, both in height and build. He was the first opponent I’ve faced that was actually stronger than I was. I tried using the same technique, only it almost was good enough. His Kendo technique was flawless, constantly performing suriage-men and hiki-men perfect every time, except for when I would move just out of his monouchi range unexpectedly. I tried my best, but I was outfought by a much better opponent. It was like sparring with sempai. Later, I learned from his classmates that he had been studying Kumdo for 4 years and entered into this Kendo tournament without a ranking. I do not want to sound like I’m complaining, but it seems to me that he should have been put into a higher bracket, like perhaps the Shodan-Nidan division. However, he did win fair and square. He went on to win the “3-Kyu and Below” division.

Later, the last competition of the day was the Team Division. We had originally planned to have Sensei, myself, and 3 other classmates show up, which would make a full team. However, one of us had a last-minute obligation and another of us had to leave early. This left only 3 of us total for the team match. I took the 2nd position, Sensei took the 5th position of Taisho, and the remaining classmate took the 1st position. This would require us to all win our matches to continue to the next round. However, not all of us won. I won my match. My opponent was shorter and smaller than I was. My opponent’s teammates must have told him to stall for time, because he would do the same thing over and over. He would wait for me to attack, then come to tai-atari. Once I tried to step back, he would follow me everywhere. It took a combination of pushing and stepping back to gain any space. Over and over I stepped back, then charged forward to strike. Over and over my opponent would follow me to tai-atari. I used my technique of charging from long distance to move past his defenses. I eventually scored two points and won, but it was a tough fight anyway. After we lost the team match, I complimented my opponent on his defense, it really was very good.

After the divisions were done, all the schools lined up for the awards ceremony. My classmate that stayed with us took 3rd Place in the “3-Kyu and Below” Division. She got a certificate and a tenugui for a prize. Perhaps it was the size of the gym, but I was not sweating as much as I did at the previous tournament. This gym was twice as big and not quite as many participants.

I think I’m going to take a break from Kendo for a short time. I partially re-sprained my wrists again even though I was pacing myself. I’m going to give them a proper long time to heal before going back to it. I sincerely hope it will be less than 2 weeks. I don’t like missing class, but I don’t like constantly re-spraining myself because I’m in a hurry to improve my form.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 52-53

Day 52:

Today we started off without warm-ups. It’s a good thing I warm myself up automatically after putting on doh and tare before class. My wrists were hurting badly and to top it off, my right leg had a twinge of pain occasionally. I had no idea what was wrong and it worried me. However, after stretching and lining up, the pain went away. Maybe the pain was simply my muscles being stiff. If my muscles feel stiff again, I should probably try just doing stretches at home to see if that works relieving the pain.

We started off doing kiri-kaeshi with rotating partners. A good drill to work out the stiff muscles, too. We continued to do kote strikes and men strikes. By the time we were doing kote-men strikes and doh strikes, the pain was completely gone.

After that, we did keiko with rotating partners. My partners were all higher-ranking than me, so they took it easy on me. It can be a little annoying to receive that, but I can see why they do it. If they fought at their best level, they would completely frustrate me and that’s not what they’re there for. After three keiko in a row, I was out of breath. I had to stop and breathe for a few minutes. I look at the others and see how they seem to go on and on without stopping for breath and I remember how they’ve been doing this for more than one year. I’m only at about half a year of experience, so maybe I’ll gain more endurance as I practice.

During another keiko, it looked as if my nakayui was coming undone. I called a halt and inspected it. Sempai happened to be the one I was practicing with, and she inspected it also. She said that as long as it stayed kinda tied and did not overtly unravel, then I could continue. It still made me nervous. What if it unraveled during a strike and bamboo began to flex too much? Well, I decided to just pay attention to it and continue. It did not seem to unravel anymore, so I would re-tie it back home. Sempai also showed me that when I start to get out of breath, I also let my chudan drift off to the side so I am not pointed down the center line vertically like I should. I didn’t even know I was doing it. That was good to know.

