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.