Friday, December 31, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 230-231

Day 230:

Sensei didn’t show up today. I guess he got delayed at work. So, the class was the three of us Iaido students just practicing what we wish to practice. I’ve been studying my checklist of opening and closing rei steps and I think I’ve mostly got it down. All that’s left is the little touches to smooth it out, like the smoothing of the sageo at various points. By practice, it seems that sliding the saya in the ‘outer loop’ of the obi makes things easier than close to the body. I practiced the opening rei and torei once. Then, I practiced the first kata over and over more than a dozen times. I could tell what major mistakes I was making, so I would do the kata over and over to correct them. Like not bringing the toes up on my left foot soon enough and doing chiburi before switching which foot is forward. At the end of class, I practiced bowing out. I felt rushed, so I left my obi on for Kendo class. I think that may have been a mistake. I get conflicting information about whether or not to wear it, so I’ll keep wearing it. Besides, if I took it off, I’d have to re-tie the hakama.

One of the higher-ranking students took over teaching the class. I offered to warm up the class for him, and did so. I pulled a sneaky trick by doing twenty haya-suburi, and then breathing. Once the warm-ups were over, I asked if anyone was out of breath. When everyone said no, I commanded us to do thirty more haya-suburi. Sempai asked what was being done in previous classes. I told him about footwork, fumi-komi, and kiri-kaeshi. He invented drills to test our footwork and keeping of spacing. At one point, he had everybody starting to do kiri-kaeshi without men on. That made me nervous. After the first drill, I called him aside and made the suggestion. I made sure not to challenge him, but I really wasn’t comfortable letting many unranked people strike and be struck by the head without protection. Sempai thought it was a good idea. We put men on and the higher-ranking people, including myself, formed a line on one side. The others rotated through the other side while doing kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and one-step kote.

In advanced class, I decided to stay even though I had skipped dinner previously and might lose some sleep. We did a lot of one-step men strikes at first. Sempai asked what was done for advanced class, so I told him about what we were doing, which was uchi-komi. So, he started us on one-step men drills, one-step kote drills, and one-step kote-men to set us up. Then we did uchi-komi over and over. There were only four of us, so we did each drill four times. It started with me opposite Sempai and finished with me opposite Sempai. Then he would not rotate at first but introduce the next drill. I helped demonstrate each new drill before we did it. After uchi-komi, I felt really run down. The obi was causing me discomfort. I stepped out and took off men. I very slowly got my breath back, but still felt badly. I stayed out of class for the remainder while Sempai was teaching the steps to lead up to nuki-men. He was clearly not comfortable teaching the class. So, I made sure to keep track of the time for him. At the end of class, I stayed to help close up. He thanked me for helping him and watching after the students on a personal level.

Day 231:

Sensei was back today. He taught me the next step in the first kata for Iaido. He also taught me a secret tip for preparation. When rising up on my knees before the horizontal strike, I should curl up my toes on both feet. After making both cuts, I swing the iaito around to my right as if pointing towards an opponent behind me, then curl my elbow towards my temple. When doing noto, when the sword is halfway inside I lower down onto my right knee to touch the floor at the same time.

In beginner Kendo, I warmed up the class again and then put on bogu. I received for the class during kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and one-step kote drills.

In advanced Kendo, we had a surprise. Guest Sensei from Japan showed up! I didn’t expect him until next year. We did kiri-kaeshi and one-step men drills primarily. Guest Sensei didn’t make any comments when I did waza with him, so I guess I was doing it properly.

When it came to uchi-komi, Guest Sensei was giving out lots of advice, such as making sure to strike doh with enthusiasm instead of being timid. He also told me to hold my arms so that the inside edges of my elbows would point upwards instead of outwards. He explained that by doing this, I shall ‘make BIG universe’ and my strikes will be more natural. I tried it and it does seem to be more natural. It’s another way to say to hold your arms so that you could balance a beach ball while in chudan-no-kamae.

I had to step out for breath for a bit. Then people were lining up for keiko and eager to keiko with Guest Sensei. I put on men again and did keiko with an unranked student to warm up, then got in line with Guest Sensei. He made a comment that he was out of breath and I almost made a joke about planning it that way to be sneaky. I decided not to say it just to be safe. Still, even though he was out of breath, he was still better than me at keiko. I would try to make openings and make lightning strikes, but he would beat me at every opportunity. He was just so fast. He could circle his shinai around mine and strike kote before I could finish raising up for men strike. It’s hard to believe anyone could be that fast.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 228-229

Day 228:

In Iaido, we practiced the proper way to bow in and out. There are a LOT of steps to bowing in and out. A lot of them involve the proper movement of the sageo, which apparently has a specific length for just such movements. Sensei demonstrated and the other students knew the procedure. However, I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of steps. Gently parting the hakama, sliding the left hand along the saya to grip the sageo at the proper distance at the end of the saya, pulling the sageo around the right thumb, putting the saya on the floor in front of the right knee, laying the sword down, left then right hand down to bow, bow to sword but head ‘up’ as to not show the neck, right then left hand to get up, sit up, then perform the steps in reverse for the ending bow, including a confusing transition to the off-hand to bow to the judges. I really did not know what I was doing, but I did my best.

Sensei asked us as a group to perform the bowing in and out with the first kata in between. Technically, I do not know the first kata. I have seen others do it so I know what he is talking about, but he has not trained me in it yet. I was so busy concentrating on rei-hou that I counted all of the skipped steps that I forgot and even forgot to do the first kata! I chose not to be upset and just finished as best as I could. Sensei admitted it was unfair to test me like that while the beginner Kendo class was watching, but he liked that I did not panic. He told me that he has some movies of Seitei-Gata to loan me. I think I’ll make a list of steps to perform and memorize. Unlike Kendo, I can practice at least some of Iaido at home, like opening and ending rei-hou.

In beginner Kendo, I led the class in warm-ups. The instructor for the day asked me to warm-up the class slower than usual to let them stretch out better. So, I did mostly my usual regimen and included a couple of seconds between each exercise. At the end of warm-ups, Sensei decided to do an extra round of the balloon Kendo for youth that some of the students missed. I helped by receiving strikes while wearing a balloon on my men. It’s feels just as silly this year as last year. We finished beginner class with some more fumi-komi drills. The instructor would call out 1-2-3. On 1, we move into yoi. On 2, we did a men strike with fumi-komi, and held that posture. On 3, we pulled our left foot up into Kendo stance. Very awkward, but good for us.

In advanced class, we did kiri-kaeshi and men strike. We did drills which paid attention to using fumi-komi in ji-geiko. After a while, I had to step out and catch my breath. I watched the others do more fumi-komi, and then some uchi-komi. I tried to put my men back on in time for at least one turn of uchi-komi, but I was too late. We did some men strikes with many repetitions to build up endurance and then some keiko. I just naturally would make slight openings and use oji-waza during keiko. I felt I was getting smoother doing it, much more fluid. I even did a nuki-men and practiced some of my anti-jodan techniques against a nidan. He was impressed that I would be eager to face jodan. We finished with a new drill. It’s kinda like ‘kenshi-in-the-middle’, but with only three people. The outside people always initiate attacks, but the inside person always tries to win. We started off with only men strikes, then moved into kote, and then eventually into either men or kote.

Day 229:

Today was concentrating on rei-hou. Opening rei to both shomen and the sword, followed by closing rei to the sword and then to shomen. I practiced as best as I could. I’m getting better. I remembered more steps this time, but I still get confused with all of the sageo movements. I do see a pattern. When you open, you bow to the shomen first, and then to the sword. When you close, you do it in reverse. When bowing to the sword, you keep the sword horizontal and push the sageo close to the saya. You bow left hand first, then right, then bow down, keeping the head kinda ‘up’ to avoid showing the neck. When you bow to shomen, you transfer the sword from your left hand to your right, turning the blade upside down so it points to the floor, then do it in reverse. I practiced it a few times, then Sensei asked a senior student to show me the first kata. I’ve seen this done lots of times when I started Kendo because Iaido class is right before beginner Kendo. Still, I did learn new things, like exactly how to do the chiburi in totality instead of the small flick of the wrist. You bring the sword around to your right widely, holding the sword at a right angle to your arm, then bend your elbow, bringing your fist to your head, then swing the blade in an arc above your head down to your right knee. The senior student did it twice, then I tried it. I did it, but forgot to curl my toes before I swung vertically. After I finished, the senior student commented, ‘Well, if you do it like that, you’ll get shodan’. I’m pretty sure he’s not literal, but it’s a nice compliment. There’s a lot more kata to know for shodan, but I need the encouragement. We bowed out to finish class. I’m shaping up my checklist with information I researched. It’ll take a bit to finish shaping up, but it’ll be helpful.

I got my obi in the mail today. Sensei told me off-handedly how to tie it under the hakama. It felt weird and awkward, not to mention it didn’t make sense. The hakama’s back plate still gets in the way of the saya when you pull it to the side. I thought the obi would be on the outside to allow more freedom of swing, but I guess not. Sensei said the obi is to make sure the saya stays firm against the body, not to increase range of movement. I’ll have to practice tying it more.

I really didn’t feel up to a full day of Kendo today. My hips are sore for some reason and my arm still has that soreness from striking doh too hard for the old injury. I stayed for beginner class only. Today was all about kiai coupled with footwork. We did fumi-komi and suri-ashi, both forwards/backwards and sideways with a partner. Long kiai makes the pressure in my head skyrocket and I got a wicked headache quickly. I was also short of breath for over half of the class. When class was over, I just left to go home and recover.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 226-227

Day 226:

In Iaido, I practiced the same movement over and over all class. Left foot, draw horizontal, swing up and around to over the head, cut vertical, right leg back, sheathe sword, stand up, step forward. Sensei was not there as he was on travel. However, one of his students is a nidan so he instructed. There was another student who is also unranked, so the instructor split his time between the two of us. He gave me the advice to remember to keep pulling the saya backwards to correct the shoulder stopping point, although he admitted that since I do not have a proper obi it will be difficult. I put in an order for a proper obi through Sensei. When he gets back from travel he will give me the club price.

