Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 255-256

Day 255:

In Iaido, I felt stiff form the Kendo tournament, so my kata was a little stiff. I gave my paperwork for the next Kendo tournament to our officer. Now I can concentrate. I’m still not quite turning well in the second kata, it’s the final slide of the foot when you draw the sword. It’s still awkward doing the final adjustment. Also, the ninth kata is awkward when you draw and then tsuki. I always feel like I am leaning too far forward when I do the tsuki. I can’t wait to learn the third and fifth kata so I can feel rounded out enough for a seminar and promotional.

In Kendo, it was a day full of fundamentals. The panel of sensei at the promotional exam last weekend expressed their desire to see more fundamentals practiced instead of raw tournament energy. We did many rounds of suri-ashi, followed by inserting men strikes over and over. Eventually, I was asked to be motodachi for the students, teaching them kirikaeshi, men strikes, and kote strikes. In the end we gave some of our students one of their first keikos. In my line was one student instead of two students, so the same student got two keikos with me. I made sure to follow instructions and tone down my assertiveness and level of pressure to encourage the student instead of dominating them. I would gently attack and let myself be attacked to show the student not to be afraid and to look for openings. Just once, I took jodan to give an opening for doh. The student recognized it and went for doh strike, only to hit me in the bony part of my right elbow. Ouch. Well, I guess that’s what I gave my instructors when I was starting to learn.

Day 256:

In Iaido, I started off doing my normal rei-hou and 1-2-4-6-7-9-12. Partway through call, our new student was looking lost with what he was doing and had questions about the leg movements of the first kata. Normally, the instructor would answer those questions, but at the time no instructor showed up. So, I showed him how I do the first kata and emphasized the leg movements involved. About halfway through the second run-through, the instructor showed up and took over. I hope he’s not upset with me for just answering a question. Sensei eventually showed up and talked to us about cleaning the blade. He mentioned about how aluminum-zinc blades do not need so much care but steel blades do. I have a steel blade, so when Sensei offered to order a cleaning kit at the same time he would order clothing for himself, I eagerly agreed.

In Kendo, we did a vigorous set of suburi, with extra emphasis on men and kote strikes. We did lots of suri-ashi across the floor with men strikes trying to sharpen our fundamentals. We also did a drill of learning to strike quick, firm, continuous men with tenouchi. I learned to not hesitate so much between raising up the shinai and bringing it down firmly. I also learned that tenouchi was more squeezing with the left hand than the right. I may have to ask the instructor about that in future classes. I was asked to be motodachi along with three others and Head Sensei. Head Sensei and our instructor reserved being motodachi for the younger students. We rotated through the lines receiving kiri-kaeshi, men strikes, kote strikes, and doh strikes. Some of the newer students did not quite strike kote well because they were afraid of hurting me. I appreciate the sentiment but the need to actually hit in order to learn. So, I encouraged them to hit harder.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 253-254

Day 253:

In Iaido, Sensei was back and he spent some time teaching the new student. He also taught me a new kata, the ninth kata. The premise is that you are walking along with another kenshi to your left. He tries to draw, so you draw first. You step with the right, then step with the left and grip the sword. Step with the left and twist the saya up and out like in the sixth kata. You pivot on your right foot and slide your left foot back while turning to the left. Draw and cut your opponent from neck to hip. You then place your hand on top of the sword to brace it and then step forward with the left for a tsuki. Draw the sword back with your right hand while holding the left steady. As you pull it back, twist your right wrist to bring the tsuka up to your right pectoral muscle height. Adjust your right foot to be in line with your body and place your left hand on the saya. Chiburi diagonally downward and to the right while sliding your left foot back. Noto and slide the left foot up to be even. Step backwards and to the left, twisting your body back to its original position. Then step backwards two more steps and bring your feet together. This kata is a lot harder than it sounds, but it’s worth doing.

In Kendo, the whole class practiced putting on men together. We waited as a younger student fumbled with his men himo and tried to put them right. He must have been embarrassed. I was embarrassed when I was learning to put the men on at first and I was always last. The instructor gave a speech about learning to tie on your men quickly and properly. Then we broke up into lines and I helped the students with kiri-kaeshi, men strikes, kote strikes, and then kiri-kaeshi again. I was part of the motodachi rotation. It is more efficient this way. Afterwards, we had practice promotional tests for all the testing students. We saw several candidates rotate in and out of the places and fight. I had a practice keiko against the instructor, a nidan. I think I did fairly well, but I did block out of reflex. Maybe I shouldn’t do that for promotional tests. Still, I struck doh and kote fairly well, and even snuck in a doh (but just one as to not try to show off). I always made sure to give a big kiai.

Day 254:

Today was the last practice before tournament. Class was supposedly ‘light’ but we still worked hard. This class was all about how to compose yourself during shiai and promotional. We practiced our kiai and composure by practicing suri-ashi.

