Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 150-151.75

Day 150:

Today Sensei was trying to work us to death. It was the second to last class before tournament and he wanted us to work extra hard to prepare.

We did endless kiri-kaeshi drills. We did endless one-step men and one-step kote. We would slip in the idea that the one receiving would attempt oji-waza halfway through the drill to get the attacker to practice changing up the timing of the strike. We had several matches of keiko to work on our endurance.

Finally, we had lots of practice performing rei-hou, sometimes with keiko and sometimes just rei-hou by itself. We all left practice very tired, very sore, and very happy to have worked so hard in preparation for the tournament and testing.

Day 151:

Today was the last class before tournament, so Sensei decided we would take it easy. He wanted us to recover and have lots of energy, so we had a more instructional class. The entire class was centered around what to do at the promotional testing.

We would put on keiko with matches between all students, being judged on the rules that would govern the promotional test. We would practice etiquette and poise when entering and exiting the court. We would practice coming back to chudan-no-kamae while passing through an opponent’s space. We would practice passing through at an angle so we don’t clip our opponent.

This class had more lecture and example than hard work, but we did work. Now we feel ready for the test.

Day 151.5:

The tournament was familiar to me as I had been here exactly a year ago doing the same thing. I walked around to the tables to see that some of the students from the college were volunteering to work the tables. Since I wasn’t needed, I just started to read the program, stretch out, and perform some suburi.

There was no separate youth division, so we launched right into the Mudansha. I was starting off the sixth bracket of eight for my court, so I had time to watch the others fight. Some of them were very basic, others very more advanced than me. The matches went quickly, and I went to get ready. Somebody had stolen my program from my bag so that made me angry. I forgot to get another one to remember the day.

My first match was against a girl much shorter than me. I decided not to underestimate her. So, when the match started, I studied her and then decided to take the initiative. She gave a weak kiai and then slowly went for doh. I was confused why she would do this, so I took it as a real attack. I perform suriage-men, passed through, showed zanshin. The shinpan-cho did not award a point, so I repeated the action, as did she. Over and over the same pattern. I would kiai, she would slowly attack doh, I would perform some basic oji-waza and struck men firmly but gently, I would pass through, and then show zanshin. Soon, I was award two points and won the match. I felt sorry for the girl as this might have been her first ever tournament match, but I showed dignity and did not celebrate.

I was the first in a bracket of four kendoka, so I did not change ribbons. Apparently, they match up the fighters like this: A-B, C-D, A-D, C-B. This way, each fighter gets to fight two people and no-one needs to change ribbons.

My second match was against someone more my equal. He was just as fast as me, and just as tricky. We would size each other up carefully, launch into an attack, and the other would try either debana or suriage to defeat the other. Over and over would strike men or kote, trying to get that first point. One exchange I broke up by forcing a tsuba-zariei. My opponent tried to shove me down by throwing his arms in my face, but I did not fall. It got more intense with the exchanges. I decided that the match would end in a hantei, so I needed an edge. I allowed my opponent to chase me to the edge of the court. When he tried to charge me, I spun out of the way, letting him step on the boundary. I pushed him so he stepped out of the court. The shinpan called a yame and then a gogi. They conferred, and then decided not to call a hansoku. I was disappointed. The match ended when time ran out, and a hantei was called. The shinpan voted 2-1 against me. Maybe they thought my opponent had better spirit. This eliminated me from the bracket.

My opponent was also eliminated by points, so this is the first time I was not bested by the champion. The day passed quickly, lunch was served after the women’s division. After ‘shodan/nidan’ and the ‘sandan and above’ group, it was time for teams. We had a good chance this year. Our team had strong members, including our two sensei in the top slots. We fought a basic team and won 5-0. Our first two matches won 2-0 in each match against a less-experienced team. We just stuck to meat-and-potatoes Kendo and won cleanly.

If we won the next match, we would place for a medal and attempt to advance to the finals. Unfortunately, we went up against a powerhouse team. Each of our matches ended in a 2-0 loss so the team lost 5-0. It turns out that my opponent in the 2nd position was a nidan! I’m glad I lasted so long against him as I did.