In Kendo, it was more footwork practice. I’m glad to see the footwork practice. Everyone, including me, could use more suri-ashi polishing. We did more suri-ashi, including a strange fumi-komi drill. You stay standing, swing up, then you swing down and follow the shinai into fumi-komi. You hold for a moment, then bring your left foot up to meet the right. This goes against every footwork drill with a shinai that I’ve ever done. I did not do so well with this. We also paired with a partner and forced them backwards holding chudan, then allowed them to drive us the other way. We finished with a group serpentine to tie it all together.

In advanced class, we had a guest student. He was a former classmate from one of the instructor’s college. I think they said he was ikkyu, but I’m not sure. We did lots of kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and one-step kote. The lecture today was about momentum. Striking kote and then moving the saki aside to pass by. Bumping your opponent back to take his space. Making sure to pass by and the turn around and take chudan immediately.

I had to step out because of my lack of breath. They did a full rotation of ichi-komi while I rested. I sat out for a long time, until the group itself called for a rest. I came back in for some keiko. I did fairly well, all the time trying to remember ‘eggshells’. I’m starting to think if I use my left hand to move the shinai while using the right hand only to guide it downwards, maybe I’ll do better. I even did a keiko with the new student. I think I did much better than he did because of spirit and momentum. He was no slouch for counter-attacks, but it seemed to me that he was doing the same things over and over by rote rather than improvising. He would rarely try different things, although he did trick me with a quick doh strike once. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. I’m only ikkyu after all.

Day 227:

Today was our annual Balloon Kendo tournament and potluck dinner. There was only a very abbreviated Iaido class, which I skipped. Instead, I suited up in bogu and made ready for the tournament. Both Sensei and Head Sensei were present for the occasion. Also my old Sempai and another of our former students arrived. They never miss the Balloon Tournament and potluck. We did rei-hou and then Head Sensei wanted us to put on men right away with no stretching. I was one of the first out in full bogu, so Sensei asked me to receive kiri-kaeshi from beginner students. I did this for more than half a dozen people before Sensei replaced me and told me to get in line with Head Sensei. After waiting in line, Head Sensei did keiko with me. He did not tone it down much. I was thinking and striking and passing through and baiting and trying oji-waza just to hit him. Practically nothing worked but they were close. I get the feeling that he saw it all coming but did not discourage me. Eventually, he declared ippon and we went at it. I tried fast, simple strikes, but all I could accomplish was aiouchi-men or aiouchi-kote. After a few strikes, he left himself open and I struck shomen and passed through with enthusiasm. I did a couple of kiri-kaeshi, including one with Sempai. She was saying something as I would finish each section, but there was so much noise in the dojo I couldn’t head her.

Then we did the tournament. Instead of a mock shiai, we did competitions such as having the nidans wear a balloon on their men and having students in a line try to be the first one to pop the balloon. The youth division went swiftly. The first three of the four got a prize. There were two brackets of mudansha. I was in the first. I was the second to pop the balloon so myself and another advanced. The same happened in the second bracket. The finals were four of us and I was the second done. The first mudansha popped his balloon a split second before me. We got some kind of brainteaser puzzle as a prize. Not bad. The nidans resident in the dojo had a best-of-three points shiai between the two of them. They chose not to have balloons. So, the four remaining fighters had two keikos simultaneously. It was wonderful to see. After the keikos, which lasted for two minutes, we changed out of uniform and had dinner together. I brought an entrée and a dessert. Apparently, people liked the entrée but not the dessert. Oh well.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 224-225

Day 224:

In Iaido, Sensei demonstrated for us the proper horizontal cut. We practiced the cut several times. Sensei said that the cut is for a kata where you start kneeling. If you stand, then you must slide your left foot forward first, apparently to stabilize yourself. After the cut, you swing the sword wide right and then up over your head. Grip with both hands as you bring your left foot up to your right into Kendo stance. Then cut downward to the waist while stepping forward. Sensei showed with my help that the cutting choices were based in logic. If you were kneeling with someone and needed to defend yourself, you would cut across the temples and eyes. If you missed, then you cut overhead and split the head. Also, there is a ‘path’ the blade takes when being drawn. You start by drawing the blade while it is horizontal. Half-way through, you twist the sword so it is horizontal by the time it is drawn. Sensei tells me that I am ready for an iaito instead of a bokken. Normally you wait until you are ready, but my time with Kendo gives me a boost. He has graciously offered to loan me an iaito to get used to it.

I was asked to warm up the beginner Kendo class again. I followed through with my normal routine, but at the end when we finished the breathing cooldown, I ordered the class to sonkyo. Instead of osame-to, I ordered ten more shomen suburi while in sonkyo, just like it was done back when sempai was at our dojo. When she pulled that surprise for the first time, I wondered if she was crazy. However, after getting used to it, I realized that it was a good tool for maintaining good posture in any situation. I was complimented on the choice by the head instructor.

I didn’t have time to get into bogu before class, so I participated in class without it. Today we put our shinais away and did footwork. The head instructor had us practice suri-ashi as well as fumi-komi-ashi. You lean a little more forward and stomp your right foot down onto the floor. You use your right foot to pull your left foot up, kinda like a reverse step. We did a few of these drills and then added the shinai to make the fumi-komi the same timing as a men strike. We finished beginner class with making a long, serpentine line that went through three students holding their shinais for us to hit men and pass through.

I was going to stop for the night and go home, but Head Sensei showed up! It’s a rare night he has time to show up, so I stayed. We started off doing kiri-kaeshi over and over. Head Sensei loves to lecture and demonstrate. He showed us that it was incorrect to strike the initial men, then stop and push with the hands. He said, “That’s not Kendo, that’s hockey!” Well, no wonder it seemed natural for me. Still, we learned to use our bodies to correctly push our opponents back by slamming our bodies into them, then giving the gentle push with the hands for spacing. We must make sure not to stop ourselves too close to them, or our feet will collide. It takes one small step after a men strike. After a kote strike, you angle our sword off to the left to avoid spearing your opponent. Not only is it rude because it might injure them, but you are also trapped and unable to further respond. I stayed in as long as I could. My heart was racing and my breath was getting shorter and shorter. I drilled with Head Sensei a few times, then I had to stop. I went back in and learned a new drill.

He called it ichi-komi, meaning a pre-coordinated series of drills to execute in sequence with enthusiasm. The one he chose is a popular one. It is men-hiki-men-men-hiki-kote-men-hiki-doh-oh-men. It seems like a lot to remember, but if you break it up into pieces, then it’s simple to remember. The men-men part, the men-kote part, the men-doh part, and then big finish. I did this several times with others after Head Sensei, then I had to stop again. While I was resting, I missed on a chance to keiko with Head Sensei, but I wasn’t upset. I wouldn’t last ten seconds without any breath at all. After a few minutes, I noticed an unranked student missing out on keiko because he was in the rotator position. I had recovered some of my breath, so I put on men and did keiko with him. I toned down my level just a little to leave him openings and he took the ones he was confident in taking. I returned the favor by attacking him some, but not to dominate. It went on a long time, longer than a usual keiko. At the end, we tried doing ippon. After four or five aiouchi strikes, I called an end to it. We finished by doing rei-hou and I thanked Head Sensei for making the time to come.

Day 225:

Today Sensei showed up with his iaito that he talked about. It was different from the one he let me borrow previously. This one was made of steel instead of zinc-aluminum and it had a brown-colored wrap to the handle. It was noticeably heavier than the other one. The cord around the saya, called the sageo, was also much longer. Sensei says that different iaito are different lengths and weights. It’s important to train with all of them so you will not be too dependent on any one style of iaito. I practiced tying the knot on my hakama and had a little trouble. I should buy a real obi soon.

I practiced the same motions over and over for this class. It was the standing drill where I draw horizontally, then raise up over my head and cut down vertically. Sensei and another student who is a nidan in Iaido. They both advised me to stop being so timid when drawing. I need to pull the saya back farther and pull it around my back to draw properly. In fact, if I look over my right shoulder, I should see the end of the saya in my field of vision. This act really does make things easier. It allows me to draw sooner and it balances my shoulders when extending the swing. It also helps stop the motion of the sword so the saki is in line with my right shoulder.

Now I just need to practice keeping the saki pointed even, maybe just a little bit down. I’m getting more practiced at putting the sword back into the saya. Still need some practice to find the ‘sweet spot’ of approach, but I’ll get there. Also, I need to start getting used to the idea of rotating the saya as I draw to make it horizontal to help in drawing.

In beginner Kendo, we did more suri-ashi practice. We would hold the shinai behind our back and slide across the floor, screaming ‘MEEEEEEEEEEN’ I none long breath as far as we could go. We also did more fumi-komi, only this time I finally got an explanation of what it is. It’s actually not an intentional stomp. It’s leaping over a distance and you bring your weight down de facto. There was a square in the middle of the floor and the instructor showed us the idea of ‘leaping over a puddle’. That made sense. I did it much better this time. There were three lines of students doing this and everyone wanted to go at once. I had to organize people into fixed lines so there wouldn’t be too many people crossing at once and bumping into one another.