We did a drill where Sensei would stand in the center and strike as Sensei declared, pass through, strike as Sensei declared, pass through, then stop. It was a fun drill. I tried to make sure that I would show ‘one Kendo’ and not vary too much. After everyone performed the drill a few times, Sensei said to keep going, but to choose our own strikes and try to succeed as he would defend and counterattack. That was also fun. Then, Sensei would rotate us to be the one in the middle receiving strikes to practice defending and counterattacking. This was the highlight of the practice. I like facing off against several different kendoka in a drill. This is what seems to really make me try to use what I’ve practiced.

There was more keiko again and only after halfway through the next one I was out of breath again. I noticed that this time, I would regain breath much more slowly than earlier. My heart was also pounding very fast. I took this as a sign to stop. I called an end to keiko and bowed out. I spent the rest of class resting and watching the others. This time, there were actually two of them practicing nito style, which is using two swords. Fighting nito is very different than fighting itto style, which is one sword. Nito has you gripping a sword in each hand and forcing you to move them together to fight and block at the same time.

At the end of class, we must all have been exhausted. We did not perform the bow out ceremony, but instead just put the dojo back in order and changed into our street clothes. Too bad, I like the bowing out ceremony.

Day 53:

I’m taking the day off to rest my wrists. They’ve been sore for a while and I want them healed before another tournament.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 50-51

Day 50:

Tonight was a lot of work. We started off doing a lot of new things. We learned a new waza that involved parrying your opponent’s shinai off to the side, then striking their men. It was called suriage waza. It’s used to deflect an enemy attack and force a suki open to attack. I did not do well at all. It seemed that every time I parried the shinai, my opponent was even with me and I could not reach out to strike. If I would reach, then I would be too close for a proper strike. Over and over I tried, but I couldn’t even hit one. When it was my turn to allow others to hit me, I did average. I needed to be told to actually try to strike men in order to let the others learn to parry me. We would change partners in accordance to our normal rotation. In rotating, we would normally rotate each position counter-clockwise, except for the sensei, who would keep his position. The one rotating next to him would walk behind Sensei to the next position.

We also added in a simple stepping maneuver to this waza. We would practice simply stepping to the left, right, or even backwards to remove ourselves from our opponent’s strike while counterattacking. I was so confused by the last waza that I kept trying to complete it during the new waza practice. It was after we rotated partners again that I saw that no one was doing the previous one. I felt foolish and changed what I was doing.

There was a drill that was new tonight. The class splits into two groups. Each group stands in a line on opposite sides of the dojo. One member stands in the middle. First one person from one side would semin, then strike men. The person in the middle would try to strike men back, then turn around to face the opposite way. One person from the new line would perform the same drill. The person in the middle would try to strike back and then turn around. Over and over, alternating lines each time, the person in the middle would maintain their composure while fending off the entire class. Both lines would speed up their attacks so the person in the middle would not get a break, thus pushing them to the limits of their endurance. We would all rotate being the one in the middle and fending off the class. When it came my turn, I was struck every time and failed to hit back most every time. My arms were just not fast. I was wondering if it was because I was slow or if I was getting tired.

We then stopped and then began lining up to practice keiko. The dojo was separated into two imaginary ‘courts’ and each one was hosted by a different instructor. My first keiko did not go well at all. I tried to use the new waza we were just practicing, but I could not land a single strike. So, after a couple of minutes, I just decided to go for quick, simple strikes. Even those did not land at all, much less properly. My opponent even lessened his Kendo to try to allow me to feel better about fighting him. Once, he even totally dropped his shinai to his side and said, “Attack me!” Immediately, my brain retorted, “It’s a trap! Don’t attack his men!” So, I tried to attack his kote and missed. At the end of keiko, he came over to tell me to be more assertive in my Kendo. I let him know that I was overanalyzing and hesitating.

My next opponent was much closer to my own level of Kendo. It was fairly even although his strikes were clearly more accurate. This was because I was out of breath while he was pacing himself. Over and over we sparred for minutes until I raised my right hand, calling for a stop. After breathing deeply a couple of times, we returned to keiko. After a couple of more minutes, I raised it again and said I had to stop. My opponent graciously accepted. When we rotated, I stepped out of both courts and just stood as straight as I could and breathed. Sensei was concerned enough to ask if I was all right. I said I was and it was only a few more minutes until the end of keiko. We had a couple of minutes to wait as we got ready for kata practice.

