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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 184-185

Day 184:

Today was hot again, very humid. We did many rounds of kiri-kaeshi, over and over. After all of that, I was completely out of breath. I could not get it back at all. We did ten times men strike a couple of times, and I was ready to fall over. I bowed out and took off men and kote. One of the higher-ranking people also bowed out because of the heat. I stayed out for many minutes, trying to get my heart rate down. I took an informal 6-second test on my neck pulse and got 130-140 beats per minute. I didn’t feel bad, but I couldn’t catch my breath. I drank some water and rested on my feet.

When I felt better, I drank some more water and then put on men. I ran back into line and did a five times kote-men drill. Then Sensei called for a water break. What timing, huh? After that, the rest of class was shiai practice. We split the class up into two teams and would take turns while Sensei would shinpan. I fought against a shodan and did well. I scored a good men strike, but he got two points off my kote.

The second round of shiai I found against a nidan who was ready to take his sandan exam. He was fast, but I flew just as fast as he did. The match went on for what seemed like a couple of full minutes. I even scored a strike against his men. He was hard pressed to keep up and outmaneuver me. Class ran longer than usual and I got home late, but happy.

Day 185:

Today we all remembered that we’re getting closer to our tournament. We need to pick up the pace and train, but we also need to teach our newer members about tournaments. We did several round of kiri-kaeshi. I had to pace my breathing to avoid getting so tired that I would have to sit down.

We also did a few rounds of one-step men before Sensei noticed that a lot of us were hitting each other in the body as we passed by. He gave us a few drills to sharpen our ability to pass through without bumping into our opponent. We also did a nice little drill where we would strike targets in sequence while passing by and not bumping. Our opponent would stand perfectly still and not move out of our way. We would strike, men, kote, kote-men, doh, and men. The end of class was something new.

Since we had exactly ten students doing drills, Sensei and a helper would tie ribbons on us. Half the class was red while the other was white. Sensei and a couple of helpers would be shinpan. We had an impromptu team match.

We used a standard configuration of weakest to strongest for first through fifth position. I was chosen to be third. In my match, I came across someone as skilled as me. Our team was down by two matches, so there was pressure riding on my shoulders. I decided to play a crisp match to get ahead and run out the clock. It worked! I scored a good kote and then made my opponent chase me around the court until time ran out. We wound up losing the match after the fifth fight resulted in a third win for the other team.

Suddenly, Sensei declared that we had a short break and then to start again. We had the option to re-arrange our configuration of fighters. Our team was pondering all the different possibilities and trying to guess the other team’s ideas. I proposed the idea that we keep the same configuration while the other team would change to outguess us. That would make them not match up the same way. It worked! By the time my match came up, we had one win and one loss. I fight against a weaker student who did not yet have a rank. I scored two sharp men strikes and won the match by two points. That put us in the lead. We kept the lead until the end when we won the last match. Sensei wanted us to experience a sudden-death overtime match, so one of us fought in a match against a much higher-ranked person. The fight actually lasted for a couple of minutes before the other person scored a clean hit.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 182-183

Day 182:

Sensei didn’t show up to practice today. Maybe he got held up at work. One of the senior students was teaching the beginner class and getting everyone to practice their footwork. When it was time for advanced class, he took over as the one calling out drills and giving the occasional inspiration from a seminar he recently attended. We did mostly kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and one-step kote today. When it was time for one-step men, the senior student told us to practice oji-waza for men, such as debana-kote, men-suriage-men, and debana-men. For one-step kote it was debana-men and kote-suriage-men.

After several drills, I was out of breath and had to stop. I wonder if I’ve been sleeping too much over the weekend. I stopped and watched the others drill for a bit. Once they moved into keiko, I put on men and went onto the floor. At first, once of the free students had me drill on kote. He felt my strikes were constantly hitting on tsuba because they were too straight. I think he’s right. After that, he had a short keiko.

Then it was time for kata. I love kata. It was a free period, so to speak, so you worked on whatever you wanted to work on. My partner and I chose to practice the first three kata a couple of times for each role. Then we had one of the senior students help us with the fourth kata. I couldn’t recall which side went into hasso. It turns out it is the uchidachi, while the shidachi moves into waki. You need to stay far apart or else the uchidachi needs to smoothly take a step back to fix it. It helps if the shidachi breaks up his avoidance step into two parts: the backing away and the stepping forward. This helps get the rhythm down.

Day 183:

Today was all about tournaments. Fitting, seeing as how we’re about to put on our own tournament in about four weeks. We did several rounds of kiri-kaeshi and one-step men. After that, it was a series of lectures about tournaments for the benefit of those who have not yet participated. Much stress was places upon performing rei-hou properly. The sequence of step-in, bow, taito, three sliding steps, sonkyo, and obeying the shinpan-cho was required. After the match, you sonkyo, osame-to, stand, five small steps backwards, heels together, lower sword, bow, step backwards out. This is very critical for any kendoka as the inability to do good rei-hou reflects bad upon the dojo who sponsors them. Always keep good manners and upright posture, even if you lose. Whining and slamming your shinai upon the ground is very rude.