We even did a drill where we would hold itto-no-maai with a partner and take turns driving them back and forth across the floor. I think I held my kiai for too long throughout class. I developed a headache from all the pressure built up in my head from shouting.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 222-223

Today Sensei brought one of his spare iaito for me to use. He said it was the one he took to a championship and won third place. I felt very honored. It was heavier than a bokken since it was made of metal. We did the brief rei-hou to start, where you hold the sword in the saya at eye-level with the cutting edge facing you. You give a full bow to the sword to respect your sword. Sensei showed me how to tie the special knot with the cord on the saya. The saya goes on the left side of the body, but the chord is wrapped around the right side of the belt. You start with the chord under the belt, then push a loop up through the top. You put the trailing end of the chordlike a loop into the first loop and pull the first loop tight. This way, you can pull the trailing end and undo the entire knot one-handed. Eventually, I’ll gain a real obi to make it easier. The saya really slides a lot when you just tuck it into your hakama without an obi. I practiced kata 12 for the entire class. Drawing the sword vertically can get challenging with a real saya. Still, Sensei made sure to remind me that my right hand should be over the center of my face, not to either side. He also gave a tip that after the cut, not to raise the saki up when performing chiburi, simply cut downward and to the side. It also helps to move your right foot first, and then the sword afterwards. Putting the sword back in the saya is very challenging. The sword seems very long to me and that makes it awkward to slide back into place. Sensei says that when you slide the blunt edge across your hand, it will just fall into the saya. You simply need to make sure to pull the saya back with your left hand to give you the last inches necessary to clear the opening of the saya. The sword I used was considered 2.35 units of length, called shaku. 1 shaku is approximately 11.9 inches of blade length. I saw some charts where a person who is six feet tall should use a blade of 2.45 shaku. That seems long to me. I think I will take Sensei’s advice and use a shorter blade for practice. Perhaps in the future I might get a longer sword, but for now I need to practice getting my form down and a shorter blade will help.

In Kendo class, we did stretches and suburi before dedicating an entire class to just kiri-kaeshi. I was asked to receive and did so for the entire class. I made sure to keep my comments short and quick to keep the students moving to the next line. They are improving, but they need to kiai louder. They are just scared of sounding too impolite. The instructor made a demonstration that a 10-year old boy in the class was the loudest one and that everyone else should be even louder than him. The boy was very proud because he was praised. My chest felt better this time. Maybe next week I should stay for advanced class if I feel better. I should keep up with my exercise. My arm is still a little stiff, but getting better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 220-221

Day 220:

Another day of stretching my injury back into shape. It’s almost fully healed but it still bothers me if I raise my arms high enough. Today there were not so many advanced students, so I was drafted to help the beginners learn again. We started out with stretches and suburi. We did thirty of each of okii-suburi, shomen-suburi, katate-suburi, and haya-suburi. Afterwards, we put on men and began the drills.

The point of practice today was kiri-kaeshi. Most of the students did not understand how to do kiri-kaeshi. It was not that they did it awkwardly; they just did not know all the steps. I found myself spending a lot of time explaining how to do it. Eventually, I found that just counting out loud the four steps forward, and then the five steps backwards seemed to help the most. Then the drill switched to one-step men strike and then one-step kote. Finally, the instructor wanted to move back to kiri-kaeshi practice. The students seemed to do better this time.

At the end of practice, the instructors mentioned to the class that the purpose is to keep the students moving from line to line quickly and not to spend too much time talking to them. I can see what they are saying. They also said that if a student is not doing the drill properly, then they should be correcting them. It seems to make sense. They are higher-ranking than me, so they have a keener eye for errors. Still, it is hard not to give advice when the cause is so obvious. I’ll have to remember just to give a word or two of encouragement and be done at that.

Day 221:

Today was the day before a holiday so not many students overall were present. I was asked to warm up the beginner class. We started out with stretches and suburi. We did thirty of each of okii-suburi, shomen-suburi, katate-suburi, and haya-suburi. Afterwards, we put on men and began the drills.

We broke up into four lines and put on men. The main focus of today was more kiri-kaeshi and one-step men. The beginner students were getting better at kir-kaeshi. I hardly had to count out loud for them. They still need to polish, especially with starting distance. However, that will come with time.

We did a kind of toned-down drill I like to call ‘Kenshi in the Middle’. There were two of us surrounded by other students. Each of the outside students would take turns attacking on a specified drill, such as kote-debana-men. After one student completes the drill, the kenshi in the middle turns around to face the other student right away. It’s fun, but better when there are two long lines of many students. After class, I led us in ending rei-hou. My arm was feeling better, so I stayed for advanced class.

There were only four of us for advanced class, but two of the beginner students stayed as well. We started off with several rounds of kiri-kaeshi and then aiouchi-men with many repetitions. I found myself losing my breath very fast. I guess I might be out of shape from all the rest from my arm injury. I’ll have to start coming to just advanced class from now on to build up stamina.

A short rest and I put man back on to practice. More shomen-waza and harai-kote drills. The harai-kote drills seemed easier and smoother than other drills. Maybe I just have talent for it or maybe I just simply do harai-kote naturally more often than other waza.

I had to stop again because the tightness in my chest was coming back again along with the lack of breath. I had to miss out on keiko but that was fine. No sense harming myself over practice.

The instructor decided to spend some time doing kata. I love kata. The two beginner students did not have bokken, so one of the instructors loaned one of them a bokken. The other student had to use a shinai, but I volunteered to use a shinai to match them. We reviewed kata number two, which he did fairly well. We then moved on and I taught him the shidachi role for kata number one. We did not have the time for me to teach him the uchidachi role, but that will be for another time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 218-219

Day 218:

My arm is mostly healed and I can move it without injury. It is still stiff, but it’s the kind of stiffness that can be worked out. Like my usual routine, I recover from injuries by going to beginner class. Sensei was glad to see me and asked me to lead the class in warm-ups. It’s been forever since I led the class, but I was not nervous. I just did what I was supposed to do and was glad for it. During the rei-hou for opening I made a mistake. I called out for ‘rei’ when I should have called out for ‘seiza’. I quickly corrected myself and Sensei made a comment that was familiar. He reminded people that in the future they would be taking turns to lead the class so they should be learning the rei-hou.

He separated the class into two lines and we began. I led the class in stretches. Even though I stretched before class, I did it again. I just made sure not to hurt myself. I made sure to call out the counting loudly, to show the class should also. They did not disappoint. Sensei asked that we do a lot of suburi. I decided that we would do three full counts of eight repetitions, with people taking turns counting out loud. We did okii-suburi, shomen-suburi, squat cuts, shomen-suburi again, haya-suburi, and breathing-suburi.

Afterwards, Sensei asked a few of us, including myself, to put on men and receive strike from students. I spent the rest of class receiving one-step men, one-step kote, and one-step kote-men. Each time a new student would present themselves, I would watch their waza and comment on how to improve. At the beginning of class, I was giving out a lot of changes, such as louder kiai and raising the shinai higher. Similar mistakes to what I made at their level. By the end of class, I was shouting more comments like ‘good’ and ‘do it again’, showing that they were improving. It was very heartening.

At the end of class, Sensei had a surprise. I sat next to him on the Dan side for the ending rei-hou. Normally,I would expect to be on the Kyu side, leading the closing rei-hou, but Sensei said that whoever opens the class sits next to him. I wonder if that’s an actual rule or if it was just a one-time reward.

Day 219:

Here I am at beginner class again. My arm is a little stiff and sore, but not a problem. Sensei didn’t show up today, but the senior students took right over to teach the class. We did a lot of stretches before suburi. The stretches where you cross your arm over your chest and behind the back hurt a little. I guess my arm isn’t quite recovered.

We did lots of suburi over and over with very little breaks in between. We did okii-suburi, shomen-suburi, kote-suburi, and doh-suburi. I was aware of those cuts but never did them before in warm-ups. Then we did a new one. It is like doh-suburi, but instead of stopping at the waist level, we finish the cut much lower, almost to the ankles. We also would not cut directly in front of us. We would cut right while turning left, then cut left while turning right. Since we were standing very close to each other, it was tricky not to bump into each other. We did squat cuts and then haya-suburi.

We put on men and then a few of us were drafted into receiving for the class. At first I was part of the receivers, but then the senior student decided to only need four receivers. I went over to the student side. We started off by doing one-step men, one-step kote, and one-step doh. The doh strikes made my arm hurt.

It seems I’m not as healed as I thought. It didn’t feel reinjured, so I think maybe it’ll be wise to stay with the beginner class until it doesn’t hurt anymore. We then did what we were leading up to. It was a combination drill of two times men, then two times kote, and then two times doh. It was fun, but the doh strikes would tug on my arm and make it feel not right.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 216-217

Day 216:

No practice since my arm is still injured.

Day 217:

No practice since my arm is still injured.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 214-215

Day 214:

At the end of the beginner class, Sensei put on a kind of haya-suburi contest to see groups of students compete to see who would finish first. Some of the students are coming along very nicely. In later groups, I filled in to finish a group of three. The final contest showed a senior student to be the winner. At the start of advanced class, we repeated the haya-suburi contest with advanced class. It was much faster and much closer a contest. Even Sensei participated. One of the nidans won. It was a lot of fun.

Today’s topic was all about pressuring your opponent. Every waza Sensei wanted us to pressure and force the opening. We did several drills of one-step men and one-step kote. Then we moved into men-kaeshi-doh. Each side took turns pressuring with men strike and the other side would do their best with kaeshi-doh. Kaeshi-doh is hard to do. You must block and then make enough space to step aside and move through. The striking makes it awkward, especially if your opponent is fast enough to close distance before you finish swinging.

We had another two mock shiais. In my first match I won 2-0 against a shodan, but in my second match I lost 2-0 against a nidan. It was very intense. Sensei asked me to keep score after each individual match and my team was constantly behind in points. We had a couple of keikos after shiai. My first keiko was against a jodan player. Without fear I stepped up and used different alternate kamae to get him to attack first. I would parry and strike men or kote. I did better striking men and an almost-good kaeshi-doh. I seem to like using the kamae where you make your shinai parallel to the jodan’s shinai. That one is easier to parry and open them up for men strike. The kamae where you cross shinais is good for kaeshi-doh.

