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.