I like kata practice. It’s just as intense as keiko, but not taxing to the body. We practiced kata 1 and 2 over and over. My partner for kata was the same as my partner for my first keiko. He’s a tall guy with power. This time I was shidachi first, then uchidachi. The first time we did kata 1, I led with the wrong foot. When we finished, Sensei asked us how we think we did. When I mentioned my error, he was surprised that he did not see it. He gave us all pointers and then told us to rotate. This time, I did both kata much better. I still think I look awkward doing it, but that comes from being new. I will get better in time.

Sensei also said something profound tonight. He was trying to explain that we should approach tournament, testing, and keiko with the same attitude. We should not save our best Kendo for special occasions and then do something different other times. To paraphrase Sensei, “The Kendo you do at the tournament should not be different than the Kendo that you do at testing or anything else. You do not use big strikes for one and little strikes for the other. You always do the same for everything. Tournament, testing, and keiko are three different activities, but you do the same Kendo for all of them. There is only ‘one Kendo’.”

After class, I was driving back home when it occurred to me that sempai was not present in class. I was thinking about how smoothly class went and whether or not I preferred Sempai to be present in class. I then realized that most of the advice Sempai gives me is criticism while Sensei gives me mostly compliments. I decided that it was foolish to take Sempai’s comments too personally and it would have been better had been present. I need to hear both compliments and criticism or else I miss something. I should know when I do something right so I know to keep doing it that way. I also need to know when I am not doing something right so I know to correct it. I’m not sure if anyone else would understand the reference, but Sensei and Sempai are like my own Euripides and Voltaire. Euripides was a Greek playwright while Voltaire was a French philosopher. Euripides would write sympathetic comedies that attempt to reconcile human flaws. Voltaire was known for sharp criticism about controversial subjects that needed just debate. Without both, something is not said and that is tragedy. So, I will try not to let Sensei’s praise go to my head and I will try to look forward to Sempai’s comments as things that will make me better.

Day 51:

Today was a much better day for instruction. When I arrived, the beginner class was winding up. I changed into my uniform and then stretched out carefully. No sense re-pulling old wounds back open, right? After suiting up in doh and tare, I took my shinai and joined the end of the beginner class. Sensei and Sempai were forming two lines and each was teaching the class in how to strike basic strikes. There were some men and kote done, however the focus was on kote-men and doh strikes. We took turns practicing normal doh strikes and same-side-doh strikes. The proper way to strike doh is to start off exactly like a men strike, raising the shinai straight up. Then you bring the shinai down tracing like a half-heart shape to strike the side of the doh armor kinda diagonally, then holding the shinai horizontal as you pass on through.

After a while doing that, Sensei did a new drill. He stood in the center and took one student at a time. He would call out a target, and the student would strike and pass on through. Then he would turn to the same student and call out another target. The student would strike that target and pass on through. Over and over he would call out targets. Students were expected to semin, strike, pass, zanshin, and start all over with no breaks. Afterwards, Sensei revealed that he wanted to see if we were still acting under ‘one Kendo’. If we were approaching all targets in the exact same technique at the start and then finish with good form, then we had ‘one Kendo’. In other words, a men strike, a kote strike, a doh strike, and a kote-men strike should all start off looking identical.

After that, we lined up with partners to practice good basic strikes. Tonight, the advanced class was an extension of the beginner class, which is good for me. We practiced giving and receiving men strikes and kote strikes. After that, we did some keiko. My first keiko was against Sensei. I gave it my all. I tried to establish suki and then take the suki. I tried to control the match. I made sure to keep my energy up by using kiai more often. At the end of the keiko, I was out of breath and had to raise my hand. Each week, I get a little bit better with my breathing and endurance, but I still need to take the occasional break for hard practice, especially keiko. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to buy a treadmill and practice walking and running for long periods of time at home on days when I’m not going to the dojo.