My second keiko was intense. My opponent was trying to teach me and strike me at the same time. There was an exchange where I tried to strike doh while he struck men. We both missed, but in trying to pass by, he passed by my right side and his shinai hooked my shinai. We are both two of the faster chargers so my right arm got yanked a little too far backwards. Pain shot up my arm from the elbow to the shoulder. It was not the type of bending where the ‘inside surface’ was down, letting the elbow help. It was the opposite way where my arm seemed upside down and yank backwards so the elbow was twisted. It’s not bad, but it is sore. So, I stepped out of practice and let it rest. This feels like something that a couple of days of rest should fix.

Day 215:

No practice since my arm is still injured.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 212-213

Day 212:

Well, I’m back from taking it easy because of the head impact. I feel better from it. Today was a day all about the finesse of strikes. We started off not by doing kiri-kaeshi but instead with one-step men. We practiced several techniques quickly, such as one-step men, kote-nuki-men, men-nuki-men, and a fun drill where we charge in for men, then our opponent blocks us with his body, and then we strike hiki-men going backwards. Always keep the mind flexible and you’ll keep your opponent harried.

We did some doh strikes, which were hard. We started off doing one-step doh and then branched into men-kaeshi-doh and doh-debana-men. Doh-debana-men seems impossible at first. However, the secret is to already decide that you’re going to do it and then move as soon as your opponent raises for men strike. Sensei taught us a secret. It makes everything easier if you do not step forward directly, but diagonally off to the right while swinging. This way you give yourself more room to connect with the doh when you strike.

Day 213:

No class today because I am working late at my job.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 210-211

Day 210:

The broken callous on my left foot is old enough and dry enough that I was able to tear most of it off. It’s a little sensitive now, but I’ve been keeping it under a bandage and ointment. It’s okay now, just a little sensitive. I should get back to Kendo but not work it too hard. As long as I keep it clean, there should be no problems.

We had a new person wear their bogu for the first time today. I stepped out of line to help him put on his men for the first time. I showed him about how the himo on top of the men need to be flat and close to each other. I stepped back into line and quickly did a short rei-hou and put on men and kote. When he tied them up, it looked okay, but soon into practice it was obvious that he needed to tie it tighter. He stepped out and got some more help from one of our club officers.

For class, we started off with a few rounds of kiri-kaeshi. It seems that I’m finding that limit to hold much I can recover breath. I wonder if it will ever increase. We did some more one-step men, concentrating on getting each one perfect. Sensei wanted us to pay attention to our footwork and posture. Some of us (e.g. myself), were leaning forward too much when moving forward. This leaves the men wide open for counter-attack. Sometimes we would receive openly, sometimes we would respond with oji-waza.

We would also practice one-step kote and one-step doh to keep our minds moving. We did a drill where we would learn the other’s timing with a men vs doh drill.

We also did a more obscure drill called kiri-kae-doh. The attacker would strike doh left, right, left, right, etc… while going forwards across the room. The receiver would strike shomen over and over in time with the doh. When you both reach one side of the room, you stop and then continue going the other way. It was a fun drill, although the one moving forward needs to warn their partner of the closeness of the wall to avoid bumping into it.

We did a couple of long keikos which robbed me of breath. My final keiko was against a nidan. I was trying to bait and provoke him, but he wasn’t falling for it. As a result, I could charge and strike with little resistance. However, once I baited him incorrectly, leaving too wide of an opening. He merely stepped half a step forward, pressuring me. I stepped back to regain maai, but he charged and swung for sayu-men. Too much sayu, not enough men. THWACK! Right to the right side of my skull. I wasn’t injured, but it was a shock. I had to take a moment to recover. I pressed on to finish the keiko and then stepped out. Good thing I bought one of those thin leather inserts for the men to protect me from too-hard strikes. I figure it absorbed half the strike. I was good enough to drive home, so I didn’t need to leave early and miss out on rei-hou.

Day 211:

My head still does not feel quite right. I feel a little ‘off’ if you understand. So, I’m going to just go to beginner class and exercise to keep in shape. If I start feeling dizzy, I’ll stop. We started by doing a series of stretches. These stretches are way different than the ones I’m used to when I was habitually in beginner class. Have I been out so long that they evolved without me? Possibly. During suburi, Sensei’s been adamant about showing how powerful people were. He had them doing 100 haya-suburi with no breaks! I could keep up, but the newcomers were not that far behind me. I guess I have proof that my endurance has been increasing all this time if I can just jump into 100 haya suburi without needing to stop. It’s a long ways away from the days when 30 haya-suburi would make my heart hurt.

While some others were putting on men and kote, Sensei had a group of us watching the beginners as they demonstrated their footwork walking across the floor and swinging for shomen. Most of the students were doing well for their rank. I only needed to correct a few students about turning their back foot out to the side or bringing their back foot too far forward when they walk. Nothing major, but I did tell them about it. I also made sure to give them encouragement that they were doing well, which they were. We did this for the duration of class and then bowed out.

At the end, Sensei arranged for newer students in bogu to receive men strikes from the entire class to get them used to it. I scored a few very good men and screamed my kiai to show the unranked students what a kiai is supposed to sound like. I hope my head heals soon. I want to get back to advanced class, but not too soon.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 208-209

Day 208:

Today I come back to class from being sick. I want to pace myself so I don’t overburden my body, but I do need to get back into the routine. I did my kiri-kaeshi slowly and deliberately to save energy. My partners would always speed up the pace to get me moving again on the backwards direction.

We did a series of drills where there would be a total of four exchanges. Each side would attempt a single attack, either men or kote. There was a beginner student there. Whenever we would practice with him, he would always be the attacker. We would use oji-waza in the drill to our advantage if we could. Kote-suriage-men and men-suriage-men were most commonly used. We did a couple of keikos to mix it up. I had a lot of energy, so I used it to charge quickly past my opponent. I got a powerful hit to my right index knuckle. That really hurt. After the keiko, I looked at it and there was an instant bruise. I continued for a second keiko and that one went much better. I stopped for a rest and some water.

I had another keiko against a ni-to fighter. That was the guy who passed his nidan when the judges forgot that he could not sonkyo. He was not experienced with ni-to so he was slower than other ni-to players. I enjoyed lining up the off-side kote and sneaking in a men strike up the center. I did a keiko against someone practicing jodan-no-kamae. I used everything I could think of. I used alternate kamae on the right to block his sword and strike doh. I used alternate kamae on the left to perform suriage and open up his men. I charged forward first to strike debana-kote. I seemed to be successful about half of the time. My adrenaline was racing. Then he struck my right thumb knuckle hard. I tried to keep going for a couple more strikes, but I had to raise my hand and call a stop. When I stepped off again for water and rest, I noticed my right thumb was instantly bruised also. Sheesh, what a night. Maybe I should stop before I break something.

However, after resting and chatting with Sensei for a minute or two, he returned my CD. I put it in my bag and saw the beginner practicing a suriage waza drill. I decided that it was okay to help him and put men back on. I rotated in and helped him learn suriage. He was doing it wrong by dragging my sword along back into line. I showed him from both sides how it looks when it’s done right. We then did endless suriage while the others would push themselves with their combination drills and keikos.

Day 209:

I’m still working my way back into health so I started off my kiri-kaeshi slowly and deliberately. However, I did get excited enough to speed it up by the end. We did one-step men and nuki-men drills to warm up, including a round of Sensei’s new favorite. It’s a total of 4 exchanges between partners where each is trying to win by striking the other and not letting the other strike back. I went up against a nidan and lost 2-1-1, which is not bad.

Today’s focus was on jodan-no-kamae. Sensei wanted us to practice using it and defeating it. We would pay attention to using the right thumb to launch the attack and bringing the right kote to the doh to counter-balance the movement. It’s harder to do than it looks, but jodan-no-kamae can be useful to cover distance and surprise your opponent. Defeating jodan-no-kamae can be daunting but if you have a calm mind, you can see all of the targets available: kote, off-kote, doh, and tsuki. It can be hard to step out of the way and remember to pass through went fighting against jodan-no-kamae. You have a natural urge to stop in your tracks to verify the strike.

Afterwards, I got a lot of one-on-one instruction from a nidan and from Sensei about sharpening my chudan-no-kamae stance. They were tweaking the position of my hands so it would be more perfect. They revealed to me that I was twisting my left hand’s grip on the tsuka when I get tired. They were beginning to groom me for shodan now.

There was also a discussion about how long should I wait before I test for shodan. I distinctly remember Sensei telling me on the trip back from the tournament and testing for ikkyu that he felt it was six months. Today he said 1 year. I don’t mind either one being the answer, but the two contradictory answers confuse me. After lots of discussion from everybody there was no clear answer. They said to enjoy being an ikkyu while I can as long as I can and not to rush it.

Finally, after class I got the ice cream I earned weeks ago by striking Sensei when he had his men off. I plan to eat it this weekend when I don’t have to be at work.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 206-207

Day 206:

No class as I am still sick from my trip to the tournament and promotional. Maybe next time.

Day 207:

No class as I am still sick from my trip to the tournament and promotional. Maybe next time.

A Beginner's Point of View 205.3-205.6

Day 205.3:

We got to the tournament gymnasium early, just after the doors opened. It was crowded already and not a lot of space to put your bogu bags. We found a space and set up. After changing into our uniforms, we lined up for opening ceremonies. There seemed to be a lot of kendoka there from many schools.

After opening ceremonies, we split up and look in the programs. I was scheduled to fight in court D after the youth divisions. Several of us showed up at the table to help. The people running the table were grateful we were offering to help. I started off tying all the ribbons. Soon, it became obvious that the people running the tournament made a spontaneous change. We started mudansha before the youth division. Needless to say, it was weird. However, we fell right into step.

