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.