When keiko was finished, it was time for more kata. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Kata is fun. All the intensity of keiko without the lack of oxygen. We practiced kata 1 over and over, trying to perfect it. I learned a few things that I was doing wrong. When you are uchidachi, you must do almost all of the movements first. The shidachi must react to you, except when they are driving you back. I also must learn to be more smooth with my movements. I have a tendency to have staccato, jerky movements. I must also learn to swing down the center all the time. If my partner appears to be too close, I sometimes tend to swing downward off to the side. I look forward to more kata practice. I could use the refining, and it’s just as fun as keiko.

For me, class ends late. So late that I seem to need to go to bed right after walking in the door. However, my body is too awake right after class. I tried something different. I took two different 30-minute naps before class to push back my body’s needed amount of sleep before work. It seems to have worked this time, so maybe I’ll make that a habit before going to class. 05:30 comes really early, you know.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Beginner's Point of View 48-49

Day 48:

I did not go to Kendo practice today because my left wrist and left ankle were still hurting from the tournament and testing. I took the day off to relax and heal.

Day 49:

Today is my first day of advanced class. I’ve seen the advanced classes before and I think I’ll enjoy them. The advanced class deals more with waza and ‘fluidity’ than the basics. Today, the head sensei was here, teaching us about stepping into our opponent to make our waza more fluid. At shodan and above levels, your Kendo is expected to be fluid as well as crisp.

The lesson was to take a single large step with the right foot to instantly bring your body to close range, while striking. Next, your left foot comes forward, followed by your right foot as you pass on through. You then use the typical suri-ashi for the act of passing on through. This is a LOT harder than it sounds. My training has always been to use suri-ashi for the entire time. Using this new footwork does make closing distance much faster, but it can lead to collision or tripping if not done right.

I was not very good at it, but I tried my best. At first, it seemed as if I was heading right for a collision head-on with my partner, only to turn slightly at the last moment. We lined up to practice one at a time, then afterwards the head sensei would have us drill in the same technique with kote-men waza. This was to push us to a higher level. The entire practice I was stumbling and trying to remember the footwork. I don’t think I did very well.

Also, sempai seemed to be either sick or in pain of some kind. She stuck it out because she wanted to learn, but we could all hear in her voice how badly off she was. Head sensei honored her wishes to stay in, but I was afraid of causing her more pain. I think in my caution conflicting with my wish to learn, I may have struck her men too hard. She bopped me on the men with her fist to demonstrate how hard I was hitting. I wasn’t even concerned about how embarrassing it looked for me. I was feeling bad for her and what she has to endure from me when she’s not well. Needless to say, I lightened my strikes for the rest of class.

It was frustrating to try this new waza. Sempai told me after class that I should continue to come to the beginner class in addition to the advanced class. I’ve already told her before that I can only come to one class per day. My job has the highest priority in my life, followed by sleeping so I can do my job. Whatever is left is devoted to Kendo. Kendo is a lot of fun, but it does not pay my mortgage. So, when there are odd days in my working schedule that grant me freedom to attend both classes in a day, I’ll do that. In the meantime, I’ll continue to come to the advanced class. Maybe I do need to sharpen a few basics, but I won’t be pushed to become better overall if I only attend the basic class.

Sensei and I had a nice, long talk after class about planning out the next segment of my Kendo journey. Technically, one is supposed to wait 90 days between testings, but we like to take a little extra time to be sure. He feels that my next testing should be in October and then apply for ni-kyu. Since I would be asking for something less than ik-kyu, the judges would be more flexible. If they felt I was not ni-kyu material, they would still promote me to san-kyu. According to sensei, the panel of judges thought that I was in the grey area between yan-kyu and san-kyu. The day of testing, I was not quite perfect, so they gave me yan-kyu. If this is true, then taking the extra time until October sounds like a good time to ask for ni-kyu. Even if I don’t get that, I should be san-kyu by then.

I’m no stranger to travelling, but the testing in October is to be in Washington D.C. I’m not so comfortable going into the big city and staying there. I’m a nervous sort, so I’m always upset at the news reports of crime. It’s still a long ways off, so I’ll deal with it when it comes. It’s not too far from my house, so maybe I can just drive there and then drive back to sleep at home. As soon as I learn exactly where it is, I’ll make more plans. Sensei says he’s planning his next testing next year, so maybe we’ll all go and cheer him on wherever that is.