After the first few matches ended in hiki-wake we all started looking at each other. Why were the shinpan not calling points? There were a few good men and kote but not a single flag for any of them. It was my turn and I retrieved my bogu. After suiting up, I stepped into my place. Suddenly, the table called me back. They wound up changing the color of my ribbon 4 more times before I stepped in. There must have been lots of changes made. Soon, I started my first match. My opponent was much slower than I was and I struck a good kote. No flags. I struck a clean men, but no flags. I slowed down and became more precise. I hit a good kote and nothing came of it. That match ended in hiki-wake. My next match ended in hiki-wake also. I was given a third match to my surprise. I had an opponent actually half my size. She was fierce and unafraid. I liked that about her. However, I was clearly much faster than her, so I used that to my advantage. I struck men on her a half dozen times and kote a few times. Nothing. She appeared to be going to try to time out. I circled and waited until she stumbled, and then landed a crisp men strike on top of her head. Finally, I got a point! The match ended with a 1-0 victory for me. I went back to the table and helped run the court again.

Soon, the court finished and sent its winner along. Next was the youth division. That seemed to be just as large. Most of the matches ended in hiki-wake because the judges were so strict about what they wanted to see. After youth division, it was the shodan-nidan-sandan division. Why they lumped sandans in with the shodans I’ll never figure out. It’s such a gap in skill. Nevertheless, that’s what we put on. My partner at the table had to put on bogu so I wound up not only tying ribbons but also calling out the matches. I was very busy. Afterwards, it turns out that we had to repeat three of our brackets because they all ended up in hiki-wake. I’ve never seen an entire tournament end with hiki-wake. Hantei and encho were the ways I’m familiar with except for the first bracket of mudansha and youth. We ran very late and wound up not putting on our yandan-and-above division. It was moved elsewhere.

Lunch was served right away before the higher-ranking members fought. Sensei asked me to hold onto his lunchbox until later. He didn’t want to eat and then fight. He’d get sick. Unfortunately, there was a rule about no food in the gym. I had to leave the lunch outside. After Sensei fought, I told him about the lunch and he was disappointed. However, he did not blame me. I did bring him a bottle of cold water for him.

Team match was better. Sensei chose not to fight in team matches because he hurt his ankle. Our extra stepped up and filled his space. He had no rank but was eager. We won the first team match 5-0. We were ecstatic! It may have been against a weaker team, but it was a confidence booster. My opponent afterwards confided in me that he was a 7-kyu. I didn’t think they went as low as 7-kyu.

The second match was much harder. We went up against a group of dans then. My match was against a guy ready to test for nidan. I learned his pattern and shut him down every time. He pretty much only did his special combo of fake-fake-men. I would struck a quick debana-kote and charged into tsuba-zeriai to make him angry. I snuck in a good men strike and a kote, winning the match. We won in a sweep again, not losing a single match.

The third match was hard. Very hard. I went out and was totally outclassed. Like I did to my opponent before, my new opponent shut me down and struck me crisply, winning 2-0. His last strike hit me in the arm instead of squarely on the kote. The shinpan called it good, even if I disagreed. The second match was just the same. The third match ended in hiki-wake, no points. Our forth match we won 2-0, so by points we were still in the game. However, their last match they blew us away. Still, even though we were disappointed we were happier than ever coming so far.

At closing ceremonies, my classmate who stepped up to participate in team matches got a medal for 3rd place in mudansha. We were all very proud of him.

Day 205.6:

On promotional day, we got there super-early. We were waiting outside in the chilly air before the doors were unlocked. It was a bit of a wait but we didn’t mind. Inside, I put on my brand-new uniform purchased just for promotional. I made sure to fuss over appearance very closely. Someone even pointed out to tuck in my built-in obi much flatter to help. That was very nice of them.

I made sure to warm up slowly, as to not hurt myself or tire out. I did a few suburi by myself but then we did a bunch as a group. We even invented a suburi where two people face each other at close distance and do haya-suburi, but in alternating rhythm. That was fun to do. Of course, my partner was a nidan and had to speed up fast for the last 10 reps. I struggled to keep up. My classmate who was testing for shodan helped me practice kata by walking through the first three. In the initial exchange, my voice squeaked when I called out ‘toh’. Geesh, that was embarrassing. I coughed to clear my voice and I was fine. I made sure not to overexert myself and save it for the test.

The judges made a massive call for EVERYONE testing to line up in two groups by an exact plan they wrote up. After we stood in line, they wrapped big stickers on the side flaps of our tare to display our numbers. At first I didn’t know why they used the number scheme that they did. People in front that would go early were in the 400’s and 300’s for numbers. People closer to me had 200’s. I was in the 100’s category, while standing in the back. I had #109. Later I would find out that they grouped by expected rank if they passed. (i.e. 400’s were requesting 4-kyu, etc…)

We all went over to the other side of the gym and sat in formation, getting all of our equipment. I seemed to be the only 100’s person who brought their bokken. I kept it and put it on the right side of my place. The earlier groups of kyu would go through kiri-kaeshi and keiko. We were told those going for ikkyu would only do keiko and kata. We watched as the students were called in groups of three to demonstrate their prowess. The kiri-kaeshi was ranging back and forth to the extreme edges of the testing courts. It must have been hard for the judges to see them strike.

I watched my classmate (who got the 3rd place medal) do his kendo singing during kiri-kaeshi. His form looked really good as he bellowed out MEEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!! The whole time seemed to drag on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on while the blood flow was getting cut off in my legs. I must have shifted over a dozen times trying to get comfortable.

When it was time for me to men-tsuke, I was grateful. I made sure to keep a dignified posture while doing my rei-hou and posture. For my keiko, I made sure to kiai loud, take center and strike men squarely. I also mixed in some solid kote and jockeyed for position to show I was thinking. After 4 hits, I was thinking of trying for a kote-men, but the judges called for a halt. They saw what they wanted to see. We were dismissed and then told to take off doh and bring our bokken. I was glad I had brought it already. Everyone else had to go to their bags to get it. We came together in a group near where we waited for keiko.

As a group, we decided to line up by number. It took a couple of moments, but we did it. I’m not sure if the judges were impressed, but we were lined up to help them. The judges decided to spilt us up by even/odd numbers. I was initially paired with a girl nearly half my height, but then they switched her out for a guy about my height. That made it easier. Suddenly, they stopped and did nothing. We all waited for about 20 seconds before they declared who the uchidachi/shidachi was.

Then they told us to begin. Immediately, everyone just half-bowed to each other and drew their bokken. I was the only one who seemed to know to turn to shomen and deeply bow first! I just did it right and my partner followed me. I was glad to be given the role of uchidachi. Being a little behind the others, I saw how hesitant and quiet they were. It was like they had only done it half a dozen times before today! Was I the only one who studied it seriously? Well, I decided that we were going to be the best pair out there. I deliberately and confidently strode out. My partner sensed this and matched me. When I initiated the attack I would call out boldly, “YAH!” Thankfully, he would replay, “TOH!” I made sure to keep the spacing proper and we finished with no problem. Even the awkward footwork on the third kata was no problem for my ‘negatively polarized bokken’ method. The judges asked one of the other pairs to repeat the first kata. The uchidachi drew her bokken upside down and held it like that. The judges had to tell her to turn it right-side up, as if she couldn’t tell! At the end of it, we were all dismissed. After several minutes, the results were posted. I passed! Also, my classmate got 3-kyu!

I made sure to turn in my menjo fee and written exam answer early to make sure it was collected. I stayed to watch some of the higher-ranking students do their kata. We saw one of our classmates try for nidan. He was very awkward in his kata, and the 7th kata wasn’t quite good. He was asked to repeat it. He did so better. Still, he did not kneel after the doh strike because of his knee surgery. Afterwards, we discovered that he failed only because he did not kneel. It was written in his applications that he could not kneel or sonkyo or seiza! Why would they hold it against him? On his own initiative, he went around asking every judge about this discrepancy. One high-ranking judge was unsympathetic, but most were. Eventually, after much polite persuasion, the judges pulled his application and saw it was not only written by him, but by Sensei as well. So, they granted him his nidan. Way to go!

It was a very, very long trip back home, but eventually we made it. I started feeling really sick after crossing back into my state and decided not to do anything other than get well. Still, I left one of my favorite CDs in Sensei’s car. Darn it.

A Beginner's Point of View 202-205

Day 202-205:

These days have been a blur of training and refinement. One-step men, kata 1, one-step kote, kata 2, one-step doh, kata 3, keiko, kiri-kaeshi, oji-waza… The list goes on and on. I have been critiqued by everyone in class of all ranks and I have learned some higher-ranking techniques to step up my kata.

I notice that I still do not counter-attack properly as the shidachi in the second kata. I still pull the bokken to the left a little as I step to the left. As the shidachi in the third kata, I need to remember not to extend my arms all the way. It should look like I am pushing with the hips rather than the arms. Still, the saki should rest at the opponent’s eyes. Soon, we drive out for the tournament and test.

I remember that Sensei made a compliment about me in class. My partners did not know kata as well as I did. They kept messing up the footwork for kata three. So, I stopped my training to help them step through it properly. Sensei said that I was doing what ikkyus do, help train the lower ranks. He described me as acting like a Gunnery Sergeant. I liked the compliment. I suppose soon I will be acting like my old Sempai.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 200-201

Day 200:

Today was a lot of work. It was kiri-kaeshi over and over and over and over… Kiri-kaeshi seemed to be a theme tonight. We did endless rotations of kiri-kaeshi. Then we separated into two parts.

The first part was the four unranked students. The other part was the rest of us. At first, the four students would receive kiri-kaeshi over and over from every person rotating through. Each partner would observe them and make suggestions to improve. Then Sensei would call for each student to show they could receive kiri-kaeshi as if being tested. The rest of the class would make suggestions to improve.