After that, I put my bogu away and resigned to just watch the rest of the matches. One of the coordinators for the tournament addressed me by name and requested that I tie ribbons. For the rest of the tournament, I helped tie ribbons to keep things running smoothly. I thought that the team that eliminated us would win the championship, but that did not happen. I guess my lucky/unlucky streak is broken.

Day 151.75:

Today was testing day. I was number 31 this time. Well in the middle. We all put on doh and tare without zekken and sat in a 12-person wide, 4-person deep formation. They told us to relax and do not consider us required to sit in seiza the entire time. Good thing, because that hard gymnasium floor was cutting off circulation in my legs no matter which position I sat in.

After what seemed an endless wait, it was my turn. The panel of Sensei actually had us perform a full promotional testing this time. Each of us had two partners, one we would perform drills on and one we would receive drills from. We first did kihon, which was two men strikes, two kote strikes, and two doh strikes. Then we did a single pass of kiri-kaeshi. This time, I would shout ‘men’ with each strike and then held a very long ‘meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen’ after the ninth strike and keep holding it until after I pass through and show zanshin. I was completely out of breath by the time it was over. Finally, we did a short keiko. I remembered to trade off times with my partner so that sometimes we would complete, sometimes I would let him strike me, and he would let me strike him. I think our cooperation made us look good. Between my first and second partners, I switched around to the other side of the court, making sure to pass behind everyone and not in front.

At the end of the day, we watched the candidates for ikkyu and shodan perform just keiko and then kata. Finally, just before I left for the day, the panel of Sensei posted the results. I passed! I am now a ni-kyu! Time for some big dessert.

A Beginner's Point of View 148-149

Day 148:

Today sensei was not here again. One of the senior students taught the class. We spent extra time doing warm-ups. He was stressing about tenouchi and stopping the sword at the end of the strike. We skipped doing haya-suburi as a warm-up because it was the focus of the class.

We would line up in two lines across from each other and practice doing haya-suburi in counts of twenty paying attention to different things. First we concentrated on footwork while doing it slowly. Then we would concentrate on swinging arc by doing it quickly. By the time the class was over halfway through we were all doing it very well.

We filled out the class by doing basic strikes with a partner. Without putting on full bogu, we would hold our shinai for a strike five times, then repeat for kote, and then for doh. We would then switch roles for partners. After a full set, we would rotate partners and do it over again. By the time we did this three full times class was over.

Day 149:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 146-147

Day 146:

No class today as I am working at my job.

Day 147:

No class today as I am working at my job.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 144-145

Day 144:

This time I was at the advanced class and there was a full complement of people there. We had a normal class where we divided up into two lines and worked hard. Most of the class was the same kind of drill over and over. One side would do five times kote strike while the other side would react any way they wished. This would push the one striking only kote to develop timing and an unreadable stance to sneak in and take the kote. We would also mix in aiouchi-men and kote-men for variety.

I had taken my shinai apart for maintenance to find another cracked staff. It had to be destroyed for safety, but I had a few spares that fit. So my shinai is ready to be used. However, I chose to use the thinner, new shinai I had bought. Wow!!! It flew in my hands so fast! I’m actually swinging as fast as I’m thinking now. I like this much better than the thicker shinai. I think I’ll try to buy these kind from now on. I even appear more smooth and swift when I shiai.

Afterwards, we did kata. I love kata. We practiced the first three kata over and over, trying to refine it. My partner was not experienced with kata so I wound up teaching as much as I was learning. I would walk him through his steps while doing mine. I don’t mind. I know I had trouble with my first kata. I think I still confuse the footwork on the third kata. We also practiced the fifth kata. That’s the one where uchidachi moves into left jodan and the shidachi simply adjust chudan to threaten the uchidachi’s left kote. Three steps forward and the uchidachi attacks. The shidachi performs men-suriage-men and traces down the uchidachi’s face. The shidachi immediately moves backwards into left jodan and then relaxes into chudan. The pair walk three small steps towards the uchidachi. It’s a tricky one if you don’t remember to move your right foot as you move backwards into left jodan.