Then we gathered our men and stood in line. We did a quick bow in again (no shomen) and then put on men. An instructor walked in front of us and gave comments about how to wear our men and how to sit. It was good stuff to remember.

We then broke up in to a circle of people. Two of the instructors joined Sensei in practicing being shinpan. We were picked at random based on our rank to have a practice match while the shinpan practiced being shinpan. I had a match against a visitor whose zekken showed a university over the border up north. He was really fast. I matched him for speed and there were several times when either of us could have been scored for points. I struck doh on him unevenly and pulled my arm again. It didn’t feel like an injury. More like it was pulling the old one. I think this will be a long-term injury, like my abdominal muscles used to be. I’ll have to be careful. I won my match 2-1 by striking men and going through fast, pushing myself to my fastest charge and screaming a loud kiai. It was a lot closer then it looked. After a few more matches, we broke up for the evening.

I could not stay for practice since I had to go to work early, but Sensei asked me to help shinpan for a little while. I agreed since it was not going to aggravate my arm. I was a shinpan for a full team match. It was hard keeping up with all of the action, but I did my best. A few of my calls differed from Sensei, but that is what I saw. A couple of times we discussed in gogi and the final call was against me. No worries. I understand how the shinpan judge and the method suits me fine.

Day 254.5 (tournament):

The tournament has arrived! I drove down to the normal place and set up at the hotel. When it came time for the tournament, there were several of us who had never been to a tournament. I gave them some advice about helping out at tables, especially since most were testing the next day. I was not. I was planning to leave the next day early in the morning.

The tournament was the same type of tournament that goes on this time of year. I participated in the Mudansha and Teams divisions. In Mudansha, my first opponent did not show up, so I was given a default victory of a win and a point. My next opponent was a very low-ranking kyu. I took it slow and lined up good men strikes. I won 2-0 against that person. At first, the table was going to advance someone else! The only other winner in my bracket had a no-show and a win with a single point. I pointed out the error in the guise of a question, and the sensei at the table found the error and corrected it. Whew. My next match was against someone closer to my rank. We attacked and defended against each other back and forth over and over. Close to the end of the match, he snuck in a very slight debana-kote. It was a good point, so I lost. Well, I did give a great performance. I helped out for a long time. The tournament went over time by hours.

In team matches, our dojo had two teams. Sensei chose not to compete with us. We recruited someone from another school to fill out our roster. I was chosen to be the captain for our second team. I was ikkyu and the highest-ranking on the team. So, I organized us into shape and tried to make us ready on time. We faced a team from a powerful school. That school fielded five team and this was their second place people! Not one person was beneath shodan! Two of my people were without rank. Everyone expected a ten-point shutout. My team did very well. We lost twice and forced a tie for three matches. Everyone was very impressed with us. In my match, I fought against a nidan who seemed nearly ready to test for sandan. We went at each other aggressively, trading blow for blow. Back and forth we raged, trying to crisp, clean points. Eventually, the shinpan-cho called an end of time. I can tell this team was impressed with us. Our youngest fighter went against a shodan who seemed ready to test for nidan and lasted a full minute against that person!

After the tournament, we all went out for food and to share stories. Head Sensei asked me if I learned anything. I told him that I learned that when I think my kote is closed off, I still have one inch open. He seemed pleased that I could learn that on my own.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 251-252

Day 251:

In Iaido, Sensei did not stay to teach. Instead he dropped off some paperwork and then had to leave. I continued to practice my rei-hou and my 1-2-4-6-7-12 over and over. I’m starting to put more force into the movements. I need to show confidence in my kata.

I had to leave after Iaido to work my job, so no Kendo.

Day 252:

In Iaido, it was only myself and another. So, we practiced our kata. I read a newsletter by our club and saw that Sensei was not planning to come as often, maybe even stop coming for a while. I hope that it not the case. Who would teach me kata with such personal attention? Obviously, the others could teach me new kata, but they aren’t comfortable teaching. I can hear it in their voices that they aren’t confident teaching others. They think of themselves as students and not teachers. Sensei always thought of himself as both teacher and student.

In another note, I’ve tried to add more of pulling back on the saya before drawing the sword. It makes for a smoother cut. Also, if I twist my wrist before chiburi downward, it makes a wooshing sound. I think it’s because the blade comes down straight instead of kinda-sideways.

In Kendo, we were working hard today. We were doing kiri-kaeshi, men-strike, kote-strike, and doh-strike over and over until I thought I would be totally out of breath. I was told that I was ‘cheating’ on doh. I need to raise up before coming down and not curving immediately.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 249-250

Day 249:

My first day back from my mild sprain. I hope I don’t re-injure myself again.