We would then do the whole thing over again, only the unranked students would give kiri-kaeshi. We separated into the two groups, in four lines, and rotated while the unranked students gave over and over. We also gave them suggestions on how to better attack. Once that was done, we also did the mock testing, one pair at a time for them giving kiri-kaeshi. These students are doing well. The biggest problem overall was the footwork. They need to just practice more and they’ll do just fine. The switching between matching forward foot with sword and the opposite time where the sword is on the opposite to the forward foot can be disconcerting.

Afterwards, we broke up and did a lot of simple waza. One-step men and oji-waza, such as kote-suriage-men and men-suriage-men. To finish class, we would do a few rounds of keiko. I only had enough breath to do two keiko matches and had to sit out the last two matches. I did it still wearing men and kote because I knew we were almost done with class. It was cooler today so I could reciver my breath faster. Having an odd number of people helped since there was a spot to rotate out.

Day 201:

Today was geared towards testing for promotion. We did a few kiri-kaeshi rounds, but then we concentrated on simple waza. One-step men, one-step kote, and some one-step doh. The shodans and above would sneak in some oji-waza occasionally to keep everyone on their toes. Then we separated into groups to showcase keiko. I was in a group that was mudansha. We would go up when called to do keiko with a declared partner. I made sure to keep good posture and let loose with many big kiais. I stuck to simple attacks, kote and men. I scored several good hits against my partners, who were an unranked student and a newly-promoted sankyu. I dominated and struck cleanly, passing through with good zanshin. At the end of keiko, one of the nidans commented that I would have passed on spirit alone. That made me really happy. I think I’m ready to pass my ikkyu exam.

After our group was done, I was actually called to be the odd man in a group testing for shodan/nidan. That was a surprise, but a big honor. I actually dominated my opponent, who will be testing for nidan. Of course, much of it is the fact that he has recovered from knee surgery and is building up his endurance again, but still it really lifted my spirits. The rest of the group were testing for sandan, including Sensei who will be testing for yandan. Their matches were very smooth and flowing. By pushing themselves, they made the rest of us look blocky and amateurish. Afterwards, there was a few “open matches” of keiko held just so people could get more criticism. I participated in a match against my first keiko opponent. After a couple of hits on him, he suddenly picked up the pace and counterattacked often. He even snuck in a solid kote hit just as I was trying to bait him for kote-suriage-men. I complimented him after class and he was really pleased with himself.

Then we did kata. I love kata. The class broke up into groups testing for similar ranks. However, I was the only one for the ikkyu level. The sankyu became my partner for a few iterations. We did the first three with myself as the uchidachi twice. Then we repeated the third for a few times to get it down pat. Then we did the whole thing over again by switching roles. A nidan switched out with him to help me polish. Another nidan took the other lower-ranking students to teach them the finer points of the footwork in the third kata. The nidan ran through the entire kata sequence with me as the shidachi first, then with me as the uchidachi. Afterwards, he tried to explain to me that I was good, but doing it very awkwardly. I like to think of it as doing the footwork “staccato”. He encouraged me to be smoother. After that, Sensei became my partner and he said we were doing it “for real” this time. We did the first three kata as if I were being tested right there. After he was the uchidachi, he then ran me through the same thing with him being shidachi. After we bowed out, he nodded and gave me a ‘thumb’s-up’, saying that if I did my kata just like that, I would pass. I’m just counting the days until the road trip to the tournament and testing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 198-199

Day 198:

Today was special. It was all-day kata. Have I mentioned how much I love kata? Even the beginner class was all about kata. Since I didn’t need to suit up in bogu and warm up so thoroughly, I had time to help out. I was a partner for a beginner student who looked like he hadn’t done kata too many times. I was helping him with the second kata. I did the shidachi role over and over with him, getting him used to the motions. Sensei even pointed out to me that I needed to use a bigger swing. It showed that he was watching everyone, not just the beginner students. Having your teacher demonstrate that he’s actively in the class gives you a great feeling that you’re not alone.

Soon the beginner class was over. Sensei announced that the advanced class will have only kata as well, so everyone who was able should stay for the advanced class. Several beginner students stayed and boosted our overall numbers. The class was broken up into three groups: beginners, middle, and advanced. The beginners were the ones from the beginner class and anyone else who is testing for promotion soon that does not need kata. The middle group was anyone testing for ikkyu, shodan, or nidan.

I was in this group since I am testing for ikkyu. My partner was testing for shodan, so he needed to practice the first five kata where I only needed the first three. We did them in order over and over, switching role between uchidachi and shidachi over and over. The time just flew as I was concentrating and enjoying myself. He pointed out that my tsuki on the third kata shidachi role was too high. It should not be pointed at my partner’s throat when I counter the uchidachi’s tsuki. Instead, it should be pointed at the solar plexus (right at the fleshy point under the arch of the sternum). He advised me to imagine pushing down on the bokken after the parry. I tried that and it really helped. He also pointed out something that I was seeing but couldn’t quite correct it. I was pulling the bokken to the left as I dodged the uchidachi’s kote strike in the second kata. My partner told me to rotate my body to point the saki at my opponent, as if tracking him while I dodged. That way I won’t need to correct and keep the blade straight. At length, my partner went to practice with a nidan who helped him with kata four and five. Sensei became my partner and we practiced the first three kata a few times before class was starting to come to a close.

Sensei called for a mock kata promotional test for everyone to watch. The beginners started, doing the first two kata. They didn’t finish quite right, but that’s because they weren’t taught the right way. Then it was my turn. My partner was a nidan who was drafted. I did the shidachi role. I think I did well.

I didn’t get to practice the uchidachi role for kata three much tonight and that was disappointing. I think I may have figured out the trick to memorizing the footwork after the initial thrust. Just think “reverse polarity”. After the uchidachi thrusts, he begins to think like the bokken is electrically charged and that his right foot must be electrically charged the opposite way. When the shidachi parries, the bokken is on the uachidachi’s right side. When the shidachi steps forward, the uchidachi must parry by moving his bokken under and around the shidachi’s bokken. This puts it on the left side of the uchidachi’s body. The “reverse polarity” means that if the saki is on the left, the right foot must be the one to move. For the shidachi’s second thrust, the uchidachi counters with a parry that circles under and to the right side of his body. This means that “reverse polarity” forces the left foot to be the one to move back. The shidachi does not thrust a third time, instead he presses forward. The uchidachi does not attempt to parry again, he merely backs away. Therefore, the saki stays on the right side of the uchidachi’s body. Since the uchidachi must perform three steps backwards, “reverse polarity” dictates that it must start and finish with the left foot going backwards.

Up next was my partner, who is testing for shodan, and he was going to do kata with the same nidan for his partner. They did the first five kata. The shodan candidate messed up his footwork on the first and fifth kata, putting the wrong foot forward. However, the important thing was that he realized it and corrected quickly while not interrupting the kata. He focused on finishing and thus did better than he perceived himself to have done.

After class, I asked Sensei what he thought of my kata. He tried to explain a flaw he saw, but couldn’t put words to it. I think he meant to work on the shidachi kote attack in the second kata. But he said my over kata “was there”, meaning if I give just as good a performance he feels I would pass. Now is the time to work on polishing the kata to make it shine.

Day 199:

Today was all keiko and waza, not kata. Oh well, can’t have everything, right? I was spoiled last class.

Here the theme of the class was to try as many different waza as possible. I got to try out my new head protector for the first time. It’s very thin so it slips inside the men snugly. Still it makes the men extra snug. It does feel a little more front-heavy, so I need to remember to lean my head back more. During class, I practiced with a nidan who is the ‘lumberjack’ of the group. He has good tenuchi. However, he’s so tall, strong, and vigorous that he always hits the men hard, no matter how gentle he tries to be. In fact, I practically bought this protector just for him. His head strikes would ‘white out’ my vision and make me dizzy. I’m sure this will protect me from future other kenshi like him, but for now I won’t be struck too hard by him any more. I must remember to keep my hair cut short, just to be sure.

We did lots of kiri-kaeshi, followed by one-step men, one-step kote, kote-suriage-men, kote-nuki-men, and a new drill made up by one of our nidans. He said he saw many people in shiai do a men-doh drill. You start off at itto-no-maai, and then make a light attack at your opponent’s men. When your opponent blocks the men, you quickly swing for doh and pass by. It’s a lot harder than it sounds because for the men strike, you must move in closer than proper for doh. You have to move almost 45 degrees away from your opponent to get a good swing. In fact, a lot of us decided that this waza can only be done properly if you pass by on the same side as the doh strike.

It was hot and muggy today. My breath doesn’t seem to return to my lungs when the weather is like this. I had to sit out twice during practice. Still, I managed to have a few good keikos before the end of class.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 196-197

Day 196:

Today was a big day for kata. Sensei said that some people’s work prevented them from spending all of this coming month from class, so we would do as much kata when everybody was present as possible. I love kata. Sensei separated us into three groups. The first group were testing for sandan next month. The second group was testing for either shodan or nidan next month. The rest of us were in the last group, including myself. Our group did the first three kata over and over. Sensei was helping the first two groups, so I guided the others in the first three kata. They were nervous because they hadn’t done the katas too many times, but only practice makes that better. I was more nervous than they were when I was first starting. They seemed to remember the steps for the first two kata, but the footwork on the third was tricky. The others kept messing up the footwork because they were thinking about it too much. What they need is to just practice the footwork part over and over until it becomes automatic. If you think about the footwork too much, you will mess it up. Eventually, Sensei came over and gave us all pointers on the footwork for the third kata. I practiced being the partner for each of the others through the first three.

After that was done, Sensei wanted us to showcase what we learned. We cleared the floor and watched each of a single pair go through the motions of a sequence of kata. I was first and showed the first three. I think I did well. After the end, Sensei remarked that if this was a test, I would have passed. He did suggest that during the second kata, if I was the shidachi, to make the cut into an o-kote cut instead of a smaller cut. We watched others do kata and we learned some good pointers. The two lower-ranking people I was practicing with took their turn and it was clear that they did not have the distance correct. Many of their cuts actually missed. They seemed to be disappointed, but Sensei made sure to tell them how difficult it is and not to be disheartened.

