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.