Day 145:

Last class I must have done something wrong because when I went to bed that night, my left knee was filled with pain. The next day it was as stiff as an oak tree. Still, nothing felt broken or out of place, just stiff and sore. So I slowly stretched it out over the course of the entire next day. It just felt as if all the connections surrounding my knee were stiffened for some reason.

Today at class, my knee felt better. I went to beginner class in order to ‘break in’ my knee. After warm-ups, the senior students would put on their men and kote and the others would practice strikes on them. It was the type of drill where the class would line up in a single line in the corner of the dojo while one student in bogu stood in the center. Each student would strike men and pass through, then turn around and strike men and pass through. Finally, the attacking student would get back in line at the end. This would continue until all of the students had done the men drill. Then the students would repeat with kote strikes. Finally, the students would repeat with doh strikes. Occasionally, we would rotate who is receiving strikes.

The next drill was the one where there would be two lines, one at each opposite end of the dojo. The one student in the middle would defend himself against a student from one of the lines and counter-attack. Then they would turn around and defend himself from a student from the other line and counter-attack. Constantly alternating each line gives the middle student no rest as they constantly defend, counter-attack, and then turn around. It’s a fun drill.

Finally, we did a drill where each student in no bogu would pair with a student in bogu in a line at one end of the dojo. The student with no bogu would attack men several times while the student in bogu constantly retreated to the opposite end of the dojo. Then we would do the drill with the student in bogu advancing and the student with no bogu retreating and still attacking until we went back to our starting position. We did this drill a couple of times until the class ended.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 142-143

Day 142:

Today my job is interfering with my ability to be in the advanced class, so I showed up for the beginner class. Sensei didn’t show up again. I hear he is working extra hours at his job. So, I led the class in warm-ups. I went through the basic set: okii-suburi, shomen-suburi, and katate-suburi. To finish it off, I decided to teach the class something new for them. I showed them how to do kiri-kae-suburi. I like doing that one, it’s fun. The others were a little clumsy, but no more than I was when I first started. We then did the breathing exercise and bowed out.

The most senior student decided to take over the class and instructed anyone who had bogu to put it on right away. Regardless of rank, all of the students who had bogu were on the ‘dan’ side while everyone else was on the ‘kyu’ side. The people on the kyu side would do the instructed drill and then rotate, while the ones on the dan side would stay in place. I spent the whole class helping others by letting them strike my men and kote while reminding them to keep center. It reminds me of how my old sempai used to train me.

I bought a new shinai because my old one had broken enough staves to not have four full staves anymore, even with trying to fit in replacements form the previous shinai. However, at first I thought the shinai were the wrong size or meant for the other gender because they were so much thinner and felt lighter than all my previous shinai. However, it was stamped ‘39’ like it should. All of the shinai in the bulk set were this way so it was not a fluke. I’m going to ask sensei about it next class.

Day 143:

Today I attended both beginner and advanced classes. The beginner class was much of the same as Monday, except Sensei was present. I was in full bogu all class and allowed the students to strike me. There was a lot more kiri-kaeshi today. Letting all those students strike my men was giving me a headache.

Sensei gave the beginner class (and by extension the advanced class) a lecture on the two different types of shinai. He pointed out that a thicker and thinner shinai are both legal because of length and weight class, because weight class is a range rather than a target number. The thicker shinai have a different center of mass than the thinner shinai so you may torque it quickly to circumvent your opponent’s kamae quicker. The thinner one’s center of mass allows it to swing forward faster for distance strikes.

Afterwards in advanced class, there was only myself, one other student, and Sensei. Sensei decided to have a ‘lab’ day where instead of working hard, we practice more precisely and work on our finesse. We spent a lot of time listening to him lecture on not just how to do a strike or hold a kamae, but why you do it the way you do it. He would demonstrate the proper way as being the one where you may attack or defend efficiently. We worked on kote strike, kote-debana-kote, and kote-suriage-men. Afterwards, we did kata. I love kata. We quickly went through the first three kata and then practiced kata number eight and ten. Sensei brought both of his bokken to class, the smaller one and the larger one. We took turns practicing the uchidachi side of kata eight and ten while Sensei would perform the shidachi side. Sensei says he loves katas eight through ten because using the shorter bokken means you have to get closer to your opponent. It’s a much more intense match.