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.