Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 279-280

Day 279:

Today was hot and humid. I decided to come back to my old schedule.

In Iaido class, I was fearing my ankle would get injured, so I took it easy. I did 1-2-6-7-9-12. Forget 4 for now, that would kill my ankle and I’m trying to heal. I suppose I should have stayed home, but I just wanted to start Iaido again. I must have been obvious in my rustiness because I got corrected in 9. I was messing up footwork and not squaring my hips before the tsuki. I need to watch the Iaido DVD again to remember those steps.

In Kendo, the normal instructor did not show up. Someone who’s been out a long time led the opening ceremony, and I led warm-ups. It’s been a long time since I did that, but I fell right into line.

I was asked to be one of the motodachi for the class. We would do kiri-kaeshi, men, kote, and doh strikes. We would receive and then give back. The humidity was not kind to me so I gave the students extra attacks and I only gave a few in return. To do otherwise would stress my heart too much. I made it through class without a break and I decided to go home.

Day 280:

No class today as I am healing my injuries from the tournament.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 277-278.75

Day 277:

Today went by fast. We had a guest sensei today. He was incredibly fast with his strikes. We did several rounds of kiri-kaeshi, men, and kote strikes. Then we had endless keiko. Keiko after keiko after keiko. I had to bow out and rest for a short time. Suddenly, a piece of the ceiling fell down and struck one of the furniture against the wall. Immediately, we wondered if we did something wrong. It turns out the ceiling must have been damaged in the big storm last night. I volunteered to get the maintenance guy. He was really grateful that we told him right away. He said another piece of the ceiling fell down last week during someone else’s activity, but they never reported it to him. Once that was done, the instructor allowed me to sneak in one last keiko with him for practice. I was exhausted and dehydrated, but I pushed myself harder to strike against him. Even if he struck me, I kept my focus and counter-attacked.

Then it was time for kata. Not much time for it, but I did go through the first three kata with someone testing for ikkyu this coming weekend. I kept my focus and just maintained spacing. I think I did well. The instructor gave the ikkyu candidate some pointers and we did the third kata again. The footwork can be confusing. I’m glad I figured out the ‘negatively polarized’ trick to help me remember.

Guest sensei gave me some advice after class. He said to always be mindful of my strikes. If it’s a good men strike, always pass through. If it’s not a good strike do not pass through as it is a waste of zanshin. The instructor for tonight also said that in the fifth kata to have a more deliberate kamae for shidachi.

Day 278:

Today was a huge class. We had Kendoka come in form three other dojos to practice with us. We advanced class bowed in, we had two full lines on the kyu side. It’s been a long time since that happened.

We conducted the advanced class like the beginner class. Most advanced were motodachi and the rest made lines. Students stayed in their lines and motodachi rotated. We did some kiri-kaeshi and a lot of men and kote. Then we did kakari-geiko and then keiko. The first person in the student line also became the motodachi for the motodachi, which was me. I got extra practice against a nidan using nito. Then the class broke up into four teams of four Kendoka. We put on a kind of mock team match, except all keiko instead of official tournament rules. It was fun. I faced a shodan that had not been at the dojo in months because of injuries. I had been facing him over and over in my early Kendo career, but then he had to stop. It was like old times. After the matches, the instructors told me that they could not see any real differences between his Kendo and mine. That was a compliment to say I was acting and fighting like a shodan. I feel really confident now. I’m going to take that test for shodan this weekend.

Day 278.5 (Tournament):

Today should be the last time I fight in Mudansha. I should give it my best. I fought another ikkyu who was my equal. I snuck in a kote and won the fight 1-0. My next opponent was form a Korean Kumdo club. He was tired, but he had lots of energy. We exchanged blows back and forth. Leaping and jumping over each other and past each other. Striking for kote, men, and once even for doh. Closing distance to rob the other of zanshin. In the end, I lost by hantei. I don’t mind. He was a good fighter.