In Iaido class, I took it easy by moving at half speed for my kata. I practiced rei-hou, and then 1-2-4-6-7-12. My fourth kata was very awkward since I haven’t been practicing. Sensei gave me advice about the second and fourth katas. He thought I was moving awkward. He told me to pivot on my left toe in the second kata and finish the turn by drawing the sword. In the fourth kata, always turn the head first, then move the body. That will keep movements in order. His advice did make things a little smoother. I also made sure to tie my sageo closer to the end than before. Tying it too close to the saya end doesn’t allow you to sayabiki properly. I have to practice tying it without looking.

In Kendo, I did my suburi carefully so not to push my wrists. I hope they’ll be unhurt tomorrow morning. I chose not to put on my bogu tonight so the motodachi would take it easy on me. Of course, ‘taking it easy’ means not striking me back or making me bump kote against kote in kiri-kaeshi. That might re-sprain myself. They still would push me to exert myself to the limit otherwise. We did kiri-kaeshi over and over. We did men strike over and over. We did uchi-komi over and over and over and over until we were out of breath. I was totally out of breath a few times, but happy to be so because I could show everyone how not to quit. I found myself striking harder and harder as the night went on. Taking head-sensei’s lesson to heart, I started mixing power and tenuchi to make a firmer strike.

At the end of class, after rei-hou, a few of us finally received our menjos from the tournament and testing last autumn. Apparently, this is how long it takes to get a dan certificate. Man, that’s a long wait for a piece of paper, but it was worth it.

Day 250:

In Iaido class, a new prospective student showed up. He said he had dabbled in Taekwondo and Aikido when he was younger. Since I was the only Iaido student in the dojo at that time, I explained a few principles of Iaido and Kendo and told him to watch a demonstration of the class doing kata. I did my rei-hou, and then proceeded to practice 1-2-4-6-7-12 over and over. Sensei did not arrive today, so I decided to practice turning around like he showed me. When I applied more force and rolled my left toe, my turning around in the second kata was much better. Also, I seem to be finding a semi-comfortable spot in the fourth kata to sit down and relax for a few seconds. The senior student eventually showed up and gave the prospective student a few drills in vertical cut and horizontal cut.

In Kendo class, I still chose not to wear bogu so I could take it a little easy. There were a near-record number of students today, so space was tight during suburi. The instructors divided up the class into people with no bogu and people with. I went to the no-bogu class to practice. I found myself striking harder and harder, but still using tenuchi. I think my wrists are getting better. Gently pushing myself more each time did not hurt them. We practiced our suri-ashi, men strike, and kote strike. It all led up to a long round of uchi-komi. I tried to incorporate fumi-komi with my drills and make my strikes and passing through smooth. I sharpened them well, hoping the younger students would see how they should be making their own strikes smoother.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 248-249

Day 248:

A few of us were asked to do a Kendo demonstration for the fourth grade of a nearby elementary school. I took a half-day off of work to participate. My wrists have been sore and sprained all last week so I’m hoping not to hurt them again. I showed up early and first. We were asked if we could move the demonstration to the stage of the cafeteria instead of the gymnasium. The teachers mistakenly scheduled a class during our time. When the others showed up, I showed them the stage and it was hard tile. Very bad for footwork. We instead decided to move three of the tables and used the soft tile floor instead.

One of us took over as the leader and began talking to the students about the history of Japanese swordfighting, the creations of wooden and bamboo swords, creation of modern armor, and the ceremonies of respect to each other. Another of us talked about the pieces of armor as he put them on as well as the uniform. We lined up for a short suburi session of shomen, kote, and haya-suburi. We put on men and did a few waza with three of us in line rotating to show how efficient we were training. Speeches on kiai and rei-hou were explained. We then got four volunteers from the kids to take turns hitting men and running through.

We then did some keiko. I got to have two keikos, one against a nidan using itto and the other against a nidan using nito. I did surprisingly well this time. Against nito, neither of us could score very good points. However, when we declared ippon shobu, I hit opposite-side doh averagely well and he gave me the point. Three student volunteers tried to be shinpan, but they were overwhelmed.

Two of us took off men, kote, and doh for kata. We did the first two kata with myself as the shidachi. We did the first just fine and the students gasped at the closeness and sudden stopping of the bokken before it hit the uchidachi’s head. The second kata I messed up. Instead of dropping down and stepping to the left, I did a nuki-kote. His bokken was only three-eighths of an inch from my nose as it came down, but I managed to stop in time for kote. He did not react, but we finished rei-hou well. Clearly, I need to practice Kendo kata some more. It’s been months since we all practiced it as a class and the introduction of Iaido kata has messed me up. Fortunately, I’m not testing at the next tournament so it’s not a big issue for me now. Perhaps I’ll be asked to help others train in kata until then. I should probably rest my wrists instead of going to class tonight also. Better to go to tournament whole than injured.

Day 249:

No class today as I am recovering from injury.