We spent so long on kata that there was only 15 minutes left in class. We put on bogu and did simple drills, such as kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and a few rounds of keiko. After class, Sensei, another student, and I talked about our road trip plans for the tournament and testing. We decided to leave early rather than late. I need to set my alarm on that day for 0400 to be on time. No problem since it goes off at 0530 regularly anyway.

Day 197:

This entire month is all going to be about kata. However, Sensei wanted to get in some waza and keiko practice before going to kata. We did a very short class with kiri-kaeshi, one step men, and one step doh. We worked very hard, until the sweat was pouring off of us for about half an hour. I did a keiko with a lower-ranking student for a couple of minutes. I would keep stalling and pressuring him until he would attack. Sometimes he would miss, sometimes he would hit awkwardly. Then I would counterattack. I needed to practice striking accurately. I didn’t try to dominate the fight so he wouldn’t get discouraged. I remember some keiko I had as an unranked student. It would be very frustrating if I didn’t score a single hit and still pushed to be better.

I had another keiko with a higher-ranked student who was ready to test for sandan. I would use my stride and long arms to my advantage. I could step from almost to-ma and strike men if I was fast enough moving forward. I would also strike kote from the crossing of the saki to try to mix it up. I had to catch my breath soon and skip a couple of keiko. I just couldn’t keep breath in my body after a while. I think it has much to do with how much I kiai at once in a single keiko. If I kiai often, it takes longer to catch my breath. At least my voice is no longer injured.

Then it was time for kata. I love kata. I was paired with my first keiko partner since he was unranked. I forget if he’s going to test at the tournament or if he’s going to the seminar further south. Either way, he doesn’t need kata yet, but Sensei wants him to learn. We spent most of the class practicing the first three kata over and over. He needed to step through each kata step-by-step, but that’s okay. Teaching him the kata steps helps me remember how they go. The biggest thing to correct at first was his holding of left jodan. He needed to hold the bokken at a sharper angle, but he caught on quickly.

After a while, Sensei came over and had to correct me. It turns out that I had memorized the footwork for the third kata in the uchidachi role was wrong. Going backwards after the shidachi counters with his own tsuki, I was going left, right, left, right, left. Apparently, that’s wrong even though it feels natural. The proper way according to Sensei is to move right foot backwards first, then left, then a very short stop. You then immediately move left, right, left. It’s that double-left step that really makes it awkward. I need to read the Ozawa book about the third kata again to confirm. Then I need to practice at home. Even though I’ve got low ceilings, I can practice the footwork by itself.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 194-195

Day 194:

Last class I did so much kiai that I wound up using my vocal chords to augment it. Bad idea. Now my voice is damaged and I can hardly talk, much less kiai. I really can’t contemplate doing Kendo silently, so I decided to take the day off and rest from class. At the end of last week, I nearly lost my voice at work.

Day 195:

Today, my voice feels fine. Still, I sound just the slightest bit funny when I talk, so I’m going to take it easy on the throat. I’m only going to do a half-strength kiai during waza or keiko. We started out doing kiri-kaeshi and one-step men. Today was just as much instruction for the nidans as the lower-ranking students. Whenever we would start a drill, the senior students would counter-attack with anything they wished. They would use aiouchi-men, men-suriage-men, kote-debana-men, or anything else.

The lower-ranking students worked on just one-step men and one-step kote for the most part. Sensei said we should start off doing it the way Guest Sensei showed us. We start at to-ma, which is farther than itto-no-maai. Here we give a big kiai (I did a half-kiai) and step to itto-no-maai. Then we perform one-step waza. It does seem to help us keep good center.

I took a break halfway through class to rest, drink water, and stopped using my voice. Sensei also called for a 5 minute break because it was humid. After a short break, I went back to it. We did some keiko, and I concentrated on keeping center and pushing past my opponent’s defenses. I wasn’t as fast or accurate as I normally am. I think it’s because I wasn’t using my full kiai. I’m not happy with how I did, but there’s nothing for it but to accept that I need to pace my voice or risk damaging it again.

During class, one of the students developed a blood blister on his foot. He expected to lance it at home after class, but it popped during the tail end of class. There were splotches of blood scattered across the floor, including one ‘puddle’ where the skin broke and dumped most of the blood. One of the senior students helped him wash and bandage his foot while another naturally moved to step it and clean the floor. Things happen in the dojo and you gotta deal with it, but it’s nice to see people just automatically try to keep the floor clean. It’s respectful in general and it keeps the floor dry and not slippery.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 191.5-193

Day 191.5:

I got up early this morning to be there when the doors opened. I’m part of the club putting on the tournament, so I have to be present. Many of our students were either here for their first or second tournament. I just told them to relax and know when and where they were fighting. The rest should fall into place. They took it to heart. When I was not fighting, I was at the second court (where I would spend all of my matches), being the timekeeper and occasional caller. Our unranked students gave a good show of effort in their mudansha brackets. They got eliminated, but they had a lot of fun.

When it was time for my bracket, I got lucky drawing an unranked person and a yan-kyu. I brought forth my best Kendo and won both of my matches 2-0. It’s not the first time I’ve ever advanced to the second round, but this is better than I’ve ever done. I went to the next match and it was single elimination against someone who was my equal in skill. The two of us chased each other around the court, striking and blocking furiously. Each of us was trying desperately to strike anything to break the stalemate. I’m not sure what his rank was, but he and I were equal today. When time expired, the shinpan gave a hantei. The result was 2-1 against me. Darn it. Still, I have no bad feelings about losing to someone clearly my equal. I think that if I had advanced one more time, I would have been in the semi-finals and qualified for a medal. Oh well.

After a good lunch, we came back to witness a demonstration of german longsword fighting. It reminded me of my days as a foil fencer. Coming back to the tournament, I helped to run our table for sandan and above. Our head Sensei was fighting in that bracket. He was his usual confident self, constantly getting an opponent to attack while he would parry and counter-attack. Then it was time for teams. Our team consisted of 2 unranked, a yan-kyu, myself, and Sensei who is sandan. We went up against a powerhouse team for 3 sandans, a yandan, and a godan. Needless to say, we lost. The results were 4-0 against us. That was the shortest match of my life. Still, I’m not upset, just amazed at how fast my opponent could move. After my match, my opponent came to compliment me. He said that I have all of the basics down well. I just need more practice. After the tournament finished, our A team took second place in the finals. Head Sensei even got the award for best spirit in sandan and above division. It was a good tournament.

After the tournament was over, I helped clean up and take down some of the preparations. I did get a break in to do some godo-geiko. I stood in the shortest line since everyone was in huge lines for high-ranking sensei. Suddenly, one of the sensei had an open line and no one was stepping in. after a couple of minutes of waiting, my line was not moving. So, I stepped into the open line. This was a ni-to sensei. I wanted to practice finding the openings on a ni-to player. It was easy to see the openings, but hard to hit them. Curving the shinai around a shinai to hit the kote or slide it between for men strike is harder than it looks. I did get a good men strike in on him. He complimented me on a good men.

After that match, I was out of breath from exerting myself so much. I went back to packing up supplies from the tournament. Next door we had the plethora of drinks. I took a large stack of green tea drinks with citrus flavors as a favor to Sensei. Otherwise, he would have to haul it back himself. I think I’ll drink them all one bottle per day for a long time.

Day 192:

Today Guest Sensei showed up again. This is his last time to practice before returning to Japan. We started off by performing a drill that was being done in the beginner class. We would form two lines and then separate into two groups. The first group would spread out to take space and then perform a certain drill. They would do five good men strikes, taking their time to line up and strike properly. Then the opposite side would attack. The second group would take the space and do the same drill. The first group would return to the space and then do a different drill. They would strike a single men and then strike a single doh. They would repeat this set four more times. Then the second group would take the space and do the drill. We did all of this without men or kote to be able to see perfectly to judge distance. We also did it because of how hot it was. The point of the drill was to semin well and practice good footwork.

At this point, we put on men and kote. We did several rounds of kiri-kaeshi. When I did kiri-kaeshi with Guest Sensei, we stopped me and told me to stop swinging so wildly. He showed me that my left fist was being tugged along with my right fist, making the shinai unwieldly. After I kept my right fist under control and kept my left fist steady, my strikes were more crisp.

We then did men strikes, including the men-kote-kote/men-doh-men drill. I was doing what Sensei told us to do. I was using a beat to open the way before starting the drill. Guest Sensei said that was a ‘habit’ of mine. He said it was excellent for shiai, but in class it was not necessary. So, I stopped doing it and focused on keeping a strong center. We did a few one-step kote drills and then there were several lectures about good from Guest Sensei, especially about itto-no-maai. We all enjoyed having him over to our dojo. Hopefully next year he can visit again.

Day 193:

Today was a very good day in the dojo for me. I was well-rested, hydrated, and eager.

We started off by doing several rounds of kiri-kaeshi. I used the technique that Guest Sensei suggested and it made my kiri-kaeshi look much better. I could go even faster than when I was trying to be flashy. Guest Sensei really knew what he was talking about. We also did several standard drills of one-step men, one-step kote, and a couple of rounds of one-step doh. Sensei had the high-ranking people on one side of the dojo giving retaliation occasionally during drills. They would use suriage and debana on us to try to beat us, so we had to line up and be faster.