We fought several practice matches. My first was against a student with no rank. I tried to leave him openings to attack but it just made us both look clumsy. Maybe I shouldn’t do that anymore. My last match of the evening was against a ni-dan, one of our best. I decided to just ‘bring it’! For whatever reason, I was flying on the court! Men, kote, debana-kote, men-suriage-men, oh-men, and other strikes just came naturally while I threw my spirit forward and let my body catch up. My opponent still won 2-0, but it was a very hard-fought match. It was my best effort yet! After that match, I volunteered to practice being a shinpan. It’s a lot harder than it looks because you have to watch all targets on both kendoka and listen to everything. It can get confusing really quick.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 180-181

Day 180:

Another hot day. The heat index is over one hundred degrees again. Sensei cautioned us to keep hydrated and the class will take a short break in the middle of the day. Today’s theme was all about timing. We would work on drills to practice our timing and the reading of our partner’s timing. We did a lot of one-step men, one-step doh, and kote-suriage-men. All the time, the defender was expected to perform oji-waza.

During class, I rotated to have a partner that has been working his way back from an injured knee. I wanted to make sure I did not step on his toes and crash our knees together. So when it was time for kote-suriage-men, I tried to pass by around him. Unfortunately, if you are striking men and your partner is striking kote, you both pass on the same side. Very often, you will bump each other. We were both trying not to collide too hard when BAM! I knocked squarely into his doh with my doh and his face went slack. His jaw opened and he fell backwards like a statue. He lay on the floor for a minute until he slowly got back up. I helped him up and he walked off the floor. He said his back spasmed and hurt so much it overloaded his brain. It was a pure accident but I still felt guilty. Sensei stepped out of line to sit with him until the end of class while the rest of us finished class.

After a short break, we did kata. I love kata. We practiced the sixth kata this time. The shidachi moves into the gedon kamae. When both come out with three sliding steps, the shidachi swings up and if to cut the kote. The uchidachi steps back into left jodan to defend and then goes back into chudan. The uchidachi tries for a small kote, which the shidachi counters with suriage-kote. The shidachi moves forward into left jodan to threaten and then back into chudan. It’s a difficult one to master since there’s a lot going on, but I’ll have time to get it right.

Day 181:

My foot seems to be somewhat sore. I decided to rest it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Beginner's Point of View 178-179

Day 178:

We had a simple class today. We did a lot of kiri-kaeshi drills, one-step men, and oji-waza discussions. The unique thing about class today was that Sensei gave us a long lecture on establishing good maai. We also did a long string of our new favorite drill. One student stands in the center of class and then defends themselves against every other student who makes one attack against them. Once the entire class has attacked, we rotate who is in the middle.

Day 179:

Today is great for two occasions. First, it’s Sensei’s birthday. He celebrated by making everybody strike his men over and over. He would counter-attack against senior students in bogu, but not against beginner students. The second great thing is that Head Sensei was here today. Many students have never seen him before. In fact, lots of students from other dojos came by, packing the practice area. We had to have two full lines of students for rei-hou. I have never seen so many people in our dojo at once.

Since we had so many people, we could not form two full lines like normal. Instead we had a few dans on the teacher side and the rest would queue up to form waiting lines on the other and try to rotate as best as we could. We did a few round of kiri-kaeshi, one-step men, and one-step doh.

Head Sensei likes to give lectures about how to do perfect strikes. He always says the perfect strike happens when you launch your attack. If you start right, you finish right. If you don’t finish right, pass by and then turn around and do it again. You have to be at the right maai and see the tsuki. Once you see them, go. We also had several rounds of keiko. Unfortunately, we had to limit ourselves to a simple forward/backward strip of floor for keiko, so there was no real jockeying for position.

I waited extra-long to keiko with Head Sensei. He was just as fast as I remember, even though he had lots of students before me. Still, I gave it my all. I hit properly, good kiai, and charged past when I could. If he struck me with a dazzling move, I did not flinch. Twice, Head Sensei backed off and gave me a ‘thumb’s up’ for a very good strike. I could tell he was getting tired, but he did not complain or let up. Except one time. I struck a great men strike and he backed off, saying “good!” He turned away for a moment and lowered his shinai. I went into chudan and established maai. He rolled his shoulders and breathed. Since he was not putting up a defense, I charged forward, struck men, and charged past. He always said to take advantage of your opponent’s lack of focus, so I did. He did as I expected and just laughed it off. He said, “Good! Very good! Yame!” I bowed out and thanked him.

After a few more keikos all around, Head Sensei gave a final full-dojo match with one of our better senior students (ni-dan). Just when I thought he was too tired and too sire, Head Sensei launched into an assertive fluury and gave it his all. The student was hard-pressed just to keep up with him. Head really is surprising. After class I thanked him again for coming.