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.