Then we had a few rounds of keiko. Today I was really fast! Remember I was telling about seemingly jumping out of my body to become faster? It nearly happened again, except that instead of going ahead of my body, my body actually kept up with my spirit. I was sweating more than usual, but I did not take off men even once today. Instead, I was lucky enough that I had several small breaks in between. Still, I was striking faster than shodans, nidans, and even Sensei all night. There were the occasional strikes when I lost the rhythm and they beat me, but overall, I was quicker and more accurate than usual. I was even very tired! I keep trying to figure out what I was doing that was so good to myself for health but I keep coming up blank. I’ll have to figure it out later.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 190-191

Day 190:

My job was very taxing on the spirit and body today. I am going to rest and not go to class.

Day 191:

Today was a big surprise. It’s the last practice before our tournament this weekend. This is our time to cool down and work on form rather than work too hard so that we are exhausted. However, just as we were getting ready to start, one of our previous Guest Sensei showed up with his son for some Kendo. We were thrilled to have them both, especially since we didn’t know they were coming. Guest Sensei is a roku-dan and I think his son is either a ni-dan or san-dan.

We started off doing a lot of kiri-kaeshi. I guess Sensei wanted to show all of us off to Guest Sensei for his advice. Guest Sensei is a humble man, which means he did not just walk in and take over the class even though he could have done so. Instead, he asked permission to give advice from time to time. Guest Sensei really carries himself with a lot of class. After kiri-kaeshi, we did a few rounds of one-step men. Guest Sensei tried to teach us a technique where we would not bother to knock aside our opponent’s shinai. Instead, we hold center of chudan very hard and push forward, keeping our shinai low until the last moment. Then we quickly strike sashi-men. This is a lot harder than it sounds and we didn’t do a very good job. Still, we tried hard. After that we did a few rounds of kote-men. Guest Sensei was walking around, giving more advice to individual people. He watched me do kote-men and told me that when it came time for the men strike, to lift my arms higher and then flew my wrists. My finishing strike was too close and bouncing off the front of the men-gane. His advice worked.

We divided up into two groups, beginners and advanced. Each group rotated amongst themselves for a few rounds of keiko. I was in the beginner group. I did a few rounds of keiko, trying to pick up speed like in previous weeks of pushing myself to fly faster and faster. It didn’t quite work, although I remember how to do it. I really needed a rest after that. Guest Sensei and his son opened themselves up for keiko with anyone who wanted it. I got in line. First, it would be keiko with Sensei, then Guest Sensei’s son, then Guest Sensei. After keiko with Sensei, I waited patiently, but then time ran out and we bowed out. After rei-hou, we gathered around Guest Sensei for his advice. He remembered me and complimented me on my kiai. He said kiai is very important and can overcome an opponent’s muscles and even skill. He said my kiai was very good and to keep improving it. When I asked Guest Sensei’s son for his advice, he said the same thing. I had a good, strong kiai and keeping it up will help a lot.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 188-189

Day 188:

Today was more of a normal day of class. We’re getting ready for tournament, so we’re starting to work extra hard to get ready. We started off with a few rounds of kiri-kaeshi and one-step men. I am beginning to do my kiri-kaeshi much faster now. I must concentrate on being accurate now as to not become sloppy.

We then moved into instruction to one-step kote and one-step kote-men. This time, our partners were not going to just stand there. We would ‘negotiate’ for position and not move until we had maai. It was interesting to say the least.

Since there were so many of us, Sensei had to break up the class in halves. The first half did a round of keiko while the rest watched. Then the other half of class rotated in to do keiko.

Afterwards, Sensei divided up the class into teams again. Our team won its first round 4-1. We were on fire! Even the one who lost had a score of 2-1. I was flying on the floor. I won my match 2-1 also. I went up against a shodan and he struck men right away. I was upset that I might lose, so I pushed myself to move faster and angle off to the side as to not collide so often. It worked! I was striking men and kote a lot tonight. Our second round went much like the first, except that I faced off against someone closer to my rank. I lost 2-1 by a very close margin.

Sensei broke up the shiai and we lined up for waza again. We did some more kote-men drills and then we did the ever popular men-kote-kote/men-doh-men drill. That’s an interesting one to do. You really have to pay attention to what step you’re doing to avoid getting lost.

We went back into shiai again, rotating a couple of the players. I won my next match 2-0 by striking openings in the men. My opponent was a shodan who was shorter than me. He knew that I would be tempted into striking men. Normally, he would put up lots of men defense. However, he wanted to strike my kote. So in his judgment, he would balance his men defense and maai for kote so strike quickly. Still, I saw that little window of space that was not covered, so I waited until he was in the middle of shifting the weight on his feet and then POP! I did that twice. I forget what the team score was but it was close. My last match was against a nidan. I really wanted to see how fast I could go. I flew and flew more, as much as I could. I actually lived in the moment instead of thinking too much. I would fly past him, striking kote well, and then displaying good zanshin. The shinpan disagreed, though. I’m not going to argue with them, but I was disappointed. They were some of my best kote ever. My opponent was striking men a lot, and once made the tiniest of glancing blows to my men. The shinpan gave him the point. After the match, we both agreed on our way of scoring and congratulated each other. Never make the mistake of arguing with the shinpan. Our team lost the round 2-1, but we did not care. We did one round of kiri-kaeshi afterwards in celebration.

Day 189:

Today we worked extra hard. Sensei couldn’t make it, but he left instructions as to what to work on. We started off doing many, many rounds of kiri-kaeshi. This was to build up stamina. By the end of it, I was really out of breath, but I kept going. Sensei wanted us to work on one-step men into tsuba-zeriai. This is just as valid a strike as passing by our opponent for zanshin. You use this when your opponent won’t allow you to pass by. You use this to strike and then cut off your opponent’s ability to counterattack. We did that for several rounds until we broke into a few rounds of simple keiko.

Once that was done, I was totally out of breath, ready to fall over. I stepped out to rest and recover. I drank some water and stayed standing to avoid slipping into fatigue. Once I had recovered, it was time for informal shiai-geiko. I fought a match against someone slightly higher rank than myself. I was moving slower than I was last class, but still at a good pace. I tried to concentrate more on accurate strikes than speed. I got in a few good men hits, but I still lost 2-1. I had tried to use closing distance to take away points from my opponent to frustrate him. I underestimated my opponent and lost for it.

After my match, I volunteered to be a shinpan to practice. Being a shinpan is hard. You have to keep track of accuracy, location, and zanshin of both fighters at all times. You just have to vote the way you see it. After a few matches where I was shinpan, I had a second match. It went like the first match, only with a much higher-ranked opponent. I tried to do some kote strikes to compensate, but they didn’t land squarely. My opponent learned my patterns and timing and used them to his advantage. He won 2-0. I helped shinpan a few matches and then we did one keiko afterwards. My partner was my second opponent and he was constantly trying to give me openings to strike. This was his way to get me to take advantage and strike well.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 186-187

Day 186:

Today was a fun day. Sensei wanted us to get some more practice in for shiai. We started off doing kiri-kaeshi only a few times, and then a one-step men drill. Once that was done, we separated into two teams, one with white ribbons and the other with red ribbons.

We went full-tilt with each other for three full team matches. It was a lot of fun! I’m also happy to say that I worked hard without losing my breath. I lost my first match 2-0 against a ni-dan. I nearly scored a kote, but the judges must have thought that I didn’t demonstrate enough forward momentum. I really need to learn to stop charging into people. You get more points if you angle around them and present zanshin after the hit. After that was over, our team lost by a win and appoint, very close.

The second round of team matches began and I fought against someone closer to my rank, an ikkyu. I won 2-0 in that match. Still, our team lost by 2 wins and 3 points. The final set of matches happened after Sensei declared that the first two people from each team switch teams.

Then we fought again. I lost my last match 2-1. I didn’t think I scored the men, but the judges seemed to think so. During the fight, I tried to strike kote, but my opponent charged faster than I thought he would. The result was that I accidentally speared him in the side of the neck. He gasped and fell down in pain. I felt so guilty even though it was an accident. After class he showed me where my saki ripped a patch of skin off his neck. After apologizing profusely we waved it off like a trooper.

Before I left for home, Sensei came to me and told me that he felt I was ready to test for ikkyu. We discussing the trip to another state hours away as a carpool. I think I’d like to do that. Sensei is really a good guy. He doesn’t just collect money and lecture. He looks after his student like he feels responsible for them. I’m told by most kendoka that this is the normal way of things. I think that’s great.

Day 187:

Today was different than a normal day. It was almost like we did things backwards. Sensei really wanted our lower-ranking students to get a lot of practice being in shiai. We went immediately into shiai, breaking up into teams. I lost my first match 2-1. It was really close, I scored a men and nearly a kote. My opponent and I were really battling with our minds against each other. He got me with a quick kote and the match was over. Our team lost 3-2 matches, but we were in good spirits.

We swapped order so that instead of in the middle, I was later. This time, I won my match 2-0. Men-ari and men-ari quickly. My opponent was playing a hiki game. He would come in close to tsuba-zeriai and stay there for a moment. He could chase me in tsuba-zeriai until I either tried to break away or stop in place. If I stopped, he would fire off a hiki-men. If I tried to back away, he would strike men. I defeated this by standing still and raising uke to block and let him go backwards. Then I would line up and go after him. I felt really good about it. Still, our team lost 3-2.

At this time, Sensei saw us all constantly crashing into each other. He didn’t like that so he ordered us all into 2 lines. We did waza drills then. A couple of kiri-kaeshi and some men strikes. During the men strike waza, we concentrated nearly exclusively on passing by our opponent without hitting them.

We went back to the team matches and mixed up the order. I went first this time. I was flying and striking well. I thought I had a good men strike, but apparently, the shinpan trainees disagreed. When the match was over, I lost 2-1. My opponent stepped up his game and snuck in a couple of good men strikes on me.

Then I volunteered to practice being a shinpan. It’s a lot harder than it looks. I would try to balance the sound of the strike with the accuracy of it visually and throw in whether or not the kendoka would pass by with zanshin. I thought I did well. I’m sure I must have made a lot of mistakes.