I was on my feet and running around tying ribbons all day. I also kept score for a pair of divisions. In team matches, I was on the “B” team, first position. We went up against people higher ranked than ourselves. The matches were close in points. I fought someone who was either shodan or nidan, someone I had fought against before. I let him fail an attack and then I counter-attacked with a simple men strike and pushed my way through for zanshin. I won 2-1. Everyone else lost, but we had a good time.

I stayed at the end to help clean up and participate in godo-geiko. I fought a 7th-Dan and a 5th-Dan for practice. I pushed myself to fight and win so hard that I wound up partially spraining myself in the left wrist and ankle. That was stupid. I stopped and relaxed until the 7th-Dan was receiving students for advice. He told me to not be in such a hurry to strike and make sure each strike was a good one. That’s good advice.

Day 278.75 (Promotional):

I showed up early and slowly stretched my wrists and ankles. They were stiff and sore from trying to heal last night. I lightly warmed up and simply made ready to start. We started right away, but the other shodan candidate didn’t arrive until after we were seated in line. At first, I was in the third line in the back, but we were pushed up against the wall so I was asked to unevenly fill out the second line. It was at this point that my testing partner showed up. We had no time to practice kata beforehand.

I knew we would be last to test, but the waiting was brutal. I could not get comfortable, no matter what position I was in. After a while, the numbness gave way to racing pains all up and down my feet and legs.

Finally, we were called up to test. The two shodan candidates and an ikkyu candidate. We all did keiko with each other. I remembered to slow down and control my partner through seme, which I did. The other shodan candidate responded to me and I seemed to control the whole fight at my whim. I did allow her openings when she took the initiative. We were trying to help each other pass, after all. The ikkyu candidate did not seem to respond at all to seme. She just attacked and attacked. I had to score a few points and let her score points.

The judges took a break before kata. My partner and I practiced the first five kata with her as uchidachi. She took such small steps and she was even shorter than me by a third of my height. I did not need to step back to avoid the uchidachi strike. That was bad. We were also not touching bokken on the third kata, losing contact.

The judges returned and the kata started. My partner was uchidachi, so I remembered to account for the distance. The first three kata went well. Then on the fourth kata, our spacing was wrong. We were a little too close so our bokken clacked too high and too close. The victory strike was with the midpoint of the sword instead of the monouchi.

We were asked to repeat the fourth kata and a cold feeling came over me. I felt I had failed. We came out to get our distance and I tried to account again. We were too close again. It was a repeat of the previous attempt. At the end, we bowed out.

As I was packing up my bogu, the ikkyu candidate came over after reading the results. I figured she passed ad I wondered if there would be a promotional close enough to now for a kata-only portion for me. She told me I had passed. I was blown away! I ran over to read the results. I passed!!!

The rest of the day was a blur. I was thanking and congratulating everyone over and over too much to pay attention. I made sure to go home and call my best friend. I also bought some dessert for me over the next week. I am a shodan now!!!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 275-276

Day 275:

Today was possibly the hardest day of Kendo that did not involve Head Sensei. We started off with invigorating rounds of kiri-kaeshi, men-ouchi, and kote-ouchi. We then did a drill of kiri-kae-doh, where you strike oh-men, push the motodachi back, the alternate left and right doh strike, starting with left (proper) side. The motodachi holds the sword in right jodan while being struck in doh.

We had a few rounds of keiko also. Since there were an odd number of us, there was a space in rotation to rest. After a rest from hearing a lecture, I did two keikos and then got another chance to rest.

Then, right away, the instructor called me to stand on one side of the dojo. Everyone else stood on the opposite side. One after another, I fought a keiko in formal fashion gauntlet-style (one after another). After three hard keikos, I got the chance to rest. I was taught to hold the shinai over my head with two hands sideways to show I needed to breathe. I did so, not wasting my time doing anything else. My guts were twisting painfully, even though I drank water before practice.

I fought another three keikos, getting slower with each one from fatigue. I had to use more strategy than speed by now. I used more nuki-men and hiki-kote. One more rest and I fought the instructor. A hard match, but I stuck in there to the end.

Afterwards, we broke up for kata. I love kata again. I’m starting to get the hang of the spacing. A nidan helped me go through the first five kata again. He advised me to show more forward motion every time I would be shidachi and move into left jodan. That shows zanshin. The instructor also came by and mentioned that how I learned the fifth kata was wrong. For uchidachi, I’ve been using right jodan like I was taught. He told me it’s left jodan. That was embarrassing. I consulted the book written by Ozawa-sensei and the book agrees. Uchidachi moves into left jodan. I’ll have to remember that.

Day 276:

Today was a fairly normal practice. After kiri-kaeshi, we focused one various types of men strikes. Oh-men, sashi-men, and nuki-men. I’m beginning to like nuki-men a lot. It seems to agree with the way my mind works. Offer an opening for men, and then leap back and forward to strike their exposed men. I really have to be in the mood for it, or else I don’t pull it off right. We did several rounds of keiko afterwards to build up stamina.

Then it was time for kata again. I love kata. I think after the promotional exam, I will make time for Iaido class again. I practiced the first five kata with Sensei in both uchidachi and shidachi roles. He told me that if I keep the spacing in mind always, then I should be ready to test. I really need to focus on my spacing. With someone as tall as myself, I need to move forward in normal steps and backwards in bigger-than-small steps. Otherwise, I push my partner back too much and we do not approach center as well.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Beginner's Point of View 273-274

Day 273:

Today was a special practice because the next regularly scheduled practice would be on a holiday. We worked a lot on kiri-kaeshi, and kihon. Over and over we did men strikes and kote strikes. We did several rounds of keiko.

At the end of practice, we did practice shiai matches with the objective in teaching the newer students how to run a shiai. Timekeeping, scorekeeping, yelling, and ribbon-tying were all taught and demonstrated.

I was in the first group. I had two matches, one win 2-0 and one draw. My draw was against a shodan that I’ve been pairing with in practice often to raise my kendo higher. I helped to timekeep after my matches.

Afterwards, we had a practice promotional exam for the kyus and one for shodan. I was told by several people that I did very well on my keiko. However, during my kata exam I think I failed. I could easily see that I was once again pushing my partner backwards and not stepping backwards enough myself. We finished too far forward and not on center. I’m not happy with that. I got some advice, mainly due to spacing and stepping. I NEED to work on more kata to get the spacing down or else I’m afraid I’ll fail for real. That will hurt more than any injury.

Day 274:

Today was a hard day of practice. It was over 90 degrees temperature and humid. There were six other Kendokda at practice today bedsides myself.

We started off with the normal rounds of kiri-kaeshi, men strike, and kote strike. We did a few rounds of practicing kote-nuki-men. The attacker would try to strike kote, and the receiver would step back and raise to clear the center. The receiver would then bring down for men strike.

The instructor decided to center the rest of practice around me and my quest for shodan. He ordered that everyone rotate to have a keiko with me with no breaks in between. I fought all six of the others one after the other. My guts were twisting after the fifth keiko, but I kept pressing. I was in abdominal pain after the sixth keiko, but I kept it up.

The last keiko was against an unranked opponent. I was reminded to fight down to not overwhelm her, but still try to win. In the beginning, I alternated between trying to win and letting her strike. Soon, I heard encouragement to be ‘more aggressive’, so I then pushed to win. A halt was called for ippon-shobu. I used my best techiniques, still keeping good tenouchi and judgement, and I scored a very quick men to finish.

We finished class with kata. I’m no longer confident in my kata. I keep pushing too far forward and not recovering. If I can’t fix it, I might not pass the promotional. During my rehearsal of the first five kata, we were stopped. A nidan pointed out that the reason we were off center was because we were in a shorter space than normal. That was throwing off our distances. With that in mind, we shortened our forward steps and lengthened our backwards steps. That seemed to do the trick. I will have to measure the strides for the full court on promotion day. More